The Content Strategy: A Forward Thinking Approach

by Josh Barney
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You’re here because you know how crucial a content marketing strategy is to your digital marketing returns, so let’s not waste our time on its statistical importance or effectiveness.

I’d like to focus on a very different number…

63%.

That massive figure refers to the percentage of B2B businesses who adopt content marketing, but DO NOT have a documented content marketing strategy in place (according to Marketing Profs and CMI).

That’s almost 2/3rds of all content marketers.

content marketing strategy statistic

It’s for that exact reason, that you need to stick around for the next 10 minutes.

In this post we’re going to be talking strategy vs tactics, a 4 step theory to content marketing greatness and the backwards mistake (a lot of you are making) that’s hindering your growth..

Content Marketing Strategy vs Tactics

If all you’re doing is creating content and pumping it out day-after-day, you’ve got no strategy.

The biggest mistake that most content marketers make is to constantly focus on grinding out successful tactics, without ever considering a strategy, so let’s start here.

The Meaning of ‘Tactics’

‘Tactics’ original meaning is ‘to arrange’ or ‘order’.

Fast-forwarding to the way it is used today, tactics are seen as short-term strategies. And although that (kinda) makes sense, it’s not quite right.

The best way to explain ‘tactics’ is to take a bird’s-eye-view of a battle. The formation (or arrangement) of the troops on the battlefield are tactics, but they aren’t how the battle will be won.

The great Chinese General Sun Tzu (author of the legendary work, The Art of War) describes tactics like this,

“All the men can see the tactics I use to conquer, but what none see is the strategy out of which great victory is evolved.”

sun tzu art of war

A content marketing tactic might be attacking a highly-sought-after topic, targeting a specific channel (e.g. LinkedIn) or using a variety of mediums to create a wider reach (e.g. video, written, audio, visual).

These are your troops on the battlefield, but they won’t win anything if they have no direction. This is where strategy comes in.

Your strategy is everything. It’s the bridge that will get you from where you are to where you want to be. Tactics will drive you in the correct direction, but without a strategy, the scatter-gun approach of chasing tactics, heavily depends on luck.

Before we move onto the next section, I really need you to understand that every part of your content marketing efforts must be primed towards a strategy.

What Does a Content Marketing Strategy Look Like?

A great content strategy intersects two points:

  1. Your aim (what you plan to get out of content marketing) e.g. a bigger audience, more awareness, qualified leads, presence.
  2. Your customer’s desires/solutions.

A winning content marketing strategy finds a marker between your aims and your audiences’ desires, but if you really want to bolster your chances of success, you must focus much more on the latter.

 

For example, one of our clients runs a multi-national consultancy for sales companies. His aim was to reach more large corporate businesses. And, one of his target customer’s biggest desires was to train and implement new techniques to a large workforce of sales staff.

The strategy we ran with (which produced incredible financial results) tied the two of these things together, with a large focus on educating the target audience’s decision makers about how to train large teams.

From this strategy, we were able to formulate tactics that helped him achieve his desired result.

If you’re in a small team or flying solo in your content marketing efforts, you should only have ONE strategy at any time. Larger brands with multiple employees can have much more, with either one person per strategy, or multiple people contributing to a variety.

The Four Step Content Marketing Method  

Every time I hit a key on this keyboard, it’s with a documented, precisely-engineered strategy in mind (yes, that includes this too). You need to do the same.

If you’re having difficulties coming up with a content marketing strategy and the tactics that will help you achieve it, no sweat. This is the four step content marketing method that I use for everything (clients and Einstein Marketer included!).

organic growth content marketing

As you work through the following steps, a lot of you will probably notice something – it’s the reverse of how many other’s approach content marketing.

Cover these four bases (in order), and you’ll be leaving the tactic chasing approach behind, and taking your first real steps towards content marketing greatness.

Stop working backwards and start moving forwards.

Content Marketing Strategy Step 1

The first and second step of this process focusses largely on your strategy. Doing this at the start will help you streamline you content marketing tactics (a little later).

Remember, you must start here! Do not skip this step.

Separate yourself from your strategical aims for a moment. Let’s assume that you already have those in mind.

Think about your why. The reason why you (or your employer’s) started your business. Was it to break new ground in the industry? Did you want to provide a superior standard to the existing options? Was it driven by passion?

BTW: If all you can come up with is financial gain, you’re in big trouble. Consumers can see straight through brands like this!  

What made you (or your brand) get into this whole business-thing in the first place?

find your why simon sinek

^^^If you’re struggling, try reading ‘Find Your Why’ by Simon Sinek.^^^

When you can answer this question clearly and have a full understanding of your why, you need to drill it into every piece of content.

