Content marketing can be fun. But it is also a lot of hard work. And without careful planning it is very easy for it to start taking up a lot of time, give you a lot of anxiety, but deliver very little.
Which is why at Mosoco we use our five step content marketing process: strategy, plan, innovate, campaign, evaluate (SPICE).
SPICE: the five step content marketing process
Step 1: Strategy
The first step is to agree your content marketing strategy. In its simplest form strategy is just the answers to three questions:
- Where are we?
- Where do we want to be?
- How are we going to get there?
Your strategy needs to be aligned with other marketing and business goals. For instance, if your current marketing strategy is solely about lead generation it might not be very sensible to develop a content strategy that focuses on brand awareness (unless you felt that your marketing strategy was inadequate and needed this addition).
Once you know the general direction you want to take, you need to audit your current position: how many sales are you making; what are the effects of seasonality and region; which types of products are particularly successful? At this stage you may also find it useful to compare your business with your competitors to see if there are any obvious opportunities or threats.
Next you can identify goals. These don’t have to be particularly detailed: for instance if your content marketing strategy is focussed on generating sales you might have separate goals for online sales, retail sales, developing a database of prospective customers, and reducing churn.
You are now in a position to answer the first two questions: Where are we? and Where do we want to be? The third question to answer: “How are we going to get there?
There are a couple of things to think about here. Firstly what resources do you have available? You will want to think about how much time and money you are prepared to risk as well as how much is available to you. And you will need to consider the methods you are prepared to use to reach your goals: you will be influenced by the available resources including access to skills and technology, time constraints, and your own experience of your organisation, your competitors and the industry you operate in.
Step 2. Planning
Now you have agreed your goals you can start thinking in detail about how you will achieve them. This is where you leave strategy and start to get tactical.
For each business goal you may have one or more objectives. For instance, as part of your “increase sales” goal, you may have an objective of increasing your database of prospective clients. You need to make sure that objective is SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time bound). In this case:
Collecting “names and contact details of prospective clients” would be a specific objective (sometime people use the word “simple” or “single”) whereas collecting “names and contact details of clients, ex-clients and prospects” would not be as it includes three very different sets of data.
You need to measure the right thing. If we are counting prospects we would probably want to make sure we were measuring opportunities with particular companies or households rather than individual contacts. Of course it isn’t sufficient to have a measurable objective: we need to agree a measure that will define whether or not we have achieved the objective – say an increase in opportunities on our database of 100%.
Objectives also need to be achievable – within the resources available to us. Any objectives that are wildly different from what has been achieved in the past should be viewed with suspicion – especially if an untried method or technology is being proposed.
And of course objectives need to be relevant – in other words to support the business or marketing goal they are part of.
And finally they need to be time bound. It isn’t satisfactory to agree a objective of doubling your database of prospects without setting a date by which this must be achieved.
CUSTOMER CENTRIC PLANNING
It shouldn’t need saying, but understanding what your customers really want (not what you want them to want!) is pretty central to the planning process. It might be the same as what they wanted last year. Or it might not be.
If it is the same, it could be that the market environment has changed – new competitors coming in with better or cheaper products; new regulations making it harder to fulfill customer expectations; changes to household or company income. If this is the case then what worked well last year may not work so well this year.
Or it may just be that your target audience wants something different this year. (Selling the sort of Christmas jumpers I saw in the pub last night would have been pretty hard last year, but tastes change!)
Whatever they want you will need to think about the benefits you want to communicate. Sell the sizzle, not the sausage.
You also need to think carefully about how you are going to reach your target audience. For content marketing we need to think about where we can find our audience and what type of content they will expect and respond to. Will we find them on Facebook or is LinkedIn a better bet?
And what will they respond to? Will video communicate our message best (bearing in mind our resources)? Or an infographic? Or an advertorial?
We may have to treat different objectives in different ways. For instance, if our objective is to collect the names of prospective customers it probably won’t be sufficient to use an advertorial or a Facebook campaign. (However, these tactics may be suitable for other objectives such as generating sales).
Another important part of the planning process is to conduct a “tactical” (as opposed to strategic) audit of what content is already available. It is not unusual for businesses to have a huge amount of content that they are not using but which could be used in a number of ways. This content can often kick start a content marketing programme.
Step 3. Innovation
Innovation is the next step in the process. This is controversial. Some people would say that getting the key idea or theme is something that has to happen right at the start of the process (or at least before planning). I think that’s true for an advertising campaign.
