63% of You Are Working Backwards, Use This Forward Thinking Content Marketing Strategy

by Josh Barney

You’re here because you know how crucial content marketing is to your overall strategy in 2018, so let’s not waste our time on its statistical importance or effectiveness.

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


That massive figure refers to the percentage of 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 you!

It’s for that exact reason, that the vast majority of 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.

Cool? Let’s jump in.

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Content Marketing Strategy vs Tactics

If all you’re doing is creating as much content as possible 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.

‘Tactics’ original meaning is ‘to arrange’ or ‘order’. If we fast-forward to the way it is often used today, tactics are seen as short-term strategies. And, although it (kinda) makes sense to use it in this way, it’s not quite right.

The best way to explain this 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. They’re a fundamental part of victory, but not the totality of it.

The great Chinese General Sun Tzu (creator 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.”

If your eyes have just opened to the mistakes you’re making, awesome. Stick with me.

A content marketing tactic might include 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?

content strategy

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  

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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!).

As you work through the following steps, a lot of you will probably notice something…

…it’s the reverse of how many of you 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.


Step 1

content strategy

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 your (or your employer’s) business was started. 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?

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 you create.

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 must 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.

To help you understand, look at Step 1 in relation to the war analogy from earlier. This WHY is your reason for going to war!


Step 2

content strategy

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?

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.

In relation to the war analogy (again), STEP 2 refers to a close analysis of your troops strengths and weaknesses and how they match your opponent’s.  


Step 3

content strategy

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.

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?
  8. Etc, etc, etc (not an actual distribution channel. There are so many, I’d be listing them all day)

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?

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.

Sticking with the war reference, STEP 3 is how you will organise your troops before the battle. You will have used your knowledge of your strengths and your opponent’s weaknesses (STEP 2) to put them in the formation that gives you the best chance of success. 


Step 4

content strategy

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.

In fact, I bet you try to come up with a topic, and (after a long and drawn out process of trying to decide exactly WHAT you’re going to do) you immediately go to work in the medium that you’re most comfortable with. Some of you might even use your WHAT to decide on a 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.

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

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

Back to the war analogy. STEP 4 is the act of sending your troops into battle. What are you going to tell them? What will you arm them with?


The Forward-Thinking Content Marketing Strategy: Conclusion

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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 make sure to go through all four steps and that I 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!

What do you think of this forward-thinking content marketing strategy? Do you have a better method? Leave a comment!

If you enjoyed this post, check out 52 Different Types of Content: Make Variety the Spice of Your Content Marketing Life.

Josh is the Founder of We Imagine Media, an award-winning content marketer, best selling author and creator of the www.joshbarney.blog. He creates and strategises content, sharing the most successful tactics with his lovely audience. He hates writing in the third person, follow him on the social links so he can get back to writing as himself.

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