5 things you’ll need to start your content strategy

Lauren McMenemy

We talk a lot about content at The Content Type – kinda obvious, given it’s in our name. But it can be scary to start when there are so many choices to make and so many things to sort out. That’s why we thought we’d get down in words – and putting things down in words will be a theme throughout this post – some of the absolute basics you need. Sure, you could spend months writing the perfect strategy, but the best way to learn is to get started and test things out. Just make sure you have these five things clear before you publish.

1. Personas

Who are you talking to? Seems kinda obvious, but so many content marketers will jump into content with the idea of talking to EVERYONE. This is impossible, and you’ll end up stretched thin publishing content that doesn’t deliver any ROI. Focus, instead, on a handful of key personas. Really get to know them; do your research and create pen portraits of them – Chris Garrett has some great advice on this. Then brainstorm the sorts of content that will interest them. Bonus points for creating content that speaks to a key concern or pain point for each of these personas – that’s how you’ll get conversions.

2. Audit

There’s no point reinventing the wheel; unless you are a brand new start-up, it’s highly likely you’ve got content of some description out in the big bad world. So do your research. Document each piece of content you have, how old it is, whether it’s still useful or needs updating. Only once you know what you’ve already got and how it’s performed, will you know how to take your new content strategy forward.

3. Guidelines

Editorial style, tone of voice, governance: these are absolutely essential. Anyone writing content for you will each have a unique way of doing it, so you need to document your tone of voice – that is, how you like to sound. Is it formal or informal? Do you like cliches or do you avoid them like the plague? Long sentences or short, sharp Plain English? Then there’s things like how you format bullet lists, whether you use British or American spelling, how you handle acronyms. It can be a bit overwhelming if you’ve never thought like this, so many tend towards recommending an existing style, such as Guardian, AP or Buzzfeed. This is totally fine, and will give your writers a great chance at getting your content right first time.

And a quick word on governance: by this we mean who needs to be involved in approvals, who needs to clear the content, who publishes it. When will you do your next audit and review? Who will be responsible? It’s those internal processes that also need to be documented in some guidelines.

4. Goals

Sure, you could embark on a content strategy without setting any goals, but what would be the point? How will you know if it’s successful? Take some time to think about what success will look like for you: is it an increase in social followers? Is it X number of new leads from the website? Is it a growing email database? Remember to make your goals SMART and your KPIs achievable. Reaching for the stars is noble, but probably won’t get you more budget next year when you miss the mark.

5. Plan

Like goals, you could easily just jump in without this. But again, you won’t be successful. We highly recommend a content calendar so you can maintain a regular flow of content publishing – think like a publisher, and make sure that loyal audience you’re growing knows that you’ll have something new and useful for them on a regular basis. And that doesn’t need to be daily – it can be weekly, bi-weekly, monthly. Just make it regular.

And make sure you know how you’ll be distributing the content. Just whacking it up on the website doesn’t mean anyone will read it, and those goals you set will remain unreached. You don’t need to fork out for paid posts on social or a system like Outbrain or Taboola, but you do need to share your content. Organic posts on social media can work well, and make sure you have somewhere for people to sign up to get your insights by email. This will create a 2-way relationship: your audience gets useful information, and you get to talk to them about anything at any time.

So, get started

But make sure you write it all down.  More than four in 10 recent survey respondents said lack of an effective strategy — and likely creation and distribution of content as a result – was their biggest challenge.

NewsCred recently blogged on the Content Marketing Institute’s 2016 B2B Content Marketing Trend Report, which found only 30% of B2B marketers said they were effective with content marketing. However, they write, “effectiveness levels increase with:

  • Experience (64% of sophisticated/mature marketers say they are effective)
  • A documented content marketing strategy (48%)
  • A documented editorial mission statement (49%)
  • Organisational clarity on what content marketing success looks like (55%)
  • Daily or weekly content marketing meetings (41%)”

So what are you waiting for? A written strategy doesn’t have to be hundreds of pages long; just document your key priorities and how you’ll achieve them, and dive in. Every good strategy is an organic beast that iterates over time, and the best way to learn is to just get started.

Lauren McMenemy

Writer, editor, proofreader, writing coach and mentor, editorial strategy and consultancy.