How to Create a Content Marketing Strategy in 11 Steps (2023)Jesse Sumrak
Your content marketing strategy is the secret sauce behind all your content success. It determines the who, what, where, when, why, and how of every piece you produce.
A well-defined content marketing strategy also helps stretch every dollar and streamline production processes. Whether you want to grow website traffic, increase leads, or drive conversions, you need content—but not just any content. You need a content plan.
A content plan isn’t:
- Posting every day on social media
- Starting an email newsletter
- Creating search engine optimization (SEO) focused content
- Developing how-to tutorial videos
- Launching a documentation aspect to your site
No, that’s not a content plan—those are content tactics. While each is fine and dandy, without being part of a greater plan and strategy, each tactic is just an isolated attempt to accomplish something.
But what is that something? What do you want your blog post to do? Why do you spend thousands of dollars on customer case studies, and who even consumes what you create?
That’s what a content marketing plan seeks to define and answer.
Below, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about how to create a content marketing strategy (the right way) in 2023. We’ll show you step-by-step processes for developing your plan, creating different types of content, and making sure you don’t forget anything with a checklist.
But first, let’s get on the same page about what a content marketing strategy is and why this matters.
What is a content marketing strategy?
A content marketing strategy explains how you’ll use content to get your customers to take a specific action:
- Sign up
- Try for free
- Renew subscription
- Explore new features
Your content marketing plan outlines the following:
- Why: The goal of your content plan—the results you hope to achieve.
- Who: The target audience—the ones you want to take action.
- What: The content you produce to get your target audience to take the specified action.
- Where: The channels you use to publish and promote your content.
- When: The schedule for creating, publishing, and distributing your content.
Example of a content marketing strategy
With the above definition in mind, let’s look at an example of a content marketing strategy.
Let’s say your cybersecurity business struggles to build brand awareness. Management decides it wants to increase traffic to the website’s blog and product pages, but it doesn’t have a large budget for high-quality video production or pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns.
With that in mind, you create the following high-level content marketing strategy example:
- Why: Your goal is to build brand awareness by increasing organic traffic to the website by 50% over the next 6 months.
- Who: You plan to target chief information security officers and IT support leaders.
- What: You plan to use top-of-funnel content explaining general topics surrounding your products and services. You plan to:
- Write SEO-focused blog content
- Create new product pages
- Ungate some of your lead-generation guides to distribute for free
- Optimize existing content on your site for target keywords
- Repurpose existing videos into blog content
- Guest post on partners’ websites
- Where: You plan to publish all the new and optimized content on your website, and you’ll use your email newsletter, social media channels, employee advocacy program, and partner websites to distribute content.
- When: You plan to begin keyword research immediately and use the first month to determine the high-priority content, allocate resources, and hire freelance writing talent. You’ll target the new product pages first, then release one piece of content every week.
That’s a very rough overview of what your content marketing strategy could look like—but it is a solid beginning to a plan.
Follow the 80/20 content rule
We’ll probably say this a few times (because it deserves repeating), but always follow the 80/20 content creation and distribution rule. This rough guideline suggests you spend:
- 20% of your time creating content
- 80% of your time promoting and distributing content
The fact is: just because you build it does not mean they’ll come.
Ambitious, inexperienced content marketing teams get hyped about their strategy and overemphasize the content production process. They produce amazing content on the internet that nobody can find.
And when it comes to digital marketing, that’s as good as never existing at all.
Spend the bulk of your time promoting your great content. That means you should invest time into:
- Drafting social media posts (and creating a regular posting cadence)
- Creating display ads
- Incorporating your content into email marketing campaigns
- Repurposing into other content formats
- Updating your internal linking structure
- Mentioning and linking to content in your podcast episodes
- Including content in the resource sections of your webinars
- Getting your content in front of influencers who might spread the word
- Sharing your content in answers to questions on Quora
Benefits of having a content marketing plan
Content marketing without a formalized, well-researched strategy is just throwing darts at the board and hoping one sticks. You can get by with this method for a while—you might hit 6-figure traffic numbers—but it won’t last.
When the slightest algorithm changes or numbers start to dip, you’ll resort to throwing darts again—and this time, you might miss them all.
A content marketing strategy helps you get from point A to point B. It lets you define success and work toward it rather than chasing vanity metrics and wondering how your content marketing succeeded while your business went under.
Here are a few of the data-backed benefits of a content marketing strategy:
- Productivity: 90.63% of internet pages get no organic search traffic (zero) from Google—that’s a lot of wasted time and money spent on content.
