It started as a futuristic vision, but it didn’t stay that way very long. Augmented and Virtual Reality are fast earning their place as part of what is normal: an almost essential, well-accepted facet of modern life.
But what are they, exactly? Augmented Reality (AR) is simply the notion that we can add computer-generated elements seamlessly into our personal reality. L’Oréal’s Modiface is one of the best-known examples of AR within retail, with the feature allowing customers to digitally try on make-up through the brand’s app. L’Oréal has also rolled out Modiface to Amazon customers on mobile, allowing them to also digitally overlay make-up looks onto live photos and videos. It leaves you with a blend of real and virtual life; a blend that has the potential to make your life easier, more productive, or more rewarding.
It’s not a new idea; although the name was coined in 1990, the concept had been proposed way back in 1950. A pair of glasses that could record every user experience, a headset that brought virtual, movable 3D objects into a wearable playing field. Developers let their imagination flow freely on a concept that promised a whole new facet of human experience, and they met various degrees of success.
The closest we got to the dream was in 2012, when Google brought out Google Glass, a lightweight ‘wearable computer’ which allowed you to keep track of your life without looking down at your smartphone. Their prototype was short-lived: announced to the world with much fanfare in April 2012 and disappearing just as suddenly and dramatically in January 2015. Before it slid off into oblivion, though, it did something important: it took the notion of Augmented Reality out of the realm of sci-fi and into everyday life of normal people.
And there’s more out there than just Google. Microsoft, for instance, and the Hololens are there in the domain as well. Although no one pretends it’s ready for the public, they’ve got a powerful Augmented Reality headset that is pushing the bar in the developer realm.
And then there’s Virtual Reality (VR). What is the difference? With Virtual Reality you’re looking at a screen, and if your VR environment is well designed you’ll feel you’re out in that world. Gaming is one of the more well-known VR uses but its potential doesn’t stop there. Some of the many questions people are curious about include: How does virtual reality benefit society? VR is revolutionizing the sports industry for players, coaches and viewers. Essentially, it’s used as a training aid to help measure athletic performance and analyse technique. Another case is VR in mental health. As mentioned briefly before, VR technology has become a primary method for treating post-traumatic stress. Using VR exposure therapy, a person enters a re-enactment of a traumatic event in an attempt to come to terms with the event and heal. Your Virtual Reality environment may have elements of your real life in it, and this can blur the distinction between real and virtual even further.
At least, if you’ve got your screen up before your eyes on a headset. That’s where Oculus Rift came in: a pair of futuristic goggles that allows you to immerse yourself completely in 3D worlds that were made upon a computer; worlds that are completely imaginary, but as responsive to your actions as if you were standing right there. Highly popular among gamers, Oculus Rift is the bottom line right when it comes to head-mounted monitors.
For those who don’t want to shell out the big bucks, a simpler virtual reality experience is made accessible through Google Cardboard: open source plans that allow anyone to make their own VR headset with five dollars’ worth of material: cardboard, lenses, and a few basic fittings. Slip your smartphone in your brand new headset and start gaming, or take one of the many other uses of VR out for a spin.
Because neither VR nor AR is just the toy of gamers, real-life applications of Virtual Reality include medical training, architectural planning, education and more. This is for another blog. Augmented Reality is used by Boeing engineers to bring their airplane blueprints to life, by doctors to find veins for IVs, and by DIY car repairmen as they try to sort out what’s inside their engine.
Where are Augmented and Virtual Reality headed? The future looks bright. Expect to see an explosion of practical uses for both virtual and augmented reality in the next few years. Book pages and computer screens no longer bind information, and a fully integrated, fully practical reincarnation of Augmented and Virtual Realities is on its way in.
Doing content marketing well requires a lot of work and attention. You have to be willing to roll with the punches, tinker, and try new things. It’s a challenge, but it’s a lot easier when you work with the right content marketing agency—one you can truly partner and grow with over time.
Over the last decade of running Column Five, I’ve found that the best results—and best work—comes when an agency and brand can forge a meaningful and productive relationship. However, with the proliferation of talent marketplaces and other low-cost solutions, marketers often overlook the value of these relationships in pursuit of more transactional work. It’s understandable, but in the long run, this type of work is unlikely to give your brand the boost you need.
Transactional Work vs. Collaborative Marketing Agency Relationships
When you need a partner to help you strategize, execute, or distribute content, you have a variety of options. So what’s the difference between transactional work and relationship-based work?
This is done with limited context, treated as a task instead of one component of a larger plan. It’s “one and done” work. Both parties wrap up, then move on to other things. There is no investment in a working relationship. It’s simply an exchange of money for goods or services. Brands often employ transactional work because…
- Marketers are often hyper-focused on project-level ROI.
- Marketers want to keep costs down, focusing more on what they’re spending than the value they’re getting from their investment.
- The proliferation of on-demand talent platforms makes it easy for brands to hire a variety of people to handle various aspects of marketing (e.g., copywriting, design, etc.).
- Marketers are often more focused on getting projects done than doing projects that can make a real difference to their brand and bottom line.
Of course, not all transactional work is bad, but purely transactional relationships limit good work in several ways.
- It limits problem-solving abilities.Being proactive is difficult when you only understand one piece of the puzzle. It’s hard to have a clear understanding of a brand’s larger needs when you’re only working on a small piece (e.g., an infographic). That small project may not even be the best solution to achieve a brand’s larger goals, but that insight is lost in a “one and done” context.
- Work quality may suffer. As a result of the proliferation of marketplaces, creative work has become commoditized assembly-line work. If you’re commissioning articles that are basically a bunch of words thrown together to meet your publishing quota, you’re doing everyone a disservice. Your content should strategically solve your audience’s problems, build trust, and spotlight your expertise in the industry.
- It saps time. Continually onboarding new vendors can take a lot of time away from your core business activities, which can cost more money in the long run.
- It creates inconsistencies with branding and marketing. Good content marketing helps you tell a cohesive brand story. Too many cooks in the kitchen and not enough oversight can hurt your brand more than it helps.
