Content strategy 101: How to create purposeful, impactful content

Content strategy 101: the what, how and why for your business

By Colter Hettich

May 6, 2023
handwritten x and o representing strategy mapping
Study your customers, then turn those insights into effective marketing content.

Many brands understand the value of a content marketing strategy, but perhaps you’re not convinced. Is it really worth the time, money and effort?” The answer is a resounding, “Yes!”

Let’s dive into what a content strategy is, the benefits for your business, the components of a successful strategy and how you can get started creating and implementing your own. We’ll identify simple, actionable steps along the way that can help make this process realistic and attainable.

What is content strategy?

A content strategy is a plan that maps out the creation and distribution of content. A strategy helps ensure that content meets your audience’s needs and achieves your business goals. To do that, you need to know who your audience is, what they want and need, and which channels and types of content they prefer. It’s not about creating content for content’s sake — it’s about strategically planning and designing content to achieve specific results.

Strategies can be lengthy and in-depth, or they can also be shorter and more concise. It all depends on what you have the time and resources for, as well as what the audience needs to know about the topics.

Benefits of a content strategy for small businesses

The biggest and most obvious benefit of a content strategy is creating more opportunity to grow your business. A well-crafted strategy can help you reach and better engage your customers, demonstrating the value you offer and what makes you different, all while building trust and credibility. This helps you meet them at every stage of the sales funnel — creating content that increases awareness, nudges them through consideration, drives conversions and promotes advocacy.

A content strategy can also help save significant time and resources: By planning and organizing your content in advance, you’ll avoid last-minute scrambles and ensure that all of your content is cohesive and aligns with your business goals and messaging.

Lastly, a strategy can help you improve your online presence, as well as the number of customers who can find you organically on Google (also known as search engine optimization, or SEO).

Of course, there are some challenges. For example, you and your team might struggle with creating consistent and high-quality content, finding the right channels and formats to reach your audience or measuring the success and ROI of your content. In the following sections, we’ll provide you with practical tips and examples to help you overcome these obstacles so that you can take full advantage of your strategy.

Understand your target customer or audience

To create an effective content strategy, you need to know your audience inside and out. Who are they? What are their needs, challenges and pain points? What are their preferences and behaviors when it comes to consuming content? Here are some steps you can take to better understand them:

1. Clearly define your target customer or audience. We recommend creating personas when time and resources allow. Personas are fictional people that represent the types of customers you’re marketing to. Include everything from demographic information (age, gender, location, etc.) and psychographic information (interests, values, attitudes), to behavioral information (purchasing habits, decision-making process, online preferences) — the more detailed the better. Create at least three to start, but for larger companies with diverse audiences more likely will be needed.

2. Research that target customer. Look anywhere and everywhere! Surveys, interviews, news articles, social media, even taking a proverbial walk in their shoes — all of these can help you identify patterns and insights that will inform your strategy later. If you’re looking for region- or city-specific data, be sure to follow local news outlets in the area and check out sites like www.city-data.com that offer detailed demographic data.

3. Map the customer’s journey from awareness to advocacy. Consider the different stages that your audience goes through from first learning about you (awareness), to evaluating what you offer (consideration), to making a purchase (conversion), to telling others about you (advocacy). Make notes of the type of things they’d need to hear at every stage of the funnel, and where they’re most likely to hear from you. For example: Perhaps a paid Instagram post is the most effective way to raise awareness, an SEO blog post to help them compare against other options, then an text message promotion to bring them to a decision.

This process will help ensure that any communications or content you create will resonate with them, address their pain points and is appropriate for where they are in their journey.

BRASS TACKS: Don’t assume you already know everything you need to know about your audience. Take just 15 minutes to quickly define your target audience, do some quick Googling, then write down the single most important thing they need to hear at each stage of their journey.

How to develop topics and a content plan

Now that you have a better understanding of your audience, it’s time to develop a content plan that aligns their needs with your business goals. To start, identify what’s most pressing. Is it to spread the word about your business? To get more data or contact information from potential customers? To encourage and increase advocacy? Promote a new product or service?

Once you know your specific goals, write down what connects the dots between them and your audience. These are your topics! Let’s say you run an e-commerce fashion brand. Your customers prize handmade goods, and you’re looking to increase advocacy. A possible topic would be “behind the scenes.” Behind-the-scenes content shows off the bespoke nature of your products, and gives you an opportunity to run a promotion for anyone who posts a video of themselves wearing your clothing and links to your online store. Or another example: you run a consulting business for restaurant owners. Your customers are struggling with cashflow, and you’ve created a new online course specifically about cashflow. A topic might be “cashflow tips.” To offer value you could post a short video of yourself sharing a cashflow tip, then promoting the new course at the end.

