Isn’t content marketing just creating content?

If only it were that simple.  Creating great content is part of the process, but what content you produce, how it is used, and what is done to generate ROI are all critical to its real success.

Sure, you might create the next viral sensation – a video, a hashtag campaign, or a great growth-hacking initiative – something that will land your company in the pages of AdWeek.  Even if you do, your content marketing should have a long-term strategic vision that builds relationships over time.  But, while 88% of B2B's use content marketing, only 32% have a documented strategy.

So in case you miss on the that viral hit (and you most likely will), these five steps will help you build a strategy that can get you to where you want to go and make the journey well worth the effort.



Oh, the dreaded, dirty work of understanding your various audiences and learning how to build better business relationships with them.  Research can take weeks, even months of work, so don’t try to scribble this on cocktail napkins during happy hour.  As they say “garbage in, garbage out.”

At it’s most basic, your strategic plan should look to answer these questions:

  • Who are you trying to build a relationship with? Think beyond your target audience and remember that influencers of all types can be critical evangelists for your brand.  So create a full audience map.
  • What type of content will be most impactful? Brand statements, testimonials, educational pieces, and just plain old entertainment can all be important – the most effective tactics use graphics (87%), eNewsletters (83%), videos (82%) and blogs/website articles (81%).
  • Where do you need to be to deliver that content? Your website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, an app… a multi-channel or omni-channel approach will be necessary.
  • Why are you doing this at all? Quantifiable goals such as conversions, sales, engagement and reach ought to be benchmarked and set.
  • How will you distribute all of this great new content? Your website and social media channels are the obvious places, but you need to consider paid advertising, content syndication, and other tactics that will optimize your outcomes.  And remember to create and editorial calendar that schedules distribution (social media management tools like Hootesuite can help you manage it all).

When complete, you’ll be able to create a content marketing strategy document.

Sounds like a lot.  It certainly can be.  But this is just the first part of your content marketing journey, the most grueling part for sure.  The best is yet to come.

And please keep in mind, this is just a very basic framework.  There are countless smaller steps (ex. competitor research) and endless tools (ex. keyword research) that can help build your great strategy.



Let’s take all of that great research in Step 1 and put it out there!

But how?  While research is grueling, user testing can be confusing.

Short of investing time and money into focus groups, your best bet is likely to just produce content prototypes and monitor feedback.

Pick a few pieces of content from your strategy document – content that you can produce with the greatest confidence and ease, but ones that if they miss the mark will not do harm to your brand.  Testimonials and instructional videos are often safe bets.  You could write a few blog posts as well.  Push those out via social media and e-mail, followed by actively seeking feedback (where possible).

When you look for feedback, ask the following of your test audience:

  • Simplicity – was the information easily understood?
  • Completion – did the user complete the whole piece of content, or did they stop because it was too long/complex?
  • Quality – does the production value reflect your brand well enough?
  • Virality – would they share it?
  • Functionality/Value – would they like more of this content, other content, or both?

If you can answer these few questions you’re well on your way to getting the critical opinion about your content necessary for success.

Think of this as a beta phase.  So rinse and repeat if necessary.



This is where the fun begins – that open stretch of road with colorful scenery and exciting stops along the way.

Quality website content and sales are the #1 and #2 reasons cited for why users return to a company’s website or social media channels.  Each type of content will have unique production requirements – video shoots/editing, writing, graphic design, audio etc. – so let’s focus on the details shared by them all, and that are too often glossed over.  Make sure you check off these three items for every piece of content you create:

  • Functionality – Simply put, don’t let form overshadow function. We’ve all done it (letting our creative energies overflow) but save that money to create more content if budgets are tight.
  • Mobile-First – Keep in mind that approximately half of all browsing is done on mobile devices. Avoid images that require pinch-and-zoom, compress videos properly, and ideally have a mobile-optimized website for it all.
  • Measurement – Gathering data is the most overlooked step. Be certain to install analytics software, use UTM/GTM codes on your social media posts, and consider using Google Tag Manager as well.  These will be critical come Step 5, and the only way to look deeper than sales to how the content itself performs.

Take these steps and if you’ve produced good content based on a solid, tested strategy, you’re now ready to push it out there to a much bigger audience!



There are three pillars to promotion – owned, paid, and earned.


“Owned” media is simple, this is the content you’ve created and the channels which you post them to (including the social media channels).  It’s also your SEO work, e-mail marketing, and more.


Paid is where it gets fun, but at a price.  Changes to Goggle and Facebook mean only the biggest brands with the largest followings get much organic reach.  The rest have to pay to play.

Facebook, Twitter, content syndicators like Outbrain – they all give preference to paid advertising. The good news is that you can reach 1000’s of people in your audience map for only a few pennies a piece.  And be sure to use the targeting/re-targeting tools on each platform to optimize your outcomes.


Earned media is the gold star, if you can get it.

We’ve all seen how Donald Trump has dominated the news with “earned” media, free publicity because, well, he “earns” is through public interest.  But let's be honest, no matter how great your content may be it’s not likely to end up on CNN.  It may however catch the eye of industry influencers and pundits.  You’ll need to make the first move though, and that means finding the people (bloggers, journalists, writers, etc.) that you can share content with.  That’s a time-consuming exercise, but one that can pay off big if they like what you have to share.

If you want to level-up your earned media game you can go with a paid source for PR/Communications like Muck Rack.  Platforms like these connect you with the big-time influencers in the market.  But bring your A-game or you might be laughed away from the table!

So those are the basics for your owned, paid, and earned promotions.  One last tip though for most that are reading this – do your “owned” great, then move to paid.  With some momentum (and learning) from your paid efforts, let your success lead you to earned.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, neither will your content marketing success.



Remember in Step 3 when we placed tracking codes and software into content.  This is where it all pays off.

First, here is a difficult truth - most of the content you create will not, but itself, generate a single sale.  Content marketing is about building relationships that lead to  building and retaining clients/customers.  It takes 6-8 “touches” to generate a good lead by some estimates.  And once you have a new customer (or follower), remember that the cost of acquisition is 4-10x the cost of retention.

So, other than sales, what else can we track?  A lot actually - here are some examples:

  • Click-thrus
  • Visitor’s e-mail
  • Likes/Shares
  • Comments
  • Visit duration
  • Page views per visit

All of these can tell you what’s working and what’s not – both with your content and your business.

You’ll want to also install tracking pixels on your website and social media.  These little beacons gather information about visitors that can be used for targeting.

So, what is targeting you may ask?  Ever notice that shortly after you search a topic or visit a specific site, ads for that brand (or similar) start popping up for a week or two?  That’s because of tracking pixels.  The same methodology is why you often will receive discount offers via e-mail if you abandon an online shopping cart.

The data from the tracking pixels will be used to create custom audiences – users that you know have visited your website for instance – and allow you to promote content directly to them.

Tracking and targeting can be tedious, especially at first, but they are important.  Once your content marketing strategy is rolling along they’ll become second nature and make the whole process of acquisition-enegagement-retention easier and more successful.



Well, not really, like death and taxes there should be no real end to content marketing.  There are always stories to tell, questions to be answered, or help to be given.  Even in the lulls where you’re not creating new content, you’ll be building relationships and sharing what you’ve created with new people.  And hopefully those efforts will give you stories to create new about.

Any content marketing tips or advice you'd like to add?  Questions we can answer or help we can offer?  Let us know.

Happy storytelling everyone!