It’s the question I get more than any other lately, and it’s one of the most important questions you’ll answer in marketing your startup:
How do I create a content marketing strategy that works?
That will take several thousand words to answer, and then you’ll have to create your own strategy. Yep, ultimately it’s up to you.
To help, I’ll be writing a series of articles over the next several weeks, starting with this one. Each will progress from general to more specific at each step, to provide a blueprint to work from.
The first step is to get your head right. In other words, you need to begin with the correct perspective to succeed with online content as a marketing tool.
Mainly, you need to begin with the end (the result you want) in mind. This is where content marketing strategy fails … essentially when there isn’t a executable strategy in place at all.
Agile content marketing is the answer. Because no matter how wrong you get it at first, you can always make it right if you abide by this general philosophy.
Once again, we can borrow methods that have been proven to work by others. Some software companies have been using an agile methodology for quite a while.
Standup comedians have been doing it even longer. Let’s start with them.
How Stand-Up Comedians Develop Content
The word agile used in this sense comes from the world of software development, and is based on iterative and incremental development. Meaning, as with lean manufacturing, you start with something simple, understand that it needs improvement, and quickly make those improvements based on feedback.
With agile content marketing, you’re not starting with a minimum viable product. You’re first trying to build a minimum viable audience using the same lean principles of iterative and incremental development, so that you understand how to grow the audience further and better understand what they want to buy.
When applied to content marketing, agile development can be best understood by the way stand-up comedians write, test, and refine their acts. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not some isolated act of creative genius; it’s a process of iterative and incremental joke development.
- First, a comedian writes material. These jokes are based on what the comedian thinks is funny based on an educated guess of what might be funny to the audience.
- The comedian knows the act needs to be tested and improved. So, she heads out to small comedy clubs and performs the initial jokes in front of a live audience.
- Based on audience response (laughter, or lack thereof), after each performance the comedian cuts certain bits, tweaks others, writes new jokes, returns to the stage, and repeats. At some point, she arrives at a honed set of material that is then taken to larger venues, a comedy special, or other setting where a more polished performance is important.
Simple, but not easy. You’ve got to have the courage to just put it out there, and then objectively and progressively adapt.
How to Create Content that Isn’t a Joke
Similarly, agile content marketing follows the same 3-step process:
- Start with an educated guess for a content approach
- Release content knowing it’s likely flawed
- Optimize constantly based on feedback
It’s that rare approach that encourages disciplined execution and constant innovation at the same time. This ready, fire, aim methodology actually boils down to four distinct steps:
This is the phase of the process where you’re making your own educated guesses. Those guesses come primarily from general market research into who you’re trying to reach, what they’re currently buying, what they need to learn to solve their problems and/or satisfy their desires, and how that can relate to a general class of products or services they want to buy.
Research is vital, but at some point you need to settle on the overall positioning of your website, and start putting content out. You don’t need a theater or stadium-sized audience, just the equivalent of a small comedy club. Even then, you’re going to have to work to get your content viewed and shared enough to generate meaningful feedback.
Iteration means the act of repeating and refining a process in order to reach a certain result. In mathematics, it means taking the output of a function and using that result as the starting point of the next function. Likewise, with content, the results (comments, shares, links, etc.) you receive from an initial content “experiment” fuels the approach you take with the content you produce next.
The first three steps are repeated endlessly for the life of a project, just like the evolving editorial focus of a magazine, production cycle of a TV series, or career of a stand-up comedian. Mistakes are made and pivots performed. But you’ll also discover the content that is fundamentally crucial to your website – what I call cornerstone content (see also this article) – which can be organized and optimized as a constant workhorse for your content marketing efforts.
Help … I Need More Detail!
I know, I know … but as I said at the beginning, getting into an agile content marketing mindset is the first step. Without this philosophical framework in place, your efforts can quickly slip from iterative to idiotic.
Up next, I’ll walk you though a 5-step process that details more specifically how to execute on an agile content marketing approach. After that, I’ll drill down even deeper into a production process to create content that works as effective marketing, not just as filler on a webpage.
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