To create better work (more efficiently), collaborative relationships are key.
Collaborative Agency Relationships
When agencies and brands forge symbiotic relationships, the quality and efficacy of work produced is significantly better. A collaborative relationship is a different dynamic. It means working together on a project vs. one party giving orders and one party taking orders. Because the relationship is viewed through the lense of collaboration and not transaction, there is more willingness to allow for trust and creativity on both sides. This benefits content marketers in many ways.
- Working relationships tend to get better with time. The more you know someone, the better you can relate, whether you’re dealing with partners, teammates, or vendors. This intimacy means you know each other’s strengths and cover each other’s weaknesses. Ego becomes less important, and the best ideas win. This is when good work can be created. (BTW, the second project we do with a client is usually even better than the first, both the end product and experience, because we’ve built more intimacy.) As you develop a working relationship with a content marketing agency, you develop efficiencies in your processes, start to think together, and build on what each party brings to the table. Ultimately, you get better work—that scales.
- A content marketing agency is often more invested than a one-off shop or freelancer. When you forge a solid relationship with a good content marketing agency, they’ll become more invested in your business. I’m not trying to diss one-off shops or freelancers. It’s just a fact. The closer you are, the more you care (think cruising Tinder vs. moving in together). Over time, an agency becomes an integral part of what your company is doing. Their success is tied to your success, so they will go the extra mile. They’ll proactively offer help, suggestions, and recommendations for things that can help you be more successful.
- Brands get to leverage the collective creativity and experience of a team. A content marketing agency provides a built-in “sanity check.” Having worked with clients across a range of industries, they can help you avoid making others’ mistakes. Additionally, having a dedicated team to work on your content is much more effective than, say, hiring a freelance designer to handle design after a freelance copywriter has created the content.
An agency might be more expensive, but if you’re looking at marketing as an expense vs. investment, you have the wrong perspective for this line of work. An agency provides tremendous value in time savings, avoided stress, headaches, etc. When it comes to creative work, I’d rather partner with a team that specializes in what I want to do than take pot shots.
“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur.”
Ultimately, developing a meaningful relationship with a content marketing agency is a smart decision for any brand that wants to take content marketing seriously. A good content marketing agency will use hard-earned knowledge and expertise to help you scale, create enough engaging content, and think strategically about your brand.
How to Cultivate a Collaborative Relationship with Your Marketing Agency
We’ve worked with plenty of brands and created thousands of projects, and each has been a unique experience. What we’ve learned the good way (and the really hard way) is that it’s not just about the work. What really makes a difference is approaching the work with a sense of collaboration and respect, and letting that show in every aspect of interaction between you and your content marketing agency.
Hence, we thought we’d share some of our best tips to facilitate that. When you’re working with an agency, here are five simple ways you can talk, learn, and grow together.
1) Assume nothing.
Every working relationship is different, but it’s important to approach it with an open mind and a blank slate. Your agency will approach your project the same way. You are both building from the ground up (in terms of content and your relationship), so ask questions, clarify issues, and work to learn from each other. Remember: A good creative relationship is balanced and collaborative. Neither side should be dictating or issuing ultimatums.
- Start with the basics. Find out what questions to ask before you start your engagement.
- Ask about their creative philosophy. It’s important to understand your agency’s approach to the work they do. This will give you insight into how they ideate and problem solve.
- Find out about known roadblocks. This is a proactive way to address issues and keep teams aligned along the way.
2) Talk about how you prefer to communicate.
Everyone knows you need to communicate—duh. But what we often forget is that we all communicate differently. Maybe you get annoyed with someone’s over-questioning. Maybe you get frustrated with a lack of info. Maybe you’re an email-only person working with a caller. These little details can cause minute frustrations that can affect overall communication.
Address these issues up top so that everyone knows the expectations on both sides and no one is caught off guard. For example, some agencies kick off by letting clients know they won’t communicate outside of standard business hours.
3) Dive into each other’s brands.
In some ways you know each other’s brands because you’ve read creative briefs or mission statements. But a brand is the composite of many things. It’s the people behind the brand, the work they do, the way they speak, the values they hold. To get a sense of this, invest some time in getting to know the agency up close and personal.
- Learn about their culture. This will also give you a sense of who you’re working with. (For example, we like to let people into our world by sharing behind-the-scenes looks at our office, as well as our team’s best tips for bonding and creativity.)
- Follow them on social. Do they share lots of tips on Twitter? Goof off on Instagram? These are all great places to keep up with their team and their work.
- Explore their site. You surely explored their portfolio, but they may have a lot more interesting stuff on their blog.
- Subscribe to their newsletter or email marketing. Seeing what they’re working on might inspire an idea for your own brand.
4) Celebrate good work.
No one likes being treated like a gun for hire. That’s why approaching creative work as a transactional relationship, with little acknowledgment of each other’s talents and contributions, does nothing but weaken your relationship.
- Be vocal. We’re adamant about recognizing good work—no matter whose it is. If a partner found a great piece of music for a video, we cheers to it. If we knocked out a slick animation under a time crunch, we appreciate a pat on the back. That doesn’t mean either side is needy, but it is an expression of our commitment to doing good work together.
- Share helpful tips and tricks. We all want to work smarter, not harder. If you’ve found something useful, share it with your team. (For example, here are 100+ tools, tips, and resources to create better content.)
5) Stay in touch.
Just because your project may be done doesn’t mean you won’t work together again. A good agency is always thinking about how to help their clients succeed, so keeping open lines of communication is always beneficial.
You might share an inspiring piece of work with your agency. Your agency might send over an interesting article about something in your industry. (We still trade GIFS and inside jokes with clients we haven’t worked with for a while. Even though we may not be collaborating right now, it helps us maintain our camaraderie.) This symbiotic relationship keeps the wheels turning on both sides, and that only helps create better content in the long run.
