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I’ve been writing a lot about content marketing lately, since that’s what I specialize in. Last month I shared some tips for creating better content and before that I talked about content marketing trends that are hot right now.

Now it’s time to really dig in to the “meat and potatoes” of how to create a content marketing program. This month I’m starting a new series that walks through the process of creating a new content marketing program from scratch.

Can You Commit to a Content Marketing Program?

Before you commit to creating a content marketing program, you should first make sure that content marketing is the right strategy for meeting your goals. Successful content marketing requires a significant investment of time and money and a long-term commitment. So be sure you’re prepared to make this kind of commitment before launching a content marketing program.

Content marketing tends to work best for businesses and industries where customer education is crucial. The financial services industry where I specialize is a good example. Financial and investment products can be complicated and lots of folks are unsure about how to manage their personal finances. So there’s ample opportunity for creating content that helps educate people about money management and investing.

An effective content marketing program can help you accomplish a wide range of business objectives, such as:

  • Building brand awareness.
  • Boosting customer engagement.
  • Generating quality leads.
  • Improving customer retention.
  • Cross-selling and upselling products and services.
  • Establishing thought leadership.

The idea is to educate customers and prospects so that they trust you enough to do business with you. Content should notbe hard sell — in fact, just the opposite. You want to demonstrate that you are the expert in your field and readers should hire your business to help them solve a particular problem or take advantage of an opportunity.

Define Your Audience and Create Your Strategy

Start by defining the audience for your content. In financial services, we often segment audiences based on their income or assets. Content targeted to lower-income and less-wealthy readers is written at a more basic level, while content targeted to what we call high-net-worth individuals is written at a more advanced level.

With your audience defined, it’s now time to create a content strategy. This starts by identifying content themes, buyer personas and the voice, tone and personality you want to convey with your content.

A wealth management firm I started working with earlier this year sent me a detailed content strategy document that contained an analysis of six broad topic categories. The analysis included SEO data for search terms related to each topic, the seasonality of the topics and potential article ideas categorized by topic. We then created an editorial calendar with specific articles scheduled to be published each month for the rest of this year.

Don’t neglect the importance of voice and tone when it comes to your content strategy. You may have worked hard to create an image and personality for your business in the minds of customers and prospects, and this should be reflected in the tone of your content.

Think of Rocket Mortgage, for example. They’ve created a fun, whimsical image for their brand with their goofy TV commercials and print ads. So have insurance companies like Progressive, with Flo the blue-bibbed insurance lady, and Geico, with the gecko and the caveman.

On the flip side, traditional financial services firms usually convey a more conservative tone with their messaging. Who can forget the Smith Barney commercials where the distinguished-looking John Houseman, sitting in an elegant restaurant or standing in front of a historic mansion, says that Smith Barney “makes money the old-fashioned way — they earnit.”

Choose Your Distribution Channels

The next step is to identify your content distribution channels. These typically include the following:

  • Your business website and email
  • Industry-specific and special-interest websites and discussion boards
  • Social media sites like LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter
  • Image-sharing platforms like Pinterest, Instagram and SlideShare
  • Video-sharing platforms like YouTube and Vimeo

One of the great things about content marketing is that once you’ve created content, it can be repackaged and reused across many different channels. For example, this article I’m writing now is posted as a blog here on my website and I’ll also send it out as an e-newsletter. And I’ll include links to it on my Facebook and LinkedIn pages and my Twitter feed.

Next month I’m going to dig deeper into the content creation process itself, including how to generate topic ideas and how to devise a workflow that ensures you have a steady stream of new content to fill your pipeline.