what is a content strategy?

If you have an online business then you need a content strategy. But what is a content strategy and what does good look like today? Content marketing encompasses so much and there are a whole wealth of options a business can choose when it comes to marketing their products and services. So how do you know what will work for your business and avoid a scattergun approach that will exhaust you and confuse your customers?

You need a content strategy that, is well, strategic. That takes you on a series of steps towards your goal and does so in a connected way that makes it clear for your audience why they should buy from you.

Difference between a content strategy and content plan

When looking at what is content strategy, it’s important to differentiate it from a content plan. People often mistake a pretty content calendar and months of content planned out as a content strategy.

A content strategy and a content plan are not the same thing. The strategy is bigger thinking – the goal. The content plan is the steps you take the reach that goal.

Think of your content strategy as a map. You can choose several routes, each of those routes represent a different kind of content. Different choices you can make about how you communicate to your audience.

But the map takes you to the X that marks the spot of your goal.

Jo Milmine

“Content is only useful if it is consumed, and it creates the change you are looking to see from your audience. 

“It can’t do that if it isn’t consumed. The trick is to know what they have the capacity to consume, both in terms of time and space. There’s no point offering them a 6-course fine dining experience that takes three hours when all they have the time and space for is a chocolate Hobnob with their brew in their 15-minute break.

“Of course, the fine dining is going to be amazing – but only if it’s eaten. Think about how you can make your content consumable and actionable when you create your strategy if you want to get your desired results.” 

~ Jo Milmine, Podcasting Unpacked

Understand your goal

This is why you need to know your destination before you start planning your route. You need to understand your goal before you create a content strategy.

Depending on the stage you’re in with your business, you may have several smaller goals along the way. That’s perfectly okay. As long as you know your content strategy takes you to that big, main goal.

Your goal doesn’t need to be financial, but it probably is because you need to live. For many, having a financial goal is something concrete that can be measured easily with data. If you’re a startup, your goal might be to create a bigger brand awareness first and then get the sales you need to prove your product which then leads to funding.

Your goal might be to get a certain number of new clients. Or sell so many new products at a launch. (And we’ll talk about launch strategy later). Or it might be to hit a financial goal.

You might want to change the lives of people and measure your success by that. It’s entirely up to you but write this goal down so you know what you want to achieve from your content strategy

What steps are needed to get there

content strategy steps

Next, you need to break down the steps you’ll take to get there. For example, if you want to turnover £100k then you know you need to sell X amount of services each month. In order to do this, you need to reach potential clients. So to reach the clients you need to let them know you exist.

You start at the end and work your way back to where you are right now. Your current position may be that the clients you need to sell to already know who you are. This needs a different path than being at the beginning of the journey and future clients needing to discover you.

To create your content strategy, make sure you outline all the steps you need to take to get to your goal. Much like the map, you’ll have options of the kind of route you want to take. For example, to get new clients you may want to do a speaking gig or a podcast. Or you may find SEO is the best route for you. Or something else entirely.

But before you set your path, you need to make some more considerations such as…

Tools you have available

You may already have a lot of content ready to use and what is needed now is a content strategy to make that work harder. For this, you’ll need to do a content audit first. And then make some strategic decisions on how you’ll make this existing content better.

Or you may have already posted a lot on social media. Some of this can be recycled across your chosen platform.

Likewise, if you have a stash of newsletters – how many of these can be edited and reposted as social media, blog content or something else entirely?

If you don’t have oodles of content already, work out what you preferred way of communicating is and start there. It needs to be something that you’re comfortable with, that you can do consistently (and that doesn’t mean constantly) and that you can improve as you go.

What does the data say?

Next, you want to know that your efforts are being put into the right place. You can guess where your ideal client is going to see what you have to say or you can look at the data.

Likewise, if you are creating a content strategy to deliver a certain message or sell a service that solves a particular problem, data can tell you what your audience wants to know.

It may need a little testing, some trial and error. And it will certainly need patience. Content marketing isn’t an overnight fix. It’s a long-term strategy that, if you work at it, will reward you well.

How can you improve on what’s done before

I touched on this earlier but repurposing your content should be a core part of your content strategy. To go further here – if you have plenty of content then do a content audit and decide what of that content can be improved.

