It’s time to level up—Your complete 10 step guide to becoming a strategic, data-driven content marketing team

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57% —that’s how far the average B2B buyer is through the purchase decision cycle before engaging a team member in sales. Statistic courtesy of CEB Global.

With nearly 60% of your customers engaging first with your content, then with your team, there’s still only 88% of B2B marketers that consider themselves to use content marketing as part of their business strategy. But yet, content is the foundation upon which your business is built.

From the story you tell on your corporate website, through to the sales messaging you use to engage prospects, all the way through to the learning materials you produce, you’re producing content.

It’s time to level up—Make content marketing tie directly to your business objectives.

Majority of businesses still neglect the importance that brand story, customer experience, and having a documented roadmap for their content efforts have in achieving strategic business goals. As a result, most content marketing efforts end up being experimental, or “just get it done” marketing, with no clear ROI insights.

The goal of content marketing is to create opportunities for people to become aware of the solution you provide and how you provide the solution— to convert awareness into revenue. Revenue keeps your business going. However, just creating content to “get it done” or drive traffic to your website is simply not enough to ensure your content is making an impact in your business.

Become a data-driven marketing team with proven content ROI

Making decisions based on a gut-feeling or intuition isn’t going to amplify your content ROI 10x. To ensure scalability and optimize impact of content, you have to have a strategic plan that defines the direction and decision-making process that motivates your long-term goals. Having a defined strategy for what you’re going to achieve, why, and a high-level roadmap to get there helps ensure you’re minimizing risks of being too experimental while opening your team up to potentially untapped opportunities.

The graph below highlights the 4 core stages to move beyond the “get it done” mentality to a proven, ROI generating content team. To move through each of these stages, we’ve elaborated on our top 10 best practices with getting started tips, templates, and more.data-driven-chart

1. Make marketing easy to understand for everyone in the organization

If you ask 10 different people what content marketing means to your organization, you’ll get 11 different results. Outside of the marketing team there’s often not a clear understanding of the eventual outcome your content is aiming to achieve.

What’s the goal of content? A simple, yet challenging question that most businesses rarely ask themselves. The answer is easy—to gain more customers and keep them.

Many businesses, especially marketers, get caught up in daily tasks of producing content that they lose sight of the outcome they’re hoping that content will achieve. To move content marketing from just a concept or department within your business to a strategic driving revenue force you have to move perceptions of marketing away from just the department that manages your brand.

Getting started: how-we-measure-success

  1. Define a common language and set of terminology that’s commonly used within marketing. Share this list with your entire organization. Creating a universally understood language means everyone can relate to what you’re saying. It’s also beneficial for new hires! Documentation helps those who join ramp up that much quicker.
  2. Document how content trickles through your business functions and how your marketing team is leveraging content to drive revenue.
  3. Create content goals that everyone understands as critical to the business’ success. Share progress bi-weekly with updates on key projects that are making an impact on business success.

Use this free template to brainstorm everything that matters to your team from terms used to strategic goals you’re content efforts are aiming to meet.

2. Move away from vanity metrics like likes and shares—Make revenue your key metric

From the first interaction through to conversion, everyone in the organization is working to get or keep revenue. Think beyond likes, social shares, or time on page. They are great beginner metrics, but when you think long-term, the ultimate goal isn’t to get 1000 shares in a month. It’s to land X% more sales. Track revenue.

Content marketing engages, informs, and educates your buyers and customers to help your business make money.

You’re not just promoting a webinar to meet your content output quota, but what’s the actual goal you’re hoping to achieve? Is it to raise brand awareness that will ultimately lead to X amount of revenue? Build your pipeline of leads to help with funnel conversion into sales targets? By answering this, you’re able to understand if your content is taking an approach that’s in it to win or just influence vanity metrics.content-funnel-lead-generation

Content doesn’t just build thought leadership, but it brings revenue to your business.

Getting Started: To move from basic content output to a more strategic, insight-driven strategy, ask yourself 5 simple questions.

  1. Why are we creating content?
  2. Who are we hoping to connect with?
  3. How and when will we interact with them?
  4. What do we want them to do?
  5. How will we know we’ve achieved our goal?

If you’re have a tough time proving the ROI of content marketing, remember that it generates 3 times as many leads as traditional outbound marketing, but costs 62% less when done right with a clear strategy, focused tactical plan, and north-star objective guiding decision-making along the way.

3. Define your audience, who you’re customers are not, and eliminate what’s not working.

Targeting real people with real concerns means you’re not just “winging it” when creating content and making assumptions of what makes your audience make decisions. Visualizing the individual who’s absorbing your content helps you ensure it’s not just relevant, but not jargonistic. Speak directly with your audience, not just at them.persona

Begin by asking yourself these questions:

  1. What informs the individuals within these groups to buy or make a decision?
  2. What problem(s) does my company’s product, services, or offerings solve?
  3. What does my audience not care about that I should avoid focusing on?
  4. What is the goal or purpose I’m hoping to achieve through marketing content to them?

