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Demystifying Content Marketing with a Step-by-Step System

Content marketing can be confusing. There are a zillion tools, a zillion tips, a zillion ways to create content to spread your marketing message, and it all falls under the umbrella of content marketing. All the options alone can seem daunting. But it doesn’t have to be.

What you need is a plan.

A system. A checklist that you follow for every single piece of content you make. And it doesn’t have to be complicated or terribly time consuming.

So I’m going to let you in on a secret. I’m going to share with you my plan. And it may not be ground-breaking, lightening-in-a-bottle genius, but it may demystify a few things about content marketing for you, and put your own plan within reach.

Crafting the plan.

This plan started coming together in my mind almost 3 years ago as I launched into this business, and it’s evolved a lot since then, but these bones that I set down as far back as June of 2014 haven’t changed.

There are a lot of details to think about in a smart content marketing strategy, but this is the beginning.  This is the beginning of sanity and success when it comes to content marketing.

This is also the beginning of Essentialist blogging: creating less, but better content.

Set out your buckets.

Creating “buckets” is one of the places I ask my clients to start when they are thinking about their content marketing strategy, because it helps them get clarity around what they want to accomplish with your content.  

You might think of these as categories or themes; I call them buckets. It’s all semantics.

The important part is that you understand your big “why” — what you hope to accomplish overall with your content marketing — and you define your buckets to help you achieve that why.

For example, if you are blogging to generate leads for your products or services, you might choose to set up one “bucket” for each of your products or product groups. That way, you know that any leads generated from the posts in bucket A should lead to a sales message for product A.

I suggest starting with three buckets, but you might have more or less. There’s no hard and fast rule.  And there’s no right or wrong answer as to how to set this up. The point is to create a framework to help you understand where each piece of content fits into your overall business plan.

Brainstorm ideas.

Once you’ve got your buckets, you want to fill them up by brainstorming ideas.  If you have trouble in this department, it’s the reason I created the Content Intelligence Academy, and I’m absolutely certain it can help you (because I’ve seen it help so many others in the same boat!).

The key here is that you don’t censor yourself. Generate as many ideas as possible.

Nothing is too stupid, too basic, too far out to be included.  

Have one central location where you store these ideas.

Once you have a big mega list of ideas, start categorizing them and putting them into your buckets. Is one bucket fuller than the others? Maybe you need to brainstorm some extra ideas for the others. Does one seem to have a lot of topics that could go together and maybe feed on one another?  Good. Make a note of those.

Demystifying content marketing with a step-by-step system
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Construct your pillar content

Those ideas that all went together to create something bigger than themselves? We’re going to take those and use them to construct your pillar content.

I love the visual of having pillar content. It makes me think of Greek temples with big white columns holding everything up.

Pillar content creates the base that holds up much of the rest of your content marketing. Pillar content should be one of your big ideas, and something that really sets you apart from other people in your niche — either because it’s new and different, or because it’s going deeper or wider than other people have taken it, or because you’re making things easier…

It doesn’t have to be totally new; it does need to be different.

This kind of content is also frequently referred to as EPIC content — which I also like. Goes well with my Greek temple visual.

Once you’ve identified your pillar content, choose the format you think will be the most powerful for this particular piece of content. Remember your why. How does the format you’re choosing for the content support its function?

Support, promote, and repurpose.

You’ve got your big idea, and you’ve figured out what format you want it to take. The next step is to brainstorm all the very many ways you’re going to support and reuse it.

Let’s say for example that your pillar content is going to be a webinar in which you divulge your amazing ideas.

The first thing you’re going to want to do is support that webinar by creating a series of blog posts that lead up to it. Then you might want to run a Facebook ad campaign to drive sign-ups. You’ll need a “sales” page (whether the webinar is free or paid) to get people to sign up. You might want to do guest posts or be interviewed on podcasts to promote the webinar. You will definitely want to have emails that both encourage people to attend, and then encourage them to take an action after they attend.

These are just some of the ways you might choose to support this pillar content. But you also want to be able to repurpose the content.

The most common way of reusing a webinar is by offering a replay. But you might also edit it down into clips you can send in an autoresponder series, or share in a series of follow-up blog posts. You might have the whole thing transcribed and turn it into an ebook. If you used a slide presentation for the webinar, you might convert it and share it on SlideShare. Or you might upload the whole thing to YouTube.

As you can see, once you get into this mindset, the options for supporting and repurposing pillar content are practically endless.

Again, ask yourself how the form these supporting pieces of content take will support your overall function. (For example, some people don’t like to watch videos, so having a transcript gives you access to another segment of your audience. Or, if your goal is growing your email list, you’ll want your supporting or repurposed content to be things they have to opt-in for.)

And be sure you have a solid plan for how you’re going to promote this content. Because the best content in the world isn’t worth squat if nobody sees it! Make a plan for how you will get this in front of the most eyeballs.  It should start with your social networks — but never end there. Consider who you can email, what communities and groups you can promote in, and whether you will have a budget to advertise it.

