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“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

This quote is often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, although that’s probably not true. But it persists because it’s a great quote with a strong message – preparation is essential to success.

Planning runs right the way through content marketing, from the big idea to an individual piece of creative work. And you can tell a planned campaign, article or even sentence a mile away.

We’ve whittled down the foundations of a great content strategy to core six elements:

1. Research

The more you know, the better your final product.

  • Customer research – You know those people you’re trying to market to? You need to know as much as is possible about them, their worries, fears, goals and challenges.
  • Competitor analysis – What is the rest of the market doing? What differentiates you from them? What marketing are they doing? What is their brand all about?
  • Keyword research – A lot of SEO is about creating the right content these days, but you still have to have an understanding, particularly for inbound, about what your potential customers are searching for.



2. Governance

How will all this work in practice?

  • Brand guidelines and tone of voice – How do you talk to your clients? Are you British Airways – sophisticated, professional and measured – or are you the more punky and disruptive Virgin Atlantic?
  • In-house Editorial team – Whether you write the stuff yourself or get an agency to do it for you, you need a solid in-house team to deliver insight, sense check and drive things internally.
  • Workflow, process, roles and responsibilities – Linked to the above; who does what? Who gets sign off? Who’s responsible for deadlines etc etc.?
  • Board level content champion – Is someone on the board brought in? If not, your content efforts will not last long. It’s about how you sell it in too, focusing on the value, not the spend.

3. Audit

What do you already have in place and could it be valuable?

  • Online audience? – What traffic do you generate currently? How many leads do you get from inbound right now? What are the baselines stats?
  • Offline content? – Do you have sales materials or presentations?
  • Distribution channels – Think social media and email predominantly. What channels are active, what are you actually doing on them, are they working and is your audience there?

4. Measurement

How do you know if your content plan is working or not?

  • Content KPIs – What are your metrics of success? These should be established before you begin and should be aligned with the wider business and marketing goals.
  • Measurement tools – What will you use to measure your success? Hubspot? Google Analytics? An internal tool? Again, establishing the ‘how’ formalises the reporting process.
  • Reporting process – When and how will you report? Weekly, monthly, quarterly? Probably all three. So what do each of these reports look like and who will you report to?

5. Integrate

Making sure content is ingrained in the business and being used properly.

  • Brand-level marketing strategy – Content marketing isn’t marketing. It’s the communications side of it. Marketing comms should fit into a broader marketing strategy.
  • Paid, owned and earned channels – How will your PPC campaigns, social strategies and content plan align, how will the individual teams work together to make sure they’re cohesive?
  • Sales team and customer support team – Both of these teams need to be integrated into the content push. Content marketing isn’t just about driving inbound traffic; these teams can use content to cement relationships and close deals. They need to know what’s happening, when.
  • Other agencies – How, when and how often do all you third party agencies talk to each other?

6. Training

Do you have the in-house skills to undertake a long-term content push?

  • Content strategy – Have an in-house understanding of what a content strategy looks like, why it works, and how it aligns with the wider business goals.
  • Editorial skills – Does the team know how to write? Are they able to assess creative work? Do they understand the principles of headlines, subheads, images, SEO?
  • Content creation tools – Managing a content calendar is hard; there are a huge number of moving parts. That requires organisation. There are tools out there, but are the people within the business trained properly on how to use them?

So there we have it, the six foundational elements of a solid content strategy.

From here will come ideas, inspiration, insight and…success.

Until next week.

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I’m the Head of Content for Future Content and the man in charge of words. As a former journalist for a number of publications, from Chat to MailOnline to that’s Shanghai, I have a wealth of editorial experience and a way of making words do good.