The 2-Step Process to Get a Comprehensive Content Strategy On Paper

We talk a lot about the benefits of a strong content strategy. According to the Content Marketing Institute’s 2018 Benchmarks report, 72% of B2B marketers say having a content strategy contributes to their overall success. But while we hear many brands say they have a strategy, that same report found that only 37% actually have one documented. That’s a major misstep. If your strategy isn’t on paper, you can’t effectively implement it or evaluate its efficacy.

Why You Need to Document Your Content Strategy

Yes, it can take time to craft and document a content strategy. And marketers cite many reasons for not doing it: a small team, lack of time, or other internal challenges. But it is well worth it to preserve your sanity. A documented strategy helps you:

  • Guide your decision-making: Being able to actually “see” your strategy lets you spot potential issues, trim the fat, and visualize your entire content ecosystem.
  • Keep everyone on the same page: Communication is more efficient with a documented strategy when everyone—internally and externally—knows exactly what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how they’re doing it. Plus, when your team understands the purpose of various initiatives, they will be more likely to take ownership of them.
  • Stay accountable: Hypotheses, planning and scheduling, deliverables, benchmarks, and reporting help you maintain momentum in a tangible way.

In short: If you want to do better content marketing, bringing your content strategy into the real world is crucial. But how do you start?

How to Document Your Content Strategy

It does take time to document your strategy, but don’t get overwhelmed. Getting it down on paper (or let’s be honest—Dropbox Paper) really comes down to two steps, which cover both the high-level thinking and practical/tactical elements of a cohesive strategy. This is how we approach our content engagements, and we find it’s a helpful way to distill your thinking and translate it into a useful, actionable document.

As you work through these, you don’t have to write a novel for each. A simple, concise overview works. In fact, the clearer your goals, the simpler it is to communicate them. (You can also refine and revise later if you need.) So, if you’re ready, here’s the two-part process to document your strategy.

Step 1: Document Your Discovery Phase

Before you start planning out content and pitching ideas for your next blog post, you need to hit the pause button, take a step back, and reassess what you are doing and why. At the discovery stage, you are documenting an exploration of your goals and what information is necessary to guide your strategic decisions. This is the foundation upon which you will build the rest of your strategy.

You should outline these with clear, actionable takeaways. Remember: This information articulates what you’re trying to achieve through all content marketing efforts. The four elements to document:

1) Objectives

These should cover both business and marketing objectives.

  • What discrete task do you want content to accomplish?
  • What behaviors do you want to influence, and whose?
  • How do you define concepts or keywords that might be easy to misinterpret?
  • What other important considerations will influence how you approach your solutions?

2) Brand

Think about the essence of your brand.

  • Why does your brand/product exist?
  • What are its values or beliefs?

Pro tip: Try our “movie trailer exercise” to help you identify your brand positioning: In a world where _____ (the void you fill/why you do it), _____ (your brand) is the only organization that _____ (what you do) for _____ (who you do it for).

3) Audience

You should have personas that include detailed information about the people you’re trying to reach, including demographics, psychographics, etc. These answer questions like:

  • Who are you trying to reach?
  • What are their goals, fears, and motivators?
  • Who are their heroes? Their enemies?
  • How do they consume information?

Follow our easy guide to create personas if you don’t have them.

4) Web and Content Insights

To know where you need to go, you need to know where you are. As such, you should audit your existing content and web properties.

  • Is your user experience optimized?
  • What content gaps need to be filled (formats, subjects, etc.)?
  • Does your mix of channels make sense given your goals?
  • What content is working, and what is not?
  • How else can you leverage your current content for more impact?
  • Do readers or visitors have a clear path to the next stage in the journey, if interested?

Once you have this foundation, you can flesh out the rest of your strategy.

Step 2: Document Your Content Program

Your content strategy should be crafted around your specific needs and objectives, so you don’t necessarily have to abide by a rigid, one-size-fits-all set of content strategy deliverables. For example, if your chief objective is to engage current customers, an SEO component of your strategy isn’t likely to be your highest priority. Your discovery phase findings should inform what you need and what you should prioritize as you launch or tweak your content practice. That said, here are the elements you might include.

1) Measurement Methodology

This is a mandatory element that will inform your success at every level.

  • What KPIs will you use to measure success?
  • What do all your KPIs mean, specifically?
  • How are they mapped to your goals?

