5 essentials for content marketing trailblazers

Are you hiring your company’s first Content Marketer? Maybe someone on your team will build on an existing strategy? Or are you the one who will be taking this on? There are several things you need to consider before you strategize. What follows is advice from someone who has navigated the proverbial Oregon Trail of content creation. These tips will be your buckshot, your extra wagon wheel, and your spare bottle of moonshine…you’ll need each of them at some point in the journey. 

TIP 1: The perfect Content Marketer tells great campfire stories - and they love to fix your broken axel. 
You played The Oregon Trail as a kid, right? Remember when you went to the general store to stock up on provisions? Marketing technology is your most important provision. It's the bedrock of any good content marketing strategy. But finding and optimizing the right tools can be daunting, time consuming, complicated, and expensive. The landscape of martech tools is so vast. That's why you need to hire a Content Marketer with a propensity for technology. Someone who won’t run from the mountain lion on the trail…instead they’ll be psyched to figure out how to tame the savage beast. Yes, Content Marketers need to be creative, strong writers, and fluent in social media. But trust me, a Content Marketer who lights up when you say “technology stack” is critical to help you navigate the myriad of challenges that you'll face along the way. 

TIP 2: Don’t assume you know your audience. (You know what they say about people who ass.u.me, don't you?) 
So many marketers (and executives) think they know their audience. Obligatory Oregon Trail reference: you meet a really old dude who boasts of his infinite wisdom. “There’s a town and lots of fresh water just over that yonder hill” he says. But you trudge over the hill, and there’s nothing but dang tumbleweed. Please don’t let instinct or legacy insight drive your content strategy.

When was the last time your team spoke with customers and prospects to find out who they really are and what they really care about?
Are your audience insights current and documented?
Do you have clearly articulated buyer’s personas?

If not, these are critical first steps that should be revisited every 6-8 months. Your buyers’ needs change sooner than you think. Think of how often new competitors come on the scene, or the rate at which you add new features. If you want your content to take off like gangbusters, solidify your audience insights, use them as a springboard for all content, and keep them up to date. Not convinced? Here’s why this is so important, along with some tactical tips to help your team get started.  

TIP 3: Build a team of marketing cartographers.
Mapping out the strategy is my favorite part of the journey. If your content is developed by one person in a vacuum you’ve got it backasswards, friend. The best stuff comes from comprehensive brainstorming sessions with trusted team members, where the energy is high and every idea is welcome. I make sure participants are well versed in our buyer’s personas and I ask them to brainstorm on their own prior to the meeting, so they have fresh ideas to contribute. To start, I write down 4-5 core themes on a whiteboard with a circle or box around them. Competitive differentiators, “pain points” for your audience, or even product names. I surround each with topic ideas as we generate them. Take detailed notes along the way, and maybe even snap a photo of the whiteboard and email it to attendees as a precious memento. If the team is equal parts exhausted and invigorated as they leave the room, they are on the right path. 

TIP 4: Don't put the cart before the horse. P-r-i-o-r-i-t-i-z-e.
Brainstorming will yield lots of topics that can be executed in tons of ways. Videos, webinars, Slideshares, social polls and surveys, infographics. It's exciting. But try to do everything at once, and you’ll crack. So prioritize. Which topics and channels might move the needle far and fast? What can be done with existing resources? Make a short list of initial content pieces. Bonus points if the team can prioritize a piece of content for every stage in your buyer’s journey. Hold fast to your initial list, but it’s also ok to pivot as you go. You discover that some ideas are awesome in theory, but not in practice. Set an initial stake in the sand and see what happens. 

TIP 5: Finalize your roadmap
Apropos “see what happens”…your content team should put their plan on paper. It should answer questions like:

How does your content align with and contribute to your overall strategy and goals?
How will you distribute your content?
How many views, clicks, social shares or leads do you think you’ll get?

This formality will also help you evangelize the importance of content marketing to leadership and cross-functional teams. 

In summary…
Establishing a content marketing strategy is critical to build thought leadership, awareness, and engagement. As you start to pave the way - either with a new hire or existing teams - establish a strong tech foundation, know your audience, strategize, prioritize, and finalize a plan. It will take time, resources, and energy. But, in the words of Miley Cyrus, remember what’s waiting on the other siiiiide.  Share your questions or observations as you start your journey on social or in the comments below.  


Thumbnail photo credit:  Shane Rounce on Unsplash