There’s a lot to remember when it comes to building and running a successful content marketing strategy.
Have you carried out appropriate research? Is your content as good as it can possibly be? Do you have the right processes and systems in place to handle the leads you’ll generate?
To help you to make sure your approach is sound at every level, we’ve put together a comprehensive content marketing strategy checklist.
By spending some time on the below steps you can make sure you’ve got everything in place and that you’re good to go. If you find one you can’t put a ‘tick’ next to, focus on refining that particular aspect of your strategy before you launch any content marketing campaigns.
As you go through the list you’ll also find download links for our content offer campaign checklist. The ‘content offer’ part of your campaign is particularly important, so we thought it deserved a checklist all of its own.
Table of Contents
Without good buyer personas your content marketing strategy could be completely ill-suited to the task of marketing your business.
If you’re yet to approach buyer personas then here’s the definition:
“A buyer persona is a fictionalised representation of the people who typically buy your products or services, based on real-life knowledge of their common traits and behaviours.”
You should dedicate some time to building your buyer personas and make sure that they’re as accurate as possible. If you’re not used to using them then you might find it surprising just how much you come to rely on them. If you don’t get them right you’ll be using an incorrect ‘map’ for your whole content strategy.
You may well have more than one buyer persona. For example, if you typically sell to both the Marketing Manager in a company and the Managing Director, then these would be different personas, with different questions, concerns and pain points.
In this scenario building two personas is fine, but don’t go overboard. Pick your most common buyers and build these first. You can always add less common personas when your persona process and structure is in place.
A process for buyer personas
Consider the following process for building your buyer personas;
- Get hold of a buyer persona template (we have one right here). You can always modify the one you find to fit your exact purpose, but it’s good to have a base to start from.
- Explain the concept of buyer personas to your team.
- Have different people from different departments complete the buyer persona template independently of each other.
- Organise a group session where everyone brings their completed buyer persona template. Discuss commonalities and weaknesses. You’ll be surprised how informative this is to your whole approach as a company, not just your marketing strategy.
- From the group session, create a master buyer persona.
- Looking at your new buyer personas, build a list of action items that need to be addressed in your strategy, given what you’ve discovered about who buys from you.
Your action items might include changing the UX of your website, for example, to answer your personas queries at a quicker rate. Or you could simply have a list of content ideas that need to be produced as part of your strategy.
Finally, table an action item to review your personas on at least an annual basis. Buying behaviours will change and, as a core document that underpins your strategy, your personas will have to change with them.
The funnel is dead: long live the flywheel!
If you’re not familiar with the concept of the flywheel then take some time to review how the approach can inform your content marketing strategy.
The overall positioning of a flywheel vs funnel approach is predicated on the fact that a funnel assumes clients are an end outcome of marketing that happens across several stages leading up to someone signing on the dotted line.
A flywheel, by comparison, puts customers at the heart of everything you do, the logic being that the happier your customers are, the faster your flywheel spins and the faster you grow.
Look at it this way: many businesses’ main method of growth is referrals. The happier your clients, the more referrals you’ll generate.
So, how do you make your flywheel spin faster, gaining your more happy clients and increasing your growth rate?
To make your flywheel spin faster, you must reduce friction
Reducing friction across your business, for current and prospective clients, is a key flywheel concept. The less friction in your processes, the less frustration you generate, leading to happier clients and prospects, and faster growth.
Start off your flywheel journey by making a list of processes and procedures that create friction; either internally or externally viewable by clients.
Is invoicing a constant pain, with multiple mistakes made on a fairly constant basis? Are there clear task management procedures internally, so everyone knows where everyone else is up to? When you onboard a new client, is the process typically smooth and successful?
If you can’t answer ‘yes’ to those and other process questions then it’s a sure fire sign that you have processes which are creating friction, stopping your flywheel from spinning as quickly as it can.
Build how you’re going to fix these issues into your content marketing strategy and your overall strategy will help you to grow faster.
Your strategy should include details on where you’re coming from and where you’re hoping to get to, so a key part of the setup is going to be digging into your data. If you don’t do this, you’re going to find it difficult to be certain whether your content marketing strategy has taken you to where you needed to go.
