When presented with the intimidating task of creating a content strategy, it can be hard to know where to start. Unlike a blogging calendar or social media publishing schedule, a content strategy isn’t a single deliverable – it is a process consisting of various stages, involving many different people.
If you have been asked to create a content strategy – whether for a client, an owned brand or a job interview – this content strategy process will provide you with a clear framework for how to go about it.
What Is Content Strategy?
Content strategy is the process of researching, brainstorming, justifying, presenting and planning creative campaign ideas to help a brand meet its digital marketing goals.
What is the Difference between Content Strategy and Content Marketing?
Content marketing is the creation, publication, outreach and promotion of content assets as part of an overarching content strategy. Once your content strategy is in place, it can be handed over to a Content Marketing Manager who will oversee its implementation.
A Successful Content Strategy Process
Over the years of working in digital content management, marketing and strategy, I have designed a content strategy process that will give you the highest chance of achieving your goals. Here, I will outline the various stages of the process, as well as some key learning and ready-to-use templates.
Stage 1: The Induction Chat
If you are getting to grips with a brand that you are not yet familiar with, it is worth arranging a meeting with the (Digital) Marketing Manager to go over some of the questions that you might have. The following document contains crucial questions designed to clarify what the brand’s content marketing goals are as well as more practical issues such as the data and channels that you could have access to.
Stage 2: The Research Stage
Once you have familiarised yourself with the brand and the client’s content marketing goals, it is time to enter the research stage. The aim at this stage is to gather as much information as possible to inspire your content brainstorm. Your entire team can be involved in the research, from SEOs to social media professionals and outreach specialists. It is useful (even recommended) to allocate a large amount of time to this stage.
As a Content Strategist working with large clients and brands, this is the information I like to have access to by the end of the research stage:
- Content goals – what do you want to achieve?
- Current content analysis – what content has worked well for the brand in terms of social shares, backlinks, traffic and conversions? What are the brand’s site link metrics?
- Competitor content analysis – what content has worked well for competitors (or in the wider industry) in terms of social shares, backlinks, traffic and conversions? What are the main competitors’ site link metrics?
- Audience analysis – what are the audience’s interests and demographics according to Google Analytics?
- Social listening – what is the target audience discussing on social media, blogs and forums? What are their worries, struggles and sentiments? What are they excited about?
- Search intent modelling – what queries are being typed into search engines by the target audience regarding topics related to the client’s product or services? For this exercise, we are looking at informational queries rather than buying phrases.
- List of target publications – which publications are the brand looking to be published in? What kind of content tends to receive coverage in those publications?
- List of relevant dates – what events, awareness days, holidays, product launches, TV launches, etc. are coming up that you might want to create content campaigns around?
Stage 3: The Brainstorm
Now that your team has gained some valuable insight into the content opportunities for the brand, it is time to explore those findings in a content brainstorm. For this stage of the process it is important to have a diverse set of people from different disciplines present.
The team at a brainstorm should include, but not necessarily be limited to, the following people:
- Digital Marketing Manager/Account Manager
- SEO specialist
- Content specialist
- Outreach specialist
- Social media specialist
- Someone who does not work for the brand
To initiate the brainstorm, invite the attendees to present the group with the key findings of their research – these can be written down on a whiteboard. Most likely, their insights have sparked some ideas already – write these down and present them to the group for further development, feedback and discussion. Try to encourage everyone present to share their thoughts and ideas, no matter how unlikely or unachievable they might seem.
During the brainstorm, no idea is a bad idea. It is only towards the end of the brainstorm that the group will pick their favourite ideas and decide on a format for them (illustration, blog post, mini-site, interactive, survey, research report, infographic, calculator, quiz, etc.). This is your shortlist, which takes you to the fourth stage.
Stage 4: The Justification Stage
If you want to create a content strategy that guarantees success, the justification stage is crucial. For each of the smaller ideas on your shortlist, you will need to find justification in the form of keywords and search intent that you have already identified at the research stage. This answers the question of whether or not the idea provides value to your audience.
For each of the bigger ideas requiring more of your resources, you will want to find not only search intent, but also outreach justification. Contact your target publications to find out whether they are interested in covering the idea, or whether they have any feedback. Make sure to offer them something valuable in return for their time, such as first access to the content you will be producing, exclusive questions to add to your survey or an invitation to an event you are organising.
The ideas at the top of your shortlist must all have the potential to help achieve the content marketing goals identified at the start of the content strategy process.
“Don’t waste your time and money – test your ideas before you start executing them.” – Lola Michels, Content Strategist
Moreover, it is crucial to ensure that the necessary resources will be available to make your campaigns a reality. Check with your project managers to confirm they can provide access to the designers, developers, writers, photographers and videographers needed to implement your strategy.
Once you have confirmed that you have access to the required resources, received positive interest from your target publications and confirmed that your content ideas will provide answers to your audience’s problems or queries, those ideas have passed the test – they are ready to be presented to the people in charge of your content marketing budget.
Stage 5: Presentation Stage
Your campaign ideas will have to be presented in a slide deck together with their justifications. I usually add my content campaign slides to the slide deck with my initial research findings – below, you can download the content strategy template I use for my own clients.
A content strategy is not complete without a detailed roadmap. At this stage, the various actions needed to implement your campaigns successfully should be listed and scheduled throughout the year. Here, you must keep your key dates in mind – make sure that your content campaigns are live and ready to be outreached by the key dates you have identified.
Congratulations! You have now successfully completed the process of creating a content strategy. Please bear in mind, however, that the implementation of your strategy is just as crucial to its success as the research and reasoning behind it. Contact a content marketing agency to help you design and implement your content strategy.