The Content Marketing Strategy Guide

Create a massively profitable content strategy for any website.

The Definitive Content Marketing Strategy Guide

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World Map: What is Content Marketing?

Content marketing is the act of owning (as opposed to renting) media.

We do content marketing and design a content strategy because it can generate a measurable and meaningful impact on your business.

We don’t do it because it’s trending, or because it’s “sexy” or because it’s “hot”.

We do it because it can generate a measurable and meaningful impact on your business.

There’s a common misunderstanding when people hear the words “content marketing”.

Creating a successful content marketing strategy is not the same as launching a blog, getting a ton of followers on social media, or creating a viral meme.

That’s simply wrong.

Content marketing is about becoming a publisher who creates content that drives results for the business.

In the old days, companies limited themselves to creating ads that would be placed around content people actually wanted to see.

Think of how TV worked before Netflix.

You’d sit to watch your favorite show and endure the ads in between.

In that model, companies rented media (the TV show) to display their content.

Now think of how a company like GoPro uses their Instagram account:

GoPro is not renting anyone’s content to get their target audience’s attention. GoPro owns content people want to see.

That’s the essence of content marketing and the essence of creating a comprehensive content strategy.

Strategy: How to Create Massively Profitable Content Marketing Campaigns

A lot of people approach content marketing almost as an afterthought.

They’ll say:

Yeah, I’ll create a blog. And I promise to write something new every week/month”.

This is the wrong way to do content marketing.

There is a lot of strategic work that needs to happen before you even decide whether to start a blog… not to mention before you start creating any content.

And you need to do all that work in order to do one simple thing:

Send the right message, to the right person, at the right time, and through the right channel.

Here’s how to do that:

  1. Gain a deep understanding of who your target customers are (including their desires, wants, and needs)—this is called creating target personas
  2. Craft simple messages for each of your target personas at each stage of the funnel—this is called creating single-minded value propositions (SMVP)
  3. Choose the right format to deliver each message (it’s not just about blog posts)—this is called choosing your content types
  4. Create content that people want to consume AND that helps you achieve your business goals—this is called creating attention-grabbing content
  5. Make sure your target persona actually sees and consumes the content you create—this is the optimization, distribution, and promotion step

Next, I’ll explain how each of these work.

Target Personas: Understanding Who Your Ideal Customer Is

A target persona is a representation of your ideal customer.

It’s a combination of demographics (age, gender, language, location, etc.) and psychographics (interests, desires, opinions, values, etc.)

For example, a target persona might look like this:

Creating a target persona will help you better understand who you’re marketing to—beyond just numbers like visitors, users, or sales.

Imagine if you had to write ad content for a camping equipment company based on one of these descriptions:

  • Description #1: Men between 20 and 45 years old, living in the US who like camping.
  • Description #2: John Jones, a 40 year old business owner, father of a 10 year old, who enjoys traveling around the US in his RV going from one rock climbing spot to the next. He is deeply concerned about global warming and tries to reduce his carbon footprint as much as possible—some of the things he has done include going vegan, installing solar panels on his RV, and only buying recycled-fiber clothing.

It’s pretty clear which of these will make your work easier, right?

And it’s not just about making content—ad targeting, partnerships, channel selection, budgeting, pricing…and many other decisions will become easier once you have a target persona.

The process typically looks like this:

Find demographic data

This is the typical age/gender/income/education/region data you can get almost anywhere.

If you already have some traffic, you can use Google Analytics’ Audience data to get started:

If you don’t have traffic yet (and even if you do), Facebook’s Audience Insights tool is another great source of demographic data—all you need to do is input some of your target audience’s interests:

Once you’ve gathered basic demographic data, it’s time to move on to more interesting stuff.

Find psychographic data

A lot of marketers skip psychographic research because it’s hard (I used to be guilty of this myself.)

Don’t skip it!

Psychographic data IS harder to get than demographic data, but it’s also way more interesting and actionable.

It includes things like interests, opinions, desires, goals, and values.

This is the stuff that truly sets one group of people apart from the rest of the population.

Your content strategy will be 10x more powerful if you do this.

In our experience, the best way to gather psychographic data is to talk directly with your ideal customer.

If you already have customers, reach out to them and schedule a phone interview.