Consider setting these benchmarks across a range of areas, so you have a fair view of exactly what’s working and what’s not.
- Website Traffic – benchmark your overall traffic levels to see if your attract strategy is successfully attracting more visitors.
- Leads/MQLs/SQLs – lead volumes will allow you to judge if you are converting enough of the traffic you are attracting.
- Revenue and Clients – marketing must, at some point, pay attention to the bottom line. It’s no good boasting increased lead volumes if none of those leads are converting to tangible revenue.
- Content Marketing Metrics – When you get these metrics right, you discover what content works and what doesn’t. This helps you to control the buyer’s journey and improve conversion rates.
Putting HubSpot (or other tools) dashboards to good use
If you use HubSpot (or an alternative tool such as Active Campaign) then set up your dashboards so you can track the metrics that are most important to you. In HubSpot the default dashboards are around individual HubSpot ‘hubs’; Sales, Marketing and Service, but there’s no reason why you can’t alter this structure.
Perhaps consider a dashboard for the ‘attract’ stage, looking at pageviews and other traffic metrics. Your convert dashboard could feature an overall metric of forms filled in across your website and perhaps a monthly summary of how your email marketing is performing.
You may also want a master ‘key metrics’ dashboard, focusing on, say, the top KPI measurements you really want to improve. This will allow you to quickly and easily see, every day, whether you are on track for the improvements you want to see.
Play around with the data you want to display so that you get to a point where you can clearly see your successes and failures in an instant.
Content marketing, when done correctly, is a holistic form of marketing which should work well for your whole team, not just your marketing department.
There are some key points of crossover where other departments are likely to have a key role to play in your content marketing efforts. Are these departments clear on what’s required and do they have everything they need to make your strategy a success?
- Building your personas – try to involve your whole team in this exercise, as mentioned above. When you get perfect agreement and alignment on what your current and ideal clients look like it can make it much easier to progress successfully with your content marketing strategy.
- Passing leads to sales – at some point marketing will hand over the valuable inbound leads you generate to sales. It’s important that this is done at an appropriate time and that leads are qualified and agreed by all parties, using the criteria set in your MQL/SQL system (see the next point).
- Sales approaching leads for the first time – the bulk of the content you produce will probably be used by the marketing team, but don’t forget that sales need content too. Case studies, product summaries and more can help sales to close the deal. Make sure there is alignment within your teams, so that your marketing team are providing the sales team with the content they need.
- Customer onboarding – remember your flywheel? Customer onboarding can be a key point where friction should be reduced to as little as possible. Hopefully your team has given your prospects a great experience through the sales cycle. Now it’s time to make sure that experience continues into their life as a client.
- Referral generation and feedback collection – don’t forget those referrals! Your customer services team should have everything they need to support your clients, get feedback on how well you’re doing and hopefully encourage those referrals to keep rolling in. Let’s keep that flywheel spinning!
We mentioned SQLs and MQLs above and your MQL/SQL system is closely related to having your roles clearly defined.
At some point someone in marketing will need to decide if a lead is an MQL and sales will need to decide if a lead is an SQL. Get definitions for these agreed in advance so that the decisions are easy to make and the outcomes uniform and expected.
The last thing you want in a content marketing strategy is marketing proudly passing a lead on to sales, only for sales to say that the lead is not worth following up.
Defining what MQL and SQL mean for your business
There are wide variances between firms on what makes an MQL and SQL, depending on what you do, what you sell and how you sell it. However, the below example definitions may help you to define your own.
MQL – a lead who has interacted with your marketing material more than is typical from most leads and appears to meet some key buying criteria. They may have downloaded a piece of content and given you contact details in return, or attended a webinar perhaps. From these contact details you may well be able to tell that the lead fits into some of your buying criteria; that they are in a role with buying authority, for example. Normally an MQL would involve a data transaction of some sort. At this point, the lead may be passed to sales to assess for SQL suitability.
