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Getting content marketing right the first time

By now, most companies realize they need to be implementing a content marketing plan. As they start to exercise this new marketing muscle, however, their efforts can quickly veer off track if they’re not careful. In fact, companies that dabble in content marketing tend to fail.

What do I mean by dabbling? Trying a few experiments – but not really making a commitment. This typically happens in one of two ways, both of which still require a significant investment of resources, but with little chance of success.

Experiment One: Unstructured experiments

Without a strategy, early efforts at content marketing tend to be scattered, disconnected and ineffective. Producing content without a specific target audience and well-developed personas is like sailing a ship without a rudder. Without the ability to steer, it gets pushed in any direction the wind blows. So it is with corporate content experiments. Without a consistent direction and publishing calendar, they deliver little or no measurable results, and thus quietly drift away.

Experiment Two: Pilot programs

In general, pilot programs make a lot of sense for marketing managers seeking to build a base of internal support: Start with a small, low-cost experiment. Learn from it. Show an early success to your boss and other stakeholders. Ask for modest budget. Build a committed group of internal champions to support your fledgling content initiative before you make a bigger “ask.” And for a broad departure from traditional marketing, especially, this would seem to make sense, right?

Unfortunately, no. Even though pilot programs tend feel more structured than ad hoc experiments, they often end up in the same place. You not only need quality, customer-focused content, but also consistency and a commitment to the long haul to win at this new game. A several-month experiment doesn’t usually produce enough engagement data for the marketing team to extract meaningful insights. Building customer relationships takes time – far longer than the typical timeframe of a pilot project.

What content marketing research says

The Content Marketing Institute’s B2B Content Marketing 2016: Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends – North America report supports the idea that many marketers aren’t being very strategic:

  • Only 35% of respondents say they have a documented content marketing strategy, and
  • Only one-third (30%) believe they are effective at it.
  • When it comes to content marketing, failing to plan is planning to fail.

So what’s the solution to this common problem?

A well-thought out content marketing strategy can significantly increase your odds of success. It should include these elements:

  1. A clear set of objectives. What are your goals for launching a content marketing initiative? To increase brand preference? Generate a larger number of qualified sales leads? Be clear on your destination. Define it as specifically as you can in your plan.
  1. A tightly-defined target audience. Who are you trying to influence as part of this content marketing initiative? Focus on a single, narrowly-defined audience segment and their needs. Focused planning and execution on one addressable audience will improve your odds of scoring an early win, which you can use to justify further expansion of your content initiative.
  1. A detailed customer persona. Invest time developing your customer persona. What problems does this person face in their business? What keeps them awake at night? What motivates them? What are their aspirations?
  1. Describe their buyer’s journey. What are your touchpoints with this person from the time he or she first joins your list until they purchase your product or service? Add this information to a timeline, then use it as a map to guide your content planning.
  1. Define their needs at each touch point on the customer journey. These needs will change significantly throughout this process. Map this information to your timeline and use it as a guide for creating content that addresses those needs at each step.
  1. Brainstorm content ideas for each stage of the buyer’s journey. Develop ideas for high quality informational content that will help to nurture them each step of the way. Create an editorial calendar, which specifies what content you will create, when. This should build upon all of the work you’ve done up to this point, incorporating your target customer’s buyer’s journey and their needs at each step.
  1. Follow through on your content plan. This is key to your success. You want to lead your prospects all the way to the sale, so make sure you give them good reasons to engage with high-value content at every step of their buyer’s journey.

After you launch your content marketing initiative, review the data from your metrics regularly to determine which content is resonating with your audience and which pieces are not. Make adjustments as needed.

Get ready to develop your plan

Do you have a documented content strategy, customer personas defined and content mapped to it? If not, now’s the time to develop a comprehensive plan to take your content initiative to new levels of effectiveness.

To learn more, download our new content marketing eGuide, Making the Leap to Better Waters: Growth Cycle Marketing – a proven strategy for generating sales.

Robert Wendt has 30 years of experience in direct mail and marketing communications and is an expert on content marketing. As president and owner of Cultivate Communications, he’s helped countless companies grow their businesses using inventive sales and marketing strategies.