For the past three 3 years, the most successful B2B content marketers have been more likely than the least successful ones to have a documented content marketing strategy.
Clearly, you’re more likely to be successful if you have a documented strategy.
But I also understand the temptation to skip it. Where do you start? And how do you find the time and resources to do what could be months of strategic planning?
Enter the Minimum Viable Content Marketing Strategy, stripped of all the fluff you’ll find in most content marketing strategy how-to’s.
The Minimum Viable Content Marketing Strategy
Your Minimum Viable Content Marketing Strategy (MVCMS) answers five familiar questions: why, what, who, when, where, and how?
Why are you starting (or restarting) your content marketing program? What are your business goals? How will content marketing help you achieve those goals?
What is the message(s) you want to deliver to your audience? And who is your audience(s)?
When and where will you deliver your message(s) to your audience(s)?
How will you deliver your message(s) to the right audience at the right time and in the right place?
In the following sections—which you can skip to using the table of contents below—I’ll explain each of these items in more detail with examples, templates, and key insights from a few of my favorite content marketing experts.
- Why: Your Business Case for Content Marketing
– Determine your business goals
– Define content marketing success
– Outline a measurement strategy
- What and Who: Documenting Your Message and Honing in on a Target Audience
– Formulate your brand and content’s UVPs
– Describe your buyer personas
- When and Where: Distributing and Promoting Your Message
– Develop your buyer’s journey
– Pick your content channels
- How: Getting Ready to Produce
– Assemble your team
– Establish a workflow
Establishing Your Business Case for Content Marketing
Personal finance guru, author, and radio personality, Dave Ramsey, likes to say that personal finance is 80% behavior and 20% head knowledge.
Content marketing is similar.
A business case for content marketing solves common behavioral problems by:
- Setting expectations for teams and other stakeholders.
- Aligning teams, managers, and executives.
- Helping executives and managers measure progress, set goals, and adjust targets.
Your content marketing business case can be one page or less. It just has to outline the benefits, disadvantages, costs, and risks associated with launching a content marketing program at your company.
Determine your business goals
From the benefits section of your business case, you can zero in on the business goals your content marketing program will aim to achieve.
While the precise business goal will be unique to your company, since we’re talking about marketing, we can usually narrow it down to a growth-related goal.
Typically, business growth goals are centered around increasing one or more of the following:
- Customer demand
- Sales revenues
- Repeat business volume
- Business volume
- Customer retention rate
- Accessible market size
- Average sale value
- RFP’s received
- RFP quality and size
Hopefully, you already have a general idea of what your company’s business goals are (otherwise you wouldn’t have been able to write a business case).
The trickier part is linking and measuring the progress of your content marketing program towards that business goal, which I’ll cover in the next two sections.
Define content marketing success
Without robust tracking, it’s not easy to establish an irrefutable, direct link between content marketing and increased sales revenue or customer retention rate.
But if you, your team, or other decision-makers can’t see some kind of link between content marketing success and business success, your program will be unsustainable.
And as Kim Moutsos explains, “Brand awareness – everybody’s favorite [goal] – isn’t going to cut it.”
So to define content marketing success, you’ll need to:
- Find the marketing metrics that indicate progress towards your business goal (also known as key performance indicators or KPIs).
- Document one or more content marketing goals.
Borrowing Moutsos’s example, let’s say you’re using content marketing as a tool to generate sales.
If you have a sales-focused goal, it would make sense to measure leads as an indicator of progress (a.k.a. a key performance indicator) towards your business goal. You’ll also want to consider metrics that affect lead generation, such as conversion rate and traffic volume, but more on that in a bit.
Once you’ve selected your KPIs, you can then document one or more Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Based (SMART) goals.
Outline a measurement strategy
Your measurement strategy tells you what you’re measuring and how you’ll measure it. The key here, again, is making sure what you’re measuring links back to your business goal.
So, using the sales goal again, metrics like deal size as well as number and quality of leads are good ones to start measuring.
And while the number of leads is straightforward enough, there’s a gray area in how you determine lead quality. You might use churn rate, customer lifetime value, deal size, or time to close (for example) to set goals related to lead quality.
But, as important as measurement is for communicating value to the business, it’s also important for informing tactics. For that, one group of metrics that are useful to track (in this case) are traffic volume and conversion rate.
Why? Assuming your conversion rate is constant, increased traffic will result in more leads, and vice versa. So while you wouldn’t necessarily present traffic numbers to your board of directors, they can be useful for you in determining what’s stopping you from reaching your lead goal.
Just remember, conversion rates and traffic are linked to the business goal through their effect on quantity of leads. This link is critical because it enables you to explain to decision-makers (and yourself), for example, why a conversion rate optimization (CRO) project will be valuable to the business.
Documenting Your Message and Honing in on a Target Audience
The simplest way to think about messaging and your audience is to answer the following questions:
- What do you want to say?
- Who do you want to say it to?
These aren’t going to be easy questions to answer. And your answers may change over time.
But if you ever want to scale your content program, you’re going to need a shared source of truth.
Otherwise, you’ll end up with no way to reliably determine what’s a good, strategically sound content idea and what’s not. Nor will you be able to efficiently hand off projects to writers, designers, and other consultants.
Formulate your brand and content’s UVPs
Question #1: What do you want to say?
Even if your customers don’t ask you directly, you need to know what makes your brand different from your competitors. You can document this in a simple unique value proposition, which looks like this:
For ____________ (target customer) who ____________ (statement of the need or opportunity) our (product/service name) is ____________ (product category) that (statement of benefit) ____________ .
Example: For non-technical marketers who struggle to find return on investment in social media our product is a web-based analytics software that translates engagement metrics into actionable revenue metrics.
You should also have a UVP for your content itself, a simple statement that explains why your content is different and better from your competitors. This should dovetail with your brand UVP.
So, for example, one of my clients is a mortgage broker and lender who prides themselves on their educational approach to mortgage origination. They differentiate themselves by providing an empowering mortgage experience for their customers.
Their content similarly empowers their customers and prospects with easy-to-understand, timely financial and real estate advice that’s tailored to homebuyers.
And unlike other brokers’ blogs, they’re not afraid to give a behind-the-scenes look so buyers can understand an insider’s perspective on mortgage-related topics.
An example of a simple content UVP for this company would be:
XYZ Mortgage Company’s content helps proactive, detail-oriented home buyers prepare themselves and their finances for the mortgage process.
Describe your buyer personas
Question #2: Who do you want to say it to?
Documented buyer personas enable you to create concrete representations of your ideal customer. Content Strategist Scott Kubie recommends including the following information in your buyer personas:
- Identity: The things that make them who they are. Names, backstories, affiliations, beliefs and principles.
- Mindset: What they think and how they feel. How they feel about you (good, bad, or indifferent), their state of mind, and their expertise or knowledge.
- Needs: The stuff that drives them. Goals, pain points, questions, and motivations.
- Behavior: What they do. Their path to your site, habits, patterns, and actions.
If you have only limited information about your ideal customers, that’s okay. Do what you can. These buyer persona templates from HubSpot will help get you started. When you’ve finalized your buyer personas, make sure everyone creating content for you is familiar with them.
Distributing and Promoting Your Message
Where can your customers and prospects find your content? And when should you deliver it to them?
These are the questions you must answer as it relates to the distribution and promotion aspects of your content marketing strategy. Like everything else in your strategy, this depends on your business and your customers.
Develop your buyer’s journey
Content marketing is all about delivering the right message, at the right time, to the right person. And to deliver the right message at the right time to the right person, you need to know how your prospects become aware of their problem, consider their options, and select a solution.
Content strategist, Andreea Macoveiciuc, provides a useful template for mapping out the buyer journey.
As you can see in her template, you must map each content channel to each stage of the buyer journey. This makes her template especially useful for narrowing down your must-have content channels. It’s also why you should think about content channels in conjunction with your buyer’s journey.
For example, if you know that your prospect’s journey starts on a search engine, your content needs to be there, whether as an ad or an organic result. And if your prospects convert via email, you’ll want to note email as a must-have content channel.
For a deeper dive on this subject, check out Macoveiciuc’s post, Mapping Content to the User Journey: A Practical Example.
Pick your content channels
Your buyer’s journey should give you your must-have content channels. But there are many more distribution channels you can use. To simplify things, you can think of your available channels in three categories.
- Owned media: Your brand owns and controls these content and distribution channels. This includes channels such as your website, email, and newsletters.
