Content marketing is huge in 2016. Much more than just another marketing activity to check off your to-do list, I believe content marketing is the future of the entire marketing industry. Why? Three reasons:

It’s low-cost.

While I’d advise occasionally paying to promote your content, most content creation is inexpensive or free. You can create an e-book from Google slides or start a free blog on Wordpress. There’s no excuse to not create content.

It’s long-lasting.

Crazy news: the lifespan of a single blog post is nearly 24 times the currently accepted measurement of 30 days. And the average blog post gets 99% of its impressions after two years. Check out this new research.

It shows customers you care about empowering them, not just selling to them.

Knowledge is power, right? If content marketing really is all about sharing relevant and valuable knowledge, then content marketing is also power.

Now that we’ve established why content marketing matters, here are the three phases I envision of a successful content marketing strategy, along with a few tips and pointers for each of those phases.

Phase 1: Research and Plan

“So, how do you figure out what your awesome content marketing project should be about? For me, it’s a combination of inspiration, creativity, and owning a conversation.
What big conversations are my prospects and customers a part of? How competitive are those conversations? Can I disrupt that space and/or dominate it?” -Jason Miller, Group Manager, Content Marketing and Social Media, LinkedIn

As Jason says, this phase of the process is all about putting in the up-front legwork for success later on. Think about:

  • What form will your content marketing piece take? We usually think of written content when we imagine content, but don’t rule out a webinar, video series, or even slide deck. It all depends on how your audience will most easily consume the information you’re sharing. If it’s more detailed information they’ll return to again and again, maybe an e-book is best. If it’s information best shown rather than told, maybe a video is just the ticket.
  • When should you publish? With a little planning, you can perfectly time the launch of your content to match up with important events. For example, content themed to coincide with a major holiday can be highly shareable, but keep in mind that you want to invest time and resources in content that will be evergreen, not shared for a week and then forgotten.
  • What does it really mean to use data to inform your content creation process? When we say to use data to inform your content creation process, what do we really mean? Ultimately, it’s all about focusing on your customer. The more research you do in the beginning of your content creation process, the better your final content will resonate. Seek data from your customer service and social listening teams to see what questions are top-of-mind for customers. Ask your web team which keywords and calls to action are most effective. You can rely on a wealth of data to help you drive better content.

Phase 2: Create Assets

“Process? Ew. I know. Process is one of those things that in many parts of life I consider hopelessly boring and mind-numbing. Like alphabetizing canned goods. Or peeling beets.
But in writing marketing content, process is necessary, because you need a road map to get you where you need to be.” -Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, MarketingProfs, and bestselling author of Everybody Writes

Even the best writers and editors who’ve been doing it for years have a process. Take a cue from content creation expert Ann Handley and figure out a roadmap that works for you, every time you create a new piece of content. In the content creation phase, also consider these tips:

  • Content creators work best when they’re not in silos. Try to set up a meeting with your writer, designer, videographer, or any other creatives early in the process. Then everyone can collaborate to be sure all content they create megaphones the overarching ideas of your piece.
  • Don’t forget to have an outside pair of eyes read your content. It’s science! According to recent research, “When we’re proofreading our own work, we know the meaning we want to convey. Because we expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier for us to miss when parts (or all) of it are absent. The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.” So partner up for a better finished product.
  • Think of your dream content marketing project as a Thanksgiving turkey. I love Rebecca Lieb’s analogy. She explains, “You cook up this giant bird to serve up on one glorious occasion and then proceed to slice and dice this thing for weeks on end. If you are like most families, you are going to be repurposing this bird as leftovers for quite some time creating everything from sandwiches, to soups, and more. Your content marketing strategy can be thought of in the same way.”

Phase 3: Share and Measure

‘“Build it and they will come’ has been dead for quite some time. It is relevant in the early days of any new platform, from SEO in the late 1990s to the newest social network, but once the early days are done, ‘build it and they will come’ ceases to be meaningful.
If you create content that is entirely topical (for example, newsjacking blog posts) and nothing timeless, then your content will always burn out quickly.” -Chris Penn, VP of Marketing Technology, SHIFT Communications

The last phase of a killer content strategy is the activation process. Many companies fail to remember this one and focus excess effort on phase #2. But phase #3 is equally important. Besides simply spending more time on activation, here’s how to get better at it:

  • Be a better internal activator. One of the most fail-safe ways to improve your content marketing’s performance is to improve how you activate content internally. For example, explain to your sales team how this piece of content will prepare leads to buy. Or tell your service team that this content answers a top FAQ. Make people at your company enthused and compelled to share, and your reach will benefit exponentially.
  • Even the most recognized brands pay to boost their content. Just watch a few pre-roll ads on YouTube and you’ll see some of the biggest names in advertising. Paying for extra reach can really help when you first launch a piece of new content and no one has seen or started sharing it yet. Just make sure you’re targeting a highly specific audience that you’re certain will benefit from the content you’re sharing.
  • After launch day, start paying close attention to what you can learn for next time. Where is most of your referring traffic coming from, whether social, a bylined article, or a blog post? Prioritize those channels for the next time you launch a similar piece. Looking back on the metrics, where were your hangups? Set up some meetings to fix those issues.
“The goal of any major content marketing initiative is not to create great content, but rather to improve your business because of that great content.” -Jay Baer, Bestselling Author of Youtility, Founder of Convince & Convert

It’s totally possible to reap massive returns from simple content marketing efforts—with the right strategy behind you.