Nowadays everything is about content marketing. You need a blog, presence on Social Media and a couple of godfathers promoting your content 24/7.
But what’s the difference between struggling and being really, and I mean, obscenely successful?
The difference is content strategy that works.
You’ve probably heard it a thousand times before and you’re still not sure what to do. Or you’ve tried to follow a strategy and it just hasn’t worked for you. Let’s try a new perspective.
1. Create a persona
When you write, post, blog or tweet, you’re talking to an imaginary audience.
But, who are you talking to, if nobody reads what you write? The imaginary audience are that people that don’t exist but you imagine will make fun of your new haircut. Or the people that you think will love your content, when there’s nobody out there really consuming it yet. And that sucks, because that audience doesn’t exist and is probably worthless writing for someone that is a figment of your imagination anyway. So the first step is writing for someone specific.
Marketing personas are constructions we use to put a face to our target.
If we’re talking about content marketing, the persona is the person that is going to consume your content. How do you find that person?
- Get a taste of your market: TheIn order to find out more about your audience you can start by looking at your competitors. Tools such as Quicksprout, Ahrefs or Buzzsumo will help you understanding which kind of content is more successful and why.Other great tools to gather data include subreddits from Reddit, which tend to include information, opinion and even keywords that you wouldn’t find anywhere else.Niche forums and social media channels -Facebook and Linkedin groups, hashtags in Twitter and Instagram-.
- Demographic data: How old is your ideal customer? Male or female? Where do they live? Some people think demographic segmentation is dead, and we should focus on values. That is true, in part, but in most of cases demographics are still relevant.If you have Google Analytics now you can analyse demographic factors and interests, for starters, you have an amazing post on how to use audience data to write smarter content, by Julie Neidlinger. For your competitors you can use tools such as Alexa, but they tend to provide little useful data.If you have a large social community around you, you can use Facebook to identify the demographics of your community and Demographics Pro for Twitter, which seems pretty cool.
- Specific value proposition: Not everyone will fall in love with you for the same reasons. Some will like your personality, others your buttocks, and the best way to seduce both is knowing in advance who is going to focus in each of them. Therefore there isn’t just one persona, but many.One of your personas may be focused on location: you may be the only online shop delivering a product where they live and your content is relevant to them. Others will be relevant for their hobbies or -especially in B2B-, their position.Be sure you know what is in your offer for each of them before going to the next step.
- Keywords they use: Now that you know what each of your personas is looking for, run some keyword analyses to determine what are they searching, which keywords they like to hear and what specific information they want to receive.
Hint: You’ll need to use the best tool of all here; your brain.
Here and in the value proposition is when you can really get one step ahead by doing some first hand research. Ask your friends or bring the topic in conversations with people resembling your target audience. Take notes of the key points around the topic and the specific words they may use to communicate these ideas.
Again, some experts think that keywords are dead, and instead we should focus on themes or topics. And again, I think there’s nothing problematic with that statement. But at the end of the day, once you’ve defined your topic/theme and have created great content for it; doing a little bit of keyword research won’t hurt anyone.
- What they like, what they don’t: This includes in which format they consume their information -text, visual, video, audio, Braille- and which tone and channels they like. Some people prefer images over video. Some of them prefer Instagram over Pinterest. And if they use Instagram, they may use hashtags to discover new content or follow specific accounts.Research which forums and blogs they visit, which social media sites they use -remember there’s life beyond the main 5 or 6 social media sites, and the more niche you get, the more that persona will trust you-. Do they like specific TV shows, movies or memes? Are they pro or anti certain social trends?
You should end up having from 1 to 3 or 4 personas to start with. You can segment as much as you want, but if Obama ran a presidential campaign just with 2 main personas and two secondary ones, I’m confident you’ll be able to work with the same amount for your blog.
Now that you know who you’re talking to. You know their name, their face and the dreams they hold closer to their heart. It’s about time to use that information to engage the hell out of them.
