The Foundations of Content Marketing Every Marketer Must Master

We still see so many organizations struggling to implement a content marketing practice that works for them. Many practitioners dabble in some a la carte content marketing tactics but lack a foundation, an operational approach necessary to generate real and lasting results for their business. This will be your playbook to building a successful content marketing practice from the ground up and give you the tools you need to have a better conversation about content marketing at your organization.

A great system is the sum of its parts. That’s why we’re going to break down this content marketing operating system into its six core components. These components are designed to help create focus and provide a foundational approach to your efforts.

The Team

At its core, content marketing is about connecting with and providing value to other people. That’s what sets it apart from other marketing practices and why we love it so much. But the people creating and executing your marketing plan are just as important as the people you’re trying to reach. That’s why it’s so important to think through the core responsibilities in content marketing and how your current marketing team can accommodate them.

The Tools

To get the job done, you need the right tools. But it turns out there are a lot of tools to choose from. Today, the average marketing technology stack consists of 17 different marketing tools. And we feel pretty confident that many organizations aren’t able to fully utilize all 17. There’s a tremendous challenge in finding the right tools for your organization and your unique needs. So let’s simplify things. We’re going to talk about five main tool categories and why they’re important for a strong content marketing practice.

  • Content Management System (CMS)

If you’re creating digital content, you need a website. It’s kind of a no-brainer. A good CMS might not be what you think of when you hear the term “marketing tool.” But it’s where 90 percent of your digital content lives. The more you understand how to manipulate your own website content, build new landing pages and update forms, the more well-rounded of a content marketer you can be. The challenge here is that some CMS platforms are way too complicated for marketers to manipulate. And that’s an issue. If you need to talk to your CTO in order to change a bit of text on your website, you need a new CMS. We use WordPress and so does about 30 percent of the internet. We love it because we can make small or even medium-sized changes and improvements to the website without the assistance of someone with an IT degree.

  • Customer Relationship Manager (CRM)

The CRM is the platform that helps you track and manage all interactions between your sales team and clients or prospects. This might be another tool you didn’t think of as part of a marketing tech stack. It’s true that this is primarily a sales tool. But there are so many powerful user insights in your CRM that make it a treasure trove for marketers. Your CRM can help you understand what questions your key audience and prospects are asking, the nature of their conversation with your sales reps and, most importantly, what kinds of content are most effective at moving prospects through the funnel.

  • Content Marketing Platform (CMP)

If you have more than one person involved in content creation, a content marketing platform is going to be a lifesaver. The content creation process has many facets: planning, writing, editing, graphic design, final approval, publishing. Most of the time, they all have different (or multiple) owners who are also working on other projects. A good CMP can help you simplify and streamline that process, reducing inevitable bottlenecks and saving you money.

  • Social Media Platform

This one is obvious. A social media practice can get very easily out of hand if you’re not careful. So if social media plays a role in your content marketing plan, a social media tool is really handy. Depending on the scale, they can be a really affordable way to manage your social calendar and media assets in one place. They also provide a great way to track engagement and your most important social KPIs. No matter your budget or your size, there’s a social media platform out there to help you stay on schedule and run your social campaigns smoothly.

  • Marketing Automation and Email Platform

Content marketing’s core promise is providing value and relevance to your audience and guiding them through their customer journey using content. A marketing automation and/or email marketing platform can help you deliver that. Marketing automation and email marketing platforms help you segment your audience in a meaningful way, delivering relevant content to those audience segments and measuring their interaction with it. It can provide valuable revenue attribution and help you understand the ROI of your content marketing efforts.

The Audience

The most unique and fulfilling part about content marketing is that the products and services you offer are only a small part of the relationship between you and your audience. Successful content marketing requires intense focus on providing value. But we can’t provide it to them if we don’t know who they are and what it is they actually value. All too often, companies think about their audience in terms of simple demographics. But understanding who your audience really is goes so much deeper than that and continues to be a big struggle for a lot of companies.

  • Think beyond the job title and find out how they fit into their organization and how they think of their own role. This will help you understand what they do and what that actually means to them.
  • Really good content addresses and answers your audience’s most important questions. When you get a better understanding of who they are, you can start to identify exactly what those are. And from there, the kind of content assets that make an impact will start to become a lot clearer.
  • Our tedious audience research and thoughtful content creation won’t mean much if we don’t know how (and where) we’re going to connect with our most valuable users. Understanding the digital environment your audience lives in will help you make important decisions about how and where to present your content.

The Strategy

A content marketing strategy is one of the greatest contributors of content marketing success. However, creating and documenting a content marketing strategy is still one of the stickier concepts among a lot of companies trying to implement content marketing. In fact, only 40 percent of B2C companies and 37 percent of B2B audiences have a documented content marketing strategy. When you factor in things like keyword research and an editorial calendar and audience insights, it can quickly become an overwhelming document to prepare. But it doesn’t need to be. Very simply, your content marketing strategy is the line that connects content efforts to your most important marketing goals. From there, you can start to assemble the foundation of your strategy.

The Data

If we’re collecting data, we need a place to organize it. Just as an editorial calendar helps us keep our content creation practice in order, a scorecard keeps your data practice clear, organized and actionable. A scorecard is a spreadsheet that outlines the KPIs that correlate to your goals over the course of a three-month period. For each goal, you break down your quarterly target into weekly targets and report on those KPIs once a week. For example: Let’s say you receive an average of 500 Contact Us forms every quarter, about 38 per week. But you want to increase that to 1,000 over the quarter. That translates to a goal of about 77 Contact Us forms filled out per week.

The Content

We’ve prepared our strategy, understand our audience and know how we’re going to define success. Now let’s create some content. We still see a lot of people who think quantity is king of the content game. But consider this: Back in 2012, there were about 500,000 blogs published every single day. Today, we’re publishing 3.5 million blogs a day. That’s a TON of content. It’s impossible to win on quantity alone. You must have something valuable to say. TrackMaven recently reported that brands published 35 percent more content last year, but they got 17 percent less engagement. Quantity content adds to the noise. Quality content adds to the conversation.