Seven Steps to Creating a Business-Driven Content Strategy

I spend a lot of time talking to companies about their content strategy. I'm happy to see that more and more companies are putting an emphasis on creating a road map for their content efforts, rather than putting something together and seeing what, if anything, sticks. Even with a greater awareness, marketers struggle to know what a great strategy looks like. Here are the seven steps I walk them through.

1. Business objectives-One of the reasons marketers struggle for credibility is because they talk about marketing and not about business. To gain credibility with the C-suite, it's critical to speak their language: the language of business. This means becoming an integral part of the conversation about business objectives for the company, and then understanding your role in driving growth for your organization. All marketing efforts should be, first and foremost, about furthering the objectives of the business. Know these and you'll have your first directional indicator for your content strategy.

2. Buyer personas-These are often pushed to the side. Why? Because marketers think they know who they're targeting. Here are the types of answers I get: tech companies in the Washington, D.C., area; women age 45-54; and profiles of website visitors. None of these are buyer personas. What you need are profiles that put together a composite of your key audiences. What are their drivers and frustrations? What do you want them to think about your company? What messages resonate with them? And, most importantly, what information do they want, in what form, and how do they access it?

3. Content marketing mission statement-This is your North Star and sets the tone for everything you do. It defines the core audience, what you deliver to them, and the outcome for them. For example, American Express Open has this on its About page, "We're a global services company that provides customers with access to products, insights and experiences that enrich lives and build business success."

4. Customer decision journey-This is the process that customers go through to realize they have a problem, learn what to do about it, look for someone to help, and decide who to work with. There are a couple of things to remember about the customer journey. First-and this is super important in B2B-is that decisions aren't made by one person. You have to identify who the major decision makers are, who influences them, and where they get their information before you can think about how they get from "Hey, I think I may have a problem" to "Where do I sign on the dotted line?" There will be general, major milestones for each of your personas. When people have a problem, chances are they'll search online for an answer. When they type "common gas valve failure problems," what comes up? For me, the first result was, "How to diagnose gas valve problems." Bam! You want that information to be from your company. That's how and when you begin to build trust and a relationship. It's too early to talk about the specs of the valve that you see. Woo them into wanting to get to that point.

5. Content mapping-Now the parts and pieces come together. As you look at the customer journey by persona, what information does he need to know at the major milestones?

6. Building an editorial calendar and sourcing content-Now you know who wants what, when, and where. Create a calendar of what you'll publish, where, and when-and then stick to it. This is a shared team document that gives everyone their marching orders, whether you create it yourself, tap internal resources, or look for outside sources.

7. Measurement-Here we've come full circle. Everything in steps 2 through 6 were designed to support the business objectives of the company. Now that you've done them, how well do they measure up? What's key for measurement is to look at how the content is performing, not the teams. In other words, it doesn't matter how much website traffic or how many social shares you get. You want to know if this piece of content led to another, which led to another, which resulted in a customer. Learn, adjust, and refine.