In the Meantime, Stay in the Loop
A good agency actively shares their knowledge, so take the opportunity to learn from their work—beyond your brand. Keep an eye out for case studies and articles, stay on top of trends, and use free resources to elevate your marketing. If you want a few more tips to create more effective marketing, with or without an agency, find out how to…
And if you’re on the hunt for a marketing agency (or thinking about switching), let’s talk about how we can help your brand achieve its goals. Connect with us at [email protected]
If you’re a content marketer, you have one job: to create content that wins people’s hearts and minds, and turns them into lifelong supporters of your brand. It isn’t easy, especially when you need to create quality content consistently (and within budget), but it’s a whole lot easier if you have a blueprint to keep you aligned to your long-term goals. This is why all good content marketing starts with a good content strategy. It’s also why so many content marketers struggle.
According to the Content Marketing Institute’s B2B Content Marketing 2021 report, only 43% of marketers actually have a documented content strategy. That means the majority of marketers are working off of some vague strategy—or winging it entirely. Either way, this lack of planning shows in brands whose content isn’t cohesive, whose ideas don’t resonate, and who struggle to gain footing. Why, then, do so many marketers keep flying blind? Because creating a content strategy can be intimidating—and there are plenty of excuses to keep you from doing it.
- You’re too busy shipping this week’s content.
- You’re too focused on next month’s product launch.
- It’s too late in the quarter.
- You just don’t have the resources or knowledge to do it correctly.
We get it. But, ultimately, crafting a content strategy is some of—if not the—most important work you can do, no matter how big or small your brand is. And, hey, you don’t have to do it alone.
We’ve helped brands of all sizes, across all industries, craft the content strategies they need to connect with their audiences and move people along the path to purchase. Along the way, we’ve learned what makes a bad content strategy, what makes a good one, and what makes a freaking great one. And now, we’re ready to pass that knowledge on to you.
Here, you’ll find a step-by-step guide containing our best tips, tricks, tools, and templates to create a strong content strategy that will set you up for success. If you’re undertaking this work for the first time (or looking to revise your current strategy), we hope this guide will give you the confidence you need to get your content on the right track. Ready? Let’s go.
Table Of Contents
- What Is a Content Strategy?
- Why Do You Need a Content Strategy?
- What Makes a Good Content Strategy?
- What Does a Content Strategy Include?
- How to Build a Content Strategy
PHASE 1: DISCOVERY
- Review Your Business Goals
- Do a Content Audit
- Review Your Tech Stack
PHASE 2: PLANNING
- Document Your Content Strategy Goals
- Identify Your Personas
- Map Your Customer Journey
- Determine Your Measurement Approach
- Choose Your Channel Mix
- Create Your Content Pipeline
PHASE 3: CREATIVE
- Brainstorm Campaigns
- Build Your Editorial Calendar
- How to Put Your Content Strategy to Use
Of course, before you can create a good content strategy, you need to know exactly what it is you’re creating, why it matters, and how to approach it the right way. So, let’s start with the basics.
What Is a Content Strategy?
It’s pretty simple. A content strategy is a documented plan that outlines your content marketing goals and helps you identify the stories and experiences that will help you achieve them.
Why Do You Need a Content Strategy?
That’s pretty simple too. Without a content strategy, you’re basically taking shots in the dark, creating piecemeal content that isn’t as effective as it should be, and working off of hunches instead of solid data. At the end of your campaign, quarter, and annual cycles, you can’t even evaluate your success because you never had a strategy to begin with.
Conversely, with a well-crafted strategy you can…
- Make better decisions. Being able to actually “see” your strategy lets you spot potential issues, trim the fat, and visualize your entire content ecosystem. It also allows you to record hypotheses and assess them once you have your results.
- Keep everyone on the same page. Communication is more efficient with a documented content strategy. It helps everyone working on your content—both internally and externally—know exactly what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, how they’re doing it, and why it matters. This empowers your team to take more ownership, contribute better ideas, hesitate less, and produce better work.
- Stay accountable. With a content strategy, you can test your ideas, plan and schedule deliverables, measure and monitor results, and maintain momentum in a tangible way.
- Improve your resource and budget allocation. This is one of the biggest benefits of a documented content strategy. You can plan well ahead of time and determine the best way to get the most value from your resources. It can also help you keep a handle on your budget—or justify the need for more budget.
In short, with a content strategy, you can work with more clarity and less craziness.
What Makes a Good Content Strategy?
Just because you have a content strategy on paper doesn’t mean it will actually help your brand. There are plenty of content marketers who have a content strategy yet struggle to a) bring it to fruition or b) see actual results.
If you want your content strategy to succeed, make sure it’s…
- Tailored to your goals. The only thing worse than having no content strategy is having one that isn’t aligned to your larger goals. When that happens, your strategy will be ineffective at best and counterproductive at worst. The best strategies use every element of content marketing in service of the larger goal.
- Comprehensive. The whole point of content marketing is to create a relationship with people through consistent, quality content. But it takes a lot of moving parts to make good content happen on a regular basis. A good strategy is built to keep your editorial calendar full of fresh, interesting ideas—with the infrastructure in place to bring them to life.
- Flexible. Your strategy is a blueprint, but it isn’t set in stone. If something unexpected happens, or you realize things aren’t working the way they should, you should be able to adapt as necessary.
Remember: The best content strategy is built for your brand, crafted around your capabilities, and designed to help you tell the best stories possible.
What Does a Content Strategy Include?
We break the content strategy process into three main phases: Discovery, Planning, and Creative, with specific tasks assigned to each.
Tackling your strategy in this order lets you build a totally aligned strategy, from your high-level goals to your final execution.
How to Build Your Content Strategy
It takes time, focus, and energy to document your strategy, but don’t get overwhelmed. It’s a little effort with a huge reward. Again, we’ve seen brands make every content strategy mistake in the book (and made a few ourselves), so we know what works and what to avoid.