2. Create a topic and keyword list
First, create a topic list: Even the most boring and strange niches offer a lot of thematic flexibility. You’re talking about a company that builds windows? See the larger picture, talk about decoration, thermal insulation, ecology, saving money from electricity bills… there are many brands in boring niches killing it in social media and content marketing.
Try to think about the core reason your company exists, identify the ‘Why’. In large brands this may be very specific. For example, the value offered by Axe/Lynx is not to smell better or to fight sweating. Its value proposition is based in seduction, being irresistible, having lots of sex and a bit of carefree misogyny. Lately it has gravitated towards finding love. That’s what the brand means, that’s what the brand wants to be.
In the same market companies as Old Spice offer different value propositions. In this case I don’t really know what theirs is, but I love the content they make.
Ideally some of these topics will be more important than others and will have a strong connection between them. Drawn in a Venn diagram, there will be a sweet spot where all the topics are juxtaposed: that’s where you want most of your content to be in.
3. Set the medium
So, is your public more interested on reading, watching, listening?
Do they have plenty of time to spend reading in their leisure, or do they prefer to consume your content in while commuting to work?
Do they want to have a passive role or do they also want to participate?
Should you limit your content to the Internet or have an IRL presence live events, workshops or meetings?
Which communities does your target market already hang out in?
This should never be the case.
You need to think small. Don’t just think of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Youtube. You should think about the small niches where those your hardcore customers targets spent most of their time. Start small, and then grow your audience with social proof, eventually giving you access to millions of people.
Small niche blogs are basically inhabited by the very kind of die-hard fans that will support your content strategy and drive it from something small into the real thing.
Big channels will pay off in time, but at the very beginning, maybe you should focus in smaller spaces that will pay off quicker and guarantee you a group of brand advocates that will put your name out there. To do so, don’t try to infiltrate their communities or use a tone that doesn’t belong. Warner Bros got burned in Imgur a few days ago for not following these simple rules. Be sure you understand where you are before jumping in.
You don’t want to be that guy drawing everyone’s attention without knowing it.
4. Create a content calendar
When should you post, and at what frequency?
Depending of your strategy, it can be grounded on quality, quantity or a point between both. There’s not a good answer and each case is unique. The more you lean towards quality the more resource consuming it will become to produce great content, so keep that in mind too.
So, depending on your approach, your target, what your competitors are doing and your assets –time, talent, money– you’ll have to decide how much content you’ll be able to produce.
Think in advance: Sometimes you may find that there are peaks of interest around a certain topic at a certain time of the year. Hospitality has peaks in summer. Recipe blogs tend to have peaks in christmas, halloween, thanksgiving and maybe valentine’s day.
For example, you have to know that once a year you can double or triple your whole traffic, e.g. “halloween recipes”:
You don’t need a plan with every single post for the whole year, that would kill your creativity. But sometimes you need to know what will be the main topic around certain times of the year. If you’re writing about recipes for halloween, don’t start the week before. Start writing content about the topic some months in advance. Not only does the interest around the topic increase steadily for several months, but you’ll also get one step above your competition in terms of SEO when the peak comes.
Plan in advance to identify which dates are important for your niche:
This includes building a promotion plan for your content, Sujan Patel does an awesome job explaining how to promote your content in CoSchedule.
If you want to get better content than everyone out there, you’ll need to have the best team. That means someone who understand your topic, your audience and your channel. Most chances are that you’re not that person. Try to find people who are already successful around a topic and bring them onboard.
Don’t be shy about reaching out bloggers, journalists, social media influencers or relevant members of an online community, specially when they’re good writers -or speakers, photographs, designers… depending on the type of content you’ll be creating-. They’re the most apt to manage your community.
5. Set a conversion path
The idea of investing in a content strategy is to obtain a benefit from it. This benefit may be in a form of leads, sales, branding or even revenue from advertising or sponsored posts.
You should have a clear goal or a clear path to that goal. You should be familiar with the concept conversion funnel in content marketing and know how are you turning somebody who is enjoying your posts or watching your Youtube videos into your best consumer.
