Content marketing is misunderstood by many, done effectively by some, but it is still the most powerful way of competing with businesses that have large marketing budgets and dedicated teams.

Maximising potential for content marketing means having a plan. Yes, that simple, but perhaps surprisingly only 32 per cent of B2B and 36% of B2C content marketers surveyed by the Content Marketing Institute had one.

Market intelligence and content firm Aberdeen Group confirmed in its report ‘The Future of Content Marketing: The Age of Content Science‘ that the top 20 per cent of marketers enjoy five times higher revenue returns from content efforts than their peers. These companies are pursuing information to better personalise their marketing, partly by being everywhere buyers go for that information.

As JD Lasica, CEO of travel tech startup Cruisable notes: “Every business and every startup is a media company. And we need to tell our stories with verve and authenticity. That’s not just content marketing. It’s the new online reality, brought to us courtesy of the Google gods.”

Decisions, decisions...

Decisions, decisions…

Content Decisions

Large businesses spend millions on marketing, but you can compete if you are organised and decisive. Finding incisive content topics is a great place to begin of course. Start by asking yourself two questions: what are customers passionate about and what subjects do we know inside out? If a topic ticks boxes in both categories then you’re underway.

Don’t be afraid to ask customers what they would like to see either. Rather than appearing unsure, asking your audience makes them feel included in your decisions and can generate lots of ideas.

Look at the types of content that are out there – blog posts, white papers, videos, infographics, picture stories, webinars – and choose those you feel would add the most value for customers. Then look at how that content is structured. Categories include How Tos and Tutorials, Lists, Checklists and Cheat Sheets, Explainers or News/Trends among others. No matter how lavish your story (and there has to be a story), if you tell it in an engaging way that helps solve a customer problem or answer a question then you’re on to a winner.

Do your homework on customer personas.

Do your homework on customer personas.

Getting Personal

Designers and marketers create personas for the types of people that will use their services and products. What is a persona? Well it’s a very specific description of an individual, or several individuals, who represent customers. This excellent beginner’s guide to marketing personas at Buffer shows how to build them.

It’s not just age, gender and occupation, they delve into primary goals, and the challenges and fears each persona faces. Yes, it’s guesswork, but by doing this exercise upfront – and you can base it on some of your existing customers to save time – you get under the skin of what motivates people to buy from you.

Hot Dates

Create a schedule or editorial calender. By creating a content diary for the next few months, or even for each calendar year, you can build content with themes. This allows you to plan successfully and to create content that can be tweaked easily to suit your audience and the platform (whether that is Instagram, Slideshare or a podcast).

Publishers are familiar with a ‘features list’ for the year ahead, often based on seasonality, holidays, sporting events, annual conferences and other big ticket calendar dates. You should be too, but concentrate on what those events mean to your customers. If you know why content will be valuable to them, you will publish what they want at the right time.

Choose your target markets wisely.

Choose your target markets wisely.

Target Market

To attract a global audience through content you can’t use the same message every time. Local differences and cultural context mean a lot. Tweak content while keeping the same brand message. This means you won’t have to make everything from scratch.

Social media is absolutely crucial to grow awareness in new markets. Of course you knew that already, but use social networks to see which types of content get the most traction (by likes, shares and comments) then use that to inform your own content strategy. It’s only by trial and error that you’ll find out what works best for you. And by having your own solid content roadmap in place you’ll be better placed than more than 60 per cent of content marketers with only a loose plan and no direction.