Leverage this free persona building template to start documenting your target audience, what pains they’re experiencing, and how your content can provide a solution through a captivating brand story. Ready for more? Download the full Defining Your Target Audience ebook here.

4. Avoid the shiny new ball syndrome—tie decisions to core business objectives and what’s effective

It’s really ease to get distracted by a new trend or idea and forget about the strategy or tactical plan you have incontent-item place to make your goals happen. But that’s exactly why goals exist—to keep you focused. If a new idea is really going to help, be sure to elaborate on exactly why and what it will be replacing that was already in your roadmap.

Continuously adding new ideas without removing projects that you’ve already committed to can lead to team-fatigue and burnout. Worse, it can muddy clear progress towards your goals.

Getting started: To keep strategy top-of-mind and ensure new ideas fit your objectives leverage this creative brief template.

Putting in the work to tie an idea to your strategy will ensure you’re not just winging it because it’s the “latest new trend.”

5. Create a yearly tactical plan

This is where execution happens. You’re supporting the strategic plan you created and making it actually happen. Who’s going to be doing what, when, and what methods of production are you going to use to get there. From strategy to calculated actions, tactical planning typically involves small-scope actions that help bring the organization closer to achieving their long-term strategic mission.

Thinking on a yearly timeline helps you be pro-active. It’s also a good time frame to avoid getting bogged down in administrative work every week of who’s doing what.

Getting started:

  1. Break your year down into quarters or months: what are you focusing on in each section? Brand awareness, lead generation, or perhaps reducing churn via learning opportunities? Focus on a higher level business goal that other departments are also working on and make your initiatives collaborative.
  2. Focus on themes and outcomes, not necessarily granular projects, or tasks. Going to granular, such as defining you’re going to put out 300 blog posts, can make you focus more on delivery quota and less on actual impact your efforts are making. The type of initiatives you do and the content produced should be left for monthly planning.
  3. Define a content mission: what your content is working to achieve regardless of how or where it’s delivered. A content mission answers what you’ll be publishing, who it’s for and why your audience will care.

6. Supplement your yearly plan with monthly team meetings to discuss wins and roadblocks

It’s important to make changes in real-time, or a frequent cadence to course correct. Here’s a sample agenda for a monthly meeting:

How are our goals progressing?

  • If something is off-track discuss:
    • What roadblocks are preventing us from moving forward?
    • Any potential risks we need to mitigate now that might come up next month?
    • Is there anything that didn’t work this month that we can stop doing?
    • Is there something that we need to start doing to make our goal happen?
  • If something is on-track discuss:
    • What has made this successful this month? Is there anything we can learn for other projects or should document for future reference?
    • Any potential risks we need to mitigate now that might come up next month that will impede the continued success of this?
    • Is there something that we can do to take this to the next level?

Be sure to leverage any data available that can help guide your decision-making. Here’s two products that have free plans that can help provide content marketing insights related to how visitors interact with your content and brand:

Heap

Heap automatically captures every user action in your web or iOS app and lets you analyze it all retroactively. Clicks, taps, swipes, form submissions, page views. You’re no longer limited by events you remembered to log upfront. In addition, they have an event visualizer that means you don’t need to be an engineer or developer to become data-driven. Capture analytics that matter to each campaign with conversion reports and an elegant interface that makes wanting to look at numbers enjoyable.

Hotjar

Ensure the content you want your visitors interacting with and spending the most time with is actually getting viewed. Understand what users want, care about and interact with on your site by visually representing their clicks, taps and scrolling behavior or find the biggest opportunities for improvement and testing by identifying on which page and at which step most visitors are leaving your site.

7. First meaning, then modelling—Write content for a purpose and think beyond the website

We often arbitrarily break content down to groups, sections, and bundles without answering first, “Why would a user want this content?”

By answering what it achieves you’re able to define a content goal, then focus on authoring and laying out your content. Remember that not everything you write carries equal weight. Be sure to layout content that speaks to all sections of your funnel, and to all your audiences.

Quick tips to creating easy-to-digest, meaningful content:

  • Keep the bulk of your core message to the first 600 words. Searches often favor posts that are longer, however content consumers will bounce from your content if they don’t get what they need within a few seconds. Keep your strongest message visible upon entry.
  • Use headers and sub-headers—keep discoverability top-of-mind. Not only does it make your page look less like a “blob” of text, it helps distinguish what you’re talking about where. Scanners may not want to read everything. Tie in a reader through clear sections to help them see exactly where the content they’re looking for is on the page.
  • Bold important parts of a sentence. Key takeaways in non-header elements should be bolded. This causes the readers’ eyes to go directly to the point and backtrack to the full message.
  • Write like you talk. This isn’t a research paper. Writing is about building community—have a conversation with your reader, don’t make them get out a dictionary.

