Modern Digital Content Strategy For Startups

Modern Digital Content Strategy For Startups

When I sat down to write this playbook, I’ll admit I was extremely overwhelmed. 

Why?

Well, content touches everything. Content IS everything when it comes to marketing.

For this playbook, where do I even begin?

There is so much to say about content. Animalz has a Top 50 Learnings list. And that was back in 2018, I’m sure by now that list can easily top 100.

I have SO much content about content. Ha! 

But instead of stuffing this playbook with everything I know, I spent a lot of time REMOVING content - simplifying, removing the extras, keeping only what’s necessary.  

So let’s kick it.

What’s the goal with your content marketing?

To develop an ongoing conversation with the right people that eventually leads to purchase.

To develop an ongoing conversation with the right people that eventually leads to purchase.

To develop an ongoing conversation with the right people that eventually leads to purchase.

The conversation doesn’t actually need to be spoken out loud between two people. In the digital world, it can be very quiet. There are many people that will read this playbook that will never like or comment. Hello, silent lurker! I see you, and I don’t mind.

Why such a focus on digital content?

Gartner’s Future of Sales research shows that by 2025, 80% of B2B sales interactions with buyers will occur in digital. This is because 33% of all buyers desire a seller-FREE sales experience – a preference that climbs to 44% for millennials.

“As customers increasingly learn and buy digitally, sales reps become just one of many possible sales channels. Because of this, sales organizations must be able to sell to customers everywhere the customer expects to engage, interact and transact with suppliers.”

I would argue that the goal should not be to sell, as we traditionally understand it. The goal is to create demand with interesting, educational, and relevant content.

Content marketing requires these two things.

  1. Content creation. What’s your offer? Sometimes people refer to this as lead gen to get you “in the funnel.” This also refers to ongoing content ACROSS the customer journey which is the basis for this playbook.
  2. Content distribution. What channels are you going to focus on to distribute the content? Fastest channel is where you pay for it (e.g. paid social ads) but you need to make sure you’re getting ROI and not just throwing money away.

Let’s back up a moment, before you get that content rolling. 

Content marketing requires a solid marketing foundation.

First you need to know what your target buyer cares about, their challenges, goals, how you can help them solve a big pain point, and where they spend a lot of their time consuming content. You can’t skimp on this part, you gotta do the very important VoC research (link to that article here).

Quick note on lead gen and offers. 

I’ve mentioned this in another playbook. Different marketers hold different beliefs. Some will try to convince you that lead gen is THE way to play. I encourage you to dig under the hood and see what folks are actually doing and how well their lead gen is working. A lot of busy work with low conversions is mostly a lot of busy work. You’ll need to figure out what resonates most with your own company and your marketing/sales philosophy.

How to build your content strategy.

“When you have a limited marketing budget, starting with people who are ready to buy today is the best way to generate quick wins. One of the biggest mistakes companies make is to start writing random blog posts or social media posts before the core pillars of the marketing engine have been put into place.” - Shiv Narayanan, How To SaaS

Brilliant.

What are the core pillars of the marketing engine?

  • Your target audience (you’re not for everyone - who are you really for?)

  • The problem you’re solving for them

  • How you’re different from the other options

  • Case studies

  • Testimonials

  • Pricing

  • Website

Then you’d want to “work backwards” to those people that aren’t ready to buy today but can be nurtured with the right information.

Finally you’d want to focus on those people who have never heard of you and are not thinking about buying anything from you. Your job is to engage them - be exciting, interesting, fresh. And most importantly, understand the problem you’re solving for them. Your messaging is spot on when it resonates with them. 

Did you happen to see Gong’s Superbowl commercial this year? Millions of people watching, most of them have no clue who Gong is or what they do. And yet, they did an incredible job breaking through to their target audience so that they think “oh yea, that’s something for me” and made it entertaining enough to watch all the way through. Because of their content/creative, they beat all of their goals (website visits, # of opportunities, and I bet # of closed/won are still rolling in).

How to create content when you’ve got a lean team.

I’m a very lean team. What I’ve found is that it’s way easier to create content from recorded videos (talking to experts about specific topics that are interesting to my target audience, or recording myself talking through a topic) than it is to sit down and write a new article or playbook from scratch (like this one!). Even this playbook started as a podcast episode

Also it was just a natural fit for me. I’m used to talking to people and asking questions for VoC research as part of my work, and inviting guests on the show and getting to know them and what they’re up to is not very different! I super enjoy it.

So my pillar content is the podcast. From there, I post clips to social channels, send links through email, and create blog articles.

GaryVee talks about this process in depth here but I’ve got the simple version. So whatever you’re into! I won’t judge.

Here’s how I put it all together.

  • Content: podcast

  • Distribution: Anchor (out to all platforms), Youtube channel, LinkedIn video clips (awareness), email newsletter (nurture)

  • CTA to visit my website or LinkedIn profile

Here’s how I would organize the content production process at your startup.

