Say you’ve decided to make the leap into the content marketing arena and aren’t sure where to start or how to plan. Or maybe your brand or company is bombarded with ideas and pitches for content marketing, and you don’t know which direction to take. You’re concerned about developing a successful content marketing strategy but are finding that there is so much information out there that it’s all a little dizzying.

Content marketing has become its own industry and specialty, but it’s a very simple concept at its core. Content marketing done right increases brand awareness and generates leads and sales. It doesn’t push your products in a big, obvious way; instead, it promotes a good, familiar feeling about your brand. It does so by providing your target market with valuable information that’s relevant to their interests and by engaging them with this content.

What a Content Marketing Strategy Is and Why It’s Important to Have One

A content marketing strategy is a roadmap of how your brand will approach content marketing. It helps you define which markets you want to target and how, the types of content and platforms you’ll use to do so, the goals you’ll set and how you’ll track your results.

It’s important to have a content marketing strategy so that you drive your content marketing campaign in a well-researched, on-brand, organized and quantifiable way. It ensures that you can chart your campaign’s progress and that everyone involved understands what the message, platforms and goals are and why.

How to Develop a Successful Content Marketing Campaign

In order to create a successful content marketing strategy, approach it one step at a time. It can be exciting and a lot of fun, but make sure you have the information you need to properly create a content road map before you jump in. Get the basics of a successful content marketing strategy down pat so that, informed and confident, you can move forward.

Do the Research First

Before you can personalize your content marketing to your target market, you first need to define and understand who your audience is. It’s crucial to research your market so you understand the types of information they find valuable and entertaining — content they will want to engage with. It’s important to confirm that their interests, needs and values align with those of your brand or company.

Engage with your customers to find out their needs and pain points, whether through social media, phone conversations or email surveys. Do the research to find out which platforms are best for your content marketing. Is it better suited for YouTube or Vimeo? What about Facebook, Instagram or a blog? Or maybe your content works best on a combination of platforms but in different formats.

If your competitor’s content marketing is performing well, find out why and how yours can do even better. In order to stand out, stay true to your brand identity, get creative and don’t try to copy your competition’s content marketing campaigns.

Personalize Your Content

Tailor your content’s tone, voice and substance to your audience. Make sure your audience data is up to date, and don’t rely on outdated assumptions about who they are, the interests they have, the types of information they need or want, and the ways they want to get it.

For example, if you’re selling dried fruit snacks and targeting children’s caregivers, you might want to include stay-at-home dads or nannies in the equation and find out whether your audience is juggling kids and a job. Don’t automatically jump to the conclusion that print and TV are their go-to and that an advertorial in a magazine will do the trick — research your market’s digital media use. Mommy blogs, stay-at-home-daddy blogs and nanny blogs — not to mention contests on social media — might all be content platforms that make sense for your brand.

Put Goals in Place and Track Them

Establish goals for your content marketing strategy, and adjust them if necessary. Use marketing KPIs to track things like engagement, reach, sharing, page views, leads and conversions. Don’t expect overnight success. Plan realistically for the long term.

Research User- and Influencer-Generated Content

As you’re developing your content marketing strategy, determine whether you will use user-generated content or influencers to engage your audience.

If you use influencers for content marketing, then do your due diligence to make sure that yours have stellar reputations that align with your brand values and that your budget can accommodate their fees. Be clear about your expectations for deliverables from the outset by giving them a brief that outlines a schedule for posts and the number you expect.

Although influencers have their own substantial followings and can be celebrities, everyday people who are your consumers are the ones who create user-generated content, often on social media. The advantages of user-generated content are that consumers tend to trust it more than paid ads — and it’s free.

Schedule Your Content

Be consistent with the frequency of your content to establish your brand as a trusted, expert source. Create a content schedule, and stick to it as much as possible, making adjustments as needed.

Keep Your Content Real and of High Quality

Keep your content authentic and relevant to your audience. Make sure that if you’re offering advice or tips those are well researched, accurate and engaging. If your content isn’t evergreen, make sure to update it on a regular basis so it doesn’t grow stale or irrelevant.

Use SEO to Drive Traffic to Your Content

Optimize your content by finding the right keywords and phrases that will drive traffic, and use analytics to see how your content is performing. Hashtag tracking tools like Twitter Search can help you see how your social media content is performing.

Include FAQ and Q&A Formats in Your Content

One way to grow your reach with voice search is to include Q&A pages and videos in your content. Since people speak more conversationally and ask more detailed questions when they use voice search, including Q&A content in your strategy can help bring more voice traffic to your site.

When you engage directly with customers, you’ll discover which questions they ask most frequently. In addition to answering them quickly in real time, keep track of them and use them for FAQ content.

Make Your Content Shareable

Using images in your posts can make them more shareable. People respond to compelling photos, whether they’re of adorable pets or babies, beautiful landscapes, mouth-watering desserts or something else that triggers an emotional or sensory response.

Be sure to include relevant hashtags and social sharing buttons on your content too. You can also run contests that encourage your followers to share your posts by giving them the chance to win something when they do.

Repurpose Your Content for Greater Brand Awareness

When you’ve already spent time, resources and money to create successful content, make the most of it by repurposing it for different platforms. For example, you can repurpose popular blog posts that revolve around a certain theme into ebooks or infographics. Or use the information you get from comments and responses on social media to create guides and tips on your blog or site.

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