8. Make it easy for your audience to love you—don’t forget about usability

When was the last time you went through your own subscribe, onboarding, or sales nurture workflow? With the rise of content marketing, experience and UX are falling behind and thought of as a secondary factor to marketing success. However, we’re not stopping to ask how easy it is for our customers to access our content or want to be our customer.

Getting started: Add a happiness metric—One of the most important metrics that content marketing should measure. It builds loyalty, trust, and maintains a healthy relationship. If we’re asking customers to go through hell to learn or grow with our brand, how can we expect them to be happy?

Marketing efforts are often focused on vanity metrics—likes, engagements, followers—but when was the last time you stopped to ask, “Are my customers… happy?”

Review your call-to-actions, forms you make your customers submit, and what painful friction points cause drop-offs. What can you tweak to be less painful? Small improvements that create happy interactions go a long way in driving long-term revenue.

9. Don’t treat strategy, creation, content performance, and goals for your content as separate or silo’d initiatives.

Everything you do overlaps and influences the other, like dominoes. Your strategy informs your execution, your execution is influenced by analyzing your performance, and your goals help keep you focused. Here’s a snippet from our upcoming resource on strategic content marketing to visualize the impact each has on the other.

Most marketing campaigns master the tactical part of marketing, but fall short on amplifying their efforts due to a missing strategy or “north-star” goal. Ignoring the link between actions you’re taking and the impact they have on your business overall is a difficult way to prove ROI for your content output. Conversion rates are only meaningful if they’re accomplishing the right goal for your business.

Getting started: Whether you’re just getting started with a content marketing campaign, or looking to take yours to the next level, ask yourself what your efforts are helping move forward, why, and how you’re going to know you’re successful. Use these questions to guide your discussion and planning:

Strategy (Answers the who and what)

  1. What pain are we solving?
  2. Who are we solving this for?
  3. What opportunities are we potentially missing?
  4. What’s our business’ value proposition?
  5. What’s our brand identity?
  6. What’s it trying to accomplish?
  7. What’s the market telling us about our buyers habits?

Tactics (Answers how)

  1. How are we going to communicate our brand image?
  2. How will we inform our target customer?
  3. How do we define “quality”?
  4. How will we support our strategy and “realize” our goal?
  5. How are going to educate our audience?
  6. How are we going to show we’re the best solution?
  7. What’s our budget?
  8. How will we maintain interest of our community?

Objectives (Answers why bother)

  1. Why are the defined tactics most important?
  2. Why this niche and not that niche?
  3. Why is this strategy/tactic helping us move forward?
  4. What goal is it moving forward?
  5. What contributions is our content making to our overall strategic business mission?
  6. Why this particular campaign/strategy over another?
  7. Why will this help us iterate and improve our strategy?

10. Don’t forget about teamwork and the rest of your organization

It’s really easy to get lost in numbers, feel the stress of needing to produce and prove your content is making an impact; so much so that you forget to focus on your team and internal culture. Including your entire organization in content can lead to perspective sharing and new ideas that take your strategy to the next level.

This doesn’t mean that anyone should be able to freely publish content, you should stick to your internal workflow structure to ensure your brand messaging and goals are aligned. However, every employee in your organization should be able to, and more importantly, encouraged to participate in the content process.

Getting started:

  1. Ask different team members from all departments to pitch a content brief.Have them join your weekly brainstorming session and present a topic of interest to them. Hold a lunch and learn to walk through filling out the brief and why each section is important to the content creation cycle.Having each department walk through the same creative process as the content team can also work to build empathy and help your organization understand the role content plays in business success. Team building and ROI win!
  2. Add a bi-weekly feedback session that’s open to your entire organization.
    Everyone in the team spends time with different customers, at differing amounts of time. Each team member can bring something to the table that is unique.If your team is continuously providing feedback directly from customer interactions, you’re making changes based on real-time data. Gain new perspective for content ideas while the collaborative environment can be great for team building.
  3. Create a culture where it’s okay for anyone to spend work time contributing to the content creation cycle.
    Setup your team for success by providing brand guidelines, a documented strategy, standards necessary for publishing, and who’s responsible for what in the event of a question.Don’t silo individuals into strict ares like “drafter” and “editor.” Doing repetitive tasks is a sure way for someone to loose their creative spark and get bored.

Remember, content marketing is about consistency

Create a cadence and rhythm that works not only with how your audience consumes content, but with what is sustainable with your resources and internal operations. While monthly may work with certain content deliverables like Webinars or eBooks, your audience may expect weekly educational pieces on how to improve their operations and workflows before jumping into your solution. Staying top-of-mind is important for any great content marketing effort, but you can’t do it at the expense of producing boring, or meaningless content.

Sticking to a regular schedule of content distribution and committing to that schedule is more powerful than just creating content for content’s sake. This is because of the power of predictability in maintaining a schedule.

Humans naturally feel more comfortable when something is predictable. Predictability breeds trust.

Content marketers need to stop trying to be the only thing our customers are listening to, because that’s just wildly unreasonable, and set a time with our audience that they’re dedicated to listening to us. This starts with content predictability.

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