Good prose is only half the battle when it comes to building a successful content strategy. The other half is creating a detailed roadmap for your content to reach your target audience wherever they are.
Without a firm plan and schedule for producing marketing content, your organization may create content lacking the consistency, quality, and regularity needed to meet your business goals.
There is no one way to create a successful content strategy. However, the right content strategy process should be based on some core elements that will allow you to produce quality, engaging content consistently.
Why Does Content Not Convert?
It’s frustrating to see the time and effort you put into creating content around a marketing campaign go to waste.
That blog you promoted on LinkedIn gets barely a handful of responses. That eBook helping drive your demand gen campaign – crickets.
The content is well-polished, and a lot of thought went into crafting it. But, for some reason, your target audience just isn’t connecting with it. Content marketing can often feel like throwing work into the void and just hoping something comes back.
What went wrong?
As frustrating as it can be to see your content fall flat, there are several reasons this may be happening. This is a great opportunity to learn why some content doesn’t convert—and how to improve it in the future.
Not Identifying a Target Audience
Content that’s for “everyone” is content that’s for no one. Your content may be making one of these missteps:
- You’re telling them something they already know.
- You’re providing answers to the wrong questions or problems.
- Your content is too technical or not technical enough.
Attention and Value Are Misaligned
When it comes to the success of your content, your audience’s attention is the most valuable resource. The question is, does the value provided by the piece match up with the level of attention it takes to digest the piece?.
Those who engage with the content may end up saying, “So what?”
When your content asks too much of an audience and doesn’t provide clear value that an audience can find quickly and easily, it will cause your bounce rate to skyrocket and conversions to plummet.
Forcing Contacts Down the Funnel
When you’re trying too hard to make a sale, rather than help a customer, this is bound to lead to an ineffective content strategy.
In this case, you’re likely talking about your product too much and talking about the customer and their desired outcomes too little.
By identifying where your target audience is in the buyer funnel, you can create content that speaks to each phase of the funnel and meet buyers wherever they are in the decision-making process.
If you’re trying to force a conversion from someone who’s still seeking to learn more about a topic and not ready to buy—rather than building pieces of content that target each stage of the buyer’s journey—you’re unlikely to see the results you’re targeting.
Content that’s poorly written, vague, and generally doesn’t provide a good on-page user experience is unlikely to drive conversions. No matter how good your product is, poorly written content and design will detract from your business and marketing outcomes.
Identify Target Audience
In deciding what to write about, your audience and your subject matter should be considered in tandem rather than as isolated elements. Understanding your audience is the foundation on which you will ideate your content.
Personas and message mapping are a great place to begin.
Note that personas are not the same as an “Ideal Customer Profile” or ICP.
An ICP consists of a profile of a fictional company that would be the perfect fit for the solutions you offer. They’re less concerned with individual customers and more focused on an overall account made up of individuals who are ideal for your sales team to reach out to.
An ICP is the best user of your product. They are buying exactly what you are selling, so the sale is easy and the results are good. An example of an ICP might be a direct-to-consumer retailer with a specific budget dedicated to the product or service being offered. Note that an ICP can be a critical tool when formulating b2b content marketing strategies.
Personas are the people you are talking to (at a company that mirrors your ICP), who are researching, using, and approving the purchase of your product. They are the ones asking the questions and the ones to whom your content should provide answers. Ideally, your content should help them make their assessment.
Effective message mapping happens when these elements of your audience align, so that you’re always sharing the information that’s most relevant to each audience without bogging them down with aspects of your messaging that they’re uninterested in or will find irrelevant.
For the most effective content strategy, always ask yourself: What parts of my overall value proposition connect with a given buyer persona, and which do not?
Here are a few things you should consider about your target audience.
Who buys, uses, and benefits from your product?
Maybe this user occupies a specific role in an organization — e.g., an HR manager, an HOA treasurer, or an event organizer.
Work to understand their goals and pain points as individuals and within the context of the entire organization. You must get a feel for what their process and what success looks like beyond the most literal scope of your offering.
The person who uses your product may not be the person who buys it. The user may have to appeal the purchase decision to a board or supervisor who has final approval. Your personas should include each of these stakeholders so you can understand the dynamics of making the purchase decision. The more you can tie the user’s success to the approver’s success, the better.
