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7 things to keep in mind when defining your content marketing program

Great content remains one of the best ways to increase interest in your company, capture leads for your sales team, build excitement for a new product, and establish you as an authority in your field.

Successful content programs are always the product of an intensive planning process that readers don’t see, along with an ongoing iterative analysis of published content. If you’re considering building out a content marketing program, here are some of the critical things to keep in mind:

Innovate don’t imitate

When starting a content program, a logical first step is to take a look at what your peers and competitors are doing and compile a collection of pieces and content styles that you like. However, building a content strategy based solely around what your competitors are doing is not always the best way to offer value to your audience and prospective customers.

While it can be valuable to cover similar topics, you and your content team should work to come up with fresh ideas related to your products that allow you to stand out. This is particularly true if you can’t match the resources of your competitors — when you have to do more with less, content that differs from the norm is going to be more valuable than imitation.

Find your voice

Defining your marketing “voice” might seem vague, but it’s an important step if you plan to rely on content creators who aren’t intimately familiar with your company. It doesn’t necessarily mean coming up with a style guide that is set in stone or creating an authoritative set of rules on what is and isn’t “on brand” — it can often be as simple as performing an audit on what content you already have, why you like it, and what resonates with customers. Having some kind of document like this will allow content creators to produce cohesive writing, videos, social media posts, emails, and whatever else ties into your marketing strategy. 

Define some goals

Defining a set of goals and ranking them in terms of importance is possibly the most important step you can take, allowing you to create and calibrate content accordingly. It’s important to keep in mind that these goals can change  as your company grows, creates new products, and adds marketing capacity. Your goals will inform everything you do, from the type and volume of content you create to the call to action (CTA) in your marketing materials. Having clearly defined goals will also make it easier to hand projects off to other team members. If you are focused on capturing leads, writing customer-focused content with a clear CTA as well as sales enablement materials like white papers makes sense. If you want to give your team an opportunity to speak authoritatively about industry-specific topics, thought leadership would be more appropriate. It all depends on what goals you want to meet.

Learn what your audience cares about

Researching your audience and developing some general ideas about their wants and needs is a great way to generate ideas for new content. This can involve internal and external research, including speaking with your sales and marketing teams about their successes and failures and what customer traits are most common. This also lends itself well to search engine optimization and keyword research, which can help you garner higher rankings from search engines. However, you should be prepared to change or disregard your early expectations and assumptions about your audience. You may find that your first ideas about what your audience wants are disproven, sometimes because that content already exists elsewhere, or your product or price point has changed. 

Be realistic about your resources

While a well-run content program can generate a great deal of value, it is also limited by the amount of resources you can pour into it. Sourcing writers and editors, building out a promotional program via email or social media, and investing in a content management system (CMS) costs time and resources, which makes planning and budgeting essential. Even if you don’t have the budget to produce half the content you need, it can still be worth it to create a limited amount of content and learn what your audience likes. 

Stay on schedule 

Most content marketing experts will talk about the benefits of a content marketing calendar, but you should only commit to one if you have the resources to fill it up. If, for example, you only have the resources to create two pieces of content a month, the exact publishing date may not matter as long as you hit a monthly quota. As you take stock of your resources and how much you can realistically commit, it’s important that you don’t overextend by setting aggressive deadlines for a content marketing program that is still in progress. Meeting a realistic but more generalized schedule can be a better approach as you get started, while you can move towards a more robust and rigorous calendar as you onboard writers. 

Arm yourself with information

Building an internal reporting system will allow you to measure success against whatever goals you set; experiment with new formats, topics, and promotional strategies; and devote more resources to content that works. You’ll need to align this with your goals, working with your sales team to determine which content generates profitable leads for a lead generation program or looking closely at time spent on the page or click-through rate on thought leadership pieces.