Content marketing without a strategy is a lot like throwing spaghetti at a wall.

(Stay with me here.)

When you’re cooking spaghetti, one way to tell if it’s done is–supposedly–to simply fling the noodles at the wall. If the pasta doesn’t stick, it’s said to need more cooking. (But, how long exactly?) If the pasta does stick, that means it’s done – or, more precisely, overdone. That’s because al dente spaghetti is perfectly cooked before those test strands will stick to anything.

In other words, if you use the cook-and-fling strategy for cooking pasta, you’ll always end up with either under- or over-cooked noodles. You’ll never find that sweet spot.

Content marketing without a strategy works the same way.

Sure, you can gather data about what’s worked and try to incorporate it into future plans. (And you should be doing this). But that’s not a strategy in and of itself.

In both scenarios, you’re taking this thing that you’ve cooked up, tossing it out there, and hoping it sticks. There isn’t much planning involved and you’re unlikely to get the results you want unless your timing and luck are really great.

But enough about pasta. Your audience is hungry for content: meaningful, relevant, purpose-driven content – and that’s a dish you can’t serve without a content marketing strategy.

Invest in Strategic Content Marketing, Not Just “Content”

All good marketers know the value of content – which is probably why everyone seems eager to create more and more of it all the time. 

More content equals more customers, right?

In theory, yes. But the reality is more complicated.

It’s true that content marketing done well (a.k.a. coupled with a solid content marketing strategy) can drive powerful business results.

The problem, however, is that most content marketing isn’t really strategic at all. It’s just a mix of “cool topics” and a list of keywords.

Even great content, with a lack of strategy, will not generate results.


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Yet, businesses are spending more money every year on so-called content marketing, even if they aren’t seeing returns. It’s getting increasingly expensive to create content that’s not backed by strategy.

What this means is if you treat content like a filler – something you “know you need” but aren’t quite sure why – then you’re likely just burning cash. The reason you invest in content marketing should be in pursuit of a specific marketing and growth strategy. 

“We need to publish 1 post per week,” isn’t a strategy. It’s a distraction.

How Much is Spent on Content Marketing that Doesn’t Work?

According to the Content Marketing Institute (CMI)’s most recent report, almost half of all B2B marketers planned to increase their content marketing budgets in 2020. 

That’s pretty significant.

Especially because 46% of all B2B marketers – not just top performers – expected to spend more on content marketing than the previous year. 

That’s 46% across all industries and business sizes, regardless of whether they’ve successfully used content marketing in the past.

 

 

That means even marketers who aren’t seeing results (potentially due to lack of strategy) are still pouring more money into their efforts. 

This is a dangerous road to go down. If marketers don’t understand why they’re creating more content than ever before, there’s no guarantee they’ll see a worthwhile ROI.

Furthermore, CMI reports that only 43% of B2B marketers measure their content marketing ROI. Whether or not this percentage lines up with the same 46% who are increasing their budgets remains uncertain, but one thing we know for sure is this: Without a content marketing strategy, it doesn’t matter how much you spend – you’re not going to achieve results.

Without a content marketing strategy, it doesn’t matter how much you spend – you’re not going to achieve results.

Even worse, businesses that continue to invest in content while neglecting strategy are paying more every year to fail at content marketing. Talk about throwing money at your problems.

This is an expensive mistake that can (and should) easily be avoided. 

Metrics Alone Can’t Make Up for Lack of Strategy

You can’t hit goals you never set.

It’s not that marketers aren’t keeping tabs on content performance at all. According to CMI, 80% of B2B marketers use metrics to evaluate content performance and 65% have established KPIs.

But tracking metrics without strategy is never going to give you the full picture. Here’s why:

  • Without a defined strategy, how do you know what to measure? Or what success even looks like for a given campaign or piece of content? 

  • You might get lucky once in a while and find that your content seems to be driving results, but you’ll have no idea why and likely struggle to replicate it.

  • The easiest metrics to quantify aren’t always the most valuable. For instance, measuring how many likes or shares a piece of content gets isn’t helpful without an understanding of how those results fit into your content marketing goals. 