What we’ve outlined here are the basic steps that any brand can follow to create a solid but flexible content strategy. This process will guide you through three distinct phases, covering both the high-level thinking and practical/tactical elements to consider for each. At the end, you should have a strong and actionable plan you can hit the ground running with.
That said, we know that each brand has unique needs, so you can adapt this framework accordingly. You may even have some of these components documented already, which is fine if they are up to date, but it’s still important to follow the process in sequential order. This ensures that every aspect of your strategy is aligned and optimized to get you the best results possible.
Before you start, download our free Content Strategy toolkit, which includes the templates you need to work through this process.
Note: Make sure you have the right stakeholders involved from the beginning—and that you get their approval at every phase. Keep in mind that there are many other people involved in the execution of your content strategy as well, including your sales team, technical wizards (Web & CRM), designers, copywriters, etc. While not everyone may need to be involved in every meeting for content strategy, consider how your strategy decisions will affect your team.
Phase 1: Discovery
Before you start planning for the future, you need to hit the pause button, take a step back, and reassess what you’re currently doing and why.
Step 1: Review Your Business Goals
Purpose: Review your high-level goals to ensure you build a content strategy that helps you achieve them.
When a content strategy doesn’t work, it’s usually because it’s misaligned to a company’s larger goals. Thus, step one is going back to the basics: who you are, where you play, how you compete, and what you’re trying to achieve. You may think you already know this information, but it’s always helpful to revisit it with fresh eyes.
How to Do It
Review any documentation related to your business strategy.
- What are your business goals?
- What’s your position in the marketplace?
- Who is your competition?
Note: Understanding your competition is especially important to help you differentiate through content. When you can identify messaging gaps in your industry, and then fill those gaps (or communicate more effectively than your competition), you’ll create the strongest connections with your target personas. (Find out how to complete a competitive analysis if you need to refine your competitive landscape.)
At this stage, you will also want to review the core elements of your brand strategy, which includes your:
- Brand Heart (purpose, vision, mission, values)
- Brand Messaging (tagline, value prop, messaging pillars, etc.)
- Visual Identity (logo, colors, typography, etc.)
All three elements must be reflected in your content strategy if you want to tell stories that effectively communicate who you are. (If you haven’t documented these elements, follow our Guide to Create a Brand Strategy.)
Step 2: Do a Content Audit
Purpose: Identify what your content ecosystem currently looks like, what’s missing, and how you can improve.
A good content strategy is comprehensive, cohesive, and intentional. That means every piece is made for a specific reason and tied to a specific goal. The problem is that most teams worry about quantity over quality, focusing on hitting their day-to-day deadlines more than making a real impact.
This tunnel vision results in content marketing that’s inconsistent, imbalanced, and ultimately ineffective. The first step to remedy this is to take a holistic look at your content with a proper content audit. By looking at the type of content you’re creating, what messages you are or aren’t sending, what’s working, and what isn’t, you get the insights you need to build a cohesive strategy and tell stories that really connect with people.
How to Do It
To conduct a proper audit, you’ll be reviewing a sample of the content you (and your competitors) put out into the world. In general, that content tends to fall into five main categories.
To complete this step, use the Content Audit Template and see our Guide to Conduct a Content Audit.
Step 3: Review Your Tech Stack
Purpose: Get a snapshot of the tools, technology, and resources you currently use.
Your content marketing operation can be complex, requiring a number of tools and digital infrastructure. These tools can be very helpful, but they can also be redundant. It’s important to audit your existing tech stack before you build your new strategy for several reasons.
- You may find opportunities to cut costs or consolidate (e.g., you’re paying for something you’re not using, or using one thing for a task that can be performed by something else).
- You can identify ownership, track subscription status, etc. to ensure your team always has what it needs.
- You can identify things you will need (e.g., if you plan to create more videos in the future, you’ll need editing software).
How to Do It
Use the Tool & Tech Stack Template to list the technologies and tools you use to create, host, and distribute your content across channels. This includes things like your…
- Website and web analytics
- Content scheduling and publishing platforms
- Social media platforms and tools
- Content Management System
- Proprietary data collection and storage
- Social listening tools
- Audience profiling tools
- SEO tools
- Design and charting tools
- Marketing automation
- Email marketing
- Customer relationship management software
- Paid media platforms and software
- Landing page builder
Note: Depending on the tools you use, some of these may overlap.
Questions to Ask
- Do your tools cover your needs?
- Do you have duplicative tools that can be consolidated?
- Does everything function properly? (Look out for zombie subscription charges from past employees, vendors, etc.)
- Do you have good user experience?
- Is automation working correctly?
- Do all the people who need access to platforms have it, and not more than necessary?
- Does every platform have someone in the organization who’s proficient in using it?
Remember: Supporting your team’s needs is vital to executing your content strategy.
Phase 2: Planning
Now is the time for you to examine your content marketing ecosystem and document how you will approach each element. You’ll basically be detailing the who, what, when, where, and how of your content operation. This will ensure you’re equipped to execute the content strategy and use your resources as efficiently as possible.
Not only will this work make your content more successful but it will make it easier to collaborate with content creators outside your organization, such as a content agency.
Step 4: Document Your Content Strategy Goals
Purpose: Define measurable goals that keep your team accountable.
Your entire content strategy exists to help you achieve your goals. Naturally, you need to clearly articulate what those are—and make sure everyone on your team understands what they are too. This is especially important; every decision your team makes about content, from copywriting, to design, to distribution, will be influenced by these goals.
We often find that weak strategies can be traced back to weak goals that are either too vague or too broad. To be successful, you need clear goals that you can measure.
How to Do It
In this step, you’ll document three things:
- Content strategy statement to explain the big picture of what you’re trying to do.
- Objectives that clearly define your content strategy goals.
- Key Results that help you measure your objectives.
To work through these exercises, use our Content Strategy Goals Template. This document will help you summarize your entire strategy succinctly so that everyone understands what you’re trying to do. (You cannot proceed until you have these goals articulated and agreed upon.) It will also act as your North Star, guiding your decisions and keeping your team aligned in every way.
