5 Steps to Creating a Content Marketing Strategy That Drives Business Results

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“Never ask for anything, and especially from those who are stronger than you. They will make the offer themselves and give it of their own free will” – this is a popular quote from Mikhail Bulgakov’s book, The Master and Margarita. Even if Bulgakov didn’t mean that in the context of marketing, it’s generally a good rule. Content marketing is one thing that provides the most inbound requests. In other words, make people come to you first and offer themselves.

According to SEMRush, 78% of businesses with a documented content marketing strategy produced effective and meaningful content. Content marketing generates more than three times more leads than outbound marketing and costs 62% less. However, ensuring that your brand creates content that is useful to your customers and capable of furthering the long-term goals of your business is essential. There is an overwhelming amount of content available in digital spaces. So here are five crucial steps your brand needs to take to create a content marketing strategy that drives results:

Related: 4 Simple Steps to Creating an Effective Content Marketing Strategy

1. Determine your story

The most memorable and successful brands have one thing in common: they tell an engaging and cohesive story. Storytelling is at the heart of a great content marketing strategy, so it’s important to invest the time and resources to perfect this aspect of your business.

Psychology Today notes that stories help humans increase feelings of empathy by releasing the “happy” chemical oxytocin and reducing the stress hormone cortisol. The right story always sparks that all-important part of the human psyche that engages our emotions and fosters a sense of meaningful connection with each other and with the brand telling the story. Essentially, stories are how we think about and assign meaning to our lives.

Anyone can create a meaningful story around their product or service, and 92% of consumers say they want to see ads that sound like a story. Ikea is a notable example. Buying furniture isn’t exactly the most exciting task. However, customers are incredibly loyal to Ikea, not because of their quality or price, but because they’ve created an immersive narrative around the aspirational joy of designing your home with simple, elegant pieces that reflect who you are.

2. Research your target audience and channels

Before creating a compelling story, you need to know who you are telling the story to. Generating leads and traffic is always one of the hardest parts of marketing, which is why thoroughly researching your target audience is essential.

Create an avatar of your ideal customer and spend time fleshing out that person’s story. How old are they ? Genre? Average income? What kinds of careers might this person want? What are they doing for fun? What type of personality do they have? The more you can create this three-dimensional avatar, the more intimately you can understand your target audience.

For an example of how this is done correctly, scroll down MoonPie’s Twitter. They honed their brand voice to reflect their target audience: someone who enjoys offbeat humor and doesn’t take themselves too seriously. As a result, they are very connected to their audience and facilitate engagement in a seemingly effortless way.

Related: To Reach Your Target Audience, You Need to Follow These 5 Steps

3. Generate content ideas

Did you know that on average, 35% of companies have no staff dedicated to content marketing? That means it’s hard to deliver consistently fresh content and stay on top of trends. Tools like UberSuggest, Google Trends, and Buzzsumo are all great ways to maximize your content generation ideas when you don’t have a dedicated team, but there are other things your brand can do as well.

Depending on your goals and your audience, there are many ways to generate catchy and shareable content ideas. You can set up trending alerts on platforms like Instagram and TikTok to capitalize on viral videos and memes, or you can even reach out to your user base to create a user-driven campaign.

Neutrogena is an example of a successful user-generated content campaign with their Neutrogena Studios platform. For this, they allowed customers to create video content submissions focused on skin health. Not only does this utilize brand loyalty and provide an ongoing source of marketing content, but it also requires minimal resources for a great ROI.

4. Decide on the distribution

No matter how good your content is, your time and resources are ultimately wasted if you can’t pitch it to the right audience. From ebooks, blogs and podcasts to social media graphics and webinars, there are countless ways to distribute your content.

The channels you choose will depend on your goals and target audience. However, there are three main channels: paid (eg Instagram ads), owned (eg email newsletters) and earned (eg social media shares). In most cases, a successful content distribution strategy will be a combination of all three channels.

The optimal distribution strategy comes after defining your target audience and understanding your narrative. These two steps inform what types of content you will be focusing on, which helps you determine the best channels to view and share your content.

A key part of distribution is making sure your own channels are optimized, as this is the channel over which you have the most control. Oracle Vitrue’s “Like Can Never Replace Love” campaign was hugely successful as the company focused on promoting through its own distribution channels (e.g., staff, partners, influencers, and customers ).

Related: 4 Content Marketing Strategies to Boost Your Business

5. Measure your results

Every content marketing strategy needs goals and measurable KPIs to determine whether a campaign was effective or not. KPIs such as content impact, engagement, traffic, and sentiment are great places to start. Still, these can be broken down into more nuanced metrics such as unique pageviews, conversions, top exits, bounce rates, and social shares. Remember that metrics will be different for each distribution channel, and understand that determining the appropriate baselines and metrics for your brand will likely take time (and some fine-tuning).

In the case of Casper, a sleep startup that built its brand on content marketing, those metrics could be features in top-tier magazines that imply recognition with a wider audience. Despite his financial troubles afterward, Casper had grown rapidly at first, generating $30 million in revenue and growing his team from five to hundreds of people in less than a year.

The company was featured as one of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies in 2016 and 2017. “The brand caused a stir on social media, posting a series of creative stories on Snapchat and Instagram,” they wrote. Casper also hired journalists and announced the launch of his own editorial business focusing on all aspects of sleep. So no matter what, Casper has its own identity and a foothold in brand history.

Related: How to Build a Content Marketing Strategy That Works

Remember that your content should be emotionally compelling and helpful. Good content marketing strategies allow brands to make real connections with their audience. Don’t be afraid to explore what will work best for your brand and try different options. Ultimately, it’s essential to recognize that content marketing strategies are dynamic, ongoing processes that will change and evolve over time. It is therefore wise to start devoting time and resources to it now to get a good start for the future.

William L. Hart