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Content Strategy and Marketing Tools, Tips and Templates


When we started our internal content marketing journey, we quickly found ourselves buried in too much information and not enough organization. Much of the content was valuable and contributed to our evolving content strategy. However, the more we learned the more apparent it became that we were moving too slowly in endless circles. What we were struggling to uncover was very simply "How do we get started with content marketing in an organized way?".

Our 27-plus years in software development had proven the value of checklists and a structured approach to every deliverable. While we knew that marketing didn't always take a completely linear path to results, we were fairly certain that there needed to be some organization involved. If we were searching for a starting point, we had no doubt that we were far from alone.

As we began working with our clients on their content and growth strategies, we discovered quickly how right we were. While each company's goals were different, the need to have a clear sense of focus, purpose and control was consistent.
It was all too tempting to begin the strategic journey with platforms and tools instead of purpose and value. We were reminded of the early enterprise software development days when clients rushed to purchase hardware before the business requirements had even been defined. Tangible tools and technologies are much easier to gravitate to than abstract, unformed ideas.

Understanding that need for a logical roadmap to content strategy, we have begun organizing our own templates and how-to docs into a series of step-by-step guides to share with you. Some may not apply to your organization and that's okay. You will likely discover steps along the way that should be included. By all means, makes these how-tos your own.

If you are just beginning your content strategy journey, have tried and been less than satisfied with the results, are a content marketing pro or somewhere in between, we hope you will find some of these tools, templates and tips helpful. If you would like to receive our ongoing updates, we welcome you to join our community. We promise to be respectful of your inbox and your time.

Declutter and Organize All Of Those Big Ideas

If you're like most of us, you have a collection of amazing ideas lists --- on scraps of paper, digitally catalogued somewhere androlling around in your head. The first step we took in our getting-it-organized journey was to create a single master list for all of these random ideas. We realized that these scattered thoughts were contributing to our uncertainty and confusion.

We encourage you to do the same decluttering. The purpose isn't to analyze, rank or judge your ideas. Just collect these nuggets into a simple living document that the entire team can access and contribute to as you develop your content strategy plans.

In Your Toolkit

marketing strategy workbook   The Marketing Strategy Master Workbook

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Build the Right Team

One of the obstacles in getting started with a content marketing initiative is one faced by every client we've worked with. It was certainly one of our first questions. "Who in the world is going to do all of this?"

If you're a history-rich company like we are, filling content team roles with your current valued employees can be especially challenging. Many of the skills required to successfully execute a content strategy were non-existent just a few years ago. If you are a small organization with a few employees doing it all -- as we are too ---, the prospect of implementing a content initiative can seem nearly impossible. The good news is you can achieve content marketing success. It's all in being realistic about your goals and the resources available to you.

In Your Toolkit

To help you fill those key roles with the right skillsets for your company, we created the content-marketing-team-rolesKey Roles in Building a Successful Content Marketing Team Guide. We found this valuable both in beginning the discussion with our clients and as an ongoing reference. The guide not only identifies many of the key skills necessary for each team member but also illustrates how these roles interconnect within the overall content team.

We've also included the marketing-team-templateBuild Your Marketing Team Template in your toolkit download.
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Where Are You in Your Content Strategy Planning?

If your answer is something like "We've been working on it", "We've posted some things on Facebook" or "We haven't a clue", then you're far from being alone. Big picture thinking can be daunting, especially for small companies without a large team to exchange ideas. This is such a pivotal step in your content journey so don't give in to temptation and gloss over it. Be brutally honest in your worksessions (even if they're just with you). The results will make all the difference in your long-term marketing outcomes.

We discussed this in the Content Growth Strategy Guide and thought it was important to include in the toolkit. In our learning journey we found a number of posts and articles specifically about how and where to begin the strategic thinking process. We combined some of them with our own discussion topics to create a strategic thinking outline.

In Your Toolkit

While this is by no means the complete, authoritative list of questions, content-marketing-strategic-questions Getting Started with Content Marketing Questions will be a useful roadmap to guide your worksessions.

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Who Are --- and Aren't --- Your Customers?

One of the first questions we ask a new client is "Do you know who your customers are?" Most companies are quick with a confident "yes". But what that often means is they know who bought something from them at some time for some reason. A random buyer isn't necessarily the same as a valued customer. It's important to be very clear about the differences before you dive into a company-wide content strategy.

The flip side of this question is one that shapes a pivotal discussion. One of our clients insisted that they knew who their customers were for any number of reasons. For example, they had Google Analytics to tell them how many site visits they had but no reliable conversion metrics. They knew how many sales for a given service they had in a measurable timeframe. Where those sales came from was a bit of a mystery. As this confidence continued to fill the room, we casually asked "Do you know who didn't become a customer?" After repeating this same question a few times, the aha began to filter into the conversation. It was at that moment that the reality of missed opportunities took a seat at the table.

