Interestingly, it seems a lot of marketers are still struggling to get to grips with the planning stage. According to the Content Marketing Institute, just 37% of B2B marketers have a documented content strategy in place, with a lack of concrete preparation reportedly contributing to failure rates.

So, what steps should you take to ensure your content marketing strategy is rock solid for 2018? Here’s six tips to set you on the right track.

1. Define your customer persona

While you might think you have a good understanding of your audience, many marketers tend to focus on segments – i.e. factors like gender, age range, or location. However, personas delve much deeper into these key segments, telling us important traits about individuals such as their motivation, what they value in a brand, and why they might stay loyal.  

This kind of insight into your audience can be highly valuable when creating a content strategy, helping you to create content that resonates with consumers at various different stages of their journey. Instead of being ‘nice to have’ or a throwaway part of a strategy, creating customer personas should be one of the first and most important foundations.

There are multiple ways to research the information needed, including monitoring social media sentiment (which will tell you what an audience is talking about) as well as keyword research and analytics to discover what consumers are searching for and currently enjoying. This article explains further.

Empathy maps can also be a usefool tool to identify customer pains and gains, and how content could be used to smooth out the customer journey.

2. Determine what works and what doesn’t

Speaking of Google Analytics, when setting up or updating strategy for the year ahead, it’s also important to go back and look at the successes (or failures) of the previous year. This can sometimes be known as a content audit, but more so when the focus is solely on SEO.

Identifying key SEO metrics is certainly one benefit of an audit. This means factors that might be affecting a page’s ranking, which could be anything from page speed to copywriting. More broadly, an audit can also highlight important content marketing metrics like the number of social shares or bounce rate.

These finding should ideally inform future strategy, for example, in terms of the most-popular topics and where it might be worth repeating content (or changing tack completely).

3. Align format and channel

While video is said to be the most engaging form of content, there’s no definitive answer to the great format debate – it all depends on the brand or product in question. However, the type of content you choose to create should always be aligned with its core aim, as well as the distribution channel.

For example, the aim of a B2B brand might be to use content to educate consumers rather than entertain them. In this instance, it might not be wise to distribute content on a platform like Facebook, where the user behaviour is more likely to be aligned with short-form and laid-back video content.

Again, it’s helpful to go back to your personas to determine the best content format. Asking questions about your customer – such as where on social do they spend their time, or what are they looking for – will result in higher relevancy and therefore greater impact. 

4. Create an editorial calendar

An editorial calendar is often confused with content strategy itself, as marketers wrongly tend to assume that plotting ideas and publication dates is all that needs to be done. It’s a highly important step, having said that, and one that can improve overall strategy.

A calendar should naturally include content ideas and dates, however to generate the most success it should also include detailed information on responsibility (i.e. who creates and owns what) as well as details about distribution (i.e. where the content is published) and finally, what content perhaps needs to be updated or republished.

5. Set KPI’s

Another important element of an editorial calendar (and overall strategy) is performance measurement. This means determining and setting up key performance indicators to measure the success of content. A simple example is to measure engagement levels of a blog post by looking at page views or dwell time. 

As content marketing is often tailored to reach customers at various points in the purchase journey, it’s also important to set KPI’s according to where the customer might be at that time. For example, if you are measuring content in terms of engagement, a KPI could be social shares or video views. However, this does not measure success in other areas such as conversion or lead generation, where the KPI would be sales, downloads or sign ups.

As well as helping you to track and justify the content you create, setting KPI’s can also help to inform future content. By measuring what devices customers are using to access content, for example, you could potentially create or optimise future content with this in mind.

6. Collaborate and listen

According to Oracle, 34% of brands admit that silos exist within their organisations, with sales, marketing and customer service teams often working completely independently of each other. When it comes to content marketing, silos can rapidly appear between sub-teams such as SEO, email, and social. 

This is often because different teams value different metrics, meaning that the over-arching aim of the strategy becomes diluted and eventually lost.

So, what’s the answer? Essentially, it is to collaborate as much as possible, and to determine a common denominator (or KPI) based on a combined set of goals. This could be something simple such as producing quality content, or more specific, like creating relevancy for the customer.

By ensuring that all teams are aware of and invested in the content strategy, the common goal is much more likely to be reached. 

For more on content strategy, subscribers can download Econsultancy’s Best Practice Guide.