Questions to Ask
- What discrete task do you want content to accomplish? How does that break down into objectives and key results?
- Which objectives take priority?
- What other important considerations will influence how you approach your goals/solutions?
- How will you define vital elements, such as a lead?
- How do your content marketing goals support your larger business goals?
Your goals are truly the foundation of your entire content strategy. Take the time to get them right.
Step 5: Identify Your Personas
Purpose: Understand who your audience is, what they’re interested in, and how you can serve their needs.
To create compelling content, you need to know who you’re trying to connect with, and how your content can best serve them.
- What do they care about?
- What motivates them?
- What problems do they need solved?
- What would make their lives easier?
By identifying your audience’s demographic/psychographic traits and distilling them into unique personas, you can better understand each group’s unique needs and come up with content ideas that will really resonate with them.
How to Do It
It’s smart to start with 3-5 distinct and detailed personas. Use the Personas Template, and follow the step-by-step details in our Guide to Create Personas.
Step 6: Map Your Customer Journey
Purpose: Identify what people need to hear at each stage to make sure your messaging is consistent and effective.
You need to deliver the right message, in the right place, at the right time so that you can move people along the customer journey. Thus, it’s important to map your customer journey from start to finish.
Having completed your content audit, you will probably already have spotted some gaps in your messaging. But revisiting your journey will help you ensure that you are telling people what they want to hear at every stage.
How to Do It
Use our Customer Journey Template, and follow our Guide to Map your Customer Journey.
Questions to Ask
- How will prospects and customers be nudged along the journey?
- What signals help identify someone in a particular stage of the journey?
- Where in the journey will your strategy focus?
- At what point will you bring in the sales team to close the deal?
The more seamless your customer journey is, the more effective you’ll be.
Step 7: Determine Your Measurement Approach
Purpose: Identify the Key Performance Indicators that will help you quantitatively measure your success.
Your content strategy is worthless without a way to measure your success. The better you measure, the more you can test, tweak, and readjust your approach. Thus, knowing your success metrics for each stage of the customer journey is crucial.
How to Do It
You want to get a strong sense of how your content strategy is performing, but you don’t have to track and measure every single metric. To figure out what to measure, refer to your OKRs. Which available metrics are relevant to your key results? Those are the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) that will help you identify if you are moving the needle on your objectives. Additional metrics can also provide helpful insight, but KPI matter most.
Questions to Ask
- Which available metrics are your KPI?
- How are they mapped to your objectives and key results?
- What does each KPI say about the success of your campaign or strategy?
- What are the benchmarks for your industry?
- Should you be comparing your KPI to those, or should you focus on historical data from your company’s performance?
For more tips, see our Guide to Use Metrics in Your Content Strategy.
Step 8: Choose Your Channel Mix
Purpose: Identify what channels will help you reach your personas.
Your content can only work if it gets in front of the right people, but with so many options it’s hard to know what will help you make the most impact. There’s a lot that goes into your decision-making here, which is why having very clear goals is so important.
How to Do It
To choose the best channel mix for your content strategy goals…
- Think about your personas. Think about where they spend the most time, which publications they read, which social platforms they use, what times they’re most active, etc.
- Remember your OKRs. You’ve set your objectives and key results as a form of guidance throughout your strategy work. If your primary objective is around building a pipeline of leads, what channels are best suited to help you do that?
- Think about your content formats. Different types of content are better suited for different channels. If video tutorials a big part of your content mix, consider how that may influence the channels you target.
- Prepare your media buys. How will you distribute across your earned, owned, and paid channels? This may include anything from internal emails, to out-of-home buys, to influencer outreach. These are important to budget in terms of cost and lead time.
Questions to Ask
- How are you going to reach people (owned, earned, paid)?
- What channels will help you meet your determined OKRs?
- What media mix will be most effective?
- How can you leverage new channels, more channels, or use your existing channels differently?
For more tips to help your content get maximum exposure, see our Guide to Choosing Your Distribution Channels, and download our free e-book The Ultimate Guide to Content Distribution.
Step 9: Create Your Content Pipeline
Purpose: Get a high-level view of your content priorities and opportunities.
Now that you know what you’re trying to do, who you’re trying to reach, and how you’re going to reach them, it’s time to bring your strategy to life. However, before you plan what exact content you’ll make, you need to identify the major goals, milestones, and events you will need to build content around for your next year, based on your OKRs. This helps you plan ahead, anticipate your needs, allocate resources, and work more effectively.
How to Do It
Remember: A good content strategy is solid enough to guide you but flexible enough to adapt if things change. Use our Content Pipeline Template to build out a year-long view, with important elements broken down by quarter, such as:
- Business Milestones
- Product Launches
- Major events/relevant holidays (e.g., annual tradeshow or Hanukkah)
This way you know your biggest priorities are accounted for as you plan your upcoming content, but you can still shift things around if you need to.
Step 10: Assign Workflow & Governance
Purpose: Clarify roles and responsibilities to make sure your team functions as efficiently as possible.
If you’re working with a large budget, you may have a department full of people to help execute your content strategy. If you’re working for a scrappy startup, it might be you and a few freelancers. The good news is the size of your team doesn’t matter.
To create good content, you just need a team that is aligned, organized, and focused on the same goal. (This is especially if you’re working with outside vendors.) Everyone needs to understand the workflow and who’s responsible for what. As long as you’re covering all the right content marketing roles, you’ll be surprised by how much you can get done with a little coordination up top.
How to Do It
At this stage, you want to assign roles and responsibilities to your team to both empower people to have ownership over their work—and make sure that everyone is working together effectively. For example, if your PR team wants to be involved in brainstorms to steer you toward the most promotable content ideas, you’ll want to make sure they’re in the loop from the jump.
Use the Workflow & Governance Template to identify who will be involved at every stage of content creation and what role they’ll play. This includes both your internal team and external (if you’re working with a freelancer or content agency).