If you don’t have customers yet, the next best thing is to find people who you think will match your future customers and talk to them instead.

Before the interview, prepare an interview script that goes over their pain points, their goals, why they were looking for a product/service like yours, how your product/service is helping them achieve their goals.

During the interview, remember:

  • Make the interview about them, not about your product
  • Don’t try to sell anything to them, just try to learn as much as you can
  • Let them do most of the talking while you take notes

As a rule of thumb, you should stop interviewing once you can tell what an interviewee will say before they give you a complete answer—this will happen sooner than you think.

Build your target personas

Once you’ve gathered demographic and psychographic data about your customers, it’s time to build your target personas.

When you analyze the data, you’ll naturally notice trends and similarities between certain groups of people in your sample.

These common factors will help you define your target personas.

For example, when we did customer persona research at ClickMinded, we noticed three major groups of people, which we classified as:

  • Agency owners: People who offer digital marketing as a service to their clients and use ClickMinded as a training tool for staff
  • Entrepreneurs: People who want to learn digital marketing to grow their own business
  • In-house marketers: People who belong to a company’s in-house marketing team and want to improve their skills

These ended up becoming our target personas (along with more detailed descriptions, of course.)

Protip: Don’t create more than 3 target personas if this is your first time doing it!

Once you’ve figured out who your target personas are going to be, use one of the many templates available online, like this one from Hubspot, to organize all the information.

Share and keep tweaking

The last step of this process is to share these personas with the rest of the marketing team.

This information can help inform much more than your content—your teammates will thank you for this and you will be able to get everyone on the same page with regards to your messaging strategy.

Plus, sharing your learnings will get you feedback from other teams that can help tweak and improve the personas you’ve built.

To get started with persona creation, check out these resources:

Single-Minded Value Propositions: Crafting Simple, Conversion-Focused Messages

One of the keys to designing a content strategy that converts is to break down your product’s message into small, digestible pieces that take the user through each step of the funnel.

We call these single-minded value propositions (SMVPs.)

Not to be confused with a product’s overall value proposition—which is the overarching message of why your product/offer is attractive to your target customer.

A single-minded value proposition is simply a message sent each target persona at each stage in the funnel, that leads them to take an action and move to the next stage of the funnel.

(For a refresher on sales funnels, check out our Sales Funnel Strategy Guide.)

Let’s use the ridesharing company Lyft as an example.

Lyft is a two-sided marketplace, so they likely have specific personas for riders and drivers.

Each of these personas has a different journey down the funnel:

  • Rider: From not knowing about Lyft, to using it regularly to move around the city
  • Driver: From not knowing about Lyft, to driving Lyft users for part- or full-time income

So Lyft’s SMVPs probably look something like this:

As you can see in the example above, SMVPs are:

  • Simple and easy to understand
  • Specific to each persona
  • Specific to the persona’s needs at each stage of the funnel
  • Leading the persona to the next stage of the funnel

With a map of SMVPs, Lyft can easily define messages for each of their digital marketing efforts.

Is their objective to attract more potential users in NYC who aren’t using ridesharing yet (a.k.a. the top-of-their-funnel)?

Lyft’s message could be about how difficult it is to find parking in NYC or how annoying it is when certain subway lines or stops are closed.

Spoiler: That’s exactly what Lyft did.

Does Lyft want to send an email campaign reminding new users that they can use Lyft during the holidays (a.k.a. their bottom-of-the-funnel)?

Lyft’s message will simply be to book a ride.

See how much easier it is once you’ve figured out your SVMPs?

If you’re getting started, follow these steps:

  1. Write down each of your company’s target personas
  2. Draw the sales funnel next to each target persona (like we showed in the Lyft example above)
  3. Break down each persona’s journey down the funnel into discrete steps (i.e. what do they need, think, want, at each step?)
  4. Write a one sentence message for each stage of the funnel that easily communicates the value of your product in the context of what THEY want/need/think

Content Types: Choosing the Best Vehicle for Your Message

So far, you’ve identified your target personas and created single-minded value propositions for each persona’s journey through the funnel.

The next step is to figure out how you will deliver these messages.

If you think content marketing = blog posts, you’re not thinking big enough.

Different content types work better for different stages of the funnel…

… and there’s a lot to choose from.

