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A Step-By-Step Approach To Successful Content Marketing

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Approach is hugely important. It can literally make the difference between success and failure. Landing a plane is a good example. The pilot’s approach to the runway can make the difference between a smooth landing and a disaster. When it comes to content marketing, approach is just as important. Let’s take a look at why content marketing matters today, and how to make it work for you.

Content marketing is the component of a marketing plan focused on the creation and distribution of content needed to accomplish the marketing objectives. This includes content placed on your website, content placed on third party sites, and content used in offline and online marketing campaigns, press releases, and more. It includes all forms of content, such as text, images, videos, and interactive content.

Even with other successful marketing strategies available, content marketing is so important because it can help marketers in many ways. Content marketing helps you build a relationship with your audience by giving them what they need when they want it. In addition, it allows marketers to push content far beyond their websites, placing it in a variety of web outlets where their target audience is more apt to see it. Content marketing also capitalizes on the search-centric world we live in today, and enables brands to gain additional visibility in search results.

Getting The Job Done — The Content Strategy And Content Plan

Many brands struggle with content marketing. Some think of it as nothing more than the information needed on their website to tell the world about their product. Others view it as something they need to do to obtain high rankings in search results. Still others struggle because their content efforts lack ownership and direction. To truly make content marketing work, you need a solid approach in the form of a content marketing plan.

A good content marketing plan benefits all your marketing channels — both online and offline. For example, if your TV ad mentions a particular product feature or benefit, then your content should support that claim. Before you can put together a content plan, however, you need to develop a content strategy.

Here is a seven-step content strategy plan.

1. Identify marketing objectives and goals — This is the most important step in creating a content marketing plan because it helps establish the plan’s direction and goals, as well as determining how aggressive it needs to be. Examples of common marketing objectives and goals include:

  • Increase market share by X percent
  • Increase the size of the category by X percent
  • Increase dollar share by X percent
  • Introduce a new product into the market with X units in sales

2. Identify target audience and location — This may sound like a no-brainer, but some brands put little thought into it. You need to get specific here. The answer should be more detailed than just “we are targeting American women aged 24 to 55.” Try to address information such as:

  • Does the target audience include Hispanics who only speak Spanish?
  • Are you targeting current users of your product? Users of a competitor’s product? Women new to the market?
  • Describe your target group(s) through personas. What are their values? Their interests? Their lifestyle?

3. Assess your brand and product — This step requires an open and honest assessment of your products relative to those of your competitors. Strive to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your products and your competitors’ offerings. Ask questions such as:

  • What is the equity in my brand?
  • What position does the product have in the marketplace?
  • If it’s a consumer product, what is its household penetration?
  • What are the product’s clear points of differentiation?
  • What trial barriers are associated with the product?

4. Establish your content strategy focus — Identify the layer(s) of the path-to-purchase funnel where the majority of the content should be focused on.

Content at the top of the purchase funnel — in the lifestyle and category layers — develops awareness of the type of product or service you provide. Content at the product layer of the funnel differentiates your product(s) from competitive products. Content at the brand layer should focus on closing the sale. To determine which layer(s) your content strategy should focus on, keep your marketing objectives in mind, and conduct an audit of your existing content and that of your competitors.

5. Create the content themes — You’re now ready to identify the content your brand / product needs to accomplish its marketing objectives. I suggest that you begin at the top of the purchase funnel with lifestyle themes and work your way down to the brand theme. Examine the overlap of your audience personas and the equity in your brand / products to identify lifestyle themes. At the category level, try to identify just one theme defining the specific industry you serve. Content themes at the product level should focus on product differentiators and trial barriers. At the brand level, have one content theme focused on your specific brand.

6. Evaluate and prioritize the content themes — Now it’s time to evaluate each theme to determine if building / providing content in these areas will move the dial for your business. The use of search tools, such as the Google Keyword tool, can help you determine the volume of searches related to the content themes you identified. The larger the volume, the greater the chance your brand will benefit from those content themes. Then prioritize the themes, and decide which ones you want to pass on altogether.

7. Place the content — The majority of your target audience will not visit your website, so you need to place the content where your audience is seeking it. For example, following up with our funnel, the chart below shows that only 2% of searchers who queried “teeth whitening” actually went to a brand’s website.

The vast majority of searchers went to information and review sites instead. This is not a unique case — brand sites commonly receive less than 10% of all search traffic. An effective content marketing plan should include plans for placing your content in a wide variety of locations, including:

  • Your brand’s website
  • Unbranded website(s) if you have one
  • Information sites (eHow, Yahoo Answers, etc.)
  • E-retail sites (Amazon.com, Walmart.com, etc.)
  • Other third-party websites relevant to your content themes
  • Social sites (Facebook, Google+, etc.)
  • Blogs
  • Podcasts
  • RSS feeds
  • In-store displays
  • Whitepapers
  • Press releases
  • Email
  • Offline ads

As an example of this in action, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) builds awareness of their expertise and areas of specialization by targeting practicing physicians. One way they do this is to distribute their content to websites often visited by physicians. The leading healthcare website for physicians in the US is Medscape.com, and CHOP has worked out an editorial collaboration to place their content there.

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Once the content strategy has been developed, you can create the content marketing plan. Its purpose is to outline the steps necessary to execute against your content strategy. In addition to the strategy driving it, a content plan should include the following four components:

1. Creating / acquiring content — First conduct an assessment of existing content against your content themes. You may find that you already have a substantial amount of the content that you need for some themes, especially for brand and product themes. When additional content is needed, it can be acquired through third-party content providers. In some cases, you may want to use content developed by potential partner sites.

2. Optimizing content — Whatever content you create or purchase, make sure it has been optimized and made search-engine-friendly before placing it on your website or distributing it to other sites. You want to make sure the content shows up in the results of the major search engines.

3. Distributing / syndicating content — To get your content seen by as many eyes as possible, you need to place it where your target audience may seek it or be attracted to it. Identify the sites that your audience is likely to visit based on the themes you developed. Contact these sites to see what steps are necessary to get your content on them.

4. Measuring performance — A variety of ways exist to measure the performance of a content marketing plan, but you ultimately need to measure against the goal set for your marketing objective. It can be difficult to determine the content plan’s contribution plan in helping you achieve your marketing objectives versus other marketing activities going on in parallel. One common way of measuring success is through proxy metrics that may include:

  • Change in the volume of unique visitors to your website(s)
  • Changes in engagement metrics such as time on site or pageviews per visit
  • Improvement in the organic rankings for your website(s)
  • Change in conversion rate on your website
  • Decrease in the bounce rate of visitors to your web properties
  • Amount of engagement for distributed content

Without question, content marketing is a very successful strategy for marketers today. But to truly make it work, you need to have a solid approach. Smart marketers will take the time to first develop a content strategy, then a content plan, and then monitor key metrics to measure the success of the plan. Doing so will help ensure that your content marketing efforts go smoothly and that the investment benefits the brand.

Image: Website Content Plan by Shutterstock

About the Author

Tim Breen is a Senior Partner at Catalyst Online, a leading search engine marketing agency. Tim leads the Strategy and Analytics team and has led the development of content strategies and content marketing plans for many Fortune 500 brands.

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