If you’re thinking about content marketing, you probably already know you need a strategy. Sure, it sounds tempting to just throw words and images together, but as a thoughtful leader, you know that approach won’t get you far. But to create a strategy, you probably need to bring the term content marketing into focus first because, let’s face it, that phrase really is a little bit vague. So let’s start with these two key questions. What is content marketing? And what goes into a strategy?
Content Marketing Defined
Most people think of content marketing as publishing stuff on the Internet to put the word out, generate leads, find out what your potential customers need, and educate them about the solutions you provide. That’s not bad as a starting point. Putting material on the Internet is a great way to communicate, and if you handle publishing and promotion deftly, you can reach lots of people.
But “publishing stuff on the Internet” is not a very precise definition. For a better one, I turned to experts in the field:
That’s not exactly an elevator pitch, but it is comprehensive and specific. I like the emphasis it puts on a strategic approach—calculated, rational action designed to help your organization achieve its goals. I also like the emphasis on a clearly defined audience. Focusing on your audience is key to success.
I think the Content Marketing Institute has it just about right. We’ll use their definition as our guiding light as we explore the topic. The examples in this piece are drawn mostly from small business, but the principles they illustrate apply to the nonprofit sector as well.
Benefits of Content Marketing
So now you know what content marketing is, and you know that it’s popular. But does it work?
Studies show that content marketing is highly effective. Consider these stats:
- In 2018, 26% of American adults reported that they go online almost constantly, while 77% of American adults go online daily (Pew Research)
- Customers with blogs gathered 68% more leads than customers without blogs. (Hubspot)
- More than 50% of consumers reported that reading blogs had an influence on whether they made a purchase. Sixty-one percent reported they are more likely to buy from a company that provide custom content. (Dragon360)
Consider also Corey Wainwright’s take on the economics of content marketing in Content Marketing Strategy: A Comprehensive Guide for Modern Marketers. She compares it with other forms of promotion, such as list purchasing, pay-per-click advertising, and trade show advertising. Content marketing is slow-acting but inexpensive. It takes time to develop and promote your content, but you can do it on the cheap.
The other methods are fast-acting but expensive. Sure, you can buy a lead list, but you’ll pay a premium for it, and the leads will be cold. You can advertise on Google, but the leads stop coming in the moment you turn off your spend. But with content marketing, your evergreen posts can generate leads year after year, for free.
Why You Need a Strategy
I assume you’re convinced now about the value of content marketing. But what about the value of strategy? Why not just wing it? Why not keep your plan in your head? Do you really need to put your strategy in writing?
The answer is yes, but don’t just take my word for it. Consider also these stats:
- 60% of the most effective B2C marketers have a documented content strategy (Content Marketing Institute)
- B2B marketers with a documented strategy are more likely to consider themselves effective (Content Marketing Institute)
But how do you create a strategy? How do you go beyond generalities and find the methods that really work for your organization?
To get to the heart of strategy, we have to explore one more key concept—the marketing funnel.
Meet the Marketing Funnel
If life is a journey, every decision we make along the way is a journey in miniature, consisting of multiple steps. Marketers call this journey a marketing funnel.
If you work at a nonprofit, your job is to guide your stakeholders (such as program participants, donors, and staff) through your marketing funnel to the goals you want them to reach, like signing up for a program, funding your cause, or working together more effectively. If you run a business, your job is to guide customers on their journey through your funnel, leading them to (and beyond) the moment of the sale.
There are many ways to define and illustrate a marketing funnel, but I like the way Moz does it in their Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing, Chapter 3: Content and the Marketing Funnel, using the stages Discovery, Consideration, Conversion, and Retention. Katie Joll of AudienceOps supplies the stage definitions in How to Map Content to Different Stages of the Marketing Sales Funnel. I paraphrase her definitions below the illustration.
What happens along the way? Plenty.
- Discover: A prospect finds you and begins to learn about your organization.
- Consideration: The prospect evaluates your offerings.
- Conversion: The prospect becomes a customer or takes another action on your site.
- Retention: Your organization works to retain the customer.
The marketing funnel determines your goals. That’s why we focus on it as we create strategy.
What Belongs in a Content Marketing Strategy
A content marketing plan is actually a mix of strategy and tactics. For the strategic part, you have to:
- Set goals, objectives, and metrics
- Audit your existing content to know where you stand today
- Focus on your audience
For the tactical part, you have to:
- Choose keywords
- Generate ideas
- Plan for content reuse
- Promote your content
- Create an editorial calendar
- Set up your analytics
That’s a lot to think about. Let’s take a closer look at the details.
What Is Content Marketing?
Setting Goals, Objectives, and Metrics
Optimizing Content for Your Audience
How to Do Keyword Research
Promoting Your Content
How to Create a Content Calendar