If you’re currently planning or re-evaluating your content efforts, you could save yourself a lot of wasted time and effort by answering these five questions first.

1. Why are you doing it?

In marketing or any other fast-moving industry there is a tendency for fear to trump logic. The idea being that if your competitors are doing something then you ought to be too.

Nobody wants to be like those poor brands who saw the value in social media five years too late.

But content marketing requires an enormous amount of investment – time, effort, money, resource – to do well.

So rather than saying brands shouldn’t do it at all I’m simply suggesting it needs to be for the right reasons, i.e. not a vanity project but something your customers actually want or need.

But this question is about more than that. What are you actually hoping to achieve as a business by investing in content marketing?

We all know the standard answers: brand awareness, building credibility, generating leads, and so on.

Those reasons are fine, but you need to work out what you want your specific business to achieve through content marketing because that will ultimately help you determine whether it’s right for your company and, if it is, what your content strategy should look like.

The vast majority (88%) of B2B marketers currently use content marketing, yet only 32% have a documented strategy.

Similarly, 76% of B2C marketers report using content marketing, yet only 37% say their strategy is effective.

These stats suggest to me that most brands have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to content marketing, yet they’re ploughing on regardless.

2. Who are your customers?

I’m not talking about their age, location, occupation, etc. If you don’t know that then content is the least of your worries.

What makes them tick? Which publications do they subscribe to? What specific articles are they reading? What problems do they face on a day-to-day basis ad which brands are already helping them solve those problems?

There are a number of tools you can use to find this kind of information. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Buzzsumo – analyse a competitor’s best-performing content and see trends around specific keywords for all websites in your industry.
  • Social Crawlytics – another research tool that lets you analyse the most popular URLs of specific websites.
  • Google Keyword Planner – find out what people in your industry are searching for.
  • Google Trends – see how different keywords have performed over time.

google trends

Or you could collect first-party data and build audience personas to give you a starting point from which to work.

Personas made up of first-party data are perhaps the most accurate and effective way to find out about your customers, but also the most time/budget-consuming.

3. What do they want?

Content marketing, contrary to what some misinformed people will tell you, is not the same as advertising.

With advertising you are directly prompting somebody to take a specific action, and you pay to put that message in front of a pre-existing audience.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t include calls to action within you content, but the theory behind content marketing is that you’re giving your target audience something of value in return for brand awareness, consumer trust, and so on, ultimately culminating in increased sales.

Take this blog as an example. Our customers – as in the ones who actually sign up for subscriptions, download reports, buy training – are digital marketers.

Because we’re digital marketers ourselves and we know the problems people face in this industry, we can answer those problems through posts like this.

The best part is that if you truly understand the challenges people face in your industry and produce posts that help them overcome those challenges, there’s a good chance those posts will become evergreen and show up in the SERPs for years to come.

The cost of not really understanding what your customers want from content? Well, they’ll simply ignore you.

4. Which medium?

Almost half (45%) of marketers say blogging is the most important part of their content strategy and 69% say they plan to increase their use of blogging in 2016.

I’ll wager a good percentage of those are doing it because it feels like the right thing to do rather than because they’ve done their homework and discovered that’s how their specific customers want to consume content.

Every brand wants to be a publisher these days, and most seem to assume that automatically means editorial content.

There are an incredible number of mediums out there now, from imagery to video (see below) and even live-streaming.

Video accounts for 50% of all online mobile traffic now, 78% of people watch videos online every week and 55% every day.

How-to guides, for example, are often best-served via video. Or at least with plenty of imagery to show visual examples.

But what if your target audience prefers reading long-form written guides and doesn’t care for visuals? What if they like text but in short, snappy soundbites they can read on the move?

The mix of mediums you use should depend entirely on their suitability to your messages and your target audience’s preference.

5. How are you going to measure success?

The fact that content marketing success is difficult to measure is both a blessing and a curse, i.e. it’s hard to either prove or disprove that it’s contributing to the company’s revenue.

In Econsultancy’s case we can see how many people come into the blog from Google, social, wherever, click on a link to a report or training course or something similar and make a purchase.

So in that sense we can actually get a fairly good idea of how much revenue we’re bringing in, although in reality the path to purchase is rarely that clearly defined.

link to report in blog post

But beyond financial factors there are other things you can measure, and this links back to the first question: why you’re doing it.

If you want to grow your social media community, for example, then you might measure social follower growth and engagement over time.

If it grows significantly after beginning your content campaign, it’s fair to assume you’ve succeeded.

But you cannot answer the question of how to measure success until you have answered the first question in this post.

And until you’ve answered the next three your chances of success will be slim to none anyway.

To recap…

  • Why are you doing it?
  • Who are your customers?
  • What do they want?
  • Which medium?
  • How are you going to measure success?

When you’ve answered those five questions, in that order, you’ll know whether content marketing is right for your brand and, if it is, you’ll have a much better idea of how to go about creating a content strategy that will actually produce results.

If you’ve decided content marketing is right for your brand, check out our handy guide on building a digital content strategy

Or check out our periodic table of content marketing for some inspiration.