Before I go out into the mountains to go exploring, I do A LOT of prep.
I study maps. I read forums. I go on Facebook groups. I even dig through old government reports.
I do this because, among other things, old government reports are the surprisingly interesting. But, I also going out into the mountain without some kind of a strategy can be a bad thing.
On a good day, I end up driving in circles for a few hours and then go home.
On a bad day, well, to be perfectly blunt, there’s a solid chance I just don’t make it home.
Thankfully, I’ve never had a chance to find out what happens on a bad day because, as I said, I always have a plan.
Just like when I’m venturing into the mountains to explore, when it comes to content, having a strategy makes the difference between getting a little lost and not coming home.
But what does that have to do with content strategy?
To put it simply, I’m talking about planning out your content strategically. It might be a plan that you execute over several pieces of content, over several months or just once, but it’s something you do that is done with a goal in mind.
Having a content strategy helps because you:
- Know what you want to achieve
- Have your route all planned out for how to get there
- Know the people you’re targeting
All of these things are important because they keep you on track. You have a guide that you can refer back to when things get rocky that reminds you where you’re going and how you wanted to get there. That’s not to say there isn’t a little bit of room for meandering (in fact, sometimes a bit of a diversion can be a good thing for your audience), but having that plan in place to begin with is important.
Why do you need a content strategy?
OK, you don’t NEED a content strategy, but you don’t NEED fancy fishing rods either. But they make life easier. Without them, you’re just sort of “getting by.”
But something tells me that you don’t want to just “get by.”
A content strategy helps you use your content for a specific purpose, like:
- Increasing signups for your newsletter
- Promoting a new course
- Talking about a book you wrote
- Taking your business in a new direction
- Or even a new partnership
Without it, you’re guessing. Sure, you might succeed, but if you aren’t clear on the end result you want, you probably won’t get there and you won’t know it if you do. What’s scary is that 71% of B2B marketers have no idea what content success even looks like.
That right there is why you want a strategy.
How do you create strategic content?
Having a process is the key. A process cuts down on the amount of time you spend hemming and hawing about something. It either fits the strategy, or it doesn’t. Easy, right? Now you can focus on getting meaningful work done. Or play more minesweeper.
I use a 5 step process. This helps me create content that is specifically tailored to my goal, my audience and whatever other factors I may be considering when I’m creating my content. Here’s how you can use my five step process.
1. What do you want to achieve?
This is one of those lessons I learned playing chess as a kid, back when going exploring in the mountains meant loading up Oregon Trail. If you move about the board with the vague idea that you want to capture the king, it’s not going to work.
Once you decide you’re going to try, you need to capture the king a specific way, say by starting with the King’s Gambit. Now you’re likely to have better luck.
The first thing you should do with any piece of strategic content is decide what you hope to achieve with it. You can’t do anything strategically if you don’t know what you’re trying to achieve. It’s just that simple.
Are you looking to capture more leads? Grow your list? Sell a new product? Create some passive income with a course?
Each of these is going to require a different approach (and we’ll get to that). But, you can’t know which approach to take until you know what your end goal is here.
2. Who is your target audience?
Once you know what you want to achieve with your content, you need to figure out who you’re going to be targeting with your content.
The value of knowing your audience is something I can’t stress enough . If you don’t know who you’re writing for, your content is going to seem….out of place. And, worse, you likely won’t address a single problem or concern your audience is facing.
Taking the time to decide who you want to target with content is essential. It helps decide several things like:
- Type of content
- What you talk about
- Tone of voice
- How you attract readers
- Whether something is a one-off piece of content or a series.
3. What kind of content are you going to use?
Once you know your audience, it’s time to decide what kind of content you’re going to use.
As you might expect, different audiences prefer different kinds of content.
In the B2B world, the case study reigns supreme.
For IT people, consider a whitepaper or podcast.
In the outdoors world, content written by an influencer and video/instagram is the most effective.
In order to determine the most effective path to achieving your goal, you have to use the right kind of content. There’s not much sense in going after a podcast audience with a series of long, in-depth blog posts. It would be an uphill battle all the way. Think of how much more receptive you are to something (like, say getting a new dog), when it’s presented in a way you love (as a humourous infographic, for instance).
4. Map out your content
Okay. So you know what you want to achieve. You know who your target audience is. And, best of all, you know what kind of content you’re going to be using.
The next step is to develop your plan.
When are you going to start? How long do you want this whole process to take? Is it going to be a steady stream of content? Or is this something that plays out a little bit slower on an every other week basis?
Creating this plan is every bit as important as the rest of the strategy. Without a plan for executing your content, you run the risk of taking a wrong turn somewhere along the way and getting distracted. You wouldn’t go through all the trouble of planning a camping trip (picking your spot, planning your route, finding people to go with you) and not take your map. That’s the perfect way to end up fighting with your partner at the end of your second dead end logging road that day. That’s not what you want. Trust me.
What exactly this map looks like depends on how you like to organize things, but I find having a whiteboard helpful because I can write and erase and write and erase and write and erase until I have things perfect.
5. Measure your results
You hit publish (or send or upload) on your strategic content and things are live.
The final step is to see how you did. Look back to up to point #1 on your list and remind yourself what your desired outcome was. Now look at your analytics and see what the actual outcome was.
Did you reach your target? If so, by how much? Was it a huge success? A moderate success? Did you barely make it to the finish line? If you missed your goal, by how much?
Looking at the numbers will tell you a lot about what you did right and what you may have missed the mark on. If you wanted to add 100 people to you list and managed to pull in over 1,000, it’s fairly safe to say you did everything right. If you only managed to add 95 people (and you sat at 88 until the last day), you know there’s room for improvement.
With any luck, you’ll be able to glean some insights from your analytics and you can use those to improve things the next time around.
Ready to get strategic?
Now comes the fun part, getting out there and creating your own strategic content.
Since having a list (or many lists) can be helpful, I’ve put together a little worksheet you can fill out to help you create your own strategic content. You can get it here: Your Strategic Content Worksheet.
The rest is up to you. Go forth and be strategic (or, y’know, hire me to do it for you).