While few if any content marketers would ever admit to not having a strategy, the truth is that many don’t. At least not the kind of thoughtful strategy you need to get real results. In fact, less than half of B2B content marketers have a documented content strategy, and of those who do, many haven’t put the rigor into their strategies that they need to. In other words, companies with fully baked content strategies are the exception and not the norm.

So what’s everyone else doing?

A lot of marketers (content marketers are no exception) like to experiment with different individual tactics to see if they work. They might try out blogging for a while, and then switch their focus to creating videos. They might test out one type of paid promotion this month and another the next. While some of those individual tactics can and do work — some quite well in fact — the problem for many content marketers is that they don’t have a framework to bring them all together into cohesive strategy.

As a result, they often don’t consistently get the outcomes that they want and instead have to rely on brute force (i.e., creating huge amounts of content) to move the needle. While some organizations have the deep resources necessary to create lots of content, for most it’s neither cost-effective nor sustainable. To get results, those businesses need to be more strategic.

A more strategic future

Going forward, having a good content strategy isn’t going to be a luxury, but rather an imperative. Why? Because as more and more companies adopt content marketing and begin competing against you for your customers’ attention, a good strategy may be the only thing that allows you to cut through all of the noise and stand out.

So if you don’t already have a well thought out, documented content marketing strategy, what can you do to create one? Start by asking yourself these four questions:

1) How well do you know your buyers?

To create content that resonates with your buyers and that will shepherd them down the path to purchase, you have to understand who those buyers are. Start out by gathering as much information about them as possible by either interviewing them yourself or by talking to the customer-facing people in your organization. When you do, try to find out:

  • What their role in the buying process is
  • What their needs and pain points are
  • What will motivate them to make a purchase
  • Who influences their buying decisions
  • What concerns they have that might prevent them from making a purchase

Next, compile all of the information you gather into a buyer persona — a short but useful description of that buyer — to help solidify your understanding. Here’s an example of what a buyer persona might look like:

Adam is a VP of sales and needs a better CRM. He finds his existing tool frustrating because it’s too slow and unreliable, but he doesn’t know there are better solutions available. Adam is the final decision-maker and while price is an important motivating factor when making a purchase, he’s most concerned with functionality and ease of use.

As part of your research, you also need to study your buyer’s journey, i.e., the steps that he or she will take leading up to making a purchase. In doing so, figure out where along that journey your buyer is mostly likely to get hung up or stuck and why. For example, a simplified buyer’s journey might look like this, where the sticking points are in red:

Content-Marketing-Gets-Strategic

Your job as a content marketer is to attack those sticking points by creating the content necessary to ease whatever concerns your buyers have.

2) What actions do you want your buyers to take?

Once you have a good understanding of your buyers and their buyer journey, it’s time to think about what actions you will want them to take as a result of consuming your content. These might include:

  • Visiting a specific page on your website
  • Opening an e-mail
  • Downloading a piece of your content
  • Sharing a piece of your content socially
  • Signing up for your e-newsletter

Each of those actions is a conversion, and while your ultimate conversion goal will be to get them to make a purchase, your buyers will likely need to complete a series of much smaller conversions over time that ultimately lead up to that purchase.

Make sure that you are setting a conversion goal for each piece of content that you create, and that each conversion goal is appropriate for the corresponding stage of the buyer journey for which it is intended. For example, trying to get prospects who are just visiting your site for the first time to buy from you is probably an unrealistic conversion goal. A more appropriate objective might be to get them to visit a specific page on your website or to fill out a form.

3) What content are you going to create?

The next aspect of your strategy that you need to consider is the content itself. Specifically, you’ll want to decide what content format is most appropriate for what you’re trying to achieve as well as which topics and messaging each piece of content should include.

To help you make the decision and ensure that you are creating content that will resonate with your buyers, consider what you already know about them, their needs, and their preferences. Likewise, you will want to ensure that the type of content you select is appropriate for the stage of the buyer journey that you are targeting and for the specific conversion goal that you are after. No matter how good your eBooks may be, for example, they probably aren’t the right form of content for drawing new buyers with limited attention spans into your sales funnel.

4) How you will deliver your content?

The last component of your strategy that you need to consider is how you will get your content to your buyers, a point that we will go into more detail about in a later post. Your task at this stage is to figure out which methods are most effective given what you know about your buyers and the stage of the buyer journey that they are in. In the process, you will want to keep a few basic guidelines in mind:

  • Cheaper forms of contact such as e-mail or social media are generally better than more expensive ones such as advertising. Why use your budget on content delivery unless you have to?
  • You will need to use multiple forms of contact to get your content out. It’s not enough to just post content to your website, you need to share it socially, post it to content-hosting sites, and find every relevant way you can to maximize the chances of getting it in front of your audience.
  • The easier the form of contact is to execute the better so that you aren’t devoting all of your time to distributing your content.
  • Make sure that form of contact is good enough to drive the specific conversion that you are after.

Remember, how you deliver your content is just as, if not more, important than the content itself, so you will want to ensure that you get this step right.

Once you have a solid grasp of these four components, organize the information that you gather about each into a single matrix or framework and examine how they work together. If they are all carefully thought through and aligned with each other, you will be well on your way to developing a successful content strategy.

A content strategy may be optional today, but in the near future it will be the one thing that makes or breaks your content marketing program.

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B2B Content Marketing 2014 Benchmarks, Budgets & Trends – North America,” Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs.