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In our work, we see two approaches to content marketing: detailed strategy with little execution or vague strategy with thorough execution. Both are flawed. Learn how to set the content goals that drive results -- and provide a helpful framework at the outset.

If you spend any time on Instagram, you'll be familiar with the hashtag "squadgoals." The aspirational term encompasses what a group of friends wants to accomplish together, or underscores the successes of an existing friend group. Like a lot of social media, it's a term used to show off just how cool the user is.

#contentgoals is the #squadgoals for brand marketers and corporate communicators ?

And, like a lot of social media, there's a corollary for communicators. Let's call them #contentgoals. These are the measurable outcomes that you aspire to accomplish with your content.

It's not enough to check the box off your marketing to-do list and put content out there without considering your goals. It's also not enough to just have the goals and not execute a strategy that can make them happen. Here's one approach to make those #contentgoals a reality.

Define the content goal(s)

This is the most important piece of the process: defining the business objective of the content campaign. What is the desired impact on your business? This is usually singular, as the more defined you can be, the better. Common objectives include: sell more of a product, increase leads at a specific funnel phase, reduce cost-per-lead, raise awareness about a company, or enhance a brand's position in the marketplace through thought leadership.

Your objectives define the entire approach, so never skip this step!

There's no point in just creating content for content's sake. Some campaigns will nest objectives within a broader context. For example, a campaign to enhance a brand's positioning through content might break down further into a goal of placing more executives at conferences and to increase the quality of candidates applying to the company.

This is the best time to bring other folks into the discussion. Without the right people in the room, the objectives might not accurately reflect the organization's goals.

It's best to have the buy-in at the objective stage, and then move through the following stages with only targeted input. This prevents getting stuck in an endless roundabout of approvals.

Get inspired

Once you are aligned around objectives, now is the time to look externally. Keep an eye on industry blogs, mainstream tech news sites, analyst whitepapers, social media and other channels to identify brands using content in a way that achieves the same objectives. Just like all content is not created equally as far as quality, each content distribution channel/method is useful for specific objectives.

Observe the brands that seem to be achieving similar objectives and benchmark. Especially brands from outside your industry! There's a wealth of best practices from companies that might not play directly in your space.

First, look to trade media for in-industry examples. Next, to find inspiration from outside of your industry, start with a search for terms like "content conversions," "content conversion ideas," etc.

Plan the work

It's easy to get overwhelmed when it comes to creating content. Whether for a company blog or a product marketing campaign, the planning process is intimidating. The questions are broad and hard to nail down: What to say? How to say it? Which channels to say it on? How to measure success?

Sorry to say: There's no shortcut here. You simply have to do the work up front! So start answering the essential questions, using the objectives defined earlier as the framework to avoid scope creep:

  1. Who are we talking to? This might seem obvious, especially for those that have smartly defined the audience for their primary company blog. However, each content campaign is going to have its own defined audience. There may be multiple audiences, and then content will offshoot to target each audience. Avoid targeting too many audiences, because then you might not finish the campaign due to over-complexity.
  2. Why are we talking to them? This question might be partially or totally answered during the defining objective phase. Regardless, it's good to bring this reminder into the process here.
  3. What do we want to say to them? As marketers and communicators, messaging is our primary tool. Adjust you're messaging according to your audiences, And be sure to focus on their needs, not your company's. Those brands that only talk about themselves come across as selfish and aloof. No one wants to do business with those types of brands!
  4. What channels do we want to say it to them on? Hint: channels that your target audiences use! It's best to go where your audience is. While we advocate for owned media channels like company blogs, it takes work to get people to come to you. Look to blend your own channels with third parties. Engage forever your audiences are and push them back to your own brand experience.
  5. Who is responsible for creating the content? This includes laying out the approval workflow, with expected timelines. Be realistic here! Everyone on the team should know their deadlines, and you (as the manager) should back in whatever extra time is needed for delays.
  6. How are we going to measure success? With 22% of American CMOs/CFOs thinking that digital marketing doesn't tie its output to concrete results, try to move beyond vanity metrics to specifics. Vanity metrics, like pageviews or shares, don't tell a complete picture. Even if it takes more time to integrate content into marketing automation and/or CRM software, it's worth the time investment. If, for whatever reason, you can't make those integrations, consider adding a CTA to the campaign. Even an email capture form is a valuable measure. You could also ask a question like, "After reading this content, are you more likely to consider our company?"

How you go about answering these questions is organization-specific. If you have a consensus culture, then be sure to involve all necessary decision makers upfront to avoid bottlenecks later. In this case, you might want to fold this step into the Identifying Objectives stage. This reduces the chance that the project gets stuck in the organizational mud.

If you are flying solo, don't skip this step! It's easy to feel as if there's not enough time when you're the only one doing everything. Try to take it down a notch, draft these answers, and then refer back to your answers periodically. This will help if you get stuck at any point during the process.

Work the plan

Finally, execute! But don't get caught up in the excitement and forget the plan! It happens often: we get so caught up in doing the things that we forget why we are doing them in the first place.

Set some time on the calendar to refer back to the plan. This allows you to adjust the plan mid-way if you need to. The frequency should depend on the length of the plan: longer-term projects need more regular check-ins while projects with shorter timeframes likely won't need as many.

The final phase, after you've created the content distributed, is to the analyze performance against your plan. We're not going to go too deep into this here -- that's a perfect topic for another article.

Real talk: This is without a doubt the hardest part. After spending enthusiasm on planning, and effort on execution, it can be easy to get lost in analysis.

Work towards a "good enough" plan and leave fuel in the tank to cross the finish line! Once you have managed the complete process, you will feel proud and driven to do it again. And ideally, you will be armed with the metrics that help you make the case for continued investment in content across your organization.

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