- Team alignment: 81% of content marketers found a documented strategy helped teams to align on common mission and goals.
- Content prioritization: 81% of content marketers say one of the biggest benefits of a content marketing plan is knowing which types of content to develop.
- Return on investment (ROI): 62% less cost is directly attributable to outbound marketing, although content marketing generates more than 3x as many leads.
B2C vs. B2B content marketing strategies: What’s the difference?
Now, let’s talk about business-to-customer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) content marketing strategies.
B2C and B2B content marketing strategies share a lot in common, but there are a few crucial differences:
- Target audience: With B2C marketing, you usually just try to convince one person to buy a product (and maybe their partner too). However, with B2B content marketing, you typically try to get an entire team or organization to make a purchase.
- Timing: Scarcity and urgency tactics work with B2C content marketing. With B2B, not so much. Businesses tend to take weeks or months to make a buying decision and won’t rush to sign on the dotted line.
- Channels: While you can sell most B2C products on Instagram and TikTok, it’s not the same for B2B. B2B often uses white papers, webinars, demos, tutorials, and videos—this is a generalization, holding most of the time.
While B2B and B2C used to use different content marketing strategies, we’re starting to see overlap more often. Now, it’s possible to sell some B2B content with fun, exciting content on social media—and some B2C businesses have taken advantage of traditional content, like demos and tutorials.
The takeaway: Recognize the differences but don’t be afraid to experiment and see what resonates best with your audience. Just because you’re a B2C company doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of webinars—and just because you sell B2B products doesn’t mean you can’t engage with customers with live streaming or Twitter posts.
Step-by-step process to creating a content marketing strategy
Following a formalized step-by-step content marketing production plan will ensure you leave no stone left unturned. Resist the temptation to jump around here—the value is from starting from the top.
The best content idea will flop if not supported by the right strategy, goals, and promotional plan.
Take Hoover, for example. It had the idea to boost sales by placing an advert (content) promising 2 free flights to America when a customer bought £100 worth of Hoover products. The result? Hoover made £30 million in sales (woohoo!) while incurring £50 million in plane ticket expenses (boo!).
Follow this step-by-step process to ensure you get your whole plan right.
1. Identify your marketing goals
Set key performance indicators (KPIs) for what you want your content marketing strategy to achieve. There aren’t any wrong goals. However, you can have the wrong content for the goals you’ve set—and vice versa.
Here are a few KPIs to consider:
- Site traffic
- Lead generation
- Brand awareness
- Free trial sign-ups
- Customer lifetime value (CLV)
2. Determine your target audience
Define your buyer persona clearly. Who will read your content, and why should they care? What are their pain points?
Content marketing also gives you an opportunity to expand your target market. Your business might have already identified key buyer personas, but your content marketing strategy might experiment by getting in front of other niches or groups of people.
Regardless of who you target, take time to understand them. Write down their characteristics and demographics. Discover what kinds of content they enjoy and consume.
Now (this is the most important part), take your goals and buyer personas and bury them deep in a cloud folder or file cabinet where you’ll never find them again.
Just kidding. Did it get your attention? Good.
Then, review your business goals and your target market regularly. Keep these resources available and revise them every time you create a new piece of content. Every new article, long-form guide, podcast, video, illustration, and infographic should contribute to a specific KPI and be relevant to a buyer persona.
3. Decide what content will help you reach your goals
Decide what content will bring your strategy to life now that you have your goals and target audience.
Want to increase sign-ups to your software-as-a-service (SaaS) SEO tool? You could create top-of-funnel video content on YouTube targeting SEO professionals. Want to upsell your current customers on a new upgraded pricing tier? You could build out an email drip campaign introducing them to the new features.
Remember: Always tie your content to a specific KPI and buyer persona. If you can do that, you’re on the right track.
4. Dive into the content research
Dive into the research once you have a broad overview of the content you want to create.
It’s not enough to know you want to write top-of-funnel articles about vacation planning—what specific blog posts will you create? Want to start a podcast series to increase brand awareness? What topics will you cover?
You’ll likely come to the content strategy planning phase with a lot of good ideas. Write those down, and put them to the side. These could have a solid place in your strategy, but let’s start with what the research shows.
Here are a few ways to begin your content research:
- Keyword research: Look at what your target audience types into search engines. What questions do they ask, and what results do they want?
- Traffic analysis: Audit your website and promotional channels to see what types of content get the most traction. Do you have a blog post, guide, or video that went viral? Have a massive Twitter following? Dive into the data and pull out more insights.
