How to Create a Content Strategy

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Step 1: What do we hope to achieve (goals and objectives)?

As straightforward as this question may seem, it can often be hard to pin down clients in terms of what, specifically, they are hoping to achieve. In this case, Jones initially tells us, "I'd like to generate more coaching clients." Yes, we presumed that. But how many new clients? What volume of activity per engagement? Do the new clients desired break down into specific service areas? And, if so, what are the objectives for each of those areas?

Goals are broad. "Gain new clients" would actually be a fine goal statement. Objectives, though, need to be more specific. SMART is an acronym commonly used to help achieve this: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-framed. One of Jones' SMART objectives might be, "Add five new mastermind coaching clients at a minimum contract rate of $20,000 annually, by the end of fiscal year 2016."

Step 2: Whom are we attempting to influence (audience)?

As with goals and objectives, we want Jones to be as specific as possible about who she is trying to target. While she could arguably say, "Anybody in healthcare could benefit from my services" (and many businesspeople do tend to take this broad-brush approach), we want to get her to narrow her focus on some specific target market segments based on such demographic attributes as geography, size of company (number of employees and/or revenue), or position within organization (e.g., purchasing director, CEO, or CMO).

Jones already knows she will focus on the healthcare industry, but she might want to narrow her focus on hospitals, long-term care organizations, or healthcare clinics, etc. Because she is physically based on the East Coast, Jones decides that the healthcare systems in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, Delaware, and Rhode Island will represent her primary market area. The rest of the country will represent her secondary market.

Through her research, Jones has also learned that there is a growing trend toward hiring clinicians (e.g., physicians and nurses) to move into leadership roles; these represent her ideal customers. However, through our discussions, we realize that these individuals may not be the decision makers, so we know we must also target those who are (the CEO, other C-suite members, and the human resources department) when it comes to purchasing coaching services.

Step 3: What's important to our audience (AIOs: activities, interests, and opinions)?

Once we've narrowed our target market down so that we can clearly identify who we are attempting to connect with, we want to learn as much as we can about this audience. The initial AIO is often used to indicate that we want to clarify our audiences' activities, interests, and opinions. Because we've broken Jones' audience down into two groups--the end users (physicians and nurses) and the decision makers-we're going to want to identify their needs separately. In fact, whenever we determine that some segment of our audience may have different AIOs than another segment, we'll break them out and consider them separately. Why? So that we are best able to identify the specific communication channels and create the specific key messages that are most likely to resonate with them and create the action we're looking for.

In this case, it is very likely that the AIOs of physicians and nurses will be quite different. Consequently, we will want to consider them as separate audiences. The AIOs of the C-suite and the human resources department may also be quite different; again, it may make sense to treat them as two separate audiences.

It can often be helpful to turn to other successful organizations for insights into what approach to take. Chapman Cubine Adams + Hussey (CCAH) is a full-service direct marketing firm, with offices in Arlington, Va., and San Francisco, serving global nonprofit organizations. Kelly Potchak directs copywriting services and oversees strategic content development, and Brenna Holmes is VP of digital. The firm recently conceived and executed an acquisition campaign on behalf of Guide Dogs for the Blind, which won several awards (including Direct Marketing Fundraisers Association's Package of the Year award), grew the organization's donor file, and generated much-needed revenue for this nonprofit.

One of the things that contributes to this agency's success is gathering input from a broad range of sources, which is key here, stresses Potchak. "When you talk about developing content marketing strategy, it can't be siloed," she says. "It has to involve all of the stakeholders in the organization."

In addition, adds Ashley Orndorff, director of marketing for Visual Impact Group, an advertising agency in York, Pa., keyword research can also yield important insights and shouldn't be overlooked. In fact, online marketing channels provide a big benefit in that marketers are able to very specifically evaluate consumers' online behaviors. "Complete thorough keyword research to find out what your potential customers are searching for in your industry. You'll discover how they speak about your industry, how they search for it, problems they need to solve, and questions they have-all a good basis for content creation."

All of these inputs can help to develop a very clear understanding of a target audience that can be translated into a buyer persona-a tool used by successful marketers to personify their potential buyers. Holmes points to the importance of personas when working through this process. "If you're able to create a persona-even putting a face and name to that persona-it really does help," she says. The number of personas will vary based on the organization and the specific audiences it is targeting, she says, "but I will say it usually hovers between five and 10 different personas, recognizing that not each group is going to be 100% mutually exclusive." In her work, for instance, she says, "We will certainly have employees who are also financial contributors and things like that."

Orndorff is also a fan of buyer personas. "These are fictional representations of your ideal customer-who they are, what they like, how they interact online and offline, where they interact online, and more. The more detailed and accurate you can get your buyer personas, the easier it will be to create a content strategy for them."

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