Creating the right content for your audience, and staying consistent

Now that you have some topics your customers will be interested in and find important, go back to their online and social media preferences. Write down what type of content is getting the most likes and shares on those platforms. Now take this list and put it next to your topics — voila, you know what type of content you need to make and what you need to say. The last step is to simply plan out you what days and times you’d like to create and post the content. This can be as formal as an editorial calendar, or a simple content calendar that spells out what needs to be posted on each day.

Here are a couple of examples, so you can see what this looks like in the real world. Let’s say you run a small organic grocery store, and you need to increase awareness of your business and offerings. Your target audience is parents 30-50 years old. They’re primarily on Instagram. You’ve identified “high-quality fresh produce” as a topic. They want their children to eat healthy, but the produce at most other grocers in town is unreliable, often days old or out of stock. This is a great opportunity to post short daily reels on Instagram of your bright fresh vegetables, and even purchase some Instagram ads that target that age group in your area.

Or, let’s imagine you’re a marketing lead at a regional bank and you’ve been tasked with increasing savings account deposits among 20-35 year olds. They have ambitious goals, but with little discretionary income they’re already feeling frustrated. If you’ve identified “financial literacy” as a topic, perhaps some content explaining strategies for paying off student debt make sense. At the end of each video, you illustrate how much they’ll be able to save once the student debt is under control. While the content isn’t about savings accounts on its face, you’re meeting them where they are, addressing a core topic, and introducing the benefits of a savings account without pressure or a sales pitch.

By developing a content plan that aligns with your audience and business goals, you’re not just blindly creating content and hoping it works. You’re strategically speaking to audience pain points and highlighting the value you bring to their life.

Consistency is also key. By staying present in their inboxes, feeds, and podcasts, you’re staying top of mind and reinforcing the reliability and quality of your brand.

BRASS TACKS: Don’t post content for content’s sake. Align the audience’s needs and your business goals, develop a content plan, and stick to it!

Measuring and optimizing your content strategy

Once you have developed and implemented your content plan, set a reminder to check on your content’s performance. Whether it’s bi-weekly, monthly or quarterly, see what you can learn from your posts that got the most likes, shares and comments, as well as the posts that didn’t do so well. If you’re pressed for time, just look at a high level: What do the high-performing posts have that the under-performing posts don’t? Does the day of the week or time seem to be a factor?

If you have more bandwidth, consider adding A/B testing to your list of tactics. This tactic separates your audience into two groups, and sends them slightly different versions of the same content. Facebook, Instagram and other social media platforms offer A/B testing, as do almost all email marketing platforms. For email, maybe try two different subject lines and see which gets more opens. For social ads, try the same copy with different images. A/B testing is a powerful way to learn what your audience responds to best.

To measure traffic and engagement on your website, make sure to set up your Google Analytics account. If you use any of the popular website builders, it should come already installed. Google Analytics will tell you the everything from busiest times of day for web traffic, where visitors are in the country and the world, what types of devices they are using to access your website, and where they are being referred from — whether it be search, email, social media, or shared links. All of these data points can give you a more complete picture of your audience, what they are looking for on your site, their habits and their preferences.

Then use these learnings to improve your content over time!

BRASS TACKS: Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t. If you don’t have time to comb through analytic data, at least learn from your best-performing content and see if you can replicate that success.

Embrace the power of customer advocacy

An impassioned recommendation from a trusted friend can trump just about every marketing tactic out there. Don’t be shy about asking existing customers to sing your praises, just make sure to do so humbly. A few tips for increasing customer advocacy:

  • Make it easy. If you’re asking for a review via text, link them directly to the review form. If they have to search for the next right click, you’re going to lose them.

 

  • Remind them of the benefits. For a mattress company, an example might be: “We’re trying to help even more people get the best sleep of their lives. Your review can help.” Help them feel like they’re helping others.

 

  • Offer incentives. One tried-and-true way of increasing advocacy is to run a promotion. For example, tell customers that anyone who posts a video of themselves wearing a certain product and uses a certain hashtag will be entered into a drawing for a gift card or free subscription or membership.

Consistency is key for successful content marketing

If you don’t stick to your plan and post consistently on the channels identified in your content plan, you’ll miss out on big opportunities. A regular cadence not only keeps you in front of your audience and increases the chance of them seeing and engaging with your content, it keeps you in the habit and familiar with trends as they emerge. Don’t set yourself up to fail — in the beginning, make a plan that’s realistic for you and your business. You can always do more, but find a rhythm that’s sustainable and add to it over time.

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