Put this as the starting point for everything! It’s the one thing that you have that nobody else does. Your why is as unique as a fingerprint and that needs to resonate in your content marketing strategy and tactics.

For example, let’s pretend I start a sports business because I’m unhappy with the all the gym clothes on offer. My brand’s why is ‘to create gym clothes, for gym goers, by gym goers’.

This will come through in everything I do, and will have a massive influence on my content marketing strategy.

Content Marketing Strategy Step 2

When you have a clear understanding of your why, it’s time to step things up and become specific, that’s right, it’s time for who.

This step should be an effortless, natural step, because your why is almost always for the benefit of others.

Who are the people you are benefiting? What do you know about them? If you created your business because you were in their shoes (had a problem that you couldn’t solve) what were you like?

who needs a customer avatar

This is a massive part of your content marketing strategy and must not be ignored.

It goes a lot further than defining a rough outline. Consider everything and be specific.

This is your opportunity to not only learn much more about your audience, but also to choose your ideal audience member from within that crowd.

When you have those specifics, you will have a much better understanding of their pain points, desires and the best way to target them.

If you’re struggling, use a Customer Avatar.

customer avatar

Content Marketing Strategy Step 3

Now that you’ve been through STEP 1 and 2, you should have a polished content marketing strategy with a ton of tactical ideas. It’s time to define those tactics.

Our third step considers how.

Ask yourself, how are you going to deliver results and achieve your strategical aim?

Within your how you need to consider content mediums, distribution channels and frequency.

content marketing medium statistics

Source: HubSpot

Which content (or mixture) will you use?

  1. Written?
  2. Audio?
  3. Video?
  4. Visual?

What is your target audience’s preferred method of consuming content?

BTW: Video is tearing up the record books right now. Get in front of the camera whenever possible.

What distribution channels will you use?

  1. Facebook?
  2. Email?
  3. Instagram?
  4. Twitter?
  5. LinkedIn?
  6. Blogging networks?
  7. YouTube?

…there are tons of options…

BTW: When deciding on a distribution channel, think about where your perfect target audience hangs out.

How often will you create and publish content?

  1. Once a week?
  2. Twice a week?
  3. Everyday?
  4. Five times a day?

How often do your audience engage with industry related content?

blogging frequency over time

Source: Content Marketing Institute

This is where the knowledge of your why and over-arching content marketing strategy come into play.

Use the combination of these factors to decide on the tactical part of your post.

Content Marketing Strategy Step 4

It will have taken some time to get through all those steps, but finally, you’ve made it to the place that the majority of you begin – the what.

This refers to what your content actually is, and it’s the reason that I created this post in the first place.

If you sit down to create content and the first thing that comes to mind is, ‘what the hell am I going to create today?’ You’re working backwards.

numbered list headlines content

^^This blog post is a ‘what’, but it’s a result of knowing our why, who and how^^^

I know many marketer’s who waste a lot of time thinking about ‘topics’ before going to work in the medium that they’re most comfortable with. Many of these marketers even use their ‘what’ to decide on their ‘how’.

This is a clear example of working backwards. It’s scatter-gun, undefined and time consuming.

When you work through the first 3 steps (you’ll only have to do step 1, 2 and 3 once), your what falls into place with little thought. It makes content marketing ideas easy to come by.

You know exactly what tactics you’re going to use (how and what), because you have a clearly mapped strategy.

ebooks content marketing

When you work this way, you can use content marketing to progress infinitely faster and more efficiently.

The Forward-Thinking Content Marketing Strategy: Conclusion

This is the 4 step method that I use when tackling content marketing, whether that be for a client or myself, and it hasn’t failed me yet.

You’re reading this now because my strategy is in action (and hopefully it’s working). I always go through all four steps and understand and document my strategy. That means I’m never short on tactics.

If you feel like your content marketing efforts are going nowhere, you’re struggling for clearly defined ideas or you’re incredibly busy (like me) and don’t want to waste time constantly coming up with new ideas, use this approach and write it all down.

Want more content marketing help? Check these out: 

Director of Content at Einstein Marketer
Josh is an award winning content marketer and the Director of Content at Einstein Marketer, previously working as a content manager, freelance copywriter and marketer. He writes, edits, proofs and strategises content for Einstein Marketer's agency and their clients, sharing the most successful tactics and strategies with his lovely audience. He hates writing in the third person, follow him on the social links (above) so he can get back to writing as himself.

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