For most brands today, regardless of industry, the most effective channels for communicating with their customers is different than it was just a few short years ago. Traditional media’s influence continues to wane as magazines, radio, and even TV are supplanted by faster, more interactive, and more measurable online formats.

“When your brand mission and content stream are in alignment, conversations about you arise organically.”

Take the B2B sector as a prime example. The Content Marketing Institute reported that in 2017 allocations for the production of blogs, white papers, videos, and the like, made up just one percent of most marketing budgets. Only a year later the average spend on content marketing made up 40 percent of the average marketing budget!

Content is no longer an add-on to most brands’ overall marketing strategies; it’s a core component.

Give People What They Want

Source: Pew Research

Social media and other content channels have become a predominant part of our daily lives—over two-thirds of Americans regularly use Facebook and nearly three-quarters visit YouTube at least daily, according to Pew Research.

Consumers have come to expect the brands they trust will maintain an online presence and continually update them with valuable information and promotions, and generally add their voice to the never ending digital dialogue.

But unlike your next door neighbor who can’t resist sharing a pic of their plate every Taco Tuesday, content marketers don’t just flood the feed with whatever they feel like. Rather, we use data analytics, persona research, and iterative strategies to create content that is expertly designed to help a target audience, build and strengthen relationships, and encourage revenue-generating activity.

For those looking to get started on a content marketing strategy, or to kick their current plan into high gear, here are the five top-level areas to address:

1. GOAL SETTING

The metrics you watch will be determined by the goals you set. For brands just getting started with content marketing that have little to no presence on social media, the first goal is typically building an audience. In that case, creating a steady and growing stream of unique visitors is most likely the highest priority.

More established brands focus on bolstering their relationship with their most valuable customers and thus keep a closer eye on page visits per user and pageviews per visit.

2. AUDIENCE RESEARCH

You can’t provide the content that your audience wants if you don’t know who your audience is and how they typically interact online.

The easiest mistake to make is choosing too wide or too narrow of an audience. Producing content that speaks to everyone is unlikely to move the needle on your KPIs. Likewise, attempting to reach a tiny niche, like C-suite execs if you are a B2B firm or ultra high lifetime value customers if you work in B2C, ignores the reality that commercial and consumer behavior is multifactorial—people up and down the chain of command and all around us affect the decision-making process.

The second most common error is making assumptions about your audience. Intuition is valuable, but you still need to do the hard work of verifying your hunches. Conduct surveys and interviews to find out your audience’s likes and dislikes, the current media sources they consume, and their vital statistics like age, gender, education, economic status, employment, geographic location, and buying history.

3. SEO

The days of the Yellow Pages are long gone. The number one way brands get discovered by customers is through Search Engine Results Pages (SERPS), with Google owning the lion’s share of that market. Consequently, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) should be ingrained deeply into your content marketing strategy.

You don’t have to rely entirely on Google Analytics (though it is still the industry standard) now that third party options like BuzzSumo and Moz have become more full featured. Whatever analytics tool you choose, look closely at click-through rates, volume stats, and bid prices to compile a list of keywords that aren’t being overly competed for and align closely to your brand and product. Use those keywords as the foundation for producing content that speaks directly to that topic.

4. DISTRIBUTION PLANNING

Every piece of content has an optimal time and place to be shared where it will see the greatest reach and engagement levels. For brands just getting started in content marketing, finding what works best for their audience is a game of trial and error. You need to build up a track record with enough data to analyze and discover where and when your content is making the desired impact.

There are, however, several general rules of thumb to get you started. Facebook has the most general audience, LinkedIn is almost exclusively for work-related content, Twitter is popular with media outlets, and Instagram has become a powerful tool for retail brands. As for timing, B2B companies typically stick to business hours, but consumer brands, especially those with a more casual personality, generally feel more free to post later at night and on weekends.

5. DATA MONITORING

New media has a lot of advantages over the old way of doing things. It’s generally more cost effective and far quicker to produce content on and for digital platforms. But perhaps its biggest asset is the ability to collect, track, and analyze data. Pretty much every Content Management System (CMS), social media platform, and search engine today has analytic tools built right in.

That means you can see in real time how many people are reading your blog, how many are sharing your social media posts, how far into your videos they are watching, and whether your gated content is securing enough contact information form fills. Keep a close eye on your metrics and adjust accordingly.

The Time is Now

With the world still stuck at home in quarantine, the demand for smart, engaging, and helpful content has never been greater. But, a goal without a plan is just a wish, as they say, so actually hitting your content marketing key performance indicators is a matter of carefully plotting a course, checking your progress, and making corrections when needed.

At the highest level of consideration though, should be proper alignment of your goals with your brand voice and mission. No one wants to be spammed. If your messaging feels forced, nonessential, out of place, or simply uninteresting, users will tune you out, block and unsubscribe.

When your brand mission and content stream are in alignment, conversations about you arise organically. You aren’t forcing your name into the discussion, you’re providing a valuable service that others can’t help but explore and share.