Whether you're just starting out with content marketing or you've been using the same approach for a while, it never hurts to revisit your content strategy plan — to make sure it's up-to-date, innovative, and engaging for your prospects and customers, no matter when or how they intend to buy.
The first step to getting a leg up on the competition — and actively engaging your audience — is to have a solid, smart content marketing plan in place.
If you're having trouble planning for the upcoming year or need some fresh ideas to include in your plan, read on.
In this post, we'll dive into what content strategy is, why your business needs a content marketing plan, and what steps you need to take to create your strategy. Plus, we'll explore some examples of effective content marketing strategies for inspiration.
What is content strategy?
A content strategy is a strategy that takes your business goals, and then uses content as a primary means to achieve those goals.
For instance, your business goals might include increasing brand awareness (to ultimately drive more revenue) — to achieve this goal, you might implement a content strategy that focuses on SEO to increase website visibility on the SERPs and drive traffic to your products or services.
New business owners might assume a content strategy is a ‘nice-to-have', but not entirely necessary early on. However, producing high-quality content to meet business needs can help companies build trust with new audiences and, ultimately, succeed over the long-haul.
In essence, a good content strategy is often the foundation of your attract and delight stages in a buyers' journey. Along with attracting new prospects to your brand, you might also use a content strategy for sales enablement and overall customer satisfaction.
Plus, with 70% of marketers actively investing in content marketing, it's often critical you develop a good content strategy to compete in your industry.
When you develop a content strategy, there are a few questions to answer. Let's dive into those, now.
1. Who will be reading your content?
Who's the target audience for your content? For how many audiences are you creating content? Just as your business might have more than one type of customer, your content strategy can cater to more than one type of reader or viewer.
Using a variety of content types and channels will help you deliver different content to each type of audience you have in mind and engage everyone your company does business with.
2. What problem will you be solving for your audience(s)?
Ideally, your product or service solves a problem you know your audience has. By the same token, your content coaches and educates your audience through this problem as they begin to identify and address it.
A sound content strategy supports people on both sides of your product: those who are still figuring out what their main challenges are, and those who are already using your product to overcome these challenges. Your content reinforces the solution(s) you're offering and makes your customers more qualified users of your product.
3. What makes you unique?
Your competitors likely have a similar product as yours, which means your potential customers need to know what makes yours better — or, at least, different. This is where content comes in.
In order to prove why you're worth buying from, you need to prove why you're worth listening to.
4. What content formats will you focus on?
What forms will your content take? Infographics? Videos? Blog posts? Having identified the topics you want to take a position on, you'll need to determine which formats to budget for so you can best express that position.
5. What channels will you publish on?
Just as you can create content in different formats, you'll also have different channels you can publish to. Channels can include owned properties, such as your website and blog; and social media properties, such as Facebook and Twitter. We'll talk more about social media content strategy in the step-by-step guide later in this article.
6. How will you manage content creation and publication?
Figuring out how you'll create and publish all your content can be a daunting task. It's important for a content strategy to know who's creating what, where it's being published, and when it's going live.
Today's content strategies prevent clutter by managing content from a topic standpoint — as explained in the video above. When planning a content editorial calendar around topics, you can easily visualize your company's message and assert yourself as an authority in your market over time.
Why Marketers Need to Create a Content Marketing Strategy
Content marketing helps businesses prepare and plan for reliable and cost-effective sources of website traffic and new leads. If you can create just one blog post that gets a steady amount of organic traffic, an embedded link to an e-book or free tool will continue generating leads for you as time goes on — long after you click Publish.
The reliable source of traffic and leads from your evergreen content will give you the flexibility to experiment with other marketing tactics to generate revenue, such as sponsored content, social media advertising, and distributed content. Plus, your content will not only help attract leads — it will also help educate your target prospects and generate awareness for your brand.
How to Create a Content Marketing Strategy
Now, let's dive in to learn the specifics of how to create a content marketing plan. Curious how HubSpot Head of Content SEO Aja Frost puts together our content strategy? Check out the video below before jumping into the tactical list.
1. Define your goal.
What's your aim for developing a content marketing plan? Why do you want to produce content and create a content marketing plan? Know your goals before you begin planning, and you'll have an easier time determining what's best for your strategy.
2. Conduct persona research.
To develop a successful plan, you need to clearly define your content's target audience — also known as your buyer persona.
This is especially important for those who are starting out or are new to marketing. By knowing your target audience, you can produce more relevant and valuable content that they'll want to read and convert on.
If you're an experienced marketer, your target may have changed. Do you want to target a new group of people or expand your current target market? Do you want to keep the same target audience? Revisiting your audience parameters by conducting market research each year is crucial to growing your audience.
3. Run a content audit.
Most people start out with blog posts, but if you want to venture out and try producing other content pieces, consider which ones you want to make.
