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Creating content that connects brands with audiences

How to develop the skills of a content marketing agency without using one

If you type ‘content marketing agency’ into Google, you’ll get more results than you can probably handle. Perhaps you’ve made enquiries, thought about using one, or have engaged an agency before. If so, then you have a head-start.

But even if content marketing is still somewhat of an enigma or you don’t see what all the fuss is about, just bear with me for a while. As long as you can develop the skills within your own team, and you follow certain approaches, you can manage your content marketing yourself. And the more committed you are to listening and responding to your audiences, the more likely you are to achieve success.

Based on recent research, 62 per cent of companies outsource content marketing and 60 per cent of B2B content marketers find it difficult to produce engaging content. If this is the case, why am I talking our agency out of a job?

Well, content marketing is about recognising that you have a choice, rather than battering you with promotional messages. It’s also supposed to be helpful, so that’s exactly what I’m trying to do.

1. THINKING STRATEGICALLY

DECIDING WHAT YOU WANT YOUR CONTENT TO ACHIEVE

One thing I’ve learnt about developing a content marketing strategy is that there’s no single, agreed way of putting one together. This is very much in your favour. But before you get carried away and jump into content creation mode, there are some key elements that your strategy should contain.

Define your goals

It’s the start of the year and you decide to go on a summer holiday, what’s the first thing you do? Packing for your trip would be a tad premature at this stage. But knowing what you want from the trip is essential. Once you’re set on your objective, the logistics follow (destination, bookings, items to take etc).

Every project must have a purpose. Content marketing is no different.

  • Get together with key colleagues and decision makers to establish your reasons for creating content. Be clear on what you hope to achieve with content marketing. Is it to get your brand name out there? Are you aiming to expand your customer base? (Silly question). Is customer engagement and retention a high priority?
  • Next, outline what value you can provide for your audiences by being a content creator? How unique will can you be? What’s required to make it work and how can you substitute the skills of a content marketing agency?
  • Consider the risks involved too, not just the opportunities, and envision what success looks like
  • When you’ve done that, ask yourself whether it all makes sense? If there are any doubts, you should be posing another question: is content marketing right for us? It doesn’t work for every business

Understand your audiences

Let’s get this straight: the content you create is not about you. There’s no place for being self-congratulatory. Your content is for the people you’re trying to reach, so ensure you know who they are.

  • Create a profile of your customers by putting together customer personas. Each persona represents a customer group. You’ll find lots of help on the web about what to include. Step away from just the demographics and get a sense of interests, pain points, needs and challenges
  • Once you have your personas, work out how you’ll engage with them at different stages of the buyer journey. This starts with your prospects knowing nothing about you, through to taking the action you want them to take

Develop your brand story

This is the stage when you carve out your identity. When you step back and look at yourself from the outside in.

  • Discuss what makes your company special – and be objective about it. You’re unlikely to be totally unique, but you will be different to the competition in some way. How is that differentiation interesting to the people you’re trying to target? What can you do to help your personas and how can you do it better than your competitors?
  • Now craft your brand story and map out the main messages you want to communicate

Set your success measures

I know you’ll be tempted but try to avoid jumping straight to lead generation metrics. Yes, content marketing is ultimately about building your business. However, other KPIs make an important contribution too.

  • You will have touched on this while coming up with your reasons for becoming a content creator. Now’s the time to assess how you’ll know if you’ve been successful
  • The measures you put in place need to be linked to the goals you set earlier
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. Content marketing takes time to gain traction. It’s all about relationship-building and influencing buyer decisions

2. PLANNING YOUR CONTENT

WORKING OUT HOW TO SET YOUR STRATEGY IN MOTION

The next area to tackle is a big one. It involves deciding on the tools and topics, and the processes and people that are going to drive your content engine.

  • Select the content channels you’re going to use. Some are obvious as you’ll have a website and social accounts already set up. But you’ll need to agree what channels are appropriate for your audience
  • Think about the hot topics that affect your personas, and the gripes or niggles they have. How will you tackle them?
  • Create a content calendar for the next year. This may seem like an impossible task, but don’t be put off, it’s totally doable. What you’re compiling is an outline of your topics (mentioned above) with estimated dates and content types. This is also a moveable feast, so be prepared to continually amend your schedule depending on how your content goes down. You’re not a content marketing agency, but you can become a fully-fledged content creator. Once you’ve got used to analysing your results, you’ll know what to keep, delete and update
  • Select your team: the people who are going to be part of the process. Between them, they’ll need a variety of skills. These include planning, writing, editing, proofreading, design, video production, approvals, uploading, amplifying and promoting content
  • Don’t forget to factor in quality and standards. Being joined up strengthens your efficiency and improve perceptions of you. An editorial and design style guide will also set your brand voice and encourage consistency across your activities
  • Respect and adhere to deadlines. There isn’t much more to say on this. If it helps, use a free project management tool like Zoho so you stay on track

3. CREATING YOUR CONTENT

AGREEING WHO’S DOING WHAT AND WHAT THEY’RE DOING

Research

Research is the foundation of your content. Doing it well should propel you ahead of your rivals.

  • Keep abreast of what else is happening in the content space to exploit the gaps. Sometimes simply adopting a different angle to your competitors or doing what’s been done even better will get you noticed. A tool like BuzzSumo could prove useful
  • Stay informed about what your company has to offer, especially the selling points that make it stand out. This may seem obvious but the people creating the content don’t always know your products and services inside out
  • Verify the statements you make with credible sources. If you can’t back it up, don’t include it
  • Research and update the information you have on customer personas as these will change

Writing, editing and proofing

You’ll need to have strong content writing and editing skills in your team, preferably in at least two people. Writing for a blog, email and social media all require very different styles. Plus, a fresh set of beady eyes that haven’t been immersed in the writing is paramount, for sense and quality checking.

