Hexagonal Tantrix puzzle pieces placed togetherIn your business you wouldn’t hire a bunch of people and then let them stand around doing nothing – you’d give each employee a specific task to accomplish, you’d watch and measure their progress, and you’d fire them (or move them to a different position) if they didn’t do what you wanted.

Think of your marketing pieces the same way. It doesn’t make sense to simply collect them. You have to give each one a specific task to accomplish. You have to watch and measure its progress. And you’d have to remove it from your marketing (or repurpose it) if it didn’t work the way you wanted it.

At heart, that’s what content strategy is about.

So that’s what “content strategy” is!

Content strategy is a relatively new buzz phrase, and it’s just vague enough to be abstruse to someone who does not work in marketing. But any business owner who makes sales on, or gets leads through, the internet should know what it is.

It’s really not that complicated or mysterious. It’s basically about creating a plan for the content you currently have and plan to produce. The content should reflect your brand and your business values. It should be interesting to the people you hope to attract as customers. It should be high quality and substantive.

The type of content that can fit into your strategy can be any kind, including:

  • Blog posts (your blog or someone else’s blog)
  • Ebooks, special reports, white papers, etc.
  • Articles
  • Email newsletters
  • Autoresponder series
  • Checklists
  • Cheat sheets
  • Social media activity (tweets, status updates, pins)
  • Photographs
  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • Audio file
  • Podcast
  • Webinar
  • Customer case studies/success stories

And so many more.

Remember that in general, what sets content apart from other types of sales material is that it provides useful information to your potential clients. A direct mail postcard announcing your latest BOGO shoe sale is not considered content. An email autoresponder series that gives advice on how to care for different kinds of shoe materials, like leather and suede, is.

Effective content captures your ideal customers’ attention and starts a conversation with them. It allows you to build the know-like-trust factor over time. Good content also deepens the relationship you have with current customers. It continues to reinforce the message of what your business is and what it does. It reflects what your brand is and what your business is about. It improves your bottom line. Bad content does none of these things.

Figure out your content strategy for the rest of the year

January is long gone but it’s not too late to map out the year. What content do you plan to create and use to attract prospective customers and to get current customers to continue to do business with you?

Companies with large amounts of content usually have someone to handle this for them, but if you’re a small business owner, the task may fall to you. If you don’t know where to start, try these steps:

Before anything else, figure out what you ultimately want.

You’re not in business simply to disseminate useful content to people who could use it, as fun (and altruistic) as that might be. At some point, you want to sell something. What is that thing? (And it’s okay if you have multiple answers to that question.)

Look at what you’ve already got.

Take stock of what you’ve already got and already used. Here you can gather information. What worked? What didn’t work? Look at how many times something was shared or opened, or how many times it led to a direct sale, to get an idea of the answer. Does it reflect the reality of your business as it is right now? Can you use it again as is, or does it need some sprucing up? Maybe it needs some major repurposing to be useful. That 11-point checklist you used a few years ago could be expanded into a comprehensive ebook. The salient points you made in an old podcast could be made into an infographic. A series of blog posts could become the basis for a webinar. And so on.

Think about your ideal customers.

After all, it’s all about them. Knowing them will help you figure out what kind of content to create and use, as well as how and where to distribute it.

The what: What do they want to know about? What’s their burning desire, or the thing they want to change most? The answers to these questions should tell you what subjects to create content about. Try these prompts for content creation if you’re getting stuck.

The how: How would they like to consume it? Are they readers, likely to consume long ebooks, or do you think they’d prefer 20-minute podcasts to listen to in the car? Take a guess, or look back at past marketing efforts, or simply ask directly via your social media accounts or email list. Then experiment and see what works.

The where: Where is the best place to reach them to get them this great content you’re providing? Are your ideal customers hanging out on Facebook? Or are they always glued to their phone, checking email? Do you expect most people to download something from your website, or would they be willing to follow a link to YouTube? As with “how” above, you can experiment.

When you know all these things, you can start to figure how they will fit together into a plan.

Think about your sales funnel.

You’re taking a prospective customer on a journey from the first time you “meet” somewhere online (or offline, if you have a brick-and-mortar store) to closing the sale. At several points along this journey, you provide different pieces of content that help that prospective customer take the next step. Providing free content, especially at the top of the funnel, is a great strategy.

Content will generally become more in depth, more tailored to a particular target market, more specific to a particular product or service, and more demanding of time as the funnel gets narrower and the number of people in it gets smaller.

Think about getting your potential customer to give you a “yes.” It will be a small “yes” at the beginning. Clicking on your blog post and reading it is a “yes” because they are spending time reading it. Then giving an email address in exchange for a freebie report is another “yes.” You might then try to get them to say “yes” to a free webinar you’re offering next week, or “yes” to a biweekly podcast you produce. Each “yes” gets you closer to where you want to be.

This is the point in creating your content strategy where you map it all out in a logical way. And once you’ve done that, you’ll never again have a piece of content floating around without purpose, like an employee you hired a few years ago but forgot about. In short, you know what “job” each piece of content has and how it will be used. Once you know that, you can jump in and start creating.

