Content guru Stacey King Gordon offers expert advice for developing and maintaining a winning content marketing strategy for your company. 

If you've heard "content marketing" bandied about but are unsure what the term really means, you're not alone. Content marketing is a hot buzzword, but many companies and agencies fail to realize that it's much more than a trend to glom onto. Yes, businesses should absolutely consider adding content marketing to their toolkit, but it's critical to take the time to develop a thorough, customized plan.

If you've been enlisted to come up with a content marketing strategy for your organization, make sure you know what it is, what it isn't, and what it's going to take to deploy ­and sustain it.

To help you do just that, we spoke with Stacey King Gordon, president of Suite Seven, a San Francisco Bay Area content strategy and brand communication consultancy. Gordon has been doing content marketing for clients for seven years and will be joining Facebook as a content strategist in April. Here, she offers an overview to help you get started with your own content marketing strategy. 

Can you briefly explain what content marketing is?

Content marketing is the practice of using interesting content as a way to attract and engage with customers and prospects. There's so much marketing in the world ­– the average American sees up to 5,000 marketing messages a day, by some estimates. And we're training our brains to tune out all these messages being pushed at us.

At the same time, we are better-informed consumers than ever before, with access to endless information to research our purchases ­– and we crave credible, substantive content to help us in our research. The idea behind content marketing is that brands can provide that kind of content to pull in interested customers and become the expert source of information. So by the time customers are ready to buy, they already know and trust the brand.

On the flip side, can you fill us in on what content marketing isn't?

Content marketing isn't advertising or thinly disguised marketing messaging – or at least, it shouldn't be! It's also not the same thing as content strategy, which looks holistically and strategically at a company's entire content ecosystem. There should be strategy behind a content marketing effort, but content marketing by its nature is a marketing tactic.

Additionally, it shouldn't be the only tool in your marketing toolbox; it should complement other kinds of marketing, including paid advertising, events and PR. Last but not least, it's not a quick win or short-term commitment.


What are the first steps to effectively kicking off a content marketing strategy?

First, it's important to understand and narrow down your target audience's personas: their view of the world, their responsibilities, their roles in the buying process, and how they're influenced.

Next, you need to map out the kind of content that will best serve and connect with your personas at different stages of their relationship with your company: from the first moment they realize things need to change to their initial awareness of your brand to their research and consideration process.

It's also important to focus your content by arriving at your brand's "point of view" – how you see the world, what you believe is important, and what you want others to know and believe. This prevents you from trying to boil the ocean in your content efforts.

Finally, I'm a huge believer in considering as part of the strategy all the logistical details that will keep a content marketing effort high quality and sustainable: your distribution plan, brand voice, quality guidelines and KPIs for measuring success.

What processes and systems are helpful to have in place to execute a successful content marketing strategy long-term?

An editorial calendar is a must. We use Google Docs spreadsheets, which are easy, shareable and free. There is also software for editorial calendars.

We like to put a few processes in place to keep things efficient and sustainable. We map out publishing processes – timelines and roles for creating, editing, approving and publishing content. This is especially important in corporate environments where lots of people are often involved. We also create decision trees for how to take a piece of content and get a lot of mileage out of it: How do you turn that white paper into three blog posts, several tweets, a short commentary video and an infographic?

What roles will you need to fill to keep your content marketing strategy humming along?

It really helps to bring in a consultant to help you with the strategy – somebody from the outside who can help you define your point of view and take an objective look at your audiences and content mix. 

It is possible to transform your team into content contributors, but it's a difficult journey. The most important role is a content marketing manager who can coach writers, manage the editorial calendar, run content planning meetings and essentially run the show. This might be a freelancer or an in-house person.

It's also really helpful to have at least one or two writers and editors – professionals who can ghostwrite for your subject matter experts and coach anybody on your team who is trying to become a content contributor. You want the content to be high quality, and writing is a skill that isn't developed overnight.

How often should you re-evaluate your content marketing strategy?

It's good to check in about once a quarter to study analytics and evaluate at a high level whether you're on track with your business goals. About every six months it's wise to audit what you've done and look for any gaps or opportunities, and also review analytics to see which content performed well so you can plan more content on those topics.

Any other advice you'd like to share?

Yes! Be creative and have fun. If you're having fun, it will show and customers will enjoy your content more. Sometimes the most successful content is the kind with low production value, that's a bit more spontaneous and is really relevant to your audience. A great piece of video content, for example, doesn't necessarily warrant a big-budget, all-day video shoot – it could be something you film at a trade show and edit on iMovie.