4 Key Elements for a Successful Content Marketing Plan

Content marketing has soared in popularity in recent years. As businesses throughout all industries discover the power that this type of successful marketing can bring them, many entrepreneurs are trying to get in on the action.

The problem is so many of these businesses get involved without a strategy, leaving them floundering and unsure of where they went wrong. 

Here's the thing: there's so much content out there on the Internet now, but not much of it is targeted to the right audience and even less has a content marketing plan behind it. 

If you're looking to stop the floundering, then you've come to the right place. To begin marketing successfully, you need a strategy, point blank.

Fortunately, it's not as difficult as it sounds, and I'm here to help you create your own marketing plan for your content strategy. To get started, here's the four most important elements you need for your plan to be successful.

1. IDENTIFIED TARGET AUDIENCE

Every time you sit down to design something, you probably think to yourself: who am I designing this for? 

A successful content marketing plan is no different in that it also must take into consideration who you are marketing to. Your content must speak to someone to truly connect.

Once your audience is connected with your content, they are more likely to trust you and, eventually, give you some of their hard-earned money in return for your services.

Many people will say “oh I’ll create something for anyone, as long as they’ll pay me!” However, this is not the right approach. If you’re marketing to everyone, then you’re not really marketing to anyone.

The key is to narrow your target audience down to one person. Ideally, if you’ve been in business for a decent amount of time, you will already know who that is. However, if you’re just starting out, or if you haven’t thought about it critically, then you need to consider who this is.

The third step in my guide to content strategy for design bosses covers the most essential steps to uncovering your target audience. This includes demographics (age, gender, etc.) and psychographics (lifestyle, beliefs, etc.).

Creating an avatar for your audience takes it to the next level, as you can then visualize who will consume your content from a first-person perspective.

2. CONTENT AUDIT AND SWOT ANALYSIS

Depending on how long you’ve been in business, you may already have some content lying around. Maybe you've created a sell sheet that explains the benefits of your services, or possibly you've even written a few blogs for your website.

Once your target audience has been identified, compile an audit of the content you already have on file. Organize this content in a spreadsheet that categorizes it by sales, marketing, value-added, and so on.

In your audit, identify who your target audience for that content is. Does it match up with what you identified above? Then, figure out what would be a good call-to-action to add to it, if it doesn’t already have one. For example, a whitepaper forecasting design trends in the next five years would go well with an article on design trends for 2017.

Once you've audited the individual pieces of content you already have on file, draw up a SWOT analysis for this content. To do this, think about the following:

  • What are the strengths? For example, your search engine optimization (SEO) is on-point, and you’re ranking well for the keywords you’ve identified as important.
  • What about the weaknesses? For example, you don’t have any influencers on board to improve your distribution strategy
  • What are some opportunities to take advantage of? Facebook ads are a great inexpensive and highly targeted way to get your message out to your target audience.
  • What are some threats you want to consider? Your competitors already have access to many of the top influencers in your industry (however, maybe there’s ways to get around this)

Use the SWOT analysis to create a plan of action to take advantage of everything you just identified. For example, maybe now’s the time to create a list of second-tier influencers who would be willing to share your content.

Once you’re finished, you’ll have a much better idea of the current state of your content marketing efforts and key takeaways for improvement.

A successful content audit will help you discover what your target audience’s challenges are and identify ways you can optimize the content you already have to become solutions.

3. OBJECTIVES AND KPIS

Here’s something to think about: if you don’t have any goals outlined, how do you know if your content marketing strategy is successful?

Well, that might sound like a silly question, but HubSpot’s 2016 report titled Driving Content Marketing Success found that many businesses aren’t taking a strategic approach to content marketing - and that includes setting clear and realistic goals to achieve on a timely basis.

If you’re creating content for your design business, then it’s going to need to act as your sales person. Just like a salesperson, it needs to work under guidelines and KPIs to ensure success.

Your content should treat each prospect differently based on their position within the sales funnel and your KPIs should capture that.

When determining your objectives and KPIs, consider the following:

  • Where is your prospect at in the sales funnel? Are they just becoming aware of you, or are they looking to purchase your services?
  • What are SMART objectives for each piece of the sales funnel? You can learn more about SMART objectives here, in my quick guide to content strategy.
  • What methods will you use to achieve these goals?
  • What will you use as your primary key performance indicator?

For example, at the beginning of the sales funnel, maybe you want to expand your brand awareness and increase organic traffic to website by 15% by the end of the month.

To do so, you will create new highly targeted content that is optimized to those looking to grow their business in your area. The KPI is then the percentage of organic traffic you get to your site.

4. CONTENT CREATION AND DISTRIBUTION PLAN

You’re almost there! Just one more step before you’re a total content marketing badass.

Now that you have your strategy built out, you just need to figure out when and how everything will be created and distributed.

A great way to do this is by creating a content calendar. A successful calendar will show you when and where to publish the content that you’ve worked so hard to create.

Not only will it help you stay organized and on strategy, but it will also save you a lot of time in the long run. You will no longer become stuck the day before a blog needs to be published trying to figure out what you even want to write about.

Fortunately, creating a content calendar isn’t difficult. Just follow these steps:

  1. Brainstorm what kinds of content you would like to produce. I recommend keeping a running notepad, or using the notes on your phone to write down any ideas as they come to you. These will be incredibly helpful when it comes time to scheduling out your content!
  2. Decide on a timeline. You might plan your content a month, a quarter, or even a year in advance. Note that although you’re planning ahead, you may want to keep a few spots open for those last-minute timely pieces.
  3. Strategize which channels you will promote on. Social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are great places to promote your content. Don’t forget to add places for influencers and campaigns that go along with your content!
  4. Download this free content planning template to keep everything organized.

YOUR CONTENT STRATEGY IS COMPLETE

Congratulations, if you’ve accomplished all four steps, then your basic content strategy is now complete!

On the other hand, you might be sitting there thinking, “wow, that’s a lot of work. I don’t have time for that! I have to design!”

I totally get it. Really, I do!

Fortunately, I’ve got your back. Let’s work together and create a kick ass content plan for your design studio. I’ll even throw in a free one hour consultation so I can learn more about your brand and how I can help you get the clients you’re looking for.

Ashley Hoffman is a freelance content marketer based in Seattle who writes for businesses in the tech and design industries. She has studied digital marketing for over five years and has worked as a marketing professional for over two. She loves good books, awesome design, coffee, and natural disasters.

Find her on Twitter: @ashhmarketing