But for content marketing I think it best to plan the “structure” of our campaigns, including where and how we are going to talk to people, before we agree on exactly what we are going to say. (And remember that we identified customer wants in the planning stage.)
Innovation is fun. You can leave it to one or two “creative” people but it can be more effective to run workshops with stakeholders from within the business. Ideally you will include people from different functions (sales, marketing, finance, IT…) in an innovation workshop. They will all have different perspective, both from a business standpoint but also as consumers. Use the market insights you developed in the planning stage as prompts to create engaging (useful, interesting or amusing) content that promotes your business or brand in some way as well as offering value to the target audience.
While you will want to develop content that appeals to your audience by offering them information of value, you will also want to promote your products and services more directly. It is OK to include this sort of content but the innovation process should consider how best to wrap this sort of content up in a package that will appeal to the target audience. And however well this sort of content is wrapped up, it should probably only make up 20% of the content you publish as otherwise your audience will start to think of your content marketing as advertising.
The innovation process should address how the content could be used as well as what it should say. For instance if an idea for a whitepaper on sustainable living has been developed, think about how this could be used in different ways – an infographic, a series of blog posts, tweets about those blog posts, a webinar, a video…
If you are planning to spend a lot of money on your content campaigns it may be useful to test out your ideas on the target audience. However, it probably isn’t a very good idea to use consumers to generate the ideas. Innovating with consumers is rarely effective: on the whole people are uncertain of their motivations for doing things and there is a big danger that they will just say things that they think you want to hear.
Once you have developed your content ideas, make sure these are consistent with your overall brand statements.
Step 4. Campaign
Now we need to put our ideas into action. For this we need a robust campaign process which includes things like:
- Persona documents of the target audience that people who are creating the content can refer to; these will include statements about the “wants” of our target audience
- Tone of voice guidelines
- Examples of content that has worked in the past
- Technical parameters relevant to the places we intend to publish or share the content
- Editorial board for content sign off and quality control
- An editorial calendar so that we know what content we are going to publish and when
- Diffusion process for promoting the content: for instance a blog post might be supported by 6 social media posts while a YouTube video might be supported by a blog, a website landing page, 12 social media posts (6 for the blog and 6 for the video)
Quality control is very important. The content you develop should be relevant to the audience of course. But it should also be:
- Easy to find: SEO techniques including putting keywords in headings, writing appropriate metadata, and including appropriate semantic mark up tags are important
- Consumable: especially for online content it is important to write simply (think about the reading age of any text) with plenty of headings and bullet points; videos should be short and to the point and accompanied by a transcript (some people will prefer to scan text); infographics should be simple, attractive, with data well visualised (think about this in the innovation step) and contain more than just text. If your content is at all extensive (perhaps a microsite or a web app) then employ some user experience testing methods to check out that people will find it easy and intuitive to use
- Sharable: you want to encourage people to share your content as a way of diffusing it; so ensure that it is content that people want to share; you can of course ask them to share it and then make sure it is easy to share by including appropriate links and icons
- Actionable: you will need to include calls to action that encourage people to behave in the way you want them to – downloading contact details (via a competition or free eBook for instance), reviewing a product (by making sure it is easy to do so and including “social proof” that other people have contributed reviews), or simply sharing your content with others.
It will also be important to set up monitoring processes to evaluate whether protocols and plans are being observed. It is all too common to find people who have agreed to contribute to a blog actually fail to do so, perhaps because the importance of their contribution has not been emphasised.
And finally internal processes should include liaison with other departments as appropriate e.g. passing sales leads and customer queries generated through content marketing to the appropriate people in your organisation.
Step 5. Evaluate
The last stage in the SPICE process is to evaluate your content marketing. First you need to measure the effect against any of the KPIs you set up when you were deciding on your content marketing objectives. Typically there will be two types of measure:
- Indicative (or soft) measures that tell a story about what is going on but don’t link directly to business objectives; things such as website dwell time, Facebook Likes and YouTube video views may fall into this category. Indicative measures are important because they can show you how well (or badly) your campaigns are going before they end
- Responsive (or hard) measures that are directly linked to your business objectives; things like positive reviews, sales leads and online sales are included here
As well as measuring the effect of your content campaigns you need to identify (as far as possible) the causes of any success or failure. Understand the reasons for failure and how to avoid them in future. Agree how to build on success. Take these learnings and use them in the planning and innovation stages of your next campaigns.
Content marketing can be very effective. But it does require discipline and vision. If you would like to talk more about how you could use content marketing in your organisation then call me on 07855 341 589 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.