  • Be confident. You know your industry well and it takes longer for an agency to develop that understanding
  • Be ruthless. Especially when a colleague (even your boss) insists on writing and you know it will take you longer to edit it than to write it yourself. We’ve all been there
  • Remember who you’re writing for. Draw on your style guide for your brand’s tone of voice. Use plain English. Make your copy clear and SEO-friendly (see section on SEO). Bring personality, colour and stories into your content. If you want to attract leads and customers, you’ll have to persuade and engage
  • Check your grammar and spelling as lots of errors are unlikely to go down well with your business prospects. There are free tools to tap into. Explore an automated grammar checker like Grammarly or a spelling and grammar checker
  • Use your editor and proof reader to contribute content ideas too. They should also be able to make sure your content is relevant and meets the goals you set

Audio-visual

If you simply focus your content on writing, you’ll be missing a tremendous trick. AV plays a crucial role and you don’t necessarily need a content marketing agency for it.

  • Don’t overlook hidden skills in the team. Is there anyone who’s good with a camera? You may well be surprised to learn about their creative pursuits outside of work. Could there be a budding videographer whose skills you can hone? There was a time when video needed to have high production values, but not that’s changed. Audiences are more forgiving if the content is good. Investing in a few courses and selected software could set you on the right track

Design

Graphic design isn’t a skill you can learn overnight. However, if you don’t have the capability internally but you have brand guidelines and a content schedule, outsourcing it could be a good option.

  • Decide what kind of design you need when you’re planning your content. Design isn’t limited to images and infographics, and email templates and e-books. Consider the look, feel and user experience (UX) on your website too. This should be as seamless as possible
  • Choose images that represent your company well and help break up copy. Put together an image library, if you don’t already have one, and use templates to make your processes easier

4. OPTIMISING AND PROMOTING YOUR CONTENT

ENSURING YOU GET THE WORD OUT

SEO (search engine optimisation)

If SEO is meaningless to you, get yourself up to speed. It’s a critical part of content marketing that you should embrace. SEO helps prospects to find you. Some of those prospects will turn into leads. The higher you are on SERPs (search engine results pages), the more likely people are to find your website.

  • Write to attract organic search traffic. Your writing should draw people to your website who are searching for products and services like yours. This partly involves keyword research
  • Sign up for a Google AdWords It’s free and will help you find the keywords relevant to your industry
  • Optimise your title, headings and body copy, and label your images correctly. Your content should also be topical and fresh, and the appropriate length and structure
  • Be aware of all the other factors that affect SEO. These range from the quality of links to your website, visitor interaction on your website, and how people engage with your main social sites
  • If you don’t have a dedicated role in your company, get an external assessment of your website to review how it’s built. Then optimise it to rank better for search engines
  • Monitor and review your website on an ongoing basis, as it will have an impact on your content efforts

Social media activity

  • Avoid falling into the trap of using your channels for random updates and messages. And don’t assume that it’s a job a graduate or novice digital marketer can do with no guidance. A social media marketing strategy is essential
  • Train whoever is at the forefront of these channels to be customer-focused. They’ll often be the first point of contact that a prospect has with your brand
  • Promote your content as widely as possible. There’s no point putting out informative or interesting pieces that no-one reads. Try to apply the 20/80 rule (made famous by Derek Halpern, marketer and entrepreneur). That means spending 20 per cent of your content on creation and 80 per cent on promotion
  • You’ll also want to do regular social listening to learn more about your audience and engage with communities in online groups and through influencer marketing. This is all designed to get more traffic back to your website

Email marketing

If you already keep in touch with customers and prospects, you may feel you have email marketing sorted. However, if you focus more on sending out content (including ‘your’ news) and not on engaging audiences with that content, perhaps it’s not working so well after all.

  • Think about the purpose of your email. Who is it for? If it’s aimed at a particular audience so they’ll buy and rebuy from you, make your email compelling and useful. Give your recipients a reason to open it, to read it and to click on your not-to-be-missed CTAs (call-to-actions)
  • Pay close attention to the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) when it comes to email marketing and personal data
  • Monitor your email analytics, identify what content is and isn’t doing well, and inform your team

5. TRACKING AND EVALUATING THE SUCCESS OF YOUR CONTENT

HAVING THE RIGHT TOOLS IN PLACE

Technology and data analysis

Because the content you create is largely digital, you’ll have access to a host of online aids.

  • Don’t just install Google Analytics, learn how to use it and do so religiously. Evaluate website and social interactions and find out what you need to fix
  • Try to gain at least a basic understanding of HTML coding and CSS, whether you choose to use a content marketing agency or have developers outside the team. It will help you learn more about what’s going on behind the scenes of your online content
  • Schedule and track social media and email marketing activities. Some platforms are free
  • Make data a central part of your processes – interpret it, gain insights, take action

So, there you go. You can do your own content marketing. And even if you’re producing content already but you’re not getting the results you expected, just take a few steps back. Review your processes and add the missing links.

If you’d like a little help to set things up, we’d love to hear from you. Caspian Media has a talented team of writers, editors and digital experts on hand to guide you.

Contact us for an informal chat.

By Heather Chappell, Head of Content Strategy

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