This brings us to the importance of creating realistic buyer personas. These semi-fictional representations of your coveted customers will be the cornerstone for your ongoing marketing initiatives. Forging ahead without dedicating the time and resources to this activity will result in wasted effort, needless expense and disappointing results.

In Your Toolkit

Getting started is easier than it sounds. Included in your Getting Started with Content Strategy Toolkit are the

how-to-create-a-buyer-persona How To Create the Buyer Persona Guide
buyer-persona-template Buyer Persona Template
buyer-persona-workbook Buyer Persona Workbook to keep it all organized.

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One key takeaway ---

Your buyer personas are living customer profiles. They will change over time as you continually learn from the real customers they represent. Keep your personas in front of everyone. Don't be afraid to refine their stories. This will allow your entire team to continously speak and think like your customers.

Building Engagement Thoughtfully

As tools and technologies have become part of our day-to-day content marketing activities, they can quickly become misused. Automation is what happens after we discover, learn, engage and listen to our audience. Because tools are so easy to assign the basic tasks that humans no longer need or want to do, the risk is that we sacrifice the very customer connections we are so focused on nurturing.

How can you use technology to build respectful customer relationships?

Very simply you begin by thinking like your customers. Let's say you've just downloaded this free toolkit. If you're like most of us, you dread the emails and digital nudges you know are going to start. You might even unsubscribe right away. You received your toolkit and that is what you wanted. We've all done that.

But what if you could receive communication and ongoing useful content when you wanted it? Therein lies the challenge for all well-intentioned content marketers. You need to balance the ongoing customer learning with thoughtful touches. While there is no magic formula to strike the perfect balance, you do have the opportunity to engage with and learn from your audience. They are going to tell you how you're doing.

Most marketing automation tools provide analytics for understanding on some level customer responses and behaviors. This data allows you to continually sharpen and evolve your company's customer experience. You aren't going to get it right all of the time. That makes the need for the right team members to be actively engaged with your customers in many different channels. We'll explore that in another content post. For now let's focus on how you might organize a customer touch workflow.

Create a customer touch workflow

For each customer touch, you need to start with three simple questions:

1. Why are we doing this?

2. What happens next?

3. Why are we going to do that?

If the answer to "why" doesn't create value for your customer, then you need to stop and reconsider.

As you build your content delivery strategy, we recommend a well-thought out mapping of each touchpoint. Not only will it ensure that you are creating real customer value but will also help organize your content creation. It's amazing how quickly the whole workflow can become overwhelming. We like to start with the big whiteboard approach. Visio is a good choice if you want to take the technology path. Just be prepared for a lot of changes. As you can see from this small sampling of a few decision points, the flow will take several branches. Each of these needs to be carefully planned with a practical purpose.

Sample workflow decision questions

  • What is the content and the channel?

  • Who is the target?

  • Create your target list if it doesn't exist. If you're using HubSpot, then a Smart list is the ideal choice.

  • What happens when the customer takes action?

  • What happens when the customer takes no action?

  • What is the next piece of content in the flow based on the action or no action?

  • When do you stop bothering your customer? This is where thoughtful engagement happens. It's not technology's job to decide. You, as the respectful marketer, must make that decision every time.

    In Your Toolkit

    Grab your whiteboard markers and an eraser. Here are some sample workflow templates to help you get started.

    content-marketing-workflow Planning Your Content Marketing Flow

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    Discovering the Content You Already Own

    At this point in your getting started checklist, you've made significant progress in creating your company's content strategy. You have

  • corralled all of your scattered ideas into a manageable working list

  • identified the key team roles and skills needed

  • created your buyer personas

  • undertaken a deep, objective assessment of where you are

  • begun to outline a plan for moving along a clear, focused growth path

  • It's time to take a fresh look at all of the content your company has been creating and accumulating for years. Long before content marketing was a phrase that existed anywhere, you were using the content your company created to reach your audience every day. These valuable content assets will be a starting point for launching your new content initiatives.

    The thought of starting with the blank screen is enough to make most people abandon the whole idea. You can escape this urge to flee entirely by doing a content asset inventory.

    In Your Toolkit

    Yes, there's an content-inventory-organizer Owned Content Inventory Organizer just for this task in your toolkit.

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    Here are some tips for organizing and managing all of the content you're likely to uncover.

  • Create a team of employees familiar with the content

  • Develop a list of major subject areas that you will eventually want to focus on. This will help you categorize each piece of content as you find it.