Create and implement.

If you’ve done the above, you’ve got the following pieces in place:

  • Who will be consuming this content (ideal customers)
  • What the content will consist of (what they will learn)
  • How it will be presented (what format)
  • Where it will be presented (via social media, on websites, etc.)
  • In what order it will be presented (location in the sales funnel)
  • What the ultimate goal is (what you are hoping to sell)

You might want to do it all yourself, or you may want the help of a designer and/or content creator (like me!) to help. However you choose to do it, get started!

Here’s an example, using the steps above

Let’s go through a fictional example to get an idea of how this would all actually work. Content marketing can work for businesses of all kinds, whether product-based or service-based. But let’s imagine a small business owner – and we’ll call her Nina – who runs an Argentine tango dance studio and makes her living teaching Argentine tango to people in her city.

Man and woman dancing tango in the sunny street with an onlooker

First, she looks at what she’s already got.

Nina hasn’t done a lot of marketing in the past so she doesn’t have a lot of materials that were created specifically for the purpose. But she does have a few materials she can start with: a text-only handout explaining all the dozens of unfamiliar tango terms to new students and hours of video of her dancing and explaining the steps. Both of these things can find a place in her new content strategy.

The handout could be updated with beautiful drawings illustrating each of the dance terms and then used as the freebie on her website. It’s an ideal first “yes” because it’s beautifully designed, quick for the reader to consume, likely to appeal to a large number of beginning dance students, and very useful. For all these reasons, it would be near the very top of the funnel (where the largest number of people are).

The hours of video could be cut down and then supplemented with new footage, creating a multi-part dance class series. Depending on the quality of the video, and what she decides to do with it, this video series could be given away as a premium freebie, perhaps one episode at a time given over email, or it could be sold for download. Either way, she might want to eventually use it farther down the funnel, where the people are closer to buying something and are more likely to put in the time to watch it all.

Next, she thinks about her ideal customers.

Theoretically, anyone could learn about Argentine tango, but such a large, undefined target group is useless when it comes to creating effective marketing pieces. So Nina decides to focus on two target markets right now: 1. Recently engaged couples who want to learn to tango for their wedding and 2. People who already dance tango well and want to improve.

The what: Group 1: They would want to learn about what the basic steps are, what the etiquette is, and a basic routine. Group 2: They’d like to how to improve and what mistakes to avoid.

The how: Both groups would benefit more from videos than from any other content type. Illustrations, blog posts, infographics and more could also be used as other types of content to mix it up. Podcasts and audio files would not be the most effective choice for this subject.

The where: To reach Group 1 – the newly engaged couples – she could guest blog on some wedding sites. To reach Group 2 – the more advanced dancers – she could become active in Facebook groups that are geared towards tango dancers, and share useful and interesting information there to drive traffic to her website.

Then, she thinks about her sales funnel.

Since Nina has two target markets, she will think about these two sales funnels differently.

For the first group of newly engaged couples, she ultimately wants them to buy her 5-Lesson First Wedding Dance Package for $300 (normally $400). To get them to that point, she starts with the guest blog on the wedding site. In that post, she invites people to check out a free 3-minute video on her website showing how elegant and beautiful the Argentine tango can be for a couple’s first dance. Once on the website, they can put in their email addresses to sign up for her email list and receive the free illustrated tango terms handout as an instant download. From there, they receive regular emails explaining more about the dance and linking to short videos of basic steps. Eventually, they’d get a $100 off discount offer for the 5-Lesson Package if they use a certain code or respond within a certain time frame.

The second group is more tango savvy and would not find the content Nina sent to the engaged couples as appealing. Instead, she can create a handout that discusses “Top 3 Mistakes Leaders Make In Tango Salón” or “Boleos and Ganchos for Advanced Milongueras” or a similar topic that indicates it’s for an experienced dancer. It also promises to contain some useful information. This group will get the handout on a different area of her website (or an entirely separate landing page) by giving an email address. Then they can opt in to watch a series of videos that demonstrate advanced moves. Finally, they’ll receive offers for advanced group classes.

Finally, she creates and implements.

Nina may choose to tackle both content cycles at once, or she may focus on completing the materials for one of her target markets before moving on to the other.

Watch this spot

That example was long, but I hope it helped to walk through the process and the logic behind it step by step. Content creation and content strategy can feel very overwhelming – there are so many choices, so many formats, so many avenues! – but it all comes down to having perspective and seeing the customer’s journey from beginning to end.

This post was the high-level overview of content strategy, but in the coming months I’ll be writing about particular types of content and how to best use them in your marketing plan, including website pages, blogs, email-capturing freebies, email newsletters and lists, profile-building books, customer success stories (sometimes called case studies), videos, and more. Stay tuned!

Need help with your content strategy?

Sometimes you need an outsider’s perspective to see what makes sense when it comes to content strategy. If you’d like some consulting advice, I’d love to help you map out a plan that takes into account your ideal customers. Just email me or give me (Erin) a call at 843-819-7872.