At the top-of-the-funnel, you’re looking to attract large audiences to your content.

Some examples of content types that work for this stage of the funnel include:

  • Podcasts
  • Ads
  • Blog posts
  • Social media posts
  • YouTube videos

At the middle-of-the-funnel, your objectives are to convert visitors into leads and to nurture them.

Some examples of content types that work for the middle-of-the-funnel include:

  • Lead magnets or downloadables
  • Blog posts
  • Emails
  • Webinars
  • Free trials
  • Mini-courses
  • Demos
  • Ads (remarketing)

At the bottom-of-the-funnel, your objective is to convert leads into customers.

These are some examples of content types that work for the bottom-of-the-funnel:

  • Sales pages
  • Testimonials pages
  • Checkout pages
  • Emails
  • Ads (remarketing)

At the retention, monetization, and love stage of the funnel, your objectives are to increase the customer’s lifetime value and to get referrals.

Some content types that work for this include:

  • Emails
  • Feedback forms
  • Customer interviews
  • Leaderboards
  • Usage or progress tracking reports

Attention-Grabbing Content: Creating Stuff People Actually Want

One of the biggest mistakes a content marketer can make is to forget how people consume online content.

When was the last time you read an entire news article? Watched 100% of a YouTube video? Looked at all the photos on your Instagram feed?

Do you usually focus on a single thing at a time? Or do you have several tabs open on your browser? Do you quickly switch between several apps on your phone? Do you use your phone while watching Netflix?

You get the picture.

Online audiences are typically multitaskers who are constantly being bombarded with information.

These are the people you need to make content for.

The only person who’ll probably give your content her undivided attention is your mom…and even your mom is a “maybe”.

Remember: Your goal is to create content people want to consume.

In general, we use four fundamentals for the content we create:

  1. Is it helpful or actionable? Can your audience take this information and put it into action right away?

One company who does this really well is Scott’s Cheap Flights, a company that sends a daily newsletter with cheap flight deals.

First, they only send me deals for flights departing from the region or even the airport I’m near—because I can’t really act on a deal that departs from the other side of the globe.

And second, their emails even include instructions on how to book the tickets.

That’s as actionable as it can get.

  1. Is it interesting? Is your audience getting something that’s new and different from the millions of pieces of content already out there?

This is a content marketing strategy guide. If you Google “content marketing strategy,” this is what you’ll get.

We’re competing against more than 2 billion results for this topic.

No matter what your industry is, (if you’re a Saas company, check out this guide too) it’s very possible that every piece of content you create is facing that level of competition.

How do you set yourself apart?

For starters, you could have something interesting to say or a unique take on the topic.

A great example of this is Tim Ferriss—most of his content is focused on some sort of unconventional or counter-intuitive solution to a problem.

When most people talked about exercise for weight loss, he wrote this blog post:

Protip: Trying to be too interesting just for the sake of it can backfire. If you find yourself creating clickbait-y content, stop. Just stop. The internet doesn’t need more clickbait. If you make a promise of something interesting, you need to deliver.

  1. Is it entertaining? Is the content something your audience will enjoy while they consume it? Will they want to share it with other people?

This is an element we like to include in all of our content.

When you write a blog post about “how to make the perfect cappuccino”, you’d naturally think you are competing against other “cappuccino making tutorial” content.

In reality, you’re competing against things like social media notifications, texts from friends or family, whatever is on the TV, or the music or podcast playing on the background.

It’s not just your competitors, everyone wants a piece of your audience’s attention.

That’s why your content can benefit from being entertaining.

A great example of a company creating entertaining content that also helps generate business results is Airbnb:

Airbnb publishes beautiful photography, sometimes sourced and curated from actual Airbnb users, that inspires its audience to travel the world.

This is content their audience enjoys consuming AND will invite them to stay at places listed on their platform.

  1. Is it easy to consume? Is the content presented in a way that makes it easy to read, view, or listen to?

This is one element most content marketers forget about.

You could hit every single point we just covered: Create the most actionable, interesting, and entertaining piece of content in the history of the world…

…but if it looks like this:

You likely won’t get many eyes on it.

Online audiences appreciate convenience—so you should make your content easy to consume.

A great example of making content easy to consume is Buzzfeed’s “Tasty”:

Instead of doing written recipes, Tasty became a success by compressing those long recipes into short videos that are easy to follow.