For instance, if you've been doing weekly blog posts for the past year, creating an ebook that distills all your blog posts into one ultimate guide would be one way to offer information in a different format. We'll go over several different types of content you can use further down on the list.
If you've been in business for a while, review your content marketing efforts and the results from it in the last year by running a content audit. Figure out what you can do differently in the upcoming year and set new goals to reach. Now is a great time to align your team's goals with the rest of your organization's goals.
4. Choose a content management system.
Have a system in place where you can create, manage, and track your content, otherwise known as a content management system (CMS). A few vital parts of content management include content creation, content publication, and content analytics.
With HubSpot CMS, you can plan, produce, publish, and measure your results all in one place. Another popular CMS is WordPress, to which you can add the HubSpot WordPress plugin for free web forms, live chat, CRM access, email marketing, and analytics.
5. Brainstorm content ideas.
Now, it's time to start coming up with ideas for your next content project.
Here are some tools to get the wheels turning:
HubSpot's Website Grader
HubSpot's Website Grader is a great tool to use when you want to see where you're at with your digital marketing. From your blogging efforts to your social media marketing, Website Grader grades vital areas of your marketing and sends you a detailed report to help you optimize and improve each area.
With this tool, you can figure out how to make your website more SEO-friendly and discover new content ideas.
Get your mind gears going with IMPACT's unique content idea generator, BlogAbout. This tool works a bit like Mad Libs, but instead of joke sentences, it shows you common headline formats with blanks where you can fill in the subject you have in mind.
This brainstorming technique helps you put general ideas in contexts that would be appealing to your target audience. Once you have a headline you like, BlogAbout lets you add it to your “Notebook” so you can save your best ideas.
HubSpot's Blog Ideas Generator
Get blog post ideas for an entire year with HubSpot's Blog Ideas Generator. All you need to do is enter general topics or terms you'd like to write about, and this content idea generator does all the work for you.
The Feedly RSS feed is a wonderful way to keep track of trendy topics in your industry and find content ideas at the same time.
Discover popular content and content ideas at BuzzSumo. This company offers a number of market research tools, one of which uses social media shares to determine if a piece of content is popular and well-liked. In turn, this information helps you see which content ideas would do well if you were to create content about them.
Blog Post Headline Analyzer
CoSchedule's Blog Post Headline Analyzer tool analyzes headlines and titles and provides feedback on length, word choice, grammar, and keyword search volume. If you have an idea in mind, run a few title options through the Headline Analyzer to see how you could make it stronger, and to move your idea further along in the brainstorming process.
6. Determine which types of content you want to create.
There are a variety of options out there for content you can create. In the following section, we'll discuss some of the most popular content formats marketers are creating, including some tools and templates to get you started.
7. Publish and manage your content.
Your marketing plan should go beyond the types of content you'll create — it should also cover you'll organize your content. With the help of an editorial calendar, you'll be on the right track for publishing a well-balanced and diverse content library on your website. Then, create a social media content calendar so you can promote and manage your content on other sites.
Many of the ideas you think of will be evergreen — they're just as relevant months from now as they are today. That being said, you shouldn't ignore timely topics either. While they may not be the bulk of your editorial calendar, they can help you generate spikes of traffic.
Most people count on incorporating popular holidays such as New Year's and Thanksgiving in their marketing efforts, but you don't have to limit yourself to these important marketing dates.
If there are niche holidays that might appeal to your audience, it could be worth publishing content on your blog or on social media. Check out this ultimate list of social media holidays — keep an eye on it when you're planning your calendar.
Content Strategy Examples
To understand what a content strategy is, it's probably helpful if we explore some examples of real-life content strategies based off a few various business goals.
To start, let's explore an example of a content strategy used for SEO purposes (with the ultimate goal of attracting new prospects to a website).
I'm a huge fan of Evernote's blog, which offers a wealth of knowledge around the topic of productivity. The blog post, How To Stay Disciplined When Times Are Tough, made me laugh out loud — and then incentivized me to grab a pen and write down some of the tips I liked best.
But why is a company that sells a note-taking app writing about discipline?
Because it's how I found their website, when I searched “How to stay disciplined” on Google.
Evernote is a good example of a content strategy used to attract new leads. People interested in reading content related to productivity are likely the same people interested in downloading Evernote's note-taking product (because what's better than a to-do list for helping you stay on-task?).
On the contrary, if Evernote's marketing team simply created content for the sake of increasing traffic — like publishing “Our 10 Favorite Beyonce Songs” — it wouldn't be considered a content strategy at all; it would just be content.
A strategy needs to align content with business goals — in Evernote's case, the strategy aligns content (blog posts on productivity) with the business goal of attracting leads (people interested in note-taking) to their site.
Let's take a look at another example to see how a good content strategy can help businesses with sales enablement.
