In her excellent book ‘Quiet’, Susan Cain makes the point that the secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. The big challenge is finding the right light for you.

For some people, she writes, “it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk”. It’s a fantastic way to think about content marketing, too. Everyone talks about content marketing, but not everyone understands how it can be tailored to suit you.

No matter what your brand or business does, the right ‘lighting’ exists for you. Finding the perfect way for a client to express themselves is central to what we do at Future Content. We’ve done it countless times and, by now, it comes naturally to us.

If it’s your first time travelling down that road, however, the pitfalls, the problems, and the processes seem altogether less obvious. The good news is it’s not a mystical pursuit. It’s a process grounded in legwork and research.

For us at least, this process begins with tempering our clients’ expectations with the reality. Let’s take a look at how it usually goes.

Before we begin

There are a few things we check with clients before we begin writing articles: we want to be sure we have solid foundations in place for which to build an effective content strategy. A speedy, mobile ready and easy-to-navigate website is one, in-depth customer research is another. Generating increasing numbers of traffic to an ineffectual website

0-3 months: the crucial first steps

Are you funny? Are you serious? What’s your voice? Voice: you’ll often hear that being said when you speak to us. It’s not your speaking voice, it’s the voice that your readers hear in their head when they read your content.

Your voice is something uniquely your own. It’s what turns content marketing into something relatable and special. It’s a unique sensibility, a distinctive outlook. Finding your voice is a crucial first step in our content marketing journey with our clients.

So much content marketing you see online is one and the same. A lot of it is weirdly sanitised and manufactured. To stand out in this maelstrom, you have to give yourself the freedom to say things in your own, unique way. Again, that might be scary, but in our experience it’s undoubtedly the best approach.

You don’t speak or sound like anyone else, so why would your brand?

Our task doesn’t just end with helping you find your voice, though. We ensure that it’s consistently applied through every single sentence with your name attached to it. We’ll work with you to create content that appeals to the people you want to reach.

Think of us as purveyors of focus. The internet is a big place. You can’t be everything to everyone; you’re not John Grisham or J.K. Rowling. In our experience, a lot of despondency surrounding content marketing is as a result of a lack of focus.

The next initial step will be how to spread your shiny new content. Don’t leave your content siloed somewhere on a blog. If you’ve created something great and worth reading, then spread it. Identify some common ways to distribute your content.

Social media is a familiar one, but don’t just leave it there.There’s a whole array of options. Influencer marketing, email, guest blogging, paid distribution, even your own employees can help disperse your content.

3-6 months: iterate, iterate, iterate

We deliberately push our clients towards the sort of granular, nerdy detail their target personas will find appealing. I do this by monitoring what readers respond to. By reviewing analytics, we can see what works and what doesn’t.

Three to six months in, the aim is to more finely calibrate your approach. Through the groundwork we’ve laid in the first three months, you should by now have landed most of the low hanging fruit from starting your content marketing. That is, a slight bump in attention and traffic from your increased activity.

So you’ll have a little momentum, but resting on your laurels is a classic mistake I see in content marketing. The initial bump very quickly transforms into a frustrating plateau. As much as the first three months were about finding your voice and refining your content, this quarter is about maintaining that output while refining how you distribute content.

We look at how effectively each channel is performing. You can benchmark a particular channel’s performance against industry standards and challenge your approaches if your chosen channels aren’t performing as well as they could be.

6-9 months: hitting our stride

Six months in, you want to be hitting your stride. You want to start seeing real results, not just a bump in traffic. The cadence you established at the start of this process will now be entrenched. And this consistent output should be paired with the insights you gained from your analysis in the second quarter.

In our own client work, we’ll have an understanding of what works content and idea wise. And at this point of content year one, I’ll usually suggest something a little more ambitious like an ebook or another sort of lead magnet.

Lead magnets are a vital step in your maturity as a content marketing operation. Ryan Deiss at Digital Marketer offers a brilliant description of what a lead magnet should be: “Lead Magnet — noun — an irresistible bribe offering a specific chunk of value to a prospect in exchange for their contact information.”

Leads. That is, results. The good news is that the rules for creating something more hefty like an ebook, a guide, a report, a toolkit etc. remain the same as the rest of your content. It should be specific and it should offer value immediately. The biggest mistake content marketers make with longer resources is that they use it as an excuse to ramble.

I guard against this by keeping clients aware of how different pieces of content relate to the marketing funnel.

An educational blog would be at the top of your funnel, whereas a longer case study is aimed at a consumer who associates you with the solution you offer. A product description would be appropriate for readers at the bottom of the funnel.

9-12 months: one year later

Every stage of this process should involve analysis and review, but we see the end of year one as a particularly good time to really drill deep. You will have enough content, data, interaction and insight to really do something neat.

The key for us is not just insight. But insight as a way to provide clients with a competitive advantage. At Future Content, we would be looking at a client’s Google Analytics, email subscribers and social engagement. We’ll also look at what content has performed well and what can be repurposed.

You should expect that a content marketing operation one year starts using more sophisticated methodologies.

Your lead magnets would be in place and advertised toward your target audience. In general, your content marketing will be a cohesive whole you can you repurpose to get more results. For example, using my data list, I would use a channel like Facebook to build a lookalike audience, using all of the data points of my source audience to find new, similar people on social.

The lesson of year one comes full circle: review the goals you set at the start of the year and place your markers for year two (Google Calendar has a nifty Goals feature). What you have learned this year will give you a good basis of what your content marketing calendar should look like for the next year. Truth is, the work and the process never stops.

Content marketing is a journey. If you’d like to know more about how we can make it easier, then get in touch.

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Francois Badenhorst

Francois is a writer living in Bristol, UK. He is a South African with a French first name, a German surname, an Irish passport, and German, Dutch, Scottish and Swedish heritage. His mood is inextricably tied to how well the South African rugby team are performing at any given moment.