Questions to Ask
- Who is involved in these efforts?
- What responsibilities does each person have?
- How are people meant to work together?
- Who owns the project?
- Who decides who handles new initiatives?
- What stakeholders need to approve/review initiatives?
Naturally, the more people who are involved, the more likely things will slip through the cracks—especially if you’re working with an outside team. To make sure that doesn’t happen, here are 7 tips to keep everyone inside and outside your company aligned.
Step 11: Know Your Tools
Purpose: Equip your team with the tools they need to do their job—and get the most out of those tools.
Content marketing takes work, but it can be a whole lot easier if you have the right tools. If you’ve done a thorough discovery, you probably already have an idea of what tools you want to ditch or what tools you want to experiment with. Remember that different types of content may require different types of tools. If you plan to experiment with something new—say, interactive infographics—you need the capability to execute it.
How to Do It
Luckily, there are so many resources to make marketers’ lives easier, and more are coming out each year. Use our Tech Stack & Tools Template to identify what you’ll be using. And if you want more resources to help you work smarter, checkout our tool roundups for:
Going forward, review your tools quarterly to make sure you’re using everything you’re actually paying for.
Phase 3: Creative
By this point in the process, you should have a clear picture of your goals and your infrastructure. Now it’s time to identify the creative that will help you bring this strategy to life.
Step 12: Brainstorm Campaigns
Purpose: Create content that tells a cohesive story in support of a specific goal.
Publishing content is not the same as implementing an effective content strategy. (And if you’ve been getting lackluster results, you know this firsthand.) Naturally, you don’t want to sink your time, energy, and resources into things that don’t actually help move the needle. But with the work you’ve done, you now have the information you need to come up with effective creative campaigns that support your goals.
During this step, you’ll craft campaigns mapped to the content planning work you’ve done so far. While you may prioritize one type of content category over the other (e.b., Educational content vs.Talent content), you need to know how each will play a role in your strategy.
How to Do It
Use our Marketing Campaign Template to craft campaigns that support your larger goals. A few things to keep in mind as you work through the template:
- Brainstorm the right concepts. Good content marketing isn’t about creating content; it’s about providing value. Focus on your personas and give them what they want, whether it’s education, entertainment, or inspiration. (Here are 7 ways to know if your ideas provide true value.) If you’re hitting a creative wall, try these 9 content marketing prompts to get your creative wheels turning.
- Know your messaging. Identify your key talking points to ensure you’re telling a consistent story across all content. (Use our messaging framework if you need to do some work there.)
- Choose the right format. The medium is just as important as the message. Check out our Guide to Visual Content Marketing to learn more about the benefits of each type of content format.
- Identify your keywords. What are your top keyword opportunities? How will you optimize content around keywords? Are your publishing platforms optimized for SEO? For more, see our Guide to Find the Right Keywords for your content strategy.
- Identify your budget. To determine how much programs will cost, we typically work with one of two numbers: quarterly or annual budget, or a quantified marketing goal such as “2,000 leads this year.” You can use logic and formulas to work backwards from a marketing goal and create an estimated budget.
- Don’t come on too strong in your content! Know the difference between content marketing and sales material, and make sure you’re sending the right message at the right stage of the customer journey.
For more tips, see our Guide to Run a Successful Marketing Campaign, and find out how to make the most of your content by using a divisible content strategy.
Step 13: Build Your Editorial Calendar
Purpose: Maintain a steady publishing cadence.
Publishing consistency is one of the keys to a successful content strategy, so it’s important to keep your team on track with an organized editorial calendar. Whereas your content pipeline is a larger overview, an editorial calendar is a granular view of your content. Whether you publish daily, weekly, or monthly, using a calendar will ensure you can budget in the right amount of time and, most importantly, stick to your deadlines.
How to Do It
There are all sorts of tools you can use to create your editorial calendar: Google Sheets, CoSchedule, etc. If you’re just starting out, use our Editorial Calendar Template to start scheduling your content.
- Identify your publishing cadence. Will you publish daily, weekly, monthly? We find it helpful to schedule content by month. You don’t have to be overly prescriptive. (Again, a good content strategy is flexible and adaptable based on a brand’s changing needs.) But it helps to understand what your volume and cadence will look like.
- Include holidays and social events. These are important to note ahead of time as well, as they can interrupt publishing (e.g., Christmas) or inspire content ideas or brand tie-ins (e.g., the Oscars). Bookmark a tool like Forekast, an online calendar that compiles every major holiday and event that may be relevant to your content calendar. If your industry experiences seasonal trends (e.g., retail), make sure those changes are accounted for too.
You always want to brainstorm ideas far ahead of time so you don’t get stuck in reactive mode throughout the year.
Questions to Ask
- How often will you publish?
- How much content will you publish?
- How will you organize content for campaigns?
- How will you determine how to publish and promote each piece of content?
- Who will own each kind of content?
- What formats will you create?
- Is your calendar aligned to the “life calendar” of your target personas?
Once you’re ready to start creating your content, use the Content Brief Template to kick every project off.
How to Put Your Content Strategy to Work
Congrats. Thanks to all the work you’ve done, you can proceed confidently into content creation and do it better than ever. As you put this content strategy to work, there are a few more ways to make sure you succeed from the jump.
- Optimize your content creation process. There are a ton of moving parts when it comes to creating stellar content, and it can get more complicated depending on the type of content you’re creating. Follow our Guide to Master Content Creation, which features our best tips on brainstorming, copywriting, designing, publishing, and more.
- Follow best practices. There’s good content, and then there’s great content. No matter what you’re creating, there are plenty of small things you can do to enhance your viewer’s experience. See our tips to improve your copywriting, design, infographics, and data visualization.
- Create appropriate timelines. Sticking to your deadlines is crucial to keep your content calendar full. Give yourself enough time, especially if you’re undertaking more labor-intensive content like interactives or video. Most importantly, get approvals at every stage of content production. This prevents you from having to make last-minute edits that will throw things off.