What can you go back to edit, add to and generally make better? This should be a step along the path to your goal if you want to make content marketing a key part of your business.

Since everyone is saying things online, you need to be heard above the crowd. That means standing out and doing things differently. It also means that the quality of your content needs to be your top priority. Creating quality content doesn’t happen instantly, it takes time. It means going back over things repeatedly and adding to them when the marketplace changes or you discover new ideas.

Plus, no one starts off with a perfect blog or podcast or video the first time. The very first things you create will embarrass you later. Because the more we do something, the more we improve. Especially if you are intentionally trying to get better at creating content.

So go back over that earlier stuff and see what you can add or edit out to make it better.

What you’re not going to do

Understanding what you are not going to do can be equally as important to your content strategy as what you can do. For example, I don’t put time and effort into Facebook. I don’t find that it brings business and I don’t like using it.

Likewise, online adverts are not a current step in my strategy so I don’t worry about them until I reach the point that I need them.

Understanding what you are not going to do and reminding yourself of this is hugely important to avoid that shiny object syndrome. Knowing there are all these new features out there on a platform where you have a dormant account is not helpful if that platform is not part of your strategy.

It is unlikely to bring you towards your goal if you get distracted by it. By all means, go and learn new skills and keep up to date with platform changes, but do not distract yourself from the steps you know will take you to your goal.

Brand and customer

So many businesses say that the customer is at the heart of what they do. Of course, they are. Without customers, you don’t have a business. But saying you put the customers first and doing it are two different things.

A content strategy will tie your brand, customers and actions altogether. You will bring your customers on this journey with you and make them feel part of the community if you have a clear content strategy and brand voice working together.

This part of a content strategy is much harder than it seems. What you are doing here is creating a community around your brand. It’s what every business wants to do because we are social, we like feeling part of something. We don’t like being on the outside. So you need to make sure your content strategy welcomes your ideal customer into your brand.

How you do this should be laid out in your content strategy. It can look like newsletters, workshops, conversations. Whatever makes it easier for you to reach that goal of yours.

Launch strategy vs long-term strategy

Your content strategy should be a long-term one because content marketing isn’t a quick fix. However, I do think you should have a series of launch strategies that form up part of the bigger picture that work slightly differently from your overall plan.

You don’t need to be launching a product to have a launch strategy. Think of it like hitting the warp-speed button your business. You spend a week or so pushing towards a certain goal. It may well be to launch a new product, but it could also be a launch towards better SEO. Or to build bigger brand awareness.

In itself, it’s not a content strategy. But it gives you a push rather than your plodding along at the same speed all the time.

I’m afraid there is a running analogy here. When you train for a race, you can train for distance. Getting longer and longer runs means you work slowly and steadily at your stamina. To get faster, you have to specifically do speed training. It’s sprinting and it hurts. It tricks your body into going faster over time but it’s exhausting.

Your content strategy is like that. You have your end goal and if you follow the strategy you will get there. If you add a bit of speed into it, you’ll get there faster.

Throw in a few strategic launches or sprints along the way and see how much you can achieve.

What does a content strategy look like?

I’ll tell you that it doesn’t look like a pretty spreadsheet with dates on it and what you’re going to post on each date. That’s your content plan, not your strategy.

Your strategy looks like a few assets. You might have a mind map, notes written down or brand guidelines. It may well be a list with your start point, goal and steps you need to take your goal. Your content strategy will most likely have your user journey and experience mapped out. And it will have the key dates you need to hit.

Plus, it will outline what you need to do and when. You’ll have chosen a path to follow and you’ll be tracking the data to make sure you’re heading in the right direction.

I’m cautious to avoid the free content strategy templates online because they may not work for you. I have a template that I adapt for clients depending on their destination and goal. But ultimately, to do content differently, you need to carve out what works for you.

Create your content strategy

Having a content strategy will absolutely give you clarity about what you need to do and stop you from feeling overwhelmed. You’ll avoid that pesky shiny object because you know what you need to do. And you’ll stop listening to advice that doesn’t necessarily apply to your business. Remember – just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.

Overall, a good content strategy should mean you create less content in the future and make it work harder for you. Which is good all around.

Need help with your content strategy?

If you need help pulling together a content strategy that works for your business, send me an email: fiona@indieessentials.co.uk and let’s book a time to chat.