  • Tracking KPIs can be a valuable aspect of content marketing, but strategy is what allows you to tie content to specific outcomes. 

So, although evaluating content performance is a good place to start, it’s not all that useful if you don’t have any sort of strategy in place.

Many companies try to shoehorn KPIs onto a pile of tactics. They measure the most basic outcomes like the number of articles published or sheer traffic being generated, but not the metrics that matter like leads or sales generated from content.

Measuring content metrics is a poor heuristic for content performance.

How Do You Know If Your Content Marketing is Not Strategic? 

What does “bad” content marketing look like?

As with most things in life, there’s more than one wrong way to do content marketing (and more businesses are guilty of these than you might think).

Want to know if your content marketing is not strategic? 

If any of the following statements are true, then your content marketing is missing a key ingredient:

  • You treat all content the same
  • You prioritize quantity over quality
  • You still practice keyword stuffing 
  • You generate content without a specific goal in mind (no understanding of why you’re making the content in the first place)
  • You don’t have a framework for how each individual piece of content will help you achieve your overall goals
  • You don’t have a promotional plan for each piece of content or you promote every single piece using the exact same tactics

 

Creating content shouldn't be a guessing game.

When strategy is not part of the equation, there are a few different buckets that content marketing tends to fall into. Let’s look at some of the most common examples of how not to do content marketing.

“Post and pray” is not a strategy

Also known as “blog and pray,” this is a common variation of what I call the spaghetti method (i.e. throwing things around to see what sticks).

It’s a general approach that lacks any strategy and is simply based on publishing content and hoping for the best.

At the most basic level, this approach is flawed because there’s no purpose behind the content that’s being created. But, more importantly, this approach means that you can’t generate the compound results that come from doing content marketing the right way.

Volume posting is not a strategy

Spamming social media or your blog with high-volume, low-quality content is not a healthy approach to content marketing. You can’t trick search engines, or your target audience, into liking you by overwhelming them with content.

Each day, millions of articles and blogs get published.

Yet only a handful of those pieces ever achieve any real traction.

Most of the content that gets published is simply lost in the noise. And companies that churn out articles just to meet some arbitrary publishing quota are the ones that make up the sea of irrelevant links.

On the flip side, companies that invest in smart, targeted, and strategic content marketing can drive massive growth with just a fraction of the output.

Growth isn’t achieved through sheer force of will. It’s not a numbers game.

Volume is irrelevant without impact.

Keyword stuffing is not a strategy

We all know what it’s like to read an article written expressly for the purpose of keyword stuffing. It’s choppy, unhelpful and very likely written with the intention of impressing search engines, not people. (Even though keyword stuffing hasn’t impressed search engines for… nearly a decade, now?)

The point here is simple. Too many companies rely on outdated and ineffective strategies.

Publishing content is not a strategy (on its own)

Hitting publish on an article won’t move the needle.

The hard truth is that even well-written, informative content won’t generate results without any strategy behind it. This is in part because no strategy means no plans for promotion, link building, or any of the other activities it takes to drive growth.

Strategic content marketing means not abandoning content once it’s been published – but works to get that content in front of the right audience. That’s why delivering relevant content at the right place and the right time is a priority for almost all (93%) top content marketing performers. 

Content itself is just a tactic. Publishing that content is just a step.

Content marketing — as a strategy — means doing something meaningful with the tactics in order to generate a desired outcome. Without the strategy, you’re just throwing words into the ocean.

Why Does Strategic Content Marketing Matter So Much?

What is strategic content marketing?

It’s not about the word count, keyword volume, or scoring a certain number of backlinks; it’s not even about where you share it or even how many likes it gets.

Strategic content serves a specific goal. 

Strategic content marketing involves setting business goals for your content marketing and then breaking those goals down into actionable tactics.

So, to ensure your content is truly in line with your strategy, start with your primary goal. Figure out why you’re investing in content marketing in the first place.