- Craft an effective distribution strategy. To maximize your reach, follow our Guide to Craft a Distribution Strategy That Works.
- Find the right vendors. You may need to outsource some work or bring in an extra hand to complete a project. If so, do your due diligence to bring in the right creative partners. Start with our tips to find the right creative agency.
You can also check out our tips to decide whether you should create content in house or outsource it.
Above all, remember that content strategy is part art, part science. The more effectively you track your results and gather insights from your data, the better you can refine your strategy. Even if you’re not as successful as you hope to be off the bat, you’ll learn more, get better, and adapt quicker, improving your results over time.
The truth is your strategy isn’t set in stone. A good strategy is a blueprint, not a permanent document. Your brand’s goals will shift and change over time, and your content strategy will evolve accordingly. For this reason, we recommend revisiting your strategy quarterly—or when significant events or changes occur that may affect it.
Building a brand doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of work to forge strong relationships with people—and much of that work is done through marketing. Unless you have a powerhouse internal team to help you tell your story, it’s likely you’ll need a little support in crafting and executing your marketing strategy. But searching for the right partner to help you do that can be confusing. There are all sorts of agencies out there, so how do you know whether you should hire a creative agency, a digital agency, or an ad agency?
Here, we’ll break down everything you need to know about creative agencies: what they are, why they’re different, and how to find the right one for you.
What Is a Creative Agency?
A creative agency is a term for an agency that offers a variety of services that fall under the umbrella of marketing and advertising. Basically, if you need any type of creative strategy, work, or promotion, they can help you get it done.
While some creative agencies specialize in one thing more than another, they usually provide:
- Strategy Services
- Advertising strategy
- Brand Strategy
- Content Strategy
- Marketing Strategy
- Social Media Strategy
- Measurement and Analysis
- Content Creation (AKA “Creative”)
- Annual Reports
- Case Studies
- Blogs and Articles
- Content Planning and Publishing
- Data Visualization
- Explainer Videos
- Graphic Design
- Animated Video
- Motion Graphics
- White Papers
- Motion Graphics (or Animated Video)
- Web Design and Development
- Communications Services
- Media Buys
- Paid Placement
- Sponsored Content
- Influencer Marketing
In short, a creative agency is a team of experts who can support your brand’s strategy. In general, that includes a mix of the following:
- Art Director
- Creative Director
- Brand and Content Strategists
- Account Directors/Managers
- Writers and Editors
- Web Designers and Developers
- Graphic Designers
- Content Distribution Specialists
Depending on its structure, some creative agencies also work with expert partners, such as a video production house.
What’s the Difference Between a Creative Agency and Other Agencies?
This is a common question. While some agencies may provide services that overlap with a creative agency, many agencies focus on one particular service or category.
A simple overview:
- Design agency: Offers design services for a variety of visual mediums, including print and digital.
- Digital agency: Focuses on digital marketing strategy, particularly SEO and lead generation.
- Advertising agency: Focuses specifically on advertising (digital, TV, radio, print, etc.). It may or may not provide marketing services.
- PR agency: Offers promotional and content distribution services to maximize brand awareness.
- SEO agency: Focuses on various on-site and search marketing strategies and tactics to increase traffic and lead gen.
- Social media agency: Specializes in social strategies and, oftentimes, the management of social media accounts.
A creative agency usually encompasses one or more of these services.
How Can a Creative Agency Help Your Brand?
There are many services a creative agency provides. Whether you need them to fill in the gaps in your marketing team or take the reigns entirely, your brand can benefit from a creative agency’s help in many ways.
- Fresh perspective: It’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture when you’re immersed in your own brand every day, all day long. A creative agency can provide much-needed perspective to guide or improve your strategy, as well as fresh ideas to help you achieve your goals. (BTW, if you’re struggling to come up with ideas, here are 9 ideas to help you tell your brand story.)
- Expert execution: A creative agency is a team of talented specialists who can both craft and execute your marketing strategies. From developers to designers, copywriters to data visualization experts, they have the knowledge and skills to produce content. They’re also immersed in this stuff day in, day out, so they know best practices, how to improve the user’s experience, what content works best for each platform, and how to get the most mileage out of the content you’re creating. Pro tip: You always want to work with a creative agency with a proven track record. If you’re on the hunt, check out their case studies. (And if they don’t have any, run!)
- Insider knowledge: Sure, you know your brand inside and out, but how well do you know your industry? Your competitors? Trends in the marketplace? A creative agency works with a range of clients across industries. Thus, they have unique insight into what works, what doesn’t, and what surprising things can drastically improve your results. (Translation: You get to benefit from other brands’ big successes and major mistakes—without using your own brand as a guinea pig.)
- Connections and creator networks: One of the most common reasons to seek outside help is because your brand doesn’t have the knowledge, bandwidth, or resources to do the work that needs to be done. In addition to being well-rounded pros, an agency has an established network of expert creators. Whether you’re looking for a production house to film your latest video or a developer to code an interactive website, a creative agency either has the skills or the expert referral to get it done. (This is especially helpful if you’re looking for tough-to-locate specialty services.)
- Speedy production: Many brands struggle to execute their strategies because they don’t have the infrastructure in place to handle production. This is understandable, as different types of content require different knowledge and resources. (It’s especially difficult to launch a content operation if you’re totally new to content marketing.) But an agency is a sophisticated machine accustomed to producing a variety of content, quickly and efficiently. They’re also aware of the common roadblocks, mistakes, or pitfalls that can sabotage production, so they can better navigate through them.
- Quality content: Quality, consistency, and cadence are crucial to a successful content marketing operation. Many brands struggle to meet at least one of these, if not all three. Again, with expertise and a solid infrastructure, a creative agency can produce quality content at a high volume. They’re also invested in doing the best job possible because when you win, they win. Hence, they will work hard to find the best creative for your brand, even if that means disagreeing with you or fighting for an idea they really believe in. (For example, when Microsoft asked us to create an infographic to promote the relaunch of Internet Explorer, we argued for a video concept instead—45 million views later, it turned out to be a viral hit.)