That’s probably why more people have seen a Tasty recipe video than have ever read a recipe book.

When you create content, it will be hard to hit all of these four fundamental elements (actionable, interesting, entertaining, and easy to consume) for every single piece, but you should try to get as many of them as possible at all times.

Optimization, Distribution, and Promotion: Getting Your Content In Front of Your Audience

Let’s do a quick recap.

If you’ve gotten this far along in the process, you:

  1. Have a deep understanding of who your ideal customers are—a.k.a. your target personas
  2. Came up with simple messages to send each of your target personas at each stage of the funnel—a.k.a. your single-minded value propositions
  3. Picked the right format to deliver your messages depending on the stage of the funnel—a.k.a. your content types
  4. Created content that people will actually want to consume—a.k.a. attention-grabbing content

This last step can make or break everything if you don’t do it right.

  1. Getting your content in front of your audience—a.k.a. optimization, distribution, and promotion

You can see where I’m going with this.

If you can’t manage to get people to consume your content, your content is not going to help you hit your goals.

Over the years, I’ve met tons of world-class content creators who just don’t invest enough effort into getting it in front of the right people.

To do this, you have to do two things very well:

  1. Pick one or more distribution channels
  2. Optimize for those distribution channels until you get your content in front of your audience

For example, if you decide to direct traffic from search engines to your blog, you will need to do some good ol’ search engine optimization on your blog posts.

If you are sending an email campaign, you will need to follow best practices for segmentation, personalization, subject lines, sending times, and many other variables.

This step will require you to get a working knowledge of how each distribution channel works, which is why content marketers are typically generalist digital marketers.

To get started with distribution channels, check out our other strategy guides:

Stats: Content Marketing Metrics

In content marketing, there are no specific metrics that work for every strategy, however, most metrics you should track can be classified as:

  • Content metrics
  • Business metrics

Content metrics will depend on the content type and distribution channel you pick for your content.

Here are some examples:

  • For an email newsletter, these could be open and click rates
  • For a social media post, these could be the number of likes, comments, or shares

Content metrics are a good proxy for how effective a piece of content is at engaging the target audience.

Business metrics, on the other hand, depend on which stage of the funnel the piece of content belongs to.

For example:

  • For a top-of-the-funnel blog post, these could be new visitors or organic traffic
  • For a bottom-of-the-funnel sales page, these could be sales or conversion rate

These metrics will let you know if the piece of content is actually achieving its objective of moving the needle for the business.

Power-ups: The Best Content Marketing Tools

Now that you have a game plan to help you become a content marketing pro, it’s time to grab the tools you’ll need to start implementing your plan.

Content marketers have to learn many different skills in order to be effective—the tools you’ll use will vary depending on the channel and content type you create.

Here are basic tools that will help you along the way.

Content Creation & Copywriting Tools

These will help you create simple, beautiful, and impactful content:

  • Grammarly: An AI-powered writing assistant to help you write clearly and without mistakes. Grammarly offers a simple Chrome extension that works with most writing tools. Check out Grammarly
  • Hemingway Editor: An app that helps you compose writing that’s bold and easy to understand. Hemingway analyzes the composition of your sentences, tells you which ones are hard to read, and suggests how to improve them. Check out Hemingway Editor
  • CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer: A simple tool that analyzes the strength of your headlines based on data about what generates clicks, engagement, and shares. You’ll get a simple score so you can compare different variations of a headline. Check out CoSchedule’s Headline Analyzer
  • Sumo’s Headline Generator: A source of inspiration for headlines that inspire readers to click and want to learn more. Check out Sumo’s Headline Generator
  • Canva: If you’re not a designer, Canva can help you quickly put together beautiful design assets like logos, social posts, ebooks, or ads. Their library of templates makes it easy to avoid messing up if you, like me, lack an eye for design. Check out Canva

Content Ideation Tools

Coming up with the right content to create is just as important as actually creating it. These tools will help with that.

