Content marketing strategy: where to start?
As a brand grows and matures, marketing teams will often feel the need to build a content strategy. This guide aims to help content managers in starting the process and how to tackle what can seem a daunting task.
As content strategists at Toast, we come across multiple variations of content strategies (or the apparent absence of content strategy) with the clients we work with.
But if there is one thing that is common to all brands we work with: no one needs to build a content strategy.
All the brands and clients we work with come to us with the impression of not having any form of content strategy, but they actually do.
What are the 3 stages of building a content strategy?
The job of creating a content strategy, in the end, basically comes down to three main concepts:
- Step 1: Auditing
- Step 2: Structuring
- Step 3: Documenting
These three elements allow any brand to get a grasp on their content strategy and make sure it can have the strategic impact it should on the organization through content creation.
But first, one clear message: you already have a content strategy. You might not see it, but it’s there. It might not be good at all, but it’s there.
Let’s first discover what’s already there.
Step 1: Auditing for your content strategy – the Bootcamp
What is the first step in creating a content marketing strategy?
As an organization, you are already putting pieces of content out there. Maybe you have blog posts, social media posts, maybe your external stakeholders (potential customers for example) are the ones driving your content strategy (through User Generated Content for example).
What’s important is that when working on your content strategy, you first take a step back and audit what you have.
This is what we call the Bootcamp.
The Bootcamp is a unique format at Toast where, in a workshop that lasts about 2 to 3 hours, we invite all of your stakeholders and a selection of our strategists and experts to take stock of the situation and list the key issues facing the team.
During this workshop, we work through the Content Strategy Canvas to highlight a comprehensive inventory and list of key issues facing your organization.
Below is a summary list of elements that are typically evaluated and considered in a Bootcamp:
- Brand identity (mission, attributes, its north star).
- Environment (personas and user journeys, competition, platforms)
- Tone of voice (emotions, values, personality)
- Content angles, key topics, interests, themes, etc.
- Organization’s internal and external capabilities
- Business goals and key performance indicators
This workshop aims to lift all rocks and establish where strengths and weaknesses might be. Where it is obvious and important that work should be done to improve certain elements of the existing operations and initiatives.
This paves the way to an audit phase where from this information a deeper dive is done to evaluate the elements that cannot be covered in a single two- or three-hour meeting.
In this stage, our goal is to do a more formal content strategy audit and come back with recommendations and an action plan that can be deployed through time (in phases, considering the organization’s capabilities and culture, etc.).
This work is done in tandem between the agency team and the client team and allows you to get a clear picture of the current situation and what both low-hanging fruits and what long-term opportunities are within reach.
This stage is in direct continuity with the Bootcamp.
During the Bootcamp, we will have highlighted with you the main challenges and opportunities facing your teams in light of your objectives.
The deliverables of this stage of the process will bring you clear roadmaps of what should be implemented, new ways of working, tools to use, etc.
In this stage, we often work on evaluating and recommending on (but are not limited to):
- SEO Strategy
- Audience research and definition
- Topics and content pillars documentation
- Content optimization
- Platforms and channels
- Content operations and governance
- Budget optimization
- Tools and processes
With all this work done, you now have a clear understanding of where you currently are and what the path is to a more coherent content strategy.
Step 2: Structuring your content strategy – Foundation work
At any point in time, a content strategy will need to have work done to optimize it, to structure it, to streamline it.
Back from the Bootcamp and the auditing stage, you now have in hand a clear blueprint of what to do. This blueprint becomes the foundation work that you will be tackling to bring your content strategy up to the standard your brand deserves.
How do you create a content strategy step by step?
In our content strategy guide, we document a recommended order in which to tackle the work:
This of course is a high-level recommendation, but very often we will address the different elements that need work based on priorities and the bandwidth client teams have to work on them (we rarely work solo without the contribution of client teams, we like to say we work as OneTeam, which means that at any time in point, there is some form of involvement from both parties).
This foundation will lay the ground work and aims to establish how things should be and how things should be done.
At the end of this stage, our goal is to be able to document all core elements of a content strategy:
- The audience segments (buyer persona, needs and expectations)
- The distribution channels
- The angle (tone and manner
- The content library (types of content, content formats)
- Management activities (content calendar, content creation process,
- Internal resources or content team (part of ContentOps)
- External resources and tools (part of ContentOps)
- The cost structure
- Results and performance (content goals, business objectives)
Step 3: Documenting your content strategy – the Playbook
Building a successful content marketing strategy is not only about reflecting on what should be done and launching the team in all the most amazing content marketing efforts.
There’s the less sassy work of documenting it that needs to be done.
At Toast, we document content strategies in a format we call the Playbook.
A Playbook is a working, live document that brings all in one place the 9 building blocks outlined in the previous section.
Sometimes it is a massive document with lots of data an indications, but sometimes it is a much more simple approach that basically points to where (on the intranet, the corporate drive, etc) all the elements can be found.
The structure and nature of the playbook varies from one organization to the other, but one thing is common to all of them: it is a document that evolves over time. It is not a static document that is done once and the referred to for years.
It should be a document that contains the latest best practices, hits and misses, etc. This is a key elements in any successful content strategy.
How does one keep a document like this alive? We actually have written an article about this: How to keep your content strategy alive.
You already have a content strategy but might not know it.
You are publishing pieces of content, blog posts, white papers.
You are already doing email marketing and sending out high-quality content.
But you might be missing a content plan, or an efficient content calendar, or clear content marketing goals.
No matter where you are, this simple three step process is the way we do things at Toast. We’ve done dozens of Bootcamps, worked on the foundation of dozens of brands and created playbooks for most of them.
And best of all: you don’t need us to do all this.
It is not rocket science, you just need to get started and get your content team on board to work on the strategy itself beyond the tactics.
Content marketing strategy: where to start?