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5 Steps for Creating a Content Marketing Strategy That Drives Business Results

Here are five crucial steps your brand should take to create a content marketing strategy that grows your business and drives results.

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"Never ask for anything, and especially from those who are stronger than you. They'll make the offer themselves, and give it of their own accord" — that's one popular quote from Mikhail Bulgakov's book, The Master and Margarita. Even though Bulgakov didn't mean that in the context of , that's a generally good rule. Content marketing is one thing that provides the most inbound requests. In other words, make people come to you first and offer themselves.

According to , 78% of companies with a documented produced effective, meaningful content. Content marketing generates over three times as many leads as outbound marketing and costs 62% less. However, it's essential to ensure your is creating content that's useful to your customers and able to further your company's long-term goals. There's an overwhelming amount of content available in digital spaces, so here are five crucial steps your brand should take to create a content marketing strategy that drives results:

Related: 4 Simple Steps to Creating an Effective Content Marketing Strategy

1. Figure out your narrative

The most memorable and successful brands have one thing in common: They tell an engaging, consistent story. Storytelling is the heart of a great content marketing strategy, so investing the time and resources necessary to perfect this aspect of your business is important.

Psychology Today notes that stories help humans increase feelings of empathy by releasing the "happy" chemical oxytocin and reducing the stress hormone cortisol. The right story still sparks that primal part of the human psyche that engages our emotions and fosters a sense of meaningful connection to each other and the brand telling the story. In essence, stories are how we think and assign meaning to our lives.

Anyone can create a meaningful story around their product or service, and 92% of consumers say they want to see ads that feel like a story. is a notable example of this. Buying furniture isn't exactly the most exciting task. However, customers are incredibly loyal to Ikea, not because of their quality or prices, but because they've created an immersive narrative around experiencing the aspirational joy of designing your home with simple, elegant pieces that reflect who you are.

2. Research your target audience and channels

Before creating a compelling narrative, you must know to whom you're telling the story. Generating leads and traffic is consistently one of the most challenging aspects of marketing, which is why it's essential to research your target audience thoroughly.

Create an avatar of your ideal customer, and spend time fleshing out this person's backstory. What's their age? Gender? Average income? What kinds of careers might this person want? What do they do for fun? What type of personality do they have? The more three-dimensional you can make this avatar, the more intimately you can understand your target audience.

For an example of how this is done right, scroll through MoonPie's Twitter. They have perfected their brand voice to reflect their target audience: Someone who enjoys quirky humor and doesn't take themselves too seriously. As a result, they're highly relatable to their audience and facilitate engagement in a seemingly effortless manner.

Related: To Reach Your Target Audience, You Need to Use These 5 Steps

3. Generate content ideas

Did you know that, on average, 35% of companies have zero dedicated content marketing personnel? This means that it's hard to come up with consistently fresh content and stay on top of trends. Tools like UberSuggest, Google Trends and Buzzsumo are all great ways to maximize your content generation ideas when you don't have a dedicated team, but there are other things your brand can do as well.

Depending on your goals and audience, there are plenty of ways to generate eye-catching, shareable content ideas. You can set up trend alerts on platforms like Instagram and to capitalize on viral videos and memes, or you can even turn to your user base to create a user-driven campaign.

Neutrogena is an example of a successful user-generated content campaign with their Neutrogena Studios platform. For this, they've allowed customers to create video content submissions focused on skin health. Not only does this utilize brand loyalty and provide an evergreen source of marketing content, but it also requires minimal resources for a great ROI.

4. Decide on distribution

No matter how great your content is, your time and resources are ultimately wasted if you can't get it in front of the right audience. From ebooks, blogs and podcasts to graphics and webinars, there are countless ways to distribute your content.

Which channels you choose will depend on your goals and target audience. However, there are three main channels: paid (e.g., Instagram ads), owned (e.g., email newsletters) and earned (e.g., social media shares). In most cases, a successful content distribution strategy will be some combination of all three channels.

The optimal distribution strategy comes after defining your target audience and figuring out your narrative. These two steps inform the types of content you'll focus on, which helps you determine the best channels for getting your content seen and shared.

A key component of distribution is ensuring your owned channels are optimized, because this is the avenue you have the most control over. Oracle Vitrue's "Like Can Never Replace Love" campaign saw massive success because the company emphasized promotion through its owned distribution channels (e.g., staff, partners, influencers and customers).

Related: 4 Content Marketing Strategies to Boost Your Business

5. Measure your results

Every content marketing strategy needs goals and measurable KPIs to determine whether or not a campaign was effective. KPIs like content impact, engagement, traffic and sentiment are great starting points. Still, these can be further divided into more nuanced metrics like unique page views, conversions, top exits, bounce rates and social shares. Remember that the metrics will differ for each distribution channel, and understand that figuring out the proper baselines and metrics for your brand will likely take time (and some adjustment).

In the case of Casper, a sleep startup that has built its brand on content marketing, those metrics could be features in top-tier magazines that entail recognition among a broader audience. Despite its financial problems afterward, Casper had first grown rapidly, generating $30 million in revenue and expanding its team from five to hundreds of people in less than a year.

The company was featured as one of the most innovative companies by Fast Company in both 2016 and 2017. "The brand made a splash on social media, releasing a series of creative Snapchat and Instagram stories," they wrote. Casper also hired journalists and announced the launch of its own editorial venture focused on all aspects of sleep. So, no matter what, Casper has its own identity and a foothold in brand history.

Related: How to Craft a Content-Marketing Strategy That Works

Remember that your content should be emotionally compelling and purposeful. Great content marketing strategies allow brands to establish genuine connections with their audience. Don't be afraid to explore what will work best for your brand and try different options. Ultimately, it's essential to recognize that content marketing strategies are dynamic, ongoing processes that will shift and change over time. So, it's wise to start dedicating time and resources toward it now to get a jumpstart on the future.

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