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Chart Your Path: 5 Tips to Creating a Content Strategy

September 29, 2020

From the trail log of Madeline Rauma:

Think of content strategy like trail mix. It’s made up of distinct parts blending together to create a cohesive end product that just … works. Like trail mix, content strategy is the sustenance that gives your communications plan energy and takes you where you want to go. Of course, it’s not that simple – or we’d all be doing it! There’s a process – a recipe – behind every good trail mix (or content strategy).

From start to finish, here are five tips to help you chart your path. And, what’s a good adventure without a few road blocks?

boots hiking illustration

Get Your Bearings

Before you plan your content strategy development journey, you need to gain a sense of the current landscape. A content audit does just that. A content audit of your current communications – from brochures and annual reports to your website and e-newsletter – will help you prioritize what needs updating.

A content audit examines all of the communications you’ve produced, allowing you to look at content collectively and answer key questions, like:

  • What type of content style, tone and voice has worked well in the past for your organization? What needs improvement?
  • Does your content look and sound like it all goes together?
  • Is your content consistent? Is it clear and actionable?
  • Does your mission statement still ring true? Is your brand being captured effectively? Has your brand changed?

» Road block! Don’t have an articulated brand or consistent messaging? Developing those core pieces would be a great place to start. They’ll serve as the backbone of your content strategy moving forward.

Choose Your Destination

Before you start hiking a trail, you need to know where you want to go (and how you’re going to get there). From a content strategy perspective, a content plan lays this groundwork. A content plan will include strategies (what you want to do) and the tactics that will help you get there. A strategy might be to strengthen your brand, while a supporting tactic may be to gather customer testimonials or design a brochure.

In order to help guide your content strategy, a content plan should answer the following questions:

  • What are you willing to invest in your content?
  • What are your broad objectives? How about your specific goals?
  • Who do you want to reach with your content? What action do you want them to take as a result of your content?
  • Where will you reach them? What will you say?
  • How will you measure success?

» Road block! If your goals don’t motivate you or seem outlandish, they may be too vague. Be sure to create S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Timed) goals to set yourself up for success with attainable goals. “Send intro postcards to 100 prospects by March 31” is a much more specific and actionable goal than “Send intro postcards to prospects.”

Chart Your Journey

With your content plan in hand, you know who you want to reach and how you want to reach them. Now, it’s time to chart out what you’ll say (and when you’ll say it) using a content calendar.

A calendaring tool should include things like:

  • When you want to distribute content
  • What channels you plan to use (e.g., social media, email, postcard, newsletter)
  • What type of visual you need to accompany the content (e.g., stock image, custom graphic, custom photography, video)
  • Who your audience is for each piece of content (e.g, donors, prospective customers, alumni, funders)
  • A status column, indicating how far along the content is in the process (e.g., draft, ready for review, approved, complete)

Simple applications, such as spreadsheets, are sufficient for building and organizing a content calendar. There are also plenty of no-cost and paid tools you can try, like Airtable and Sprout Social.

» Road block! Worried about coming up with enough content? Just like in adventures, there’s no need to overpack. You can repurpose content, reusing it in multiple ways. Just like you can turn your hiking socks inside out to get more use out of them(!), you can repurpose your brochure content for social media posts or website content.

Embark!

Your path is planned. Your gear is packed. You’re ready to get out there and start implementing. Consistent messaging, regular posting and following a process will be critical during what will likely be the longest phase of your content strategy journey.

If you haven’t already, be sure you have an assignment and approval process in place. It will not only make managing the development of content easier, but it will help clarify roles and expectations. Not to mention, a process ensures that you receive proper approvals and are following your brand and mission.

» Road block! You might find that you lack the necessary internal resources – such as time, energy or knowledge – or a solid enough process to execute your content strategy regularly. Consider partnering with an outside agency to help you be more effective.

Take in the Views

You’ve reached the summit. You’ve executed your content strategy. Now what? It’s time to measure your efforts, take stock of successes and identify what needs improvement. If you stumbled along the way or ran into trail hazards (ouch, rock!), that’s OK. What you learned will prepare you for a more direct route next time.

  • Your digital ads may have resulted in conversions, but were they the right leads? How will you improve targeting next time?
  • You distributed a great printed fundraising appeal, but maybe you didn’t meet your donation goal. How will you make your content more compelling?
  • Did you integrate printed and digital channels in your recruitment efforts? You could try a video next time.

» Road block! If you didn’t set up tracking mechanisms, it will be hard to measure success and know how far you’ve come. Be sure to set those up before you implement your content marketing strategy.

Whew! You Made It

Now is the time to celebrate the completion of your trip down the content strategy trail.

Building a content marketing strategy can be an adventure. But, like most adventures, with the path planned, you can let go and enjoy the journey. (And don’t forget to pack the trail mix.)

Happy writing, and happy trails!

Questions? Want to chat about all things content strategy? Email Madeline, our resident content strategist.