Create.

The next step in the plan is to create your pillar content.  Notice how far down on the list this is!

There’s a lot of planning that goes into these pieces of pillar content, and there’s a good reason for that. Most people think that the creating — writing the post or ebook, recording the podcast, presenting the webinar — is the most important part. But I’d like you to think for a second about all the massive amounts of content you’ve created that you’ve done nothing with.

How many posts got the kind of traction you hoped for? How many felt like you were talking to an empty room? This kind of planning we’re talking about takes some of the Russian roulette feel out of creating content.

You know your epic post is going to make a big splash — because you’re the one doing the splashing.

Schedule.

How often will you create and share this pillar content? This may depend on a variety of factors including how long it will take you to create, how much supporting content you have (and when you will share it), and whether you are creating to support a sales cycle, like the launch of a product.

You may decide that you want to focus on a single content pillar exclusively for many weeks in a row. On the other hand, you may choose to intersperse the content related to your pillar with other “smaller” content. The choice is entirely yours — but you’ve got to have that plan, either way.

We’re taking the guesswork and the “luck” out of creating epic content.

Imagine your content is a traditionally published book.  Some authors get published by a big publisher and think they’re going to be a huge hit! But unless the publisher supports them with a strong PR and marketing strategy — setting up a book tour, sending out press releases, providing review copies to important critics, taking the book to library conferences, and so on — it might be the best book ever, but a lot fewer people are ever going to read it.

You’re creating a framework to be your own marketing and PR department by building your content marketing around a solid goal, a piece of pillar content, and your big why.

It not only takes away the terrible “what should I write about this week” problem, but also ensures that the precious time you do spend creating content isn’t wasted.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

This final step is key: we’re not looking for lightning that strikes once, but creating lightning in a bottle, a plan we can replicate over and over again.

Once you’ve gone through the cycle, analyze what went well and what didn’t. How many people came to the webinar? Downloaded the ebook? How many people actually signed up to get the transcript? Was the traffic from SlideShare or YouTube worth the work to put the content up there? What was the most popular format for the information? The least popular?

Tweak your plan and repeat. Pick another pillar, another bucket. Cross link back to the information from your first pillar (it’s evergreen; the cycle never truly ends). And, frankly, after some time has passed, you might start promoting old pillars again.

If you’ve done this correctly, new visitors and followers will be just as interested in that content as the original viewers were.

If you’d prefer this information in a more digestible format, I’ve created a handy-dandy worksheet / checklist for you that you can download here. See that? Supporting content.

tl;dr

The key message I want to impart to you here is that your content marketing isn’t about tools. It isn’t about tips and tricks. It isn’t even really about the medium. Successful content marketing is about having a plan and making that plan work for you.

If you’re interested in discovering how this method could work for you, I’m pleased to announce that I am now offering 1:1 bespoke Strategy Sessions for entrepreneurs who know that a content marketing strategy could multiply their success — but aren’t sure how to make it happen.  

Click here to read more about the Strategy Sessions and apply.  

Originally published January, 2015. Updated February 2017

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8 Responses to Demystifying Content Marketing with a Step-by-Step System

  1. Great post. I use scheduling as a way to monitor my time management for all that I share, and these tips will add to my social media repertoire. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

    #ibabloggers

  2. Well said! I feel so good to now actually have a content planning calendar, ideas for the whole year (just need time to write), am repurposing content…I feel so much more efficient and organised! #ibabloggers

  3. I absolutely love your site and I was thinking of considering it as a feature on Let’s Make Your Blog Awesome. However one of you pics is not showing up in this post and are your click to tweets supposed to look like this without a link – [Tweet “In #contentmarketing, you have to be your own PR dept.”] Just wondering. Maybe the glitches are on my my end. Let me know. I love your style. #ibabloggers

  4. Sorry. “your pics” and do you notice the word “one” is cut off above? I am sincerely trying to be helpful 🙂 I promise. I am going to buffer your site because it is so super cool 😉

  5. Hey Lacy,

    Setting out to succeed with our own business requires managing time well. If not done properly, not only will we waste time and not efficiently achieve our goals, but we may also find ourself losing clients, money, and possibly even the business, itself.

    Developing an overall plan of action will aid us in achieving our goals. Content marketing always need some unique approch for better innovative result. We know that content is the most important thing for search engines and crawlers.

    We should always try to write content so that reader enjoy while reading.
    Sometimes, blog posts can have an overwhelming amount of information for the reader and the writer. The mainly trick is to organize the info so readers are not intimidated by the length or amount of content. Eventually, thanks for sharing your worthy thought with us.

    With best regards,

    Amar kumar

  6. I’m about to start a whole new blog so I’m going to take this as an opportunity to actually do things right from scratch. I started my ‘main’ one in 2009 and so much has changed since then – this time I don’t want to be spending my time (or effort) on experiments that don’t really work!

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