Let's clear this up: Inbound is itself a strategy. It's not just about content, or just about reporting, or just about social media. A strategy needs to be holistic to be successful.
Content marketing is just one part of your Inbound strategy, but a rather large part. And that's why you need to create a plan for creating and distributing content. The value of an Inbound content marketing plan is all in the structure of the plan itself. Make it well-rounded and powered by the right information and you, like three-fourths of marketers are now doing with Inbound, will reap the results.
Inbound Content Marketing: Getting Your Bearings
Going into Inbound without a content marketing plan is like heading out on a roadtrip without a defined direction or stopping place, except you won't feel fun-loving and spontaneous — more like stress-loving and haphazard.
So before you hop in the driver's seat and ask your content creating co-pilot to start honing his sense of direction, do a review. Clarify your who, what, when, where, why and how.
Who will complete each component of your plan? (What are your human resources?) What exactly will you do? (Content marketing, of course, but what? Asking why first can help you define some of the "what," too.) When will you do it? (Within the next year, over the next six months, between now and August 30?) Where will you do it? (Maybe you've got two or three social channels and a blog to use.) Why will you do this? (Because you want traffic? Because you want a lower cost per lead? Because you want to increase conversion rates? This is built into goal setting.) And finally, how does this relate to your customers' needs and how does this fit into your company and department's larger strategic goals?
The Five Top Components to Your Inbound Content Plan
Building off of your review, start considering what resources it takes to create and execute a plan.
We can tell you right now that you'll at least need the following five things to be successful: Budget, goals, measurement techniques, human capital and technological resources.
So budget requires buy in, which you'll need to get from your higher ups in order to move forward, and that requires discipline in building your plan so you can make a case for its ROI. That's where your goals come in. Are you trying to, for example, lower cost per lead, as we discussed in the "why" piece of your review process? How will you prove that you've done this? (The answer should define your measurement techniques.)
And if you want to reduce CPL and you'll measure it via a marketing analytics platform, do you have that platform in place? What about all of the tools you'll need in order to execute content creation and distribution, things like email marketing automation, a blogging platform and an easily editable website that allows for landing pages and CTAs? Do you have those in place? And the people to actually complete the processes, too? There's a lot to consider here, but all of it folds into those top five needs. Once you know you've got them locked in, you're ready to start defining your full plan — and at this point, you will have already developed a lot of it through sussing out these responses.
Forming Your Plan
The first step in any good Inbound content marketing plan is the development (or in some cases, revival) of your buyer personas. If you've got those in place, you can better understand where exactly you'll market the content you produce.
Before you start actually creating the content and marketing it, you'll want to identify and build presence in those places. It's not only about the where (yes, we have a Facebook page!), but also about your involvement there. Is your brand a staple of online communities and groups? Are there places your personas would frequent that aren't your company social pages? Identify the channels you want to use to market your content in step 2 of forming your plan.
Next, consider your lead qualification process. That's one of the most important aspects of content marketing — being able to follow through. What good is it if you get 200 leads from Facebook, but Sales never learns about them? If your portal is a mess and you don't have standardized qualification data, you won't have any way to qualify leads or anywhere to send them. So step 3 in forming your plan is identifying your lead qualification and passing process.
From there, the content creation can begin.
Responding to Challenges
Marketers' challenges have changed over time. Today, you aren't just tasked with keeping up with new automation platforms and managing content creation with limited resources, but also with reporting on ROI. So try to always remember that your content marketing plan should help you respond to these challenges —including that new and sticky financial one — because ultimately, if you don't have your goals and reporting tied to ROI, then you don't have a successful content marketing strategy.