SQL – a lead which is at least willing to entertain a conversation with sales and meets some of your key buying criteria. You may not know all of BANT (Budget, Authority, Need, Timescales) at this point in time, but you would have at least some indications for some of those points and the lead would be willing to engage with sales, which may allow you to complete any ‘gaps’. At the point you build up a full picture of the buyer the lead may move from SQL to defined Opportunity in your lifecycle stage.
You’re going to need content that attracts, converts, closes and delights… and you’ll probably need it all sooner than you think. There are few things worse than having loads of hot leads that you can’t reply to, because you’re waiting for a case study to be produced so that you can close them.
Early on in your strategy you should make a list of the types of content you’ll need and then the exact content that fits into those buckets. The below is a very non-definitive list, but consider it as a useful ‘first reference’ check for the type of content you could be producing.
- Social media posts and videos
- PPC advertising on Google and social media
- Free subscription services
- Free training
- Free trials
- Video and written case studies
- Comparison sheets
- Product-focused material
- Offer details
- NPS surveys
- Virtual or in-person client events
- Client-specific exclusive content
- Added extra freebies (‘we’ve added this service to your account!’)
In the ‘convert’ stage above, the content offer you settle on for your campaign is going to be one of the most important aspects of your inbound marketing.
A ‘content offer’ refers to a piece of gated content that’s offered in exchange for a visitors contact information to turn them into a lead. These leads can then be nurtured to turn them into customers.
Because you’re asking visitors to surrender their details, your offer needs to be a premium piece of content that they’ll find useful. It should be targeted towards your buyer personas and meet them at different stages of their buyers journey.
Content offers can take many forms, including:
eBooks | Courses | Free Trials/Demos | Checklists (like this one!) | Cheat Sheets | Guides | Original Data & Research | Podcasts | Tools/Calculators | Templates | Events | Free Apps | Webinars | Whitepapers | Email Series
Once you have your content offer, you’re ready to hit the “GO” button on your campaign. Download the checklist below to make sure you’ve covered all your bases.
You’re going to be promoting the content you produce, whether that’s through your own social media accounts, or through paid channels such as Facebook and Linkedin ads..
If this is your first time carrying out a content marketing advertising campaign then this step can take a bit more time than you think.
Facebook Business Manager and Ads Manager are significant pieces of online software in their own right, for example, so if you plan to use a platform like this, build time into your strategy to get up to speed on how it works, how you can optimise it over time and the results you should expect to see.
This is also the time to consider how many promotional channels you need to have ready, how many you’ll run at one time and the point at which you may want to jump from your primary point of promotion to a secondary source.
For example, if you have a high traffic website already (let’s say 10,000+ visits per month) you may be confident you’ll convert enough leads from a piece of downloadable content through organic conversions alone. Even a 1% conversion rate would mean you’d be receiving 100 leads per month.
But if you turn your campaign on and you’re running at more like a 0.25% conversion rate, then you should have other channels ready to turn on to improve that rate. Don’t be afraid to move to a ‘plan B’. It can mean the difference between content marketing failure and success.
Following the traditional content marketing customer journey it’s tempting to think that all customers will follow a linear path; heading to your website, converting as a lead, before being sold on your proposition by sales and becoming a customer.
Of course, modern day digital journeys rarely look anything like this.
We visit pages of businesses we’re interested in buying from, only to jump onto another task and forget all about it. We read a review on a third party site and check out the competition. Then the whole project gets put on the backburner and we stop our research. Three months later it’s a priority again, so we jump straight in with the sales department of one of the companies we were looking at and ask for the best price!
Keeping leads engaged and familiar with your offering, even as they go on to other tasks, is a vital exercise to plan for in your content marketing strategy.
If your content marketing is successful, you’re probably going to build and build your database of prospects, all of whom will be at different stages of the buying cycle. How will you get them further through this process?
One method to consider is the ‘pools and rivers’ approach.
Pools and rivers
A ‘pool’ is a group of contacts who you have permission to market to, but haven’t really shown any significant buying signals recently.
To keep your pool contacts up to date and try to engage them further you might send them a regular personal note about the state of the industry you work in. Or a really good newsletter that they’ll find valuable. Or invite them to an occasional webinar. This marketing needs to be high quality and highly relevant to your ‘pool’ contacts.