Consider the following scenario: a prospect calls a sales representative at Wistia and asks questions related to Wistia's video hosting service. As the Wistia sales rep speaks with her, he learns her business is using a few other tools to convert leads into sales … including Intercom.
Once the call ends, the sales rep sends the prospect a follow-up email with a blog post about Wistia's integration with Intercom, which enables Intercom users to further personalize messages to prospects based off video-watching data they collect through Wistia.
This is a prime example of how you might use a content strategy as a sales enablement tool. On the surface, it might seem odd that Wistia has dedicated content regarding another business' tool. However, this content is a great resource for Wistia's sales team, particularly when prospects have concerns regarding how Wistia's product can integrate with their existing software or processes.
Now that we've explored a few examples of content strategies, let's dive into different types of content marketing.
These are the eight most popular types of content marketing you can create for your readers and customers.
1. Blog Posts
If you haven't already noticed, you're currently reading a blog post. Blog posts live on a website and should be published regularly in order to attract new visitors.
Posts should provide valuable content for your audience that makes them inclined to share posts on social media and across other websites. We recommend that blog posts be between 1,000 and 2,000 words in length, but you should experiment to see if your audience prefers longer or shorter reads.
Check out our free blog post templates for writing great how-to, listicle, curation, SlideShare presentation, and newsjacking posts on your own blog.
Ebooks are lead-generation tools that potential customers can download after submitting a lead form with their contact information. They're typically longer, more in-depth, and published less frequently than blog posts, which are written to attract visitors to a website.
Ebooks are the next step in the inbound marketing process: After reading a blog post (such as this one), visitors might want more information.
This is where calls-to-action (CTAs) come into play, directing people to a landing page where they can submit their contact information and download an ebook to learn more valuable information for their business. In turn, the business producing the ebook has a new lead for the sales team to contact.
3. Case Studies
Case studies are your opportunity to tell the story of a customer who succeeded in solving a problem by working with you. A case study is perhaps your most versatile type of content marketing because it can take many different forms — some of which are on this list. That's right, case studies can take the form of a blog post, ebook, podcast … even an infographic.
Your goal in a case study is to show the people who are considering your product that the proof is in the pudding. Before choosing a customer for a case study, you should determine which form the testimonial will take and the area of your business to which you're trying to drive value.
Templates are a handy content format to try because they generate leads for you while providing tremendous value to your audience. When you provide your audience with template tools to save them time and help them succeed, they're more likely to keep engaging with your content in the future.
Infographics can organize and visualize data in a more compelling way than words alone. These are great content formats to use if you're trying to share a lot of data in a way that is clear and easy to understand.
If you're ready to get started, get our templates for creating beautiful infographics in less than an hour.
Videos are a highly engaging content medium and are shareable across social media platforms and websites alike. Videos require a bigger investment of time and resources than written content, but as visual marketing increases in popularity — after all, it's 40X more likely to get shared on social media than other types of content — it's a medium worth experimenting with.
HubSpot Research recently found that video is the most preferred form of content. Video also captures people's attention more than any other content format.
Starting a podcast will help audiences find your brand if they don't have time or interest in reading content every day. The number of podcast listeners is growing — in 2018, nearly one-third of the U.S. population has listened to a podcast in the last month.
If you have interesting people to interview or conversations to host, consider podcasting as another content format to experiment with. (Here's our comprehensive guide to starting a podcast.)
8. Social Media
Once you've been regularly publishing content on your own site for a while, it might be time to start thinking about distributing your content on other sites. This could mean repurposing content into new formats and publishing them on your blog, creating original content specifically for external sites or publishing website content on various social networks.
Posting on social media, however, is pivotal to amplifying your brand's reach and delivering your content to your customers where you know they spend their time. Social networks on which businesses often post include:
When launching a business account on any of the social networks above, it's important to post the type of content your followers expect to see. On Instagram, for example, users want photos, videos, and graphics that reflect current events, show off user-generated content, or even go behind the scenes of your organization.
On Facebook, your options for what to post open up a bit: Not only can you share your blog posts and website content, but you can also post native Facebook videos, product promotions, and original memes that resonate with your customers. You can also interact with other businesses that have a similar audience as your own.
While the goal on social media sites like Instagram or Snapchat is to connect more intimately with your audience, your goal on platforms like Facebook and Twitter is to expand that audience, drive traffic toward your website, and start conversations in your industry. Do some basic market research to discover which platforms your buyers are on, and mold your content to their expectations.
When you're ready for more ideas, there are a plethora of different content types to diversify your content marketing.
It takes time, organization, and creativity to grow a successful content marketing strategy. From building the foundation of your content marketing plan to adding tools to better manage your content, setting up your strategy for the new year won't be a hassle if you follow the steps and explore the resources here.
For additional guidance, use HubSpot's Marketing Plan Generator to create a 12-month strategy in just a few minutes.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in September 2018 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.