- Shared media: Social media channels, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and others where you can post original content
- Paid media: Channels where your business can share messages and control the environment in which they appear for a price.
When considering which specific channels to use, Jodi Harris, director of editorial content and strategy at Content Marketing Institute, recommends using the following criteria:
Audience characteristics: What audience are you most likely to reach on this channel? Does it align with any of your content personas? Will this audience find value in what you have to offer?
Rules of engagement: How often would this audience be open to hearing from you? Are certain topics off-limits? What kind of content performs best here (visual, text, long-form, short-form, etc.)?
Communication style: Will your brand’s content tone, voice, and style be a good fit for this community? Are there conversations of a sensitive nature that might put your brand at risk?
Brand resources and capabilities: Do you have the right resources to consistently engage here? Are you prepared to listen to, respond to, and participate in existing discussions in addition to starting conversations of your own?
Whichever additional channels you choose (if any) add them back to your buyer journey template. And remember: one stage may have multiple channels, particularly if you have several different buyer personas.
Getting Ready to Produce
When it’s time to start Tweeting, recording videos, writing blogs, automating emails, or all of the above, things can quickly become difficult to manage.
I won’t be getting into a step-by-step process of creating a content production workflow (though this post from strategist and writer Marijana Kay does). But I do want to provide an overview of what it looks like to consistently, sustainably produce great content.
Assemble your team
Let’s assume your strategy calls for two blog posts a month published on your website, promoted on Twitter, and compiled into a quarterly newsletter. Let’s also assume you already have email software, a functional blog, and a content management system (CMS) set up.
For those two blog posts a month, you’ll need someone to:
- Plan and vet topics
- Do keyword research
- Outline, draft, and edit posts
- Review, approve, and publish posts
- Design graphics (for social media posts and the post itself)
- Optimize images and meta descriptions
- Report on blog performance
For your Twitter promotions, you’ll need someone to:
- Plan, write, and schedule posts
- Review and approve posts
- Upload graphics
- Engage with others and respond to comments
- Report on social media performance
And for your newsletter, you’ll need someone to:
- Create an email template
- Plan and schedule newsletter blasts
- Write copy and curate blog posts for the newsletter
- Segment email lists
- Ensure email compliance and monitor deliverability
- Report on email performance
That’s a lot of work for a fairly light content program. So before you start producing content, be realistic about what needs to be done and who you need to do it. By no means do you need an expert for every task, but you do need to assign specific roles.
Establish a workflow
Kay outlines five simple steps to establish a content workflow:
- Establish a specific production goal: i.e. two blog posts per month and one ebook per quarter.
- Outline all the steps included in completing your content.
- Determine who’s in charge for each of the steps outlined in #2.
- Create a timeframe for each step in the production process.
- Create a checklist including the information in steps #1 through #4.
By no means does your Minimum Viable Content Marketing Strategy need to include a fully-fledged workflow. But it should include basic information needed to create a workflow.
For example, how many pieces of content will you produce each week, month or quarter? In what format? And who’s available to pitch in to content production?
By answering these questions, you’ll know whether or not you’ll need to reallocate resources which will help you avoid flaming out before your program has a chance to get its legs underneath it.
Assembling and Using Your Content Marketing Strategy Deliverables
This might seem like a lot for a Minimum Viable Content Marketing Strategy, but we’re really only talking about five deliverables:
- Content marketing KPIs and goals tied to a business goal or goals.
- Messaging document with brand and content unique value propositions.
- Target personas with information on needs, behaviors, mindset, and identity.
- Buyer’s journey with content channels mapped to each stage.
- Production checklist outlining steps and resources needed for content creation.
Still, establishing your MVCMS is just the first step. And letting it sit on the shelf to collect digital dust is almost as bad as not creating it all together.
Keep it alive. In every shared planning document you create, whether it’s an editorial calendar, social media schedule, or even a project update, tie your efforts back into your KPIs and business goals. I like to create a summary page dedicated to this purpose whether I’m doing competitive research or planning a campaign.
With new writers, designers, or strategists, go over your personas, buyer’s journey, and messaging. Add links or attachments to these documents so they’re easily accessible. And incorporate your production checklists into the tasks you assign.
Not only will this help keep everyone aligned, but it’ll also force you to revisit your strategy so it stays fresh and relevant.