  • BuzzSumo: Creating content people like is much easier once you know what the most popular content already out there is. BuzzSumo makes it easy to find out which content has been shared massively online and which influencers have helped to achieve that. Check out BuzzSumo
  • ahrefs: even though this is technically more of an SEO tool, we love to use ahrefs to make data-driven decisions about our content and to “spy” on our competitors to find out which content is working well for them. Check out ahrefs

Project Management Tools

Implementing a content marketing strategy involves juggling several things at the same time—whether that’s managing a content calendar or keeping track of a team of writers. You can use either Trello (the one we used to use) or Asana (the one we currently use) to solve this problem.

  • Trello: This is a simple project management tool that is great for team collaboration. Its highly visual interface makes it easy to visualize the progress of any project. Check out Trello
  • Asana: A slightly more advanced tool than Trello, Asana offers a ton of features for advanced project management. We use it not just for content marketing, but to manage all of our company campaigns and operations. Check out Asana

Helpers: Great Content Marketing People And Blogs to Follow

There is A LOT of content about content marketing out there.

Ironically (but unsurprisingly), most of that content is pretty bad.

These are some of our favorite people and companies who are creating content that will actually help you become a better content marketer.

Joanna Wiebe
Joanna is the founder of Copy Hackers, a copywriting blog for marketers. She has created some of our favorite guides and tutorials on conversion-focused content.
Follow Joanna on Twitter
Nat Eliason
Nat specializes in SEO-focused content marketing and consistently writes helpful guides about how his company, Growth Machine, creates content that drives massive amounts of organic traffic.
Check out Growth Machine’s blog
Benji Hyam
Benji is the founder of Grow & Convert, a content marketing agency. His posts range from the very strategic aspects of content marketing to very specific implementation case studies.
Check out Benji’s blog
BuzzSumo Blog
We’ve mentioned BuzzSumo in the tools section of this guide already. The BuzzSumo often leverages the intelligence from their own tools to share data-driven tips and strategies to improve your content.
Check out the BuzzSumo blog
Sumo Blog
This recommendation is a little bit meta. Even though it’s not strictly a content marketing blog, Sumo has some of the best content marketers in the world. We like to follow what they do and publish to get ideas for our own content strategies.
Check out the Sumo blog

Quickstart Guide: Becoming a World-Class Content Marketer

There are a few mistakes we consistently see new content marketers make.

These can set you back or slow down your progression towards becoming a content marketing pro.

We made a quick guide so you can avoid these like a boss.

Traps: Avoid These Content Marketing Traps

There are a few mistakes we consistently see new content marketers make.

These can set you back or slow down your progression towards becoming a content marketing pro.

We made a quick guide so you can avoid these like a boss.

Vanity Metrics

Vanity metrics are those that make you feel good about yourself but don’t really mean anything in terms of generating growth for the company.

Content marketing is one of the areas of digital marketing where vanity metrics are most common.

Some common vanity metrics include shares, likes, followers, views/traffic (without context), or how much anyone who isn’t the target persona likes the content (this includes your CEO or your manager).

When in doubt, ask yourself: Does this mean this content is helping the business? Or is it just noise?

Trying to Automate Too Much

Content marketing is a lot of work. There is no way around it.

There are tools that will make different tasks easier, but trying to automate too much of your content marketing will usually end badly.

Some people try to over-automate social media publishing by just sending the exact same message through every channel…while rarely getting any engagement.

Others try to automate the creation of hundreds of web pages with content that’s programmatically generated…this is called thin content and sites that did this were hit by Google’s Panda algorithm update.

In our experience, to succeed at content marketing, you have to really invest time, effort, and resources into it—if you’re not willing to do this, you’re better off not doing content marketing at all.

Spray and Pray

This is probably the most common mistake beginners make.

Spray and pray happens when you:

  1. Invest a lot of time and effort into creating a lot of content but not nearly enough time promoting it
  2. Publish a lot of content but don’t track important metrics to know what worked, what didn’t, and how to improve moving forward

Many content marketers stick exclusively to planning and designing content—which are the most fun aspects for most people.

The top content marketers in the game follow through and do the not-so-sexy work of making sure the content reaches its audience, as well as tracking and analyzing the performance of their content.

Wrong Persona

When you’re creating content, it’s easy to lean towards creating content you like.

That’s fine if you’re running your personal blog, YouTube channel, or social media account…

…but usually not that helpful when you’re making content for a business.

Keep in mind that a business’ target persona is likely not the same as you—you need to create content for them.

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