Your pre-content marketing checklist: what you need to do before you start
Thinking about adding content marketing to your company’s arsenal? Good thinking. According to Hubspot’s annual state of marketing report, inbound marketing delivers 54 percent more leads into the marketing funnel than traditional outbound marketing. Simply, content marketing works.
But before you start writing up blog posts and promoting your work on social, you need to complete a simple to-do list prior to hiring your superhero content marketing team.
- Define and understand your goals
- Research and define your audience
- Determine a budget to create and distribute
- Determine a place for the content to live
- Build a social audience to promote
- Create an editorial and social calendar
- Define, analyze, and understand metrics for success
Checking off the bullet points for this list will prepare you for what you need before you start your content marketing. Here’s what you need to do to complete your pre-content marketing checklist.
According to Fitzhugh Dodson, “without goals, and plans to reach them, you are like a ship that has set sail with no destination.” Who is Dodson? That doesn’t matter much to us right now (but if you really want to know, he was a clinical psychologist who wrote books about child-rearing like How to Parent). What matters is the message.
Without goals, you are just creating content for content’s sake. And that’s not the point of content marketing. The point of content marketing is to help you reach goals that align with your business by creating content. To move forward with content marketing, you need to understand the goals you need to achieve to succeed.
Do you need to:
- Raise awareness for your brand?
- Build your email list?
- Become a thought leader in your industry?
- Encourage potential customers through your sales funnel?
- Convert your audience to paying customers?
- Retain customers?
If you answer “yes” to one of these questions or more, then you have a goal. Awesome. Remember to constantly ask, “How will this [project, campaign, blog post, tweet, etc.] support our business goals?”
Hopefully, you understand your customers—what they want, what they need, who they are, etc. But your new audience—the ones who will be consuming your content—can have different wants and needs than your existing customers, even if they will soon become customers.
That’s why it’s so important to research, understand and define your audience before you jump into content marketing. Most importantly: who is this content for?
Your audience should never be “everyone” because that means “anyone”—and not just anyone will want to use your product or service. In other mediums like screenwriting for television and film, one of the most common notes an executive can give to a screenwriter is to make a character more “relatable” and accessible to everyone. But any decent screenwriter knows to take that note and make that character as specific as possible. That’s precisely what you should do with your audience.
Here’s what you need to consider then:
- The core audience target—i.e. the type of person who will consume your content (odds are you have multiple audiences you plan to target)
- The type of content your audience already reads
- Topics you want to explore that relate to your industry, key categories, areas, etc.
- The best ways to communicate to that target audience—aka what type of content (written, visual, video, audio)
- The outcome for the audience—i.e. what call-to-actions are you igniting in your audience that aligns with your goals
To find your audience, there’s a lot to consider. You may want to look for promotions or partnerships with other brands to distribute content, research what your competitors are doing, analyze your own customers’ reading habits—the list can go on and on. It’s important, then, that you break down your goals to their simplest parts when it comes to your audience.
Chances are, you’re adding content marketing into your other marketing initiatives (if not, here’s some helpful advice about starting a marketing budget from scratch). Depending on your industry, you may heavily rely on traditional advertising, commercials, merchandise, etc. So where does your content marketing budget fit in with your other marketing?
According to this report from Contently, approximately 51 percent of marketers are devoting a quarter or less of their marketing budget to content and 24 percent have shifted over half of their marketing budget to content marketing. For first-time content marketers, it’s best to budget between 25–50 percent of your marketing budget to content then.
If you’re unsure of how to balance the budget, check out these great marketing budget templates from Hubspot.
Your content’s home
Where your content lives is entirely dependent on the type of content you choose to produce. Written content can live pretty much anywhere—from the internet to newspapers to facsimiles to branded print publications—whereas video content has to live where a video player is. Your content’s home should reflect where your audience is going to see it.
It’s a safe bet, though, that your audience has access to the internet. Now you need to decide where on the internet. Your site? A social channel? Given the number of platforms around, you may scoff at the idea of creating a blog page on your site. However, having a designated place on your site for content is sure to drive more traffic and improve leads (plus, it adds more for search engines to crawl on your page). Note that if your content is exclusively on other platforms and sites, it’s more difficult to remind your readers of the products and services your company provides. And for some platforms like Facebook, you may have to pay to play in order to reach your audience. Of course, your brand may want to consider a sponsored post or native ad on an industry-driven site to boost brand awareness, thought leadership, or whatever other goal. However, it’s generally a good rule of thumb to have a basecamp for your content.
Something else you need to consider is whether you need a “church and state” clause to your content and your commerce. Basically, you should think about if your brand could benefit from pairing content and commerce together in one place to complement one another or if they should be separated entirely.
Your editorial calendar
You have the maps drawn up for the new addition to your marketing team; now it’s time to map out when you’re building what. The easiest way to keep track of your content marketing is to maintain an editorial and social media calendar. A simple but essential tool for all bloggers, publishers, editors, and writers, these calendars are fantastic tools to align your short- and long-term content marketing goals. A marketing calendar with key seasonal dates, industry events, and other general dates can go a long way for your strategy.
Now, your editorial and social calendar do not have to be filled out just yet, but you do need to have some kind of system in place to keep track of when blog posts go live and when and where you are promoting them. An ideal calendar should include:
- Publish dates
- Article headlines
- Channel you are publishing to
- The status of any given piece
- Important industry dates, calendar events, holidays, etc.
You can download our editorial calendar template here.
Your social audience
Creating content is the first step; distributing it is the second. In order for your content to stand a chance, you need to get it in front of eyeballs and there are billions of them on social media platforms.
If your brand has other marketing departments, they’ll be able to guide you through the world of social media. If not, there are three things you must do.
- Choose a social media scheduler to keep track of your posts. Hootsuite or Buffer are popular choices and have freemium models.
- Curate content into your social media. Try these tools.
- Determine the ratio of paid vs. organic posts in your social media calendar. Circling back to your budget and audience, this is where you research which platforms are best for your budget and your audience. If your target audience isn’t on Facebook, don’t spend money on paid posts in Facebook.
Your metrics for success
Finally, you’ll need to set up the appropriate metrics on your site so you can track what’s working and what isn’t. This is where a Google account comes in handy. Set up Google Analytics so you can monitor the traffic coming to your site. It’s important to set parameters and markers for success and understand your data. Or take it to the next level and use a content marketing service like Quietly to measure the performance of your content a) against the entire content marketing funnel, and b) consistently across all of your company’s departments.
If you’ve carefully gone over your reasons for doing this, who you’re hoping to attract to your blog, how much money you can spend on this, where you will put the content, how you will schedule distribution of content and social, and have made steps to track metrics, you’re in great shape. Now all you need is a stellar content marketing team in place.
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