What is the triggering event to seek out your product?
Your customers may be using some sort of workaround, sub-par vendor, or another insufficient method of performing their role.
Or else there’s been a major change or breakage. A disaster at a similar organization has them scrambling to prevent the same happening to them. A new compliance mandate or regulation has emerged that prompts the search for a new solution.
Whatever the specific cause, they’ve reached a breaking point, leading them to say, “There must be a better way.”
What’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back? This may indicate the problem they are most intent on solving — their most pressing pain point. At the very least, this knowledge can help you create content that meets potential customers where they’re at.
What is your buyer journey?
The bridge between your potential customer’s triggering event and their conversion to a customer comprises three phases: awareness, consideration, and decision.
In the awareness phase, they are assessing all possible directions they could take to solve their problem. For example, should they buy software or hire a third-party company? Should they use one holistic solution or several single-point solutions?
In the consideration phase, they have settled on what solution they want, and now they are considering which solution is best. For example, they’ve decided to buy software. Which software should I buy?
In the decision phase, they know what you and your competitors offer. They are matching those offerings with their own specific needs and budget. At this point, they are ready to buy and have narrowed it down to two or three options.
You should create content that speaks to customers at each stage of this journey.
Note: The buyer journey is never a straight line. Prospects can wander throughout the funnel in an nonlinear fashion, and that’s okay.
Even after someone converts to a customer, your content marketing strategy should work to deepen their loyalty and keep them engaged.
To continue our software example, post-conversion content could show more in-depth tips and pointers to using the software, introduce new products or features, or could speak to new developments in the industry. You might have a customer service team member reach out to them a few times a year to ask about their experience. Their feedback may inform the next upgrade to your service offering.
What makes a stellar customer?
Many characteristics may define your “best customer.”
- Clients whom your product or service has helped most drastically.
- Clients who are happiest with your product.
- Clients that are most profitable.
- Clients who are easiest to work with.
What conditions, attitudes, and habits do they have in common?
In terms of the content you’ll create, these ideal customers are the center of your bullseye. Often, they’re also the easiest to convert.
Pro tip: Ask your sales team how they can tell at the outset which new clients are going to stand out and ask your star customers about their experiences with you.
These conversations should give you plenty of jumping-off points to brainstorm topics for content production.
What Mediums Fit Your Target Audience?
It’s also important to have a clear idea of how a brand expects a target audience to find them. This sets the stage for if you should have an SEO content strategy for organic engagement, and what portion of the overall strategy should be dedicated to copywriting and ads versus long-form digital content.
There are many places on the internet and in the physical world where we can place content. Here are some typical examples of marketing mediums.
- Direct mail
- Phone call
- Blogs, webpages, and other SEO-driven content
- Social media
- PPC marketing
When trying to reach your target audience, mediums matter. For instance, Gen-Zers respond better to email than Baby Boomers, but Baby Boomers respond better to Facebook ads than Gen-X. So targeting demographics by the right mediums can produce a better ROI.
Cadence and Structure
Now, it’s time to plan how you’ll go about creating and distributing your content. The format and frequency of your content depend somewhat on your team and resources, but even with the smallest team, you can create impactful content.
Your cadence and quality will help build trust with your audience. By regularly and consistently putting out great content, they’ll see that your business is alive and actively offering help to people like them.
Begin by asking yourself, “How much content can my team realistically and repeatably produce?”
It’s best to low-ball this estimate. If you think you can produce a blog per week, start off at a blog every two weeks and see how the process goes. When ideating for content, based off of your buyer personas and message mapping, it’s best to ideate as much as you can in advance. At Content Workshop, we prefer to ideate all our content for the quarter ahead of time.
Plot your content on a content calendar.
Looking at a blank calendar can be intimidating. We’ll show you how to get more bang for your buck with your content in the next step, but for now, just plot out the topics and pieces you have in mind.
Space them out at an interval that you know you can get them done. You can quicken your pace later.
Outline the steps to complete each piece of content.
Different types of content require different steps, but they usually follow some model of Prepare, Create, Edit, Design, and Distribute.
- Preparing could mean researching for a blog post, arranging a client interview for a case study, hiring a local videographer for a video shoot, and composing an outline of topics and questions for a podcast episode.
