Research from Content Marketing Institute has found that having a documented content marketing strategy is one of the key distinguishing characteristics of an effective B2B content marketing program.  However, many firms are operating without a strategy in place.

In fact, more than half (56%) of B2B marketers who use content marketing, are running their programs without a game plan, jumping into content creation and promotion without a documented strategy. But those who do have a documented content marketing strategy are not only far more likely to consider themselves effective, but they’re also less challenged with every aspect of content marketing.

So what’s involved in setting a strategy for content marketing?

Define content marketing’s role in your marketing plan

As part of setting your strategy, you’ve got to figure out what role content marketing will play in your firm’s overall marketing strategy and marketing plan. Is it just an add-on to all the other arrows you’ve got in your marketing quiver, or is it going to be a primary focal point? The truth is, adopting content marketing as a primary marketing strategy will greatly impact your approach to virtually everything else marketing does, including your website, online marketing, email, trade shows, direct mail, advertising, and other marketing efforts. So it’s important to know going in just how central content marketing is going to be in your firm’s overall marketing plan and take the time to properly define the role, whatever the role may be.

Assemble the right team

Once you’ve defined the role, the next step is to assemble the team. Who’s going to be involved, both strategically and creatively? What roles are needed for your content marketing team and whom do you have internally to fill the role?  Is an outside consultant or agency needed to augment internal staff and skills?

You need to think about who is going to:

• Contribute the subject-matter expertise
• Write and produce
• Design and develop
• Publish and promote
• Monitor and measure
• Oversee and manage the whole program

You should also consider who outside of the marketing department needs to be involved (e.g. IT, legal/compliance, sales, etc.) and kept in the loop. The important thing is to assemble the team and define each team member’s role in your content marketing program.

Carve your niche

Now, a lot of firms are using content marketing to build thought leadership and to help differentiate their firms. But content marketing doesn’t establish differentiators—it only emphasizes them. So one of the critical things you have to figure out is what’s going to be your content marketing niche. Establishing your niche is important because your content marketing needs focus. You simply can’t cover everything, or be all things to all people, and expect to be effective. So you’ve got to figure out your niche and stick to it.

One of the ways you do that is by answering 2 questions:

What is your firm truly an expert in?  Your content needs authenticity, so you want to only cover topics that you are knowledgeable about and can truly speak about as an expert.

What do you want to be known for?  In other words, what subject matter expertise will have the most impact on your business development and revenue objectives?

Once you’ve answered those questions, look for where there is alignment. That will help you carve out a niche.

Identify your key target audience and build persona profiles

A key part of your content marketing strategy is identifying and understanding the key audience(s) you want to engage. And one of the best ways to do this is to build out audience profiles, or “buyer personas.” Personas help you visually picture your target audience and understand them on a deeper level—leading to more relevant and valuable content and ultimately better results.

Personas represent profiles of your typical clients and provide key information that will be incredibly beneficial to content planning and content creation efforts. Using research, surveys, and (ideally) one-on-one interviews of your target audience, both current clients and prospects, you can start to build out these personas.

Consider the client journey

Once you have identified your personas and the journey they typically follow from visitor to prospect, prospect to lead, lead to customer and customer to evangelist, you can start to identify the types of content and topics that will resonate most with those personas at each stage of the customer lifecycle. Content should play a role in every stage of the lifecycle to help create awareness, generate leads, convert leads into customers and turn customers into evangelists. A lot of content is focused on the beginning of the journey: the sales funnel or buying cycle. But don’t forget about existing clients and ways your content can continue to engage and nurture those relationships as well.

Set goals and define key performance indicators

One of the primary components of your content marketing strategy is setting specific goals and determining quantifiable metrics that align with those goals. Examples of goals might include:

• Building awareness in a particular region or vertical
• Developing thought leadership
• Establishing credibility
• Driving web traffic
• Generating website leads
• Nurturing leads
• Attracting new clients

Once you have goals in place, establishing Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) plays a critical role in tracking the ongoing performance of your B2B content marketing program. Establishing a dashboard of KPIs can help you measure marketing success and will identify any areas that need improvement.

Document the strategy

Once you’ve set your strategy, be sure to write it down! Put it in a document and be sure that every member of your content marketing team (including outside partners) have a copy and that it’s consistently used as a reference and a point of departure for meetings and planning sessions. You’ve probably heard that writing down goals is one of the keys to achieving them. And based on the research, it’s a proven fact that successful content marketers have a written strategy and closely follow it.

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Creating a B2B content marketing strategy is not rocket science, but it does require intentional effort and dedicated time and resources to get it completed. But taking the time to create a documented strategy could mean the difference between effective content marketing and ineffective content marketing.

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