- Surveys: Ask your customers what they want. You can be candid with this. Want to increase upsells? Ask your audience: “What would convince you to upgrade to the next tier?” Want to improve lead generation? Ask your audience: “What types of downloadable assets could we provide you and your colleagues?”
- Up-to-date industry research: Check what the latest industry trends show. For example, you might find that TikTok has gained traction in your industry or that infographics have regained popularity. Use that research to back up your content strategy.
- Competitor analysis: See what your competitors do. This isn’t a surefire method for content research, but if your competitor has a seemingly effective content marketing program, you could learn a lot from them.
Here are a few research tools to consider:
- Google Analytics
- Google Keyword Planner
- Google Trends
5. Choose the right content marketing distribution channels
Remember the 80/20 rule? Spend 20% of your time creating content and 80% of your time promoting it. The content you create is crucial but not nearly as influential as the channels you use to distribute it.
Get your distribution channels right, and your content will get all the love it deserves.
Think of what channels you have at your disposal:
- Social media
- Public relations
- Direct-mail marketing
- Guest blogs
- Influencer marketing
6. Partner and collaborate with the right teams
Partner with the right teams and departments—depending on your team’s structure, you may already control social media, webinars, and email.
You need their buy-in before you create the content. If you can’t get their support, you’ll waste time and budget on high-quality content your audience might never find.
While it’s all for the good of the business, collaborating with teams might require a bit of give and take. They have goals to meet—and so do you. Come to the table with ways to align your efforts and help each other.
7. Perform a content audit
Audit your existing library to see what you already have before creating new content. Content marketing teams have a consistent problem of duplicating work, but this is where you can put a stop to that with proactive content management.
While auditing your existing content, ask these questions:
- Could we combine multiple articles into one to get the same effect?
- Do we already have an existing piece of content accomplishing our goal?
- Do we have any opportunities for repurposing content?
- How can we use an existing piece in our new campaign?
- Should we delete underperforming articles cannibalizing our latest content?
- Does this existing content align with our brand’s voice and image?
8. Build a content calendar
Create a schedule to put your content strategy into an actionable plan—this is the stage where you fit all your content pieces into the ever-shifting calendar puzzle. Your calendar likely won’t be set in stone, but that’s not the point. Building a content calendar is where you can plan the schedule for your content strategy realistically.
Go beyond just setting publishing dates. Schedule each stage in the process:
Remember: Collaborate with the teams responsible for your desired distribution channels. Depending on their bandwidth and other asks, you might want to accelerate or delay publishing a piece.
While most distribution teams are flexible with fitting in your pieces, you can show the same flexibility by editing your content calendar in advance to align with their campaigns better.
Here are critical dates to remember for you and your email marketing teams: 2023 Email Marketing Calendar.
9. Create the content
Get ready to create the content—the fun part. Imagine that, right?
At this point, your content has a goal, audience, research, promotion channels, and schedule.
While it might sound crazy to go through this entire process to get the actual content creation, this strategic approach ensures the quality of every piece of content.
10. Publish and promote your content
Back to the 80/20 rule (again).
You have a content calendar and know when to publish content, and now it’s time to make a plan for distribution. In step 5, you identified the right channels, and in step 6, you began to collaborate with the channel owners.
Now, it’s time to create a content distribution plan and calendar. A plan ensures you send messages with frequency, scheduling, and budget in mind.
For example, you need to get on your email marketing team’s schedule beforehand to avoid publishing your guide the same day they send their end-of-month newsletter—but you won’t know that unless you coordinate well in advance.
11. Monitor your metrics and performance
Monitor content performance now that you’ve released your content into the world. Metrics can influence updates you make to your plans for future content while providing crucial insights.
First, watch the metrics of your specific piece of content. Depending on its type, you might look for a few things:
- Conversion rates
- Sign-up rates
- Time on page
- Engagement (comments, likes, and so on)
Next, evaluate the distribution channels. You might find that certain promotional mediums work better than others—but you won’t know until you look at the data:
- Open rates
- Click-through rates
- Cost per conversion
Content marketing strategy checklist
This checklist condenses the thousands of words above into a succinct to-do list. While you’ll want to reference the points above to ensure you cover all your bases, this checklist will give you a visual to know where you stand.
Best types of content marketing strategies
There are endless content marketing strategies your business can use. Seriously, we can’t imagine listing all of them here—and we wouldn’t want to waste the space because not every content type is worth your time.
Below, we focus on the best-of-the-best types of content marketing strategies. These are the tried-and-true tactics successful timeless and everyday businesses use to accomplish content goals.
