8 Steps to Developing an Effective Content Marketing Plan

Updated: Mar 24, 2019

Content Marketing like anything else in life requires a plan to make it successful. Without it you can quickly find yourself going around in circles trying to figure out what to do next.

To help you put some structure and focus in your approach to Content Marketing I have put together the eight steps I use as my go-to whenever I’m working on a new project.

Note the process I use is typically a lot more complex and detailed. However, for the sake of simplicity I’ve narrowed it down to the most important elements needed to help you get started.

Also, the steps are sequential, meaning you have to complete one step before moving on to the next, in the specific order.

1. Identify Your Business Goals

The path to success in any endeavour is to know what is the end result you are after.

As mentioned in the reasons why Marketing isn’t working for most, too often Marketers get caught up in metrics such as Likes and Followers that don’t necessarily drive business goals.

Unless you know how to extract data from those metrics to contribute to accomplishing the end goal, then it’s pretty much a waste.

This should always be first and most important because any campaign, strategy, tactic, or plan you implement has to always, and I mean ALWAYS lead back to you achieving your business goal.

Some examples of business goals may be:

  • Generate 30% increase in revenue in twelve (12) months

  • Acquire 5 new customers within six (6) months

  • Increase our market share by 10% within 24 months

  • Increase customer retention by 20%

These are all goals in one way or another help to sustain the overall business.

2. Identify & Deeply Research Your Target Audience

Sadly, this is a step too many skip. Mostly because it takes a lot of time, effort, and resources to get it done. Therefore, it’s easier to assume or guess what your potential customers may want, need, and their challenges, rather than doing the work to find out.

However, here’s the thing, without this step, and doing this step right, everything else falls apart. I want you to really pay attention to what I’m about to say next: the success or failure of your entire marketing plan is directly dependent on how well you are able to research, know, and understand your customers.

By knowing I don’t mean simply their age, gender, or where they are located. I don’t even mean which Social Media platforms they frequent.

I mean going deeper.

It’s knowing their thoughts and feelings towards a particular challenge they have. It means what may prevent them from buying now or not at all. It means understand what makes them tick emotionally, and what are the triggers that may cause them to choose your brand over your competitors. What questions once answered would get them off the fence to saying ‘Yes’ to you.

It’s even going as far as to understand where they are in their Buying Process. Are they simply looking for more information on the problem versus the solution (they are not the same)? Maybe they don’t even know the problem that exists or how you can help them solve it.

It’s knowing them intimately, almost like being in a relationship with them…because you are.

Some ways to do customer research to gather data is:

  1. Asking your existing customers why they chose you or how your product/service helped them solve a problem (and what the problem was)

  2. If you’re starting out new asking potential customers what are the challenges they have that keeps them from doing their job in relation to your product/service

  3. Conducting surveys using survey tools such as Survey Monkey (which is free) and offering an incentive to those that do

  4. Taking notes in sales meetings to what are the challenges or issues clients may describe (quick tip: I never try to pitch in my first sales meeting, my only goal is to understand their business and challenges first)

  5. Google Analytics and Social Media analytics are also good sources of data (if you have been at least three months worth of data)

3. Identify Your Content Goal

Your content goal isn’t the same as your business goal.

Your business goal is the ultimate end result you’re after. Your content goal is the measuring stick that helps you know how close or far you are to achieving your business goal.

For example: if your business goal is to increase revenues to $10 Million dollars in 12 months, and in order to do that you need 10 clients (value of $1 Million each). Now if your sales conversions are 5%, meaning for every 20 clients you talk to, one (1) will become a client, it then means you need 200 leads to acquire 10 clients.

The point is your content goal here should be to generate 200 leads over the next 12 months with Content Marketing. This indicates that every single action, resource, investment you put into creating content should lead to those 200 leads.

That’s what you track.

Not the amount of Likes or Comments you get on Social Media, or Impressions.

