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6 Steps for Building a Killer Content Marketing Program in 2017

By Kathryn Hawkins. Business Tips Content Strategy and Marketing
Image Credit: Visual Hunt, Licensed under CC0

In the midst of planning and budgeting for 2017? Here are our top six tips for building out a killer content marketing strategy.

In the midst of planning and budgeting for 2017? If you’re like most marketing departments, content marketing is probably somewhere on your radar: 88% of B2B marketers surveyed in the 2016 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends - North America Report are currently using content marketing in their arsenal, though they’re not all entirely sure of what they’re doing: Less than a third of them said they had a documented content marketing strategy.

So, if you’re just getting off the ground with content marketing, how can you best use your budget to build out a kick-ass plan that’ll help you drive leads, conversions, and industry recognition, instead of blowing your budget on mediocre content that sits there gathering mothballs and spam comments?

Whether your organization is brand new to content marketing or you just haven’t hit your stride yet, here are our top six tips for hitting the ground running:

Step 1: Seek expert guidance.

If you’re not ready for a huge content marketing investment, you might think it would make the most sense to start out by hiring a more junior employee who can work on a more affordable budget than a senior-level expert. After all, $40,000 could get you a junior staffer eager to work around the clock to prove himself, but only a third (up to the knees, perhaps?) of a senior content marketer who’s done time in the trenches.

Don’t do it. Seriously. That bubbly new grad may have just wrapped up a successful internship at GQ, but that doesn’t mean he’s capable of steering the ship at what’s effectively a brand new publication—one that can build or destroy the reputation of your company, depending on how it’s managed.

If you hire someone new to the field without a defined roadmap to work from, he’ll be left flailing—and while you might manage to stay within budget, what is the program really going to deliver for you if you don’t have clear goals or metrics to track against?

Either spring for an expert, senior level content marketing director to develop and manage your program off the bat, or contract with an agency partner to help you formulate an initial strategy, which can later be handled by more junior employees if needed. This approach may be similar in cost to hiring a more junior employee, and, while you won’t have someone available to work around the clock, experienced pros are much more likely to know what they’re doing right from the start and use their time more wisely.

Step 2: Make sure your senior leadership is all on the same page.

Content marketing may share some of the same goals as traditional PR—building positive brand recognition and trust—but they are not the same thing. Likewise, it’s not the same as product marketing, which is focused on selling the product, rather than building an audience. Each of these teams may try to influence the content marketing program to meet their goals, but as you launch your content marketing program, stand behind a singular mission and philosophy that won’t be swayed by other marketing team members.

Content marketing, first and foremost, is about building trust through the development of genuinely useful and educational content aimed at a target audience. It’s not about selling a product or promoting your company; it’s about building your target audience organically with high-quality content. Make this clear when discussing your program, and ensure that your leadership team understands and buys into the goals, or your program is destined to fail.

Step 3: Line up your internal subject matter experts.

Whether you’re hiring a director-level candidate or beginning with an agency, it’s crucial to make sure that whoever is managing your content program has access to the wealth of knowledge that lies within the brains of your team. Don’t focus on keyword strategy alone and ask your content team to research independently; while content marketing may have its own goals, it shouldn’t be siloed from the rest of the company. Identify key executives within your organization who can share their experiences and insights on pressing industry concerns and advice for helping your target audience, and commit them to a regular cadence of interviews with your content team. They should also be on hand to review articles for accuracy, and may even wish to byline them.

Step 4: Build a staged approach to your content strategy.

What does that mean? Don’t put the cart before the horse, in other words. Give your content marketing director or agency strategist time to understand your brand and your customer personas before asking her or her team to produce any content. Whoever is managing your effort should have an opportunity to engage with internal stakeholders to review and refine key messaging and goals for your content strategy, and then build out an editorial calendar template. She’ll also need to focus on a distribution plan for the content, whether managing it independently or in tandem with other team members, such as demand generation or social media marketers. Before a single word is produced, your should have an integrated plan for building out content that meets your messaging and marketing goals, and a plan for getting it to that audience.

Step 5: Run a pilot program.

Once you’ve got your strategy and distribution plan in order, you can get started on content creation—but don’t get ahead of yourself yet.

Start small, and evaluate and optimize your results as you go. For instance, if you’re a low-cost 401(k) provider, look at which types of articles are getting the most traction: guides to minimizing tax obligations, how to best invest your funds, or lifestyle tips for saving more money. You don’t need to completely change tack from your original strategy, but if you notice one type of content getting much more attention than others, look at what’s working and try to optimize future content pieces to generate similar (or better) results, whether that means changes to the subject matter itself, the tone of voice, the title, graphics, or distribution plan.

While you’re identifying best practices for your specific industry, roll out content more slowly and do a “soft launch” of your program while regrouping with internal stakeholders on what’s working and what’s not. Then, your content marketing director or partner can refine the strategy to enhance results.

Step 6: Scale up your team.

Now that you have a strategy that’s been tested and refined, it’s finally time to grow your program and build upon your results. If you’re currently working with an agency, use this time to either commit more resources to content development and outreach, or begin working on internal recruiting and creating a transition plan to build a team, starting with a content marketing director. If you already have a content marketing director, give her the green light to begin building her own in-house team, which may incorporate existing staff from related marketing functions (such as social media or graphic design) as well as new hires, such as a staff writer, and contractors, including a content marketing agency or a group of freelance writers or designers.

Content marketing requires a thoughtful, deliberate approach, and the results may not be immediate. But by beginning with a sound strategy, and building that into an optimized program that’s integrated with your organization as a whole, you’ll be able to create a strong content marketing effort that will spotlight your organization as a market leader in your industry.

Starting up your strategy? Download our free 20-page guide to building a content marketing plan.

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Kathryn Hawkins

Kathryn Hawkins is principal and chief content strategist of Eucalypt Media. She has worked as a freelance journalist for media publications and managed inbound marketing and content strategy for corporate and nonprofit clients for more than a decade.

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