- Creating is just what it sounds like — writing and optimizing the blog post, shooting the video, and recording the podcast.
- Editing may require multiple rounds of revision. If it’s a written piece, definitely get another set of eyes on it. If the subject matter is extremely technical, let a subject matter expert (SME) look it over. For a video or podcast, this is the post-production phase.
- Designing accounts for the visual elements of your piece. Graphics for a blog, photos for a case study, on-screen animations for a video, social media images for a podcast, or whatever else you need.
- Distributing involves making your content public. This could be building out and publishing a blog on your website’s CMS, promoting your content as a social media post, or emailing your content directly to recipients in a newsletter.
At Content Workshop, four hands touch every blog post — an SME, a writer, an editor, and a designer. Your team may have a different makeup.
Maybe your organization will require another layer of approval, like a dedicated SEO specialist, or maybe you’ll have to coordinate with a specific team member who is in charge of your website. Whatever the case, decide beforehand who is responsible for which steps.
Note which tasks you will need to outsource and which can be done in-house.
If you’re a one-person show, take heart. Try a few courses to improve your writing. Tools like Grammarly allow you to proof your work, while platforms like Canva and Shutterstock give you the bare minimum to create graphics for your content. Be realistic and rigid in your organization and process—start small and stick to your content calendar.
While some build structure around how much they can produce at maximum workload, there’s another way.
One idea to get started is to get your content structure through the concept by using the hub-and-spoke model. This is when pillar content creates the core foundations of what you provide to show people a the bottom of the funnel and then build supporting content around it.
Try this using the “content solar system” approach below.
The “Content Solar System”
This is known as the solar system model for content strategy. The idea is to place content according to its “orbit,” or where it falls on the customer’s journey or marketing funnel and how it can be used to achieve a central marketing goal or KPI.
For instance, the most outer-orbit pieces will likely be foundational content meant to inform or educate, like pillar pages. Middle-orbit pieces may be long-form content, and inner-orbit content can be things like product comparison charts, case studies, or live demos.
Now we’ll take what we learned earlier about the stages of the buyer’s journey and apply it to the solar system model.
The Sun – At the center of your content strategy should be the KPI, or key performance indicator, that you’re trying to achieve with your content. This should indicate a clear content goal, such as driving your audience to schedule a meeting, try a free demo, or become a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL).
The Comet – Sometimes you’re going to have people who are comets, who go from zero to hero and become an MQL without following the predetermined stages of the buyer’s journey. They don’t follow a set orbit. For these customers who are hot to buy, you should be able to accommodate their eagerness. But this pace shouldn’t be your expectation for the majority of prospects.
Planets Closest to the Star – This is your inner-orbit “decision stage” or Bottom of the Funnel (BOFU) content. This would include content such as vendor or product comparison charts, a pre-recorded demo, and case studies.
Moons – The moons orbiting each type of planet represent blogs that drive organic traffic and move customers down the buyer’s journey.
Mid-Orbit Planets – This is content tailored to people at the “consideration stage,” or those considering a buying solution for a problem they have. You know their problem exists and provide the solution. And the mid-orbit content will draw people there.
Outer-Orbit Planets – This is the “awareness stage” or top-of-the-funnel (TOFU) content. This could be editorial, expert, or educational content meant to inform. It might also include content like eBooks, whitepapers, and research reports.
Blogs are the perfect feeders to lead people to different types of content at different orbit levels.
Remember, you can’t force people down the funnel. You can tell people what to do, but you can’t tell them what they want. The ideal content strategy gives answers to the questions prospects are asking at each phase of the funnel, so they are informed enough to either exit the funnel or move closer to the sun.
Need Help with Your Content Strategy? We Can Help.
Almost universally, organizations and businesses underestimate the workload of creating content. Scheduling interviews, writing, publishing, posting — it’s a lot. It’s a full-time job, yet many of our clients wear other hats within their organization.
It’s comforting to have someone in your corner, both from a strategic perspective and an executional one. We love making our clients’ lives easier and helping them create content that produces tangible business outcomes.
If you’re pondering how to create a content marketing strategy, we’d love to be your sounding board. Reach out to us through our chatbot, which you can find on any page of our website, and let’s start a conversation.