- Email marketing
- Blog posts
- Social media
1. Email marketing
Email marketing boasts an amazing ROI of $38 for every dollar spent. We know, we’re a bit biased, but we’d be irresponsible if we didn’t mention email marketing first.
However, the fact remains that email is a powerful content and distribution channel. Once you build your email list, you’ll have a base of subscribers who’ve asked to receive your content. That’s different from SEO and social media—where algorithms determine what content your user sees.
When someone subscribes to your email list, they request (and expect) your messages.
Here are a few ways you can use email for content marketing:
- Email newsletters
- Welcome emails
- Onboarding emails
- Nurture campaigns
- New content notifications
2. Blog posts
Blog posts serve plenty of content marketing purposes:
- Organic SEO-driven traffic
- PPC traffic
- Social media content
- Upsells and cross-sells
- Brand awareness
- Product updates
You can also promote your videos, podcasts, and infographics by adding them to your blog posts.
Video has been on the rise in recent years, thanks to better internet connections, more powerful mobile devices, and the rise of over-the-top (OTT) video content.
You can use video content to boost traffic from channels like YouTube and Vimeo or embed them within your blog posts to improve the content quality.
4. Social media
Social media is a must-have medium for most brands, but there’s never enough investment in the time, love, and energy that the channels deserve. Loyal followers across social media networks can be a huge revenue, traffic, and lead-generation driver for your business, but you’ll need to spend time creating high-quality content (not just reposting all your blogs).
Here are a few social media channels to consider for your brand’s content marketing:
- Facebook Messenger
Remember: Not every channel will be worth your energy. Think about where your audience spends their time—that’s where you want to be. Don’t stretch yourself too thin by trying to be active on every social media platform, either. Focus on quality over quantity.
Best practices for successful content marketing
Every content marketing strategy will look different, but there are a few universal best practices to keep your campaign on track. Follow these tips to get the most out of your strategy:
Stick to a cadence
Find consistency you can maintain—whether with your email campaigns, social media posts, or blog articles. It’s better to post once a week rather than sometimes three times and not at all other weeks.
Also, be realistic when setting your initial cadence, but don’t hesitate to switch things up. Feel like it’s too difficult to maintain 2 blog posts per week? Change it to one. Want to go from posting 3x a week to 5x a week on Instagram? Give it a go.
However, when it comes to email, ensure your audience is on board. If they signed up for a weekly newsletter, don’t switch to a twice-a-week schedule without their opt-in and approval.
Focus on quality over quantity
Don’t get caught up in trying to produce more and more content—instead, focus on high-quality pieces. Remember, 20% of your content will drive 80% of your results (yes, it’s the 80/20 rule again).
While you’ll likely write a fair amount of timely content, always try to identify evergreen pieces. Evergreen content stays relevant for longer—the benefits provided continue long after publishing. Sometimes, the content can last for years (and even decades).
For example, a post about the best social media channels in 2023 might not garner attention for too long. However, an article about email marketing best practices will likely offer relevant advice for years to come.
Scale what works
Resist the urge to chase every shiny new marketing object, as these will likely steal your attention occasionally. While it’s not bad to experiment with new ideas—it’s something you should always do—often, it’s not about finding new ideas but rather scaling your successes.
For example, if your blog’s organic traffic thrives and the Google search engine results pages (SERPs) show you some love, continue producing high-quality content. It’ll likely continue ranking well.
Then, scale it. Put most of your content efforts into what works, and always leave a tiny fraction to experiment with new ideas.
Experiment with new ideas
Don’t get stuck—always experiment with new ideas. Content marketing starts with creating content your audience loves, but those wants, needs, and trends change with time.
You might find a ton of success with your TikTok marketing strategy for a few months, but a new platform will likely emerge in the coming years, and you’ll want to shift attention there too.
Always try new ideas.
Streamline the content creation process
Create systematic processes for creating content. If you leave the processes all willy-nilly, you’ll find a mixture of quality—and you want consistency.
A content creation process could look something like this:
- Research the content
- Outline the piece
- Create an initial draft
- Get editor feedback
- Revisit the draft to implement changes
- Get a final review
- Post the content on your platform(s)
- Get a second set of eyes to view the published piece
Follow the 80/20 rule
Remember the 80/20 rule always.
After launching your program, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day tasks. Management might ask for more content, and the paradigm will likely shift from promotion to publishing.
However, it’s not always about more content. Often, it’s just about better promotion and distribution.
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