From a distance, it can appear that content marketing is somewhat improvisational. You come up with a topic, write about it, and see how your audience responds. Do this over and over, and eventually your audience gets bigger, then leads, conversions, and sales follow. The reality is a bit different. Experienced content marketers know it's more of a "tip of the iceberg" game. What the audience sees is only a small fraction of the effort expended by a content marketer. In the background, there are diagrams and strategy documents that underly every single post. Every content marketer has a slightly different approach, but here are three things every great content marketer writes before writing their first blog post.
1. Editorial Calendar
An editorial calendar is simply the most elegant way to see your long-term content strategy laid out in a single place. Editorial calendars determine your posting cadence, make it easier to plan a varied, but coordinated stream of content, and ensure that you can plan ahead for calendar-based opportunities. For instance, if there is a big conference in your industry, you can schedule posts previewing and predicting the biggest developments at the conference, post interviews with key attendees during the event, and publish follow-up posts to rate your previous predictions. Without an editorial calendar, there's a good chance you start thinking about that conference when everyone else does (the week of the conference), and you miss these great opportunities to build a multi-week story around the event.
2. Syndication Roadmap
Experienced content marketers are always looking for opportunities to repurpose their content over and over again. As a general rule, if I can't repurpose a piece of content at least six times, I don't bother. For instance, we have a weekly podcast that is shot on video, so it can be posted as both a video and audio podcast, posted to our YouTube channel, posted on our website, and transcribed into a blog post. At the end of each quarter, we send a "Best of" email with highlights of our best podcast moments to prospects and clients. At public speaking events, we show a condensed version of this highlight reel as a 1-minute trailer that we use to promote the podcast and increase our audience. Providing multiple entry points to your content allows you to increase your audience exponentially.
Equally important--knowing ahead of time how you will repurpose your content allows you to be more thoughtful about the content you are creating in the first place. One of the reasons we shoot video podcasts instead of audio podcasts is to allow for more syndication options. However, even text content can be repurposed over and over again. You can condense blog posts into white papers, email campaigns, Facebook content, Twitter content, infographics, or even entire books, over time.
3. Sales Funnel
By far, the most important document in your content marketing strategy is your sales funnel. Your sales funnel identifies how you turn your audience into customers. The best sales funnels are visual documents (diagrams) that show how each point of contact (remember, we're syndicating across several mediums now) initiates a coherent process of qualifying and converting a customer. As an example, let's say someone finds you through a post shared on Facebook. Next, they follow you back to your blog and begin reading some of the other content. Next, a sign-up form presents them with an opportunity to receive a free insider's e-book in exchange for an email address. Two days later, you begin emailing paid offers related to the e-book. That's a sales funnel--a documented path from interest to conversion.
Tying it all together...
As you can see, all of these documents feed off each other. Understanding your sales funnel helps you build your syndication roadmap, and understanding your syndication roadmap helps you develop your editorial calendar. Creating and refining these three documents may seem like a lengthy process, but it's the foundation for your entire strategy, and once you have them in place, your content begins to write itself.