When a pool contact engages with this content they have left the pool and are now in a river; a nurture cycle where your marketing can attempt to engage them on a more 1-2-1 basis and, in the event they show buying signals, sales can get involved again.
Pools and rivers are just one approach to nurturing your growing database of contacts, but however you decide to engage them, you will need to work with your database in a non-linear buying cycle manner, to get the best results from your strategy.
What happens when a lead downloads your content offer? Do you send an automated response? Do sales get a task to follow-up? Do you have further communications you’ll now send to this lead?
The more content marketing campaigns you run, the more complicated your requirements will be. What if someone downloads two pieces of content, for example, or books a demonstration straight after registering for a webinar?
The more that you can automate, the slicker your processes will be and the greater the chance that you’ll be able to nurture leads into paying customers.
Common automated processes and structures
Consider content marketing automation processes, and suggested routes to follow, for the following;
- When someone downloads your content or registers for something like a free trial, how are you going to follow up with them to maximise your chance of conversion? Consider automating an email response, inviting them to ask questions to a named individual. If they respond then you’re into a sales-driven conversation.
- Consider using functionality like HubSpot’s lead scoring system to handle multiple touch points and automate your sales approach (or at least your task setting for sales). For example; if someone registers for a webinar, downloads a few pieces of content and opens several emails from you that could be worth enough lead scoring ‘points’ to trigger an action for sales or sending an automated sales approach email.
- Dependent on your sales process you may want to put something in place that automates actions if prospects visit high value pages. For example, multiple visits to your pricing page could be considered a high value buying signal. In this scenario it may be worth automating an outreach email from sales to the visitor to see if you can be of assistance.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. There will be sales and marketing processes off the back of your content marketing strategy that can be made more effective through automation, freeing up your time to focus on developing great new content campaigns.
Thinking of your business as a flywheel means that every team in your company has the potential to help with your marketing performance… but only if you’re enabling them to.
As your content marketing strategy executes and starts to deliver leads and customers, you’ll be collecting multiple data points, which will be useful to your sales and service teams.
It’s therefore a task for your strategy to consider what data points sales and customer service could make use of and how you’re going to be able to best deliver those data points to those teams, so that they can action them.
Consider the following as some suggestions;
- When setting tasks for sales automate information like how many times the prospect has been onto your high value pages.
- In workflows, tasks and playbooks for sales, summarise what information has already been sent to the prospect and what suggested information sales may want to send next.
- Create automated alerts for your service department when clients visit multiple ‘help’ pages, alerting services that there may be a problem, even if your customer doesn’t end up submitting a ticket.
No-one gets everything right the first time. There will be areas of your strategy that work for you and others that could be improved. Revisit your overall plan – the ‘how’ you do things, rather than ‘what’ you do every day – as often as you can, paying particular attention to areas where the metrics indicate you could improve.
A content marketing strategy is never truly ‘done’, because you’re only ever a new piece of content away from relaunching or retargeting certain areas. Try and hold frequent small and large group brainstorming sessions to get new content ideas and then feed them into this content marketing structure to refresh your campaign.
Try also taking a look at the areas in this checklist with bullet-pointed suggestions. These are only a few of the options to consider underneath each heading. As you run your live strategy, you’ll be able to supplement these lists with more and more options, giving your content marketing strategy a great chance of succeeding.
Ready to Launch!
If you’ve ticked everything off as you worked down the checklist then you’re good to go: you’ve checked that your content marketing strategy has everything it needs to succeed. Don’t forget the final point. Even if you’re good this time, it’s worth revisiting this content marketing strategy checklist often and tweaking your strategy over time. Good luck!
Working as a Digital Marketing Consultant since 2004, Lee helps SMEs win more business through developing effective digital marketing strategies. He is a dedicated Liverpool FC fan, dog lover and loves long country walks (and a cheeky pint) with his dog, Banjo. Do you publish content yourself, or need content for your own website? If you’d like to collaborate on anything at all, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.