The relentless march of content continues. And while this is excellent news for any aspiring creator out there; trying to compete with this cacophony of content by sheer 'effort' simply won't do.
Instead, as creators and content marketers, we need to find ways of cutting through the noise—and this is precisely where having a content strategy is key.
This content strategy template isn't meant to be taken as gospel—it's meant to simply take you 80% of the way to formulating your own unique content strategy for the months and year(s) to come.
In it, we'll cover a framework to help you:
Set the strategy, through target segments, key content channels and market research;
Set clear targets and goals for your content efforts;
Brainstorm content ideas that can be used in campaigns;
Research content ideas and quickly adding to your database;
Create and plan content campaigns with our campaign timeline and content calendar template; and
Archive and reflect on past content campaigns, successes, failures and performance.
What is content strategy, anyway?
If you had endless amounts of time on your hands; an infinitely large team at your disposal; and no targets or goals that needed to be reached—there would be no need to talk about 'content strategy'.
Strategies are about decision making with limited resources. That sounds a bit textbook-y, but bear with me on this.
Suppose you had 24 hours (a clear constraint) to add as many new subscribers as possible (a clear goal). Now, it's time for you to go about deciding how you want to allocate your efforts.
Will you spend every penny on advertising, and simply hope people like what they see enough to sign up?
Or will you go from door to door, asking people to sign up? You certainly won't get in front of as many people, but it might just result in more total sign ups.
The approach you decide upon is your content strategy. Yes, you can add all sorts of fancy names to your approach, 'We're taking a multi-channel, geo-optimized, retargeting paid advertising strategy' (translation: ads),
But, at bottom, setting the strategy is really just a way of saying:
'These are the rules we're going to follow which we think give the best chance of helping us reach our goals'.
A few key things to note:
Strategy depends on constraints;
Strategy depends on clearly defined targets and goals; and
Strategies prescribe consistent behaviors (rules) that could be followed, blindly, if needed.
What goes into a good content strategy?
The strategies described above don't just pop out of thin air—or at least, they shouldn't.
Instead, there are number of factors that can help you decide which path to take; which strategy to adopt for your particular situation.
A short list of factors that can influence your strategy:
Who you're talking to;
What you're actually trying to achieve;
What you're good at (and what you're not so good at);
How long you have to reach your goals (say, before you run out of money);
Who your competitors are and what they're doing; and
What's going on in the world or market, more generally? (is everyone locked inside, per chance, due to a global pandemic...?).
Naturally, each of these is worth diving into a little further.
What are some of the key traits of the people you're trying to engage with. Specifically, for the purposes of content creation, it's worth thinking about:
Which channels are they active on?
What type of information are they seeking?
How active are they online? and
Who are they already listening to in your space or an adjacent space?
By answering those four questions, you'll already be a whole lot closer to identifying key content opportunities (and channels) that are likely to resonate with your audience.
But if you're not sure where to find this information, here are a few good starting points for your research:
Subreddits—search for a subreddit covering the topic you'd like to talk about. See what people are saying, how they talk and what they're responding to already;
Comments and reviews sections on your competitor sites; and
If you already have any traffic or traction at all--going to the source and asking your existing base about their habits and goals, directly.
Setting Clear Targets
Content goals and objectives are tricky. On the one hand, you have a category of goals you can control. Things like:
How often you post;
Which keywords you'll target;
How many videos you'll produce.
These are process goals, or as we refer to them in the template 'Action' objectives.
Then, there's another category of targets that are only indirectly within your control. This is the stuff we typically measure:
Sales & revenue;
Subscribers, followers, mailing list count;
It's important to set a few clear targets for each of these categories—so that we hold ourselves accountable not only to the actions we can control, but also keep an eye on the external indicators that will tell us more about how those actions are performing out in the world.
What you're good at (or, having a content differentiator)
Your content differentiator might be:
A specific topic or niche industry that you cover;
Your personality, or specific style of content;
The media or content channel that you focus on (say, an exclusive tweeter); or
Some focused combination of the above that makes your content look, sound and feel unique.
Typically, one of the best ways to discover your content differentiator is to be authentic in your creative efforts. It sounds easier than it is in practice—being authentic often means that we may not be serving the audience we had written down or planned to address.
Sometimes, our style resonates with a completely different group, and the question then becomes: do I pivot my style, or pivot my target segment?
If the new segment is large enough, and the demand high enough: pivot the segment.
While it's important to stay authentic and work on your own voice—it's also critical to understand what else is out there. Especially in your niche.
Researching competitors doesn't need to be some rigorous analysis. As a solo creator, we don't always have the resources (or training, or interest) to conduct a detailed competitive analysis.
The goal is simply to get a feeling for what's already working in your market, and to establish some clear takeaways that can inform your own content strategy going forward.
Here are some factors to consider when conducting competitor research:
Value proposition: What does your competitor say they are offering their audience? (Often, this will be plainly stated in the hero section of their website, or nearby);
Target segments & use cases: Who are they targeting? And for what purpose?
Key features & benefits
On-boarding flow: Take note of how the competitor goes about acquiring new customers—do they ask for an email address in return for a download?
Company background: The basics are enough here—how long has it been in business, how many employees, location, etc.
Standout clients or partners: This is especially useful for competitors in your niche—who are the authorities, and who might be potentially open to working with you.
Marketing channels: And finally, it's worth taking note of which channels your competitors are most active on. Are they very active on YouTube; do they mostly focus on LinkedIn; what seems to be their go-to content channel?
With some competitor research behind you, a clear set of targets in place and your target audience segments settled—odds are, you already will have some ideas bouncing around for some first content.
Spending some time to mull ideas over in a brainstorming phase can be helpful for a couple of reasons:
Your first idea is rarely your best—leaving a dedicated period for brainstorming helps you throw down all the ideas bouncing around onto the page before running off and making anything;
When you have jotted down several or a few dozen ideas over a few days, you begin to notice some themes and patterns emerging—these will serve as excellent campaign foundations.
You can use the brainstorming dashboard of the Content OS to store and sort your ideas.
Setting campaigns and deadlines
Campaigns are dedicated content efforts. Typically, they describe a series of content, focused on a particular theme—often, with a specific goal in mind.
You might have a 'Welcome to the mailing list' campaign. During the brainstorming phase, and from your research on competitors (it always helps to sign up to a few competitor mailing lists and take notes!), you notice a few trends that you'd like to implement for yourself.
Let's say you want to:
Send an automated email when new subscribers sign up;
Follow up with a message sharing more about your story and what to expect from the mailing list;
Point them to a few of your best resources, while you have their attention; and
Make sure they know they can get in touch with you, directly, for any future support; and
As a target, you want to achieve a 40% email open rate for this welcome email series.
By sketching out a campaign to achieve these action and outcome objectives, you're able to space out the content load, while also giving your readers some breathing room (as opposed to shoving it all into one mega-thread welcome email).
Campaigns also work best with clear deadlines in place. If the target for this welcome email campaign is 40% open rate—set yourself a clear target date to check-in on your progress. At which point, you can either decide that it isn't working—and something needs to be switched up—or that it's been a successful implementation.
Content strategy is the summary of rules we've set for ourselves when creating content.
These rules aren't arbitrary, instead, they are decided by a few key factors. Things like:
The targets or goals we're trying to reach;
Who we're talking to;
What we're good at; and
What our competitors are up to.
Every content strategy will be subtly unique—but that doesn't mean every aspect of it should be crafted from scratch.
Get started with our complete Content Strategy Template, The Content OS, and save yourself 80% of the work on setup.