  1. Form a thought leadership committee (e.g. exec team, tech team, partners, external thought leaders, salespeople) where you’d talk about topics that resonate with your target buyer (e.g. trends in the industry, how to do your job well, expert opinions, advice, answering popular questions, etc.) Salespeople get asked questions and have follow-up answers throughout the buying journey, this might make for some awesome videos.

  2. Start with a 1-hour interview weekly with a different person on a niche topic.

  3. From there, you can create different types of content such as:

    - dozens of social media snippets (text, image, video, here’s an example), CTA takes folks to the podcast or Youtube channel to subscribe

    - 3 short blog posts from your pillar video or from those social posts that got high engagement, CTA at the end of the blog post to subscribe to your monthly newsletter

    - eBook or flipbook, CTA to schedule call

Here’s what your marketing ops process might look like on a daily/weekly basis.

  1. Create quality pillar content (e.g. webinar, podcast episode)

  2. Upload (Anchor, Youtube, etc.)

  3. Create short video clips

  4. Post video clips on social media (3-5 per week)

  5. Create blog post (from social post that gets good engagement, from webinar/podcast episode)

  6. Send email that includes links to social video clips (to get more eyeballs)

Reuse and recycle top performing social posts.

Most people won’t see your pillar content, and definitely not in the beginning as you’re growing your audience. That’s why you want to create a bunch of short, enticing material for social and for your other channels. And after ~6 months you’ll want to circle back to the best performing content and re-post. For example, you can find your top performing LinkedIn posts by using SHIELD Analytics.

Content experts are media experts.

Companies that win with their marketing efforts are media companies. And content experts do NOT need to be experts in your industry. 

Why? 

Because you’re producing content from those thought leaders, and THEY are the experts. 

Content creators need to figure out how to make the process very easy for those thought leaders and turn that content into long form / short form writing, videos, and images, to get people interested and engaged. These people are writers, journalists, basically excellent written communicators. Content experts should also be knowledgeable about content distribution, especially for early stage startups. 

NOTE: If you’re hiring a contractor, you’ll have better outcomes if you work with them long-term (just like you would if you were hiring someone full-time). They get to learn the ins and outs of your business, what works, what doesn’t. This stuff takes time. Like MONTHS.

How to measure if your content strategy is working.

This is the big one. The question that startup leaders are wrestling with. How do you know you’re doing a decent job with your content strategy? No, not decent. An amazing job! 

Well, depends on what your objectives are. Then the question is really “how is your content strategy impacting your objectives?”

For example (very simple, just to illustrate), let’s say this is the content my team creates weekly or monthly for each stage in the customer journey.

Engage: podcast, social media video clips 

Nurture: podcast, social media video clips, newsletter, 1:1 sharing on LinkedIn, weekly virtual events

Convert: case studies, testimonial videos

For each stage, we also have objectives (e.g. increased website visitors MoM, 50% OR and 20% CTR for email, 5 new customers per month, etc.)

How is your content strategy impacting your objectives?

Another way to think about it.

For opportunities created, what’s driving that?

For closed/won, what’s driving that?

You can also go deeper on the pillar content.

For example, with the podcast, this is what I’m measuring.

  • Social engagement (likes, comments, shares)

  • Plays (increasing per month)

  • Website traffic (if you’ve got pages dedicated to your podcast)

  • Outreach attempts (are you putting in the work to get people on your show)

  • Guests booked

Stop asking “what’s the ROI?” from brand awareness channels.

For example, LinkedIn is a brand awareness channel, and you don’t need to measure the ROI of a single piece of content on there. 

Why?

 

Because people browsing on social media aren’t going there to buy your stuff. But they’re going to see you. Then they’ll forget about you. Then they’ll talk to a friend about you. Then they’ll visit your website (maybe). Then they’ll see you on social again. And eventually they’ll want to buy from you.

 

Instead of measuring the ROI from brand awareness channels like LinkedIn, you can do a temperature check, looking at qualitative feedback, likes from the right people, comments, etc. where prospects and customers are reacting positively to the value you’re providing on there.

Here are some example screenshots I’ve stored away in my digital treasure chest for a rainy day. I like to build up this kind of treasure in order to 1) keep an eye on the qualitative feedback to remind myself why I do what I do and 2) share as social proof - never underestimate the power of a handful of amazing feedback.

 

testimonials

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And there you have it.

What a wild ride! I hope you enjoyed that content. Shoot over your questions, I’ll be happy to answer.

Are you a VC funded startup that needs help with your marketing? Book a free 30 minute consultation. I’ll ask you some questions about your product, the problem it solves, your buyer, your marketing efforts, and business goals. We’ll get to know each other. I’ll try to help you right away.

Marketing, simplified.

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