Content marketing is designed to target a specific audience, be utilized in a specific context, and achieve a specific goal (or goals). Because those interrelated functions are wholly unique to the person or enterprise initiating the content, each content marketing campaign must be approached in a unique way. Different approaches yield different results, and only a precise series of tactics and strategies will guide your campaign to success.
The mistake many content marketers make, especially those new to the strategy, is attempting to build momentum based on instinct. They plunge into the campaign, trying to build early momentum—which isn’t bad in and of itself—but they don’t have a solid foundation from which to start. A grounded foundation, and therefore a precise direction, can only come as a result of thorough research and analysis. Through research, you can determine your ideal target audience and how to communicate with them. You can discover the most appropriate strategies for content creation and syndication, and you can identify which metrics are most important to measure for your overarching campaign.
The problem at this point then becomes: how do I perform this research? In the modern world, “research” usually either refers to a quick Google search to find quick, easy answers to common questions, or a full-scale original research endeavor to uncover new truths about the world. The former tends to yield unsatisfactorily detailed results and the latter is ridiculously expensive, and outside the budget for most small- to mid-sized businesses.
Fortunately, you don’t need either of these types of research to ground and direct your content marketing campaign. Instead, try focusing on these four types of research:
First, take a look at what you’ve done in the past. This research will not be relevant only if you’re a startup just beginning to emerge. Take a look at the types of content you’ve done in the past and how well they’ve fared. Are there certain types of posts that have reached a wider audience than other types? Are there specific mediums that tend to attract more attention than others?
Even if you’ve never implemented a content marketing campaign before, you can use historical data in your organization to drive the direction and context of your content marketing campaign. For example, if you’ve run advertisements in magazines before, what types of messages seem to drive the greatest results? If you’ve recently rebranded, what qualities of the new brand make the most impact with new customers? These questions will be important to answer when you start identifying the core themes and intentions of your content campaign.
Next, you’ll want to take a closer look at your target demographic, and this can be tricky if you’ve only recently begun a digital marketing campaign. For example, if you are a manufacturer, you may have a very specific type of customer who traditionally works with you, but you may have a very different type of customer who finds you on the web and wants to work with you.
Use your current understanding of your company’s target audience in combination with additional research to uncover your typical web visitor. You can find this demographic information in Google Analytics, assuming you have the script installed on your site. With this information, you should be able to form at least one key buyer persona that you can use to shape the voice and direction of your content.
You aren’t alone in the content marketing game, and you definitely aren’t alone in your industry. Competitive research will help you identify the key industry players who are currently using content as part of their strategy, and learn how their strategies have succeeded or failed.
You never want to directly copy a competitor’s content strategy, but you can learn from those strategies and use that information to develop your own. For example, if you find that one competitor has found success in publishing research-based whitepapers, you can start brainstorming for a whitepaper series of your own. If you find that a specific topic attracts a lot of attention, but isn’t explored fully, you can dig deeper into that topic using your own resources.
Finally, you’ll want to get involved in conversations on social media, and this can combine elements of both demographic and competitive research. Here, you’ll be able to see real potential customers engaging in real conversations—what topics are important to them? How do they react to different types of material? You’ll also see your competitors in their own environment—how do they approach social syndication? How much success have they found with their current strategies?
In addition to this information, you can start segmenting your audience in the form of Twitter Lists or LinkedIn Groups, and use real-time information to shape how you plan to share and syndicate your material.
Data from your research should help you form conclusions about your environment, and from there, you should be better poised to design and implement your campaign. Just bear in mind that while objective data and research are important, your own feelings and intuition should not be ignored. Your instinctive vision for your content campaign should be grounded by your research, not immediately replaced by it. Successful content comes as a combination of factors, and the more prepared you are to move forward, the more efficiently you will.
Want more information on content marketing? Head over to our comprehensive guide on content marketing here: The All-in-One Guide to Planning and Launching a Content Marketing Strategy.