Avoid adding to the online noise by creating content that matters to your buyers. And the best way to get your content to move your audience to take a desired action is to have your content resonate with them.

“Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat. Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.”
General Sun Tzu

We are currently conducting a Content Marketing Readiness survey of associations and, shhhh, here’s a sneak peek: only about 25% of associations so far report having a content strategy. I expect it is far less at small businesses like law firms or other professional service firms.

Putting out a lot of content without a clear and comprehensive strategy is like mining without a light. You’re sure to wander and squander resources, like time and money, both precious commodities these days. “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

We know that having an organization-wide content strategy is critical to success. It’s so important that it is Tenet #6 of our Content Marketing Manifesto. With all of the channels that are greedy for content and resources being as thin as they are, you must get the most from your content. The only way to accomplish this is to have a solid content strategy. You can leverage your content to achieve key business goals, but you have to start with a strategy. After all, when was the last time that you achieved an important goal without a strategy?

Here are the nine steps to create a content strategy that you can start working with today.

Step 1: Identify your customer segments

Also called buyer personas, these are composite profiles of real people (or members) who buy what you’re selling. Adele Revella is the undisputed queen of all things buyer persona and she offers free templates to help you create your own. But before you get started clicking on these fantastic resources, keep in mind that it is critical to execute buyer personas well. Please do some homework before you act.

Once you are done, you might have 4-6 buyer personas – or you might just be surprised to end up with just one – complete with names, pain points, needs, job titles, and more details about their environment. But, the only details that you will need are those that are relevant. Keep in mind that each persona calls for a unique marketing approach. And, indeed, it might be interesting to learn that you have a 62-year old male customer as well as a 21-year old female, but if you wouldn’t market to them differently then they are represented by one persona. Some organizations, like associations might have more than 6, but I challenge you to look for where your segments’ interests align so that you can efficiently develop content assets that serve multiple segments as one buyer persona, whenever possible.

Step 2: Identify the Short-Term Business Goals of Your Organization

Long-term goals like ‘make the best yoga apparel’ or “serve the needs of chemists and researchers around the globe” are too broad to guide your content efforts. What you need to know is that your organization plans to cater to the prenatal yoga market including developing a new line of pregnancy yoga apparel. That’s an immediate and specific goal that can guide your content choices and ideas.

Step 3: Align the Short-Term Business Goals with Appropriate Personas

Next, match your Buyer Personas with your short-term business goals. For example, you are not going to connect Matt to the new prenatal yoga apparel, even though his wife may be expecting. You’ll have a Buyer Persona who is pregnant; you’ll know how far along she is and whether this is her first pregnancy.

Step 4: Audit Your Content

You’ve probably got a lot of content, but where is it? Who wrote it? What is its map, in other words where has it been distributed already? What are the keywords, tags and meta data associated with each content asset?

Step 5: Devise What Your System of Content Governance Will Be

If you don’t have the resources to dig back and organize your existing content, start doing it moving forward. Keep your files well managed and searchable. A CMS or an Excel spreadsheet will work for managing your content assets and their data. When you need to search “pink maternity yoga top” you should be able to find everything that you have created that includes that data from a Facebook image to a video to a Top Ten list. Also you will want to append data to your files after the content has been released like “best seller” or “most webinar attendees from this.” Don’t forget your calls to action – use them in your content but also document them in your governance files.

Step 6: Set Goals

What do you want to be the goal of this content? Webinar registrations or sales of pink/gray racer back maternity yoga tops. Every content asset should have a goal and you’ll get best results when you let your audience know what the call to action is. “Register today” or “download this free ebook.” You would think that doesn’t need to be said, but I have seen it often. ‘Hey, I like this,’ I’ll think, ‘now what do I do?’ The content asset offers me no help. You may have seen this in videos, at the end there is no url, no offer, no call to action of any kind. Now you won’t make the same mistake.

Step 7: Track and Measure

The true measure of whether your content hits a home run can be measured. Were your goals achieved? When your goal can’t be directly measured you can measure correlations. Want to grow awareness? Then track clicks, likes and shares. Want to see more pink/gray racer back maternity yoga tops sold? Then track how many were sold. But also, where they were purchased, were any discount codes used? If the purchase was made online, what brought them to your site? Was it that Facebook image you posted of a pregnant woman with a caption that reads “I can’t see my feet so please tell me if I need a pedicure’ with the call to action to buy this cute yoga shirt to keep eyes off her feet?

Step 8: Adapt and Plan

You are going to learn a lot from using a content strategy. Be nimble and adapt to the findings and then plan to do more of what worked. And don’t forget to amend your Buyer Personas with what you learn about what your buyers really want.

Step 9: Go To the Mountain

Your buyers are out there talking about what they need — think of it as free marketing research. But where is their community? If you’re lucky it all happens in your branded community, but perhaps it is on your Facebook page? Or is it Twitter or SlideShare where the conversation is happening? Maybe it is at your organization’s annual face-to-face conference? Find where they are, go there and be a valuable contributor to the dialogue (no selling!).

Now you’re on your way. Do I think that this will get you a super robust content strategy? No, but if you are operating without a net at this time, then this gets you really far. Really, really far.

What’s your reason for not having a content strategy? What compelled you to read about creating one?