Is it because everyone else is doing it? Because your boss told you to try it? Hopefully, those aren’t your actual answers, but consider this – if everyone else is investing in content (and they are), then it must be working for those who do it right (it is).

Here’s proof: Top-performers in content marketing are more likely to have a defined strategy (69%) than average- (41%) and low-performers (16%). 

Overwhelmingly, the most successful B2B marketers have a documented content marketing strategy.

 

With a documented content marketing strategy, you can increase your likelihood of success – whatever that looks like to your organization. 

The answer to why you’re doing content marketing should be the same as what you are hoping to achieve. That is, what results do you want to see from it.

Your main goal might be to:

  • Generate more inbound sales
  • Lower CPA of leads
  • Improve lead to sales conversion rates
  • Build brand awareness

Whatever the case may be, your content marketing strategy should be the link between the activity (publishing content) and the outcome (driving leads, sales, etc.)

What Does Strategic Content Marketing Look Like?

1. Strategic content marketing is goal-oriented

Strategic content marketing starts with defining your goals and understanding what type(s) of content you need in order to achieve your desired results.

Strategy should inform everything from what type of content you create (blog posts, ebooks, infographics, videos, etc.), what topics you cover, and who it’s aimed at, to where and how you post and promote it. 

Whether you’re hoping to drive more traffic to your website, fuel brand awareness, grow your audience, educate leads, increase conversions, or something else, reaching these objectives begins with clarifying what you’re trying to do. 

In order to execute on your vision, every piece of content should start with a brief that defines the purpose. It tells the writer and/or designer exactly why they’re creating this thing. With that information, they can be both creative and strategic, aligning the work with the stated objective.

2. Strategic content is valuable at every stage of the funnel

Top content marketing performers are more likely to create content that aligns with the customer journey. The latest data finds that 74% of top performers say they “always or frequently” tailor their content to specific stages of the customer journey, compared to just 48% of all B2B marketers.

To create purposeful content that contributes to your goals, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Know who you’re writing for. Why are they going to be interested in this piece of content?
  • What stage is the reader at in the buying cycle? A good content strategy accounts for top-, mid-, and bottom-funnel content.
  • What questions do potential customers have at different points of the customer journey? 

Read: How to Build a Growth-Focused Search Strategy for Every Stage of the Funnel

3. Strategic content is not a monolith

One of the most common mistakes that companies make is treating content like it’s all the same.

Different types of content are good at achieving different types of marketing objectives. If you set out to achieve a specific set of goals (you should), then you should engineer content that is specifically designed to serve that purpose.

Many companies expect their content to do everything.

One article to rule them all.

In reality, that’s not how strategy works. Some content is better suited to rank for target keyword. Other content is effective for generating links or driving leads. And, yet another type of content is better suited for generating likes and shares from a targeted community or social channel.

Strategic content marketing involves a mix of content types that achieve specific goals.

In some rare instances, there are content opportunities that work on all of these levels. But, that’s far and away the exception rather than the rule.

Most individual pieces of content are only good at achieving one specific goal. Your content marketing strategy should reflect that reality by identifying different types of content that work together as part of the broader content marketing strategy.


FREE BONUS CONTENT

Get the full list of strategies, tactics, and tools you need to plan and execute a content marketing strategy that will help you achieve explosive growth.

No tricks, gimmicks, or bullshit.

The Complete Content & SEO Growth Collection
Essential Reading, Tools, and Know-How


Content + Strategy = Your Recipe for Success

The biggest lesson here is don’t leave your content out to dry. (Followed closely by something about pasta.)

When you’ve got all the elements you need to create and execute effective content, don’t exhaust your creative and financial resources on content marketing that isn’t strategy-based. The point should never be to create content, put it out into the world, and then simply measure what happens to it or what it achieves. 

In order to invest in strategic content marketing that actually works, you need to start by defining your goals and strategy. 

Strategic content marketing requires deciding WHAT you want to do with a piece of content and what results you want to achieve before you create it.

Use your goals to define your content, not the other way around.


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