To do so the terms Tofu, Mofu and Bofu should ring a bell, you should know the secrets of a good value proposition, a compelling call to action and a neat copywriting. You should be able to turn your conversion funnel into a meat-grinder-of-the-death, from which nobody can escape, and push all your users down it until their souls are yours (okay, maybe that’s a bit over the top, but you get what I mean). Once you’ve got their
souls emails in your database, you should have some common notions on how to nurture leads.
For more info, you can check these tips to turn your website into a lead generation machine that may be helpful for your blog.
Always keep in mind what you’re going to measure. A lot of people criticise vanity metrics, but if you’ve started 2 weeks ago, maybe the amount of sessions you’re getting each month is the only coherent thing to measure. If you’re getting 1 million visits a week, probably you should be using actionable metrics.
Good KPIs for a content strategy are -in no particular order- metrics like leads, revenue, links obtained -you can try to translate this into organic traffic towards your main page-, visits to your main page, size of your email database, conversion rate, percentage of returning users or the size of your social media communities, amongst others.
A content strategy will go through many different stages, so make sure you have SMART goals and set a couple of KPIs to make sure you’re in the right path. Don’t measure everything you can measure just because you can. Follow the 80/20 rule, if it’s going to take too much effort to get to 100% perfect metrics, settle for 80% quality using only 20% of your resources.
6. Promote your content
This is one of the hardest things.
Creating great, engaging content is just half of the story. If you check why videos go viral in youtube, for some of the most popular ones it took months until someone noticed them and made them so.
That doesn’t mean you can’t get to the top without promoting your content. You sure can.
Use your owned and bought media. Don’t hesitate about paying to promote your content through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Youtube or other channels.
Link to anyone you can. It’ll provide your users with much more value, while at the same time will give you the chance to reach the bloggers you’ve linked to and ask them for some promotion of their content. Reach people talking about similar topics. Offer them to link to you as a resource for their readers. Use sites such as Reddit, StumbleUpon or Inbound.org to promote your content, but remember to understand them first.
Try to talk about relevant or novel issues that will grant you your share of social presence and will grow your community.
But above all, meet new people, make contacts, reach out people within your industry -bloggers, webmasters, influencers- and build a good relationship with them. It will always pay off.
7. Find your voice
Great brands are different. They do things differently.
Recently Red Bull discovered that video game players were an interesting niche. They recorded the documentary “Diggin’ in the carts”, a documentary about Japanese music. They also sponsor eSport teams and write long posts about the medium in an almost academic tone.
Why? Because the are attracted by the edges. If it’s sport, they’re extreme, bold, daring. If they jump into the videogame market, they cannot do what everybody else is doing. So they publish content that seems directly picked from Vice.
Once you’ve understood your audience, you have to understand what they want and expect from you. What’s different about you that nobody else offers. And explore that part of your brand.
If you need inspiration, you can check these great content examples. They’re mostly from the journalistic industry, where branding and credibility are a key value.
You won’t find success on your first go. You will be very unlucky if you do, because there will not be much to learn from it.
You’ll plan to create content about certain topics and you’ll discover that some of them won’t be an interest to your audience while others that weren’t in the original list are smash hits. You’ll see that nobody interacts with your posts at the time you post. That what you thought was your tone and your value doesn’t really reflect what your audience expects from you. That the paths to conversion aren’t working as you planned. But that´s a good thing.
And you’ll have to try new things.
Experiment, change everything, measure and improve. It’s the only way to improve your content strategy. Yes, you’ve set a path with your strategy, and it’s important to follow it, but if things don’t work as expected, then you have to make adjustments to your plan.
Try new things every now and then. Try major redesigns to your strategy or your platforms once every 3 or 6 months. Follow a specific framework, but allow room for improvisation and discovery. A content strategy is a relationship with your audience, and as every relationship, routine can kill it.
I know there are places where I didn’t go, but, did I miss any crucial step? Add your two cents in the comment section.