Another bonus? They can also be your scapegoat. This one may sound a little harsh, but we’re well aware of the way marketing works. Nobody wants to claim failure, but if you absolutely need to, you can always outsource blame. Of course, a good agency will work to avoid failure at all costs. But if things go awry, sure, go ahead and blame your agency if it saves your job. (Just take them with you when you’re moving on to your next gig.)
Even better, you can often find full-service creative agencies that specialize in your particular industry or offering (e.g., B2B tech or entertainment). This provides even more benefits to your brand, as they have expert insight and can provide the right recommendations for your unique needs.
How Do You Know If You Need One?
Not every brand needs a creative agency, particularly if you have a solid operation or an in-house team that is capable of executing your marketing strategy. However, you might consider using a creative agency if you don’t have (or have little of) the following:
- Resources: Some brands find it difficult to execute their strategy due to limited means, accessibility, or availability. A creative agency can help support your strategy with the infrastructure you need.
- Knowledge: A creative agency is staffed by expert creators who have the skills and expertise to create all types of content—and, most importantly, adhere to best practices.
- Bandwidth: Your team may be bogged down with other projects, meaning your marketing projects are delayed or backburnered indefinitely. A creative agency can help you create consistent, quality content at scale.
- Results: If your current strategy isn’t delivering the results you want, a creative agency can advise you on how to tweak, improve, or revise your strategy.
If you’re still not sure if an agency can help you, here’s how to figure out if you need one at all, and how to decide if you should try an agency or use a freelancer.
How Do You Find a Creative Agency?
Having worked with hundreds of brands over the last decade, we know what roadblocks and hiccups can befall a brand on the hunt for a good agency. Here’s how to ensure the road to the right partner is as smooth as possible.
- Know what you’re trying to achieve. You don’t have to know exactly what creative idea you want brought to life (that’s often why you’re seeking a creative agency in the first place), but you do need to know your goals before you hire one. The clearer your objectives, the easier it will be for your agency to find the creative solution. Of course, if you’re soliciting an agency to guide your strategy because you’re not sure what to do, that’s OK. You just don’t want to approach an agency with absolutely no idea what you need.
- Look for someone in your industry. There are a lot of creative agencies out there, which is why finding one can be intimidating. Luckily, there are also agencies that specialize in particular industries, such as B2B tech. With their intimate knowledge of the landscape, they are well equipped to help you achieve your goals. If you’re not sure where to start, ask your colleagues and friends for recommendations. Otherwise, Google around. Note: While a local agency is convenient, you might find a better fit in one outside your immediate area. Thanks to the power of tech, collaboration isn’t as challenging as it once was, so don’t let that impede you.
- Look for demonstrated results. Any agency worth their salt will have a healthy portfolio of not just work but case studies that showcase their results. As you review their work (and client list), you’ll get a sense of their style, skill, and creative approach. Ideally, they’ve worked with people in your industry or executed the type of campaign you’re looking for. However, if you don’t see what you’re looking for but you do like their vibe, reach out to ask for additional examples.
- Find out if they share their expertise. A good agency is invested in elevating their industry. Thus, they should demonstrate their expertise in other ways, such as blogs, articles, books, contributor ships, or features in industry publications. This willingness to share their expertise—and be an active participant in their field—is always a good indicator that they are knowledgeable and confident in their work.
- Look at their own content. Consider how they present themselves through their own content. Review their site and social presence to get a sense of their personality, who their team is, what their values are. You want to work with people you click with, naturally, but you also want to make sure you’re working with people who practice what they preach.
No matter how good someone’s work is in their portfolio, one of the biggest factors that will influence your success is how well you work together. So take the time to research and talk to potential candidates. You might be in love with one’s illustration style but not jive with their creative approach. Or you might be wowed by both their work and their values. You won’t know until you talk to them, so do your research up front.
We recommend interviewing at least 3 agencies and crafting your questions in advance. This isn’t about conducting a prim and proper interview. It can be casual and exploratory, but you want a framework to guide your conversation and help you get the info you need. A few good questions to ask:
- Do you have the bandwidth to take on my project? This is pretty much the first question to ask since everything revolves around timeline. If they do have availability, you should also ask about the projected timeline for projects similar to yours.
- How much experience do you have in my industry? Whether or not they specialize in your field, it’s good to get a sense of their knowledge base.
- Who will I be working with? There are a lot of moving parts involved in marketing—and just as many stakeholders. From strategy to content creation, you will have a lot of people doing a lot of different things. Hence, you’ll want to know who you’ll be interfacing with, how they approach their work, etc.
- What does your creative process look like? Every agency is unique, but they should all have an established process to get things done on time. (We use AgencyAgile-inspired processes.) Ask your agency to walk you through their process in detail.
- How much work is produced by your staff vs. outsourced? In the agency world, it isn’t uncommon to work with contracted creative partners, such as a video production house or composer. (Again, one of the benefits of an agency is that they have a network of reliable pros at the ready.) However, you’ll want to know who your creative team might be.
- Can you provide itemized pricing? Transparency is important here, as scope creep can be a huge problem. You want to know exactly what you’ll be paying for. If they can’t provide that, move on.
Note: Make sure they’re interviewing you too. You want to cultivate a positive relationship, so your agency should be interested, engaged, and asking you questions as well. (Agencies that care about working with partners who are the right fit will probably be a better fit.)
Throughout the process, go with your gut. You want to work with an agency that is friendly, responsive, and eager to build a long-term relationship with you. If you aren’t feeling those vibes from the jump, look for one that does make you feel that way.
What to Do Once You Find the Right Partner
A good relationship is a true partnership, which means you’re both responsible for showing up and doing your part. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to start off on the right foot:
And if you’re curious to learn more about how we work, see our FAQs or hit us up. We’re always happy to talk shop.
Source & Credit: columnfivemedia | Katy French