Imagine a baseball team in the locker room preparing to hit the field. As they put on their caps and pull up their socks, the manager walks into the middle of the room and says, “Okay, team, we’ve read all the books, attended some really good webinars, and watched some world-class teams in action. Now let’s go out there and win!”
Of course this would never happen. Why? Because every good manager knows the importance of a strategy — a plan that makes the most of the team’s competitive advantages and maps out the game from the first at-bat to the final out, with each player taking on a specific role.
Unfortunately, many B2B content marketing teams approach their “game” in the same way as the manager in our story. They take the time to learn from the best, then they go out there and “do stuff,” with no strategy that makes content marketing their own.
In today’s competitive environment, B2B content marketing teams can’t afford to waste time and resources figuring out “this content thing” on the fly. If you’re going to beat your biggest competitors, you need a strategy that brings together everything you know about content marketing with your company’s specific goals and the assets you have at your disposal.
Fortunately, creating a content marketing strategy isn’t rocket science. Once you have the following pieces in place, you’ll have the beginnings of a game plan to set your company on the road to victory.
1. Set Your Objectives
As Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.”
Before you start thinking about channels, topics, and KPIs, decide what you want to achieve with your content marketing program, and be specific. Many brands start off with flimsy goals like “improve brand recognition” or “grow thought leadership,” which give them no idea what success will look like.
Spend some time thinking about what “winning” will look like for your team at the end of this year. Here are a few examples:
– Generate 20 percent more leads
– Improve conversion rates by 5 percent
– Earn 10,000 website visits per month
– Grow email clickthrough rates by 10 percent
2. Define your audience personas
If your goals give you the “why” behind your content marketing strategy, your audience personas fill in the “who.” Personas are more than “nice-to-haves”; they mean serious business. According to a recent study, 71 percent of companies who exceed revenue and lead-generation goals have documented personas.
Many B2B marketing teams can recite in detail what their ideal customer’s company looks like, but they stop there. They know they’re looking for, say, a mid-sized manufacturing company based in the Midwest that makes products for the healthcare industry … but ask them which people in those organizations they most want to speak to, and you might get a blank stare.
This is one area of your content marketing strategy where intent data can be a tremendous asset. Review the intent data from your existing leads and see what you can find out about those individuals. Which problems are they looking to solve? What types of content do they prefer? What else can you learn about them that will let you fine-tune your audience personas?
Set aside some time to brainstorm with your team and use what you know about your ideal buyer to create detailed audience personas. The more specific you are, the better you’ll be able to focus your content. A good B2B audience persona will include the following attributes:
– Company specifics (size, industry, geographic location, B2B or B2C, etc.)
– Job title
– Demographics (age, gender, income bracket, education level, etc.)
– Pain points/obstacles
– Content behaviors (such as reading blog posts, attending webinars, downloading resources, etc.)
3. Determine your topics
What is your content going to be about? Think about the sweet spot where your audience personas’ interests, goals, and pain points intersect with your specific area of expertise. Then start building a topic list in that area.
Remember, a good topic must first and foremost address a specific customer need or interest. These are the people you want to attract into your lead-gen funnel, and if you’re not 100 percent on board with solving their problems, they’ll be on to the next search result.
Topics must also revolve around your primary areas of expertise. Don’t include a topic just because it’s popular with your audience. If it’s not tied to the value your company delivers, it’s not going to attract quality leads into your funnel.
4. Choose Your Formats and Channels
Today’s vibrant online environment offers brands the opportunity to engage with prospects in a broad range of formats, including:
– Text: Traditional blog posts and emails, e-books, white papers, etc.
– Images: Infographics, slideshows, etc.
– Video: How-to videos, webinars, “ask the expert” live video broadcasts, etc.
– Audio: Audiobooks and podcasts
– Interactive elements: Polls, assessments, quizzes, etc.
Consider which formats are most likely to engage your audience, and which make the most sense for your brand and your organization. For example, if the people in your audience aren’t big podcast listeners, then starting a weekly or monthly podcast may not be the best use of your resources. Or, if they do listen to podcasts, but you lack someone with the necessary combination of skills and availability to host one, perhaps your resources would be put to better use in another area for now.
Once you’ve determined the formats you will use, decide on the combination of channels you’ll use for delivering that content, such as:
– Blog posts
– Downloadable resources (white papers, ebooks, executive briefs, etc.)
– Bylined articles in industry publications
– Conference presentations
– Social media
Being strategic about your choices of formats and channels will help you make the most of the resources you have available and get the most “bang for your buck” in reaching and engaging your audience.
5. Plan your KPI measurement and reporting strategy
No one wants to get to the end of the year and suddenly realize that they missed their goals by a huge margin. Once you put your content marketing strategy in place, how will you track your progress to ensure you reach your objectives?
Measuring and assessing your key performance indicators (KPIs) on a regular basis will help you determine whether you’re on pace to meet your goals. If you’re off pace, you’ll have time to make the necessary adjustments to get your content marketing program program back on track.
Go back to the KPIs in the content goals you created in Step 1 and break each one down into monthly milestones. For example, if you have a goal of bringing in 6,000 qualified leads over the next 12-month period, that breaks down to 500 leads per month. By tracking your lead generation on a month-to-month basis, you can determine whether you’re meeting, exceeding, or falling short of your goal. If you’re falling short, you can create an action plan for getting back on track in time to hit your 12-month objective.
In B2B content marketing as in baseball, no one ever wins without first having a strategy. This is your opportunity to take everything you’ve learned — including all those best practices — and make it your own by creating a custom winning game plan. Once you understand your audience, determine the optimal ways for reaching them, and build a plan for measuring your progress, you’ll have the makings of a winning season. Get your content marketing strategy in place, make sure your whole team is on board, and you’ll only have one thing left to do — take it out on the field and get ready to win.