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What Is a Content Marketing Strategy (and Why Do You Need It)?

Winding Road Sign in the Desert

Over the past decade, content marketing has gone from niche concept to a widely used and accepted strategy for enterprise and startup marketers alike. But what exactly is a content marketing strategy? What does it look like? And why is it important?

In this high-level overview of content marketing strategies, I’ll take you through what a real plan actually includes, and how to start forming your own. Let’s get started.

What Is a Content (Marketing) Strategy?

A content marketing strategy is a high-level view of your content marketing goals, who your content should serve, how you’ll measure the success of your content, how you’ll distribute your content, and more. Quite honestly, it sounds a lot more complex than it actually is or needs to be. Essentially, a content strategy simply lays out the foundation of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and who you’re doing it for.

Your content marketing strategy isn’t simply publishing content ad hoc or creating a content calendar. Instead, it’s a bird’s eye view of your content marketing program.

Why Is Content Important?

Before we dive into the benefits of having a content marketing strategy, let’s look at why content itself is important.

Content comes in a lot of different forms—blog posts, landing pages, videos, webinars, guides, e-books, and more. The advantage to having content is that you can engage with your audience and answer all the questions they may have while going through the buying process.

For example, if you’re a retailer that sells Patagonia jackets, you might be competing with another retailer that sells the exact same product. Patagonia jackets aren’t the cheapest, so the buyer might need to do some research before they make their decision. If your competitor offers a robust Patagonia jacket comparison tool, explains the pros and cons of one jacket over another, and also provides a guide that could match a jacket with the activities a person might use it for (hiking vs. skiing, vs. general city living, etc.), you might lose that customer to your competitor.

There are, of course, other ways to win the customer over—the experience you provide and the price you offer, among other things—but content is an extremely cost-efficient tool to influence a customer’s decision.

Why Do You Need to Have a Content Marketing Strategy?

While the information in your content strategy may seem obvious to the marketers working in and on the strategy every day, it’s still important to document it. Not only does having a written content marketing strategy—no matter how simple or complex it may be—make it easy for other content contributors or people within your company to step in and help, it also allows you to scale your content marketing program and keep everyone aligned. That way, when you hit the inevitable existential content marketing crisis of “why are we even doing this?!”, you can look to your content strategy and see the light once more...or recognize that the strategy is no longer valid and should be revised.

What Is Included in a Content Marketing Strategy?

Content marketing strategies typically include:

  • KPIs and goals
  • Target audience and/or personas
  • Content distribution channels
  • Key topics to focus your content efforts on
  • A content calendar or rough publishing cadence
  • Roles, responsibilities, and high-level content operations

Content marketing strategies can include more, but they really shouldn’t include less—this is your content marketing foundation that gives you room to build.

How Do You Write a Content Strategy?

Writing a content strategy from scratch takes research and self reflection. On the research side, a few good actions to take include:

  • A competitive audit: Looks at your online and offline competitors and assesses their strategies, strengths, and weaknesses. The idea is to uncover gaps in the market that you might be able to own.
  • Keyword research: While keyword research doesn’t stop after the initial planning, it’s still helpful to understand how difficult certain fathead keywords will be to win in the SERPs. It can also reveal keyword opportunities with high search traffic and low competition.
  • Content audit: Auditing your own content will help you identify any content gaps that you currently have.

The other key element to writing a great content strategy is self reflection. When thinking about your content marketing strategy, you’ll likely need to answer the following questions:

  • How can content help our company hit our goals?
  • What should our content marketing goals be? How will we measure them?
  • Who should our content serve? Are we targeting one audience or multiple audiences?
  • What types of content are we going to create? How often will we publish content? Which channels should we distribute the content through?
  • What topics should we be writing about? How do these topics relate to the services our company provides, or products that we offer?
  • Who is responsible for content marketing success? What roles are people on the team playing?
  • How are we going to project manage our content production process?

In the beginning, it’s okay if you can’t answer every single question as long as you regularly assess the program. Anyone who has managed a content marketing program knows that processes, people, and even goals can change quickly, so it’s important for your strategy to remain both clear and flexible.

Content Strategy Example

Using the example of outdoor retailers from before, here’s a very simple example of what a foundational, high-level content strategy could look like:

Purpose: We’re creating content to support the buyer journey and answer questions our customers may have about the main products we sell.

KPIs and goals: Organic traffic, content interaction before and after a purchase

Target audience: Millennials who are outdoor enthusiasts

Content distribution channels: Organic social, paid social, email, blog

Key topics we’ll write about: Product reviews, camping tips and guides, outdoor sports

Content publishing cadence (can also include your content calendar here): Blog content will be published three times per week. We’ll have a weekly newsletter, and we’ll produce product review videos weekly as well.

Role and responsibilities: Our content marketing specialist will handle content loading, editing, writing, and reviewing content. Our digital marketing specialist will load the content and operate any content-specific paid media campaigns we run. Our social media specialist will write the weekly newsletter and handle content distribution across our social media accounts (Facebook and Instagram will be the most important). Our CMO will serve as the executive sponsor who will lead the overall strategy and goals of our content marketing program.

Again, your strategy might include more visuals and more buckets, but it doesn’t have to be fancy. It just has to be helpful.

Plan the Work, Work the Plan

Once you have a documented content marketing strategy, now comes the execution part! Whatever type of content you’ve decided to invest time and energy into (blogs, webinars, guides, videos, etc.), it’s time to bring them to life, then distribute them strategically. Once you’ve done the hard work of formulating a content strategy, make sure to create quality content, measure its success, and reassess and optimize as necessary. Both your customers and the higher ups in your company will thank you.

 

Mollie Kuramoto Team Photo at Element Three

From competing with her brothers while growing up to captaining Purdue’s soccer team, Mollie seeks out challenges wherever they may lie. That’s why she’s perfectly suited for content marketing—building content, measuring results, and trying to top your previous performance is what it’s all about, and Mollie knocks it out of the park every time. When she’s not creating killer content, Mollie’s usually playing soccer, traveling, or drawing, and she hopes to become a part-time cheesemonger someday because “the title is funny.”