Anyone who tries to tell you that creating a content marketing strategy is easy is selling you a lie. If anything, content marketing and operations are more complex and chaotic than they’ve ever been.

Our prospects’ and customers’ expectations and preferences are constantly shifting.

New channels are emerging at a rapid pace and affinity for them shifts just as quickly.

This ever-changing environment creates the hamster wheel for continuous content generation that challenges quality, context, and relevance.

Content production causes overwhelming noise in channels making it difficult to break through.

As proof of this reality, research by Sirius Decisions finds CMOs say their top strategic priorities include:

  • Enhancing the customer experience, but they’re hindered by organizational readiness and insufficient data
  • Addressing changing buying behaviors, but their teams are challenged to create content that resonates due to a lack of buyer insights
  • Adapting to changing economic conditions, but they have trouble prioritizing growth opportunities and generating high-quality leads

Content Strategy vs. Content Plan

Planning a content strategy takes patience, brainpower, and a honed skill set. It’s important that you know the difference between a content strategy and a content plan. Per CMI research, only 37% of B2B marketers have a documented content strategy. Research from DivvyHQ found that 64% of content pros struggled with developing a comprehensive content strategy, 46% said that ensuring content ideas align with strategy is hard, and 42% cited staying organized.

A content strategy is a document that distills why your company produces content (goal), the value the content provides to a specific audience (personas), and what your company will get from it (ROI). The outcomes from your content marketing strategy should align with your company’s business objectives. A content strategy serves as a litmus test against which all content and program ideas and event opportunities should be validated to ensure you’re delivering on the promise and objectives you’ve committed to.

A content plan is the tactical execution of your content marketing strategy. This includes your editorial calendar, program and events calendar, workflows and processes, and the underlying technology stack to support your plan—which is increasingly anchored by a content management platform.

Simplify Content Strategy and Operations Planning

Even as markets, technologies, and expectations change, there are ways to simplify your approach to a content strategy that will improve effectiveness. This doesn’t mean it will be “so easy that your grandma can do it,” but they will help you to gain control toward achieving priorities that currently seem out of reach.

Develop and Refresh Buyer Personas

Buyer insights are the most important data you can gain to increase the level of relevance and context that make for excellent experiences. I often hear marketers state, “We know our audience, let’s get to content.” But when I ask them to detail what they know about their audiences, I usually hear high-level details that include title and company firmographics and goals like reduce costs, but not much else. No wonder marketers lament that they have trouble creating content ideas that resonate.

I would argue that well-researched and constructed buyer personas will keep those content ideas flowing. Not only that, but you’ll be able to visualize (which means you can help them visualize) what it will take for them to choose to solve their problem with your help.

Recommended for you: Strategic Planning Templates

Buyer insights provide the foundational core of your content operation.

Formulate the Vision for Content Strategy

What’s the big-picture view of what content can accomplish for your company? What do you see as the highest value content marketing can create for your company that’s mutually beneficial to your target market(s)? Now back into that. What incremental steps can you take to build that vision and outcome? Each step you envision should tie to internal business goals and external audience goals (needs). Which problems does your content seek to solve for both sides?

Each step should be a building block toward orchestrating further outcomes and building momentum toward the big-picture view. Clear goals and outcomes are the results of planning, collaboration, and communication. Taking this incremental approach breaks down a daunting project into digestible pieces, kind of like putting together the pieces of a puzzle.

With the identification of each step, the next will come into view. Building the vision in this way helps you to build a purpose-driven narrative at the same time. It’s not simple, but it is easier, as well as more effective.

Identify the Metrics to Measure Content Success

It’s important to identify the performance metrics that will serve as a gauge of your content strategy’s success. These will vary based on each step you’ve decided you’ll incorporate to build up to the big-picture view and outcome. Choosing your metrics during your strategy development will allow you to look at your processes, distribution plan, and technology to validate what’s possible to measure.

At the earlier steps, it may be awareness and engagement data. In the later steps, it may be sales and revenue metrics. Whichever metrics you’ve chosen, you need to make sure they’ll reflect the content’s (or program’s) ability to meet the goals set for it.

Consider the Role of Technology Carefully

Technology has become the shiny object B2B marketers turn to when looking for a silver bullet. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but the adage “if it sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true” holds water.

Technology can become a true enabler for your content strategy. However, as you’ve reviewed the above steps to embracing the complexity of planning a content strategy, none of the thinking and design of that strategy is dependent on technology. This is work that must be done before technology enters the picture. So, be leery of vendors that promise more than is possible or reasonable for them to deliver. Without the right foundation, the technology will just serve to amplify incompetence.

This said, a content marketing platform (CMP) can effectively play the role of a strategic hub for your content operation. The worst thing that can happen is for your strategy to sit unused in a file folder. Look for a platform that will keep your team aligned on your engagement strategy, bring visibility and alignment to the volume of activity needed to execute your content plan, and embed structure into your marketing processes for consistent execution.

Planning your content strategy is difficult enough. Make sure you have the technology to support your content operations to bring it to life.

Until you have the technology to better enable your content strategy, check out these marketing templates for strategic planning.

Ardath Albee

About Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee is a B2B Marketing Strategist and CEO of her firm, Marketing Interactions. She’s written two books, the latest is Digital Relevance: Developing Content and Strategies That Drive Results. Ardath helps B2B companies with complex sales use persona-driven content marketing strategies to turn prospects into buyers and convince customers to stay. Follow her on Twitter at @ardath421.