  • As you uncover each piece of content, record the details about it in your organizer

  • Your first pass will be to simply catalog and record what you've discovered. You will come back to each piece and do a more thorough analysis of it later.

  • Content that is clearly out-of-date or no longer relevant can be flagged as not usable.

  • Some content might become usable with just some minor updating so consider this carefully before you discard it.

  • Evergreen content is timeless and can often be repurposed in any number of new ways. This content is gold.

  • A key takeaway ---

    We spend so much time online that it's only natural to think of "content" and "digital" like "peanut butter and jelly". There are many offline as well as online channels for customer communication and engagement. In your buyer persona creation, you identified how and where your ideal customers go for information. Keep this in mind as you review your existing content. It doesn't have to be digital to deliver real audience value.

    Diving Into Your Website

    When is the last time you or someone in your organization did a thorough inventory of your website content? Not just an SEO analysis but an organized review of each page. For most established companies, the answer is probably "never".

    If your website is actively maintained, then most likely new content is being added where it seems to be most visible to both the human visitor and the Google bots. Over time this valuable customer engagement tool becomes a collection of unrelated, outdated content. Just like the owned content assets you have acquired over time, your website is a rich source of information for your customers.

    Performing a website inventory -- not to be confused with a website audit -- can be time-consuming but extremely valuable. The result of this activity will be a detailed catalog of each page, the content relevance on the page and the relationships among pages. Your content team will now have a roadmap for guiding your overall website strategy.

    Topic Clusters

    One of the recent changes in web content organization is the concept of topic clusters. This approach reflects the expectation that we all have for an organized delivery of information. (This need for structured thinking is exactly why we created this numbered getting started series you're reading right now.) Google favors the structure of related web content into what HubSpot calls pillar pages. This orderly assembly of content really makes sense and is built on the fundamental web design concept of hyperlinks.

    As your team is evaluating your website, perhaps several of them, they should be thinking in terms of topic clusters. Not only does this approach bring clarity to the process, but it also helps the reviewers assign a relative value to each page. Creating and delivering content of all types requires a clear purpose for each piece. If it doesn't meet the value criteria you have established for your customers, then don't do it. With this objective standard, your team will be able to eliminate pages that have no value. These low-value pages will be replaced with high-quality relevant content that fits within one of your core topic clusters.

    There is no right or wrong way to approach this inventory activity. The size of your website, number of websites and resources available will all have a direct impact on how you do your inventory. There is, however, one hard rule --- it needs to be done.

    In Your Toolkit

    Yes, there's an website-content-inventory Website Content Inventory Organizer just for this task in your toolkit.

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    Tips to help you with your website inventory

  • Use the content categories defined during your content asset inventory as a starting point but be flexible. By adding your web content to your owned content inventory, you will probably identify additional topic clusters not revealed in your legacy content.

  • Keep your topic clusters and categories up-to-date. This list will serve as an ongoing guideline for your content team as they develop new content.

  • Create a website inventory team that includes both developers and content creators. The developers are essential for technical analysis. Content creators bring expertise in content relevance, SEO and opportunities for page optimization.

  • Use the techniques that work best for your team and available resources. We like to start with a visual approach. This means large whiteboards and flipchart paper that can be hung on walls.

  • An inventory should be objective. This isn't a forum for criticizing or becoming defensive. The website is a living, breathing representation of the company. It isn't a person on the team.

  • Create a working document from the visual flows. This will serve not only as a cleanup roadmap but also as the framework for ongoing web development.

  • Resources and Tools You Might Like

    One of the activities we enjoy the most is working with our clients to discover the tools and technologies that deliver real everyday value to them. With the neverending barage of information we are all inundated with -- some more reliable and helpful than others -- it can be challenging to sift through all of it.

    We're sharing some of our finds with you. Since we never recommend anything we haven't tried and don't use ourselves, one or more of these might be useful for you as well. We're committed to keeping our recommendations current. New discoveries will be added and those we become less satisfied with will be removed.

    Title What's It About? Free $$
    Seth Godin Insights on marketing, business and everything in between.
    HubSpot Inbound sales and marketing software, CRM, sales and marketing certifications
    SEMrush Digital marketing tools for SEO, paid search, social media strategy, content strategy and analytics
    Moz Digital marketing tools for SEO, local search, marketing resources
    CMI Content marketing knowledge, research, blog, events
    MarketingProfs Marketing tools, strategy, training, online forums, discussions

    Some of Our Content Strategy Book Recommendations

    Title Author
    Killing Marketing Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose
    Known Mark Schaefer
    Hug Your Haters Jay Baer
    The Content Code Mark Schaefer
    Hooked Nyr Eval
    Start With Why Simon Sinek
    Everybody Writes  

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