2) Journey or Lead Mapping

Outline how your buyer moves through the process.

  • How will prospects and customers be nudged along the journey?
  • What signals help identify someone in any particular stage of the journey?
  • Where in the journey is your strategy going to focus?
  • At what point will you bring in your sales team to close the deal?

3) Messaging Platform

You should already have your brand messaging hierarchy in place. If this needs to be updated or revised, the most current messaging should be included.

  • How is your content supporting your brand messaging?
  • What messages are most relevant for your current goals?
  • Will key messages resonate with all audiences, or do you need to segment?

4) Channel Opportunities

Include your earned, owned, and paid strategies, considering what your audience insights reveal.

  • Where are you going to reach people?
  • How will you reach them?
  • What will your mix of channels be?

5) Storytelling Opportunities

This is an optional element, but it’s useful if you’re working with agencies or contractors who are tasked with coming up with ideas. These are the big ideas, topics, and content pillars that can help support your goals. Think of them as general inspiration vs. specific content ideas.

6) Editorial Calendar

An accurate editorial calendar is crucial to keep things running smoothly. As you craft your calendar, consider:

  • How often will you publish?
  • How much content will you publish?
  • How will you organize content for campaigns?
  • How will you determine how to publish and promote each piece of content?
  • Who will own each kind of content?
  • What formats will you create?
  • Is your calendar aligned to the “life calendar” of your target personas?

7) Keyword Strategy

SEO is a great benefit of content marketing, though not all plans may need to include it. If yours does, consider:

  • What are your top keyword opportunities?
  • How will you optimize content around keywords?
  • Are your publishing platforms optimized for SEO?

8) Media Planning

Media planning may include anything from internal emails, to out-of-home buys, to influencer outreach. These are important to budget in terms of cost and lead time.

  • What media mix will be most effective?
  • What publications will you target?
  • Who will create/maintain those relationships?

9) Budget Allocation

This is one of the biggest benefits of a documented content strategy, as you can plan well ahead of time and determine the best way to get the most value. (This also helps if you need to ask for more funds.)

To determine how much our programs will cost, we typically work with one of two numbers: quarterly or annual budget, or a quantified marketing goal such as “2,000 leads this year.” We can use logic and formulas to work backwards from a marketing goal and create an estimated budget.

10) Tech Stack
You may create content that requires tech expertise or infrastructure. Make sure you have these issues covered or a plan to bring someone in to cover them. Consider things like:

  • Content Management System
  • Proprietary data collection and storage
  • Design and charting tools
  • Content platforms
  • Marketing automation
  • Customer relationship management software
  • Paid media software

The Extra Stuff to Consider

Your content strategy should include everything your team needs to do their job well, whether that’s information, directives, or divisions of labor. As you outline your strategy, there are a few things to keep in mind.

1) Don’t forget your team. Good content marketing only happens when you have the people and the infrastructure to produce it—especially if you’re trying something new. For every directive, make sure you know:

  • Who is involved in these efforts?
  • What responsibilities does each person have?
  • How are people meant to work together?
  • Who owns the project?
  • Who decides who handles new initiatives?
  • What stakeholders need to approve/review initiatives?

For more tips on creating a successful operation, find out how to build a content marketing team that scales.

2) Find the right vendors. You may need to outsource some work or bring in an extra hand to complete a project. If so, do your due diligence to bring in the right creative partners. (Follow these tips to find the right content agency.)

3) Make sure you have the right tools and resources. There are plenty of tools and resources that can help you monitor your progress and efforts. Here are a few of our faves:

You can also check out our roundup of 100+ content marketing resources.

4) Design matters. A well thought-out strategy is critical, but design can be equally important. Creating content that is on-brand, consistent, and easy to navigate is crucial to appeal to people and make content easier to comprehend. Learn more about how to apply good design at every level of your organization.  

5) Strategy isn’t permanent. Most importantly, as you begin to implement your strategy, remember to experiment, test, and tweak according to your needs. A good strategy provides a foundation, but it isn’t set in stone. The more adaptable you are, the more effective you’ll be.

That said, we all make mistakes. (Here are 10 content strategy lessons we learned the hard way.) If you’re stuck with your content strategy or need a fresh pair of eyes, we’re always happy to have a chat about it.