A 5-step practical guide to creating a killer content marketing strategy from scratch

This guest post comes from Stuart P Turner, a professional search marketer and Englishman abroad, currently heading up the SEO team at Agency M. You can connect with Stuart on LinkedIn or Twitter.


Content Marketing. Marketing, with content.

This phrase is self explanatory and yet incredibly ambiguous at the same time. Do you need to change your job title? Do you need to join a creative writing group? Should you start wearing a turtleneck and smoking thin cigarettes?

Allow me to whisk aside the curtain and reveal some easy or, dare I say, common sense ways in which you can do marketing… with content.

Step 1 – Stock take: what’s out the back?

It’s very important to note right at the outset – every company has a huge amount of content floating around. The natural product of human activity in the workplace is data; information is everywhere in your company, but maybe you’re so far into the wood that you can’t see the trees.

Content marketing operates in the ‘awareness’ and ‘consideration’ space way up the funnel, so it’s more than likely that the first touchpoint with your brand is not triggered by an acquisition-oriented need, but rather research or casual web browsing. This is where you can reach people with content most effectively.

Take a step outside of your role, your company and your professional mindset, then look at what you are trying to promote with fresh eyes. What would lead you to getting in touch with your company?

Start by:

  • Examining what kind of information you collect,
  • asking yourself if you you have proprietary or unique market insights, and
  • using Alexa.com to get some high-level (free) demographic and up/downstream insights.


Step 1b – Flick on the wireless: what are your competitors or customers talking about?  

OK, I know I said this was five, but it’s five and a half! It’s very important to understand what people are interested in, talking about and sharing before you start talking yourself. As the old saying goes, you’ve got two ears and one mouth. We can all talk, but it’s no use if nobody is interested.

Start by:

  • Using Google Trends to see what topics are trending or emerging online, and
  • stalking your competition: follow your competitors on social networks, subscribe to their newsletters and see what they are talking about.


Step 2 – Clean out: what’s vintage and what’s just junk?

Hopefully after taking stock of your potential content assets, you’ll have a decent idea of what information you have within your company that you can use to create something interesting. Quite often companies produce internal reports, have existing relationships or employ amazing people, all of which gets lost in the day-to-day operation of the business.

Now you need to go through the process of qualification – is it a beautiful evergreen, or a gnarled, moss-covered old stump?

Start by:

  • Remembering that not every piece of information you keep is going to be useful. Sense check against trending topics and your competition (see above) to make sure people are going to be engaged.


Step 3 – Spruce up: you’re in the block, but there’s less paint

Now that you have your vintage piece of company heritage, it’s time to give it a facelift. You can’t expect people to pay top dollar for something you just ripped out of your attic. Reinvent what you have, don’t reinvent the wheel.

Content marketing in the digital space means creating engaging, long-term content that will either get eyes on your brand, engage people actively or allow you to capture data / convert them. So old-school printed catalogues won’t necessarily be the best way to engage an audience of environmentally conscious, multi-platform wielding Gen Y-ers.

Start by:

  • Thinking digital! How can you make this content interactive, engaging and accessible on multiple platforms?
  • using free services and not being afraid to test, and
  • calling agencies and ask them for case studies to get some more solid information (we have plenty and we’re not afraid to share).


Step 4 – Promote yourself: don’t be scared of social

Whether you like it or not, social media is an essential part of our lives, and it’s not going anywhere. The days of sticking your head in the sand and ignoring Facebook are over; you need to learn to embrace and leverage relevant networks to your advantage.

You have access to huge, free, aggregated audiences and services that would cost you a fortune to set up yourself, so use them. Don’t be scared of people making negative comments about your brand – would you rather they do it behind your back? 90% of successful content marketing is simply identifying issues or customer concerns, letting people know their opinion has been heard and then having a conversation in the right place.

Start by:

  • Using your own (or friends’) personal profiles to investigate networks before you engage,
  • not doing too much all at once, instead focusing on one or two networks at a time, and
  • using free tools to test management and CRM on social (such as Hootsuite or Social Mention).


Step 5 – Success: it might not be what you expect

Success can come in a variety of forms when you start leveraging your content in new ways – do not be fooled into thinking you have to go viral to be successful. It can be something as simple as building up your audience, engaging a particular demographic or building up your own mailing list.

As with any marketing activity, having a clear goal, targets and KPIs will allow you to define what success looks like before you start creating and promoting content.

Start by:

  • Setting clear goals at the outset of your campaigns, but don’t stick to acquisition or sales metrics.


Overall, it’s worth keeping in mind that content marketing is really just using the things you have in new and innovative ways. Technology has pushed search and social media so deeply into our everyday lives that we almost don’t notice new ways to interact with the world around us.

These new touch points require new ways of delivery to get your brand in front of people. There are almost endless options to explore but hopefully this quick list has given you a practical flavour for how to get started.