If you don’t have these things, you don’t have a strategy, you’re just spraying and praying content.
Building a content strategy is an essential part of marketing today. Too often I’ve seen marketers go off half-cocked with their content marketing strategies. Too often I see marketers missing these three essential pieces of their strategy. And without these three parts your content strategy is no better than guessing.
The three essential parts of your content strategy are:
- your value proposition
- your personas (who you are writing for)
- a content calendar (when are you going to publish what and why)
Yes, it’s fun and cool to create content
I get it. I’ve been there. It’s exciting to have a new product/client/company to create content for. You have all these ideas. What new, creative tricks you’re going to try. The things you read in all the must-read marketing blogs. You’re you going to write amazing stuff. You’re going to go viral. You know it’s going to be awesome.
Stop. Cool it. You have some work to do first.
When marketing folks start thinking about creating a content strategy, people immediately start talking about how long blog posts should be, should we do video, how about a podcast, how many infographics should we create, and so on. All these are great. Any of them could be part of your content mix. But they are all way ahead of the game. None of these are a strategy. All of these are tactics. These are what you use to bring your strategy to life. These aren’t your strategy. A strategy is finding the best path to reach your goal. Tactics are how to put the strategy into practice—you can read more in my other blog post on this topic. Creating a strategy means you need a plan. You see your goal—it’s a distant mountain ahead of you—now which path will you take? You need to know three things to pick that path: what you’re marketing, who you’re marketing to, and when/how are you going to tell tell them.
What is your value proposition?
I use Strategyzer’s Business Model Canvas and Value Proposition Canvas for hammering out what your business does and what value it brings to customers. For the sake of efficiency I’m going to assume you have your business model set—even if you didn’t use the BMC to map it out—but now it’s time to refine your Value Propositions.
Your value proposition is what your product or service does to solve pains or create gains for your customers. One of Amazon’s value propositions is online shopping. It solves pains of going to lots of stores to comparison shop and gains by saving money and time. This is a simplistic view of Amazon, but you get the idea. I delve deeper into working with value propositions in this post from Marketing & Growth Hacking—Use a Value Prop Canvas to Refine Your Marketing Strategy—but for this post the important thing is introducing the concept.
Your value proposition is what your product or service does to solve pains or create gains for your customers.
Your value proposition defines what you are selling and why. If you’re selling snowmobiles in the Sahara, you might have a tough go of things. But if you’re selling a solar-powered mini-fridge, you’re in business. You can’t create a B2B content strategy until you know exactly what people are buying and why. CoSchedule focuses their content strategy on the value proposition of helping marketers save time and launch more effective marketing campaigns—and their book 10X Marketing Formula builds on this value proposition.
While most people think they know their value proposition, in most cases no one has taken the time to formalize and refine the value prop into something that can be summarized in a short sentence. Until you can articulate your value prop in a short sentence, you don’t have a value prop.
Step one: Get your value prop so solid in your head that you know why your customers will be happy to throw money at you. Write to that.
Who are your key personas you’re selling to?
You know who your customers are, right? What their jobs are, what they do day-to-day, their challenges, what success looks like, and who they report to? What do your customers like to read at work? What tools do they use to do their job now? How are those tools failing them? If you don’t you should. If you do, read on.
Right, now imagine you’re sitting in front of that person. Give that person a a name, a title—a personality a persona. Marketing personas make customers real for everyone on the team. Mike, Bill, Sue, Joan, directors, execs, managers, sole contributors—when you are creating content you have your customer in your head and create content especially for that person. When I’m writing a blog post—yes this one too—I’m writing with a person in my head. This post is written for marketers who have been tasked with creating or fixing their content strategy and are feeling stuck. I imagine I’m talking with you in front of me. Maybe we’re having coffee. Maybe it’s a lunch and learn. I’m writing to connect with you and give you some places to get started on your content strategy.
Use the Customer Segment portion of the Value Proposition Canvas to start building your persona. Try to understand as much about your customer as you can—not just how it relates to your product. The more you understand about your customer, the better you can tailor your content to them.
Step two: Create a persona with personality—a name, a title, a job, a life. This is who you’re writing for.
What and when are you going to publish?
You have what you’re selling and who your customer is—Mary the marketing manager who needs a content strategy and content to go with it—it’s time to work on what you’re creating for Mary. What information does Mary need? What tools or templates could Mary use to do her job better? What do you know that would make Mary’s (work) life better? This is where the “what to write” comes from. This is how you start brainstorming ideas. Think big. Go beyond a single one-off post. Post series, infographics, whitepapers, templates, ebooks—get all the ideas out and written down. Now organize the ideas into groups like fast to create, long-term projects, nice to do later, “let’s start on this now?”, these ideas will be the start of your content calendar. Don’t worry about having too many ideas right now. Or if the ideas are too hard to produce. Just have ideas so you can start on part two of this step: putting your ideas into a logical order that flows and tells a series of stories.
Step 3, Part 1: Get lots of ideas for the content you want to create. You can’t have too many ideas right now.
Got your ideas? Cool. Now map it all out on a calendar. You can use a spreadsheet, you can use Asana’s built-in Editorial calendar template, or you can up your game and use CoSchedule. The tool doesn’t matter, what matters is you look at all your content and plan how to create it. Ask tough questions. How long will that take to write? Do we need graphics? Will we need time to do more research? Suddenly saying “let’s publish an infographic” week runs headlong into reality. Good content takes time. Great content takes more time. Posts need to be written, and edited, maybe approved, before they can be published. Publishing an ebook? That’s going to take a while. Your content calendar forces you to plan when something will be published and? how long it takes to create it. A calendar does one more thing for you too: it helps you lay out your narrative.
Step 3, Part 2: Organize all your ideas on a calendar to see how they fit together and know how long it will take to create them.
Seeing all your content on a big calendar (even if you’re putting it on a white board for now) lets map out how the separate pieces of content come together as a complete whole. You develop theme weeks. You see how a few posts could be become a series. You realize there’s a holiday in the month you can use for inspiration. You can’t see any of this unless you see it all together on a calendar?. Here’s my content calendar for the last week and this week:
What you see are posts about creating content, writing, or content strategy (and a lack of topics for Thursday and Friday). This isn’t by accident. Starting with my ebook I published June 25th (download here for free), I’ve focused my energy on creating content to help the people I can help most. I’m following my own advice creating my own content strategy. I know what my value proposition is, I have a good idea who I’m writing for, and I’m putting it together into a calendar so I can see the big picture.
How is this a strategy?
If you need to create a multipage document, that takes a week or two to write and research, that no one is going to read again (if at all), just to check a box on someone’s “this is how marketing is done” list—I hate to break it to you, but you’re wasting your time. In those two weeks, how many posts could you have written? How many posts on social media supporting your content could be out there? You could have spent one day creating a first draft of your value props and personas; another day brainstorming topics and putting them on a calendar; and the remaining time creating content to see if it will work. It’s time spent seeing if your strategies will work. It’s time spent doing not thinking about doing.
My goal is more clients. I think creating great content will attract the right people who might think I could help them create their own content and strategies. I’ve created a calendar so I can see how I want to organize my posts and how to promote them on social media. If in a month, I don’t have as many clients as I’d like or the content isn’t working, I’ll change tactics. What I’m ?not doing is spinning my wheels creating make work for myself.
I believe that your content strategy should be anchored by your value prop, your personas, and a schedule that builds a narrative. The rest? Window dressing. A functional content strategy needs to be structured enough not to be spraying and praying, but flexible enough to adapt to new things you learn about your audience. If you get that straight, the rest will work out.