A good way to gather those leads and track your lead count is through signup forms on your website or even Social Media, since Facebook now has lead capture forms in their ad service. So you can get a better return for your ad spend.

4. Develop & Document Your Content Marketing Strategy

Your Content Marketing strategy details the ‘How’ you intend to achieve your content goal that will ultimately lead to your business goal.

We go into greater detail of how to create a Content Strategy in the chapter on Getting Started with Content Marketing.

However, for the purpose of this article, there is only one important thing you should know and understand, that is your customer’s Buying Process.

Notice I used the words ‘Buying Process’ not ‘Sales Process’ this is so you understand that your process should focus more on helping your customer rather than selling your product or service.

You may want to know what is a Buying Process.

This is the step by step outline of how your potential customers move from not knowing about who you are, to becoming a customer.

Think of it as the start of a journey to the end of a journey. One part of the journey needs to be completed before you move on to the next.

In sales it’s called the Sales Process where you have the top funnel, middle, and bottom funnel. In marketing the acronym A.I.D.A. is used which stands for Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action.

Using the A.I.D.A. model you want to answer the following questions:

  1. How can I use content to make customers aware of the of the problem they have in relation to the product/service I have to solve it?

  2. How can I use content to get customers interested in what I sell by helping provide solutions to their problem?

  3. How can I use content to increase the desire customers have to see the need and value for what I offer?

  4. How can I use content to drive customers to buy from me over my competitors?

Now let’s go through each step. This takes a lot of explaining to break down so I’ll give a high-level explanation and maybe create a post just to explain the concept at a later date.

Using Content to Drive Awareness

As mentioned you want to focus on your customers’ problems, not your product/service. If you do the necessary steps correctly, awareness for who you are and what you do will come automatically.

For simplicity let’s use the analogy of being sick with the flu.

You don’t wake up and suddenly have the flu, it goes through different phases. You may start out having a sore throat.

At first you don’t know why or what may be the cause.

Next you probably start having a stuffy nose and watery eyes.

Now how do you use content to drive awareness?

In this case you would write a blog post or maybe create a Social Media ad that says “Are you suffering with a sore throat and stuffy nose? Here’s what could be the problem”

Awareness in this case is bringing awareness to the problem they have. This will get their attention.

If you started off by saying we have a proven product that will eliminate flu instantly, it may not have been as effective.


Because at this stage they don’t even know they are getting the flu, so they wouldn’t know a flu medication is what they need to solve their problem. Also, they wouldn’t see the urgent need to buy it right now.

This is why creating content only promoting features and benefits doesn’t work anymore.

You have to help them identify the problem first, so they can make the connection to how what you offer helps them.

It’s through your article you now make them aware that the problem they’re having isn’t simply a sore throat, but the flu. This is you offering a diagnosis.

By bringing awareness to their problem, you bring awareness to your brand.

Using Content to Create Interest

The next step in the process is creating interest in your brand and what you offer.

How to do this is within that blog post you outline the problem or symptoms they have. At the end you could invite them to sign up for your newsletter to receive tips on how to eliminate the flu (aka the problem).

Once done you send them tips and advice on how to solve the problem.

This will begin the process of them not only knowing who you are, but liking you (the second trigger in making someone buy).

Because you have provided useful content, they are now interested in learning more about you and what you have to say.

Using Content to Drive Desire

Though they have an interest in you, that doesn’t translate to them having a desire for what you offer. They haven’t gotten to the point of saying to themselves “I really need this!”

The difference between Interest and Desire is simply trust. Trust is what you now need to build to get them to say yes to what you offer.

You build trust using content through case studies and testimonials of results you’ve gotten for other people similar to them. In other words, they need social proof that you can deliver on what you say you can.

Another way to build trust is by engaging with them in person.

Using the same analogy think of it as a patient visiting a doctor for a one-to-one consultation on what you need to do to fix the problem, and them prescribing the right medication to do so.

That personal touch makes you feel more comfortable about what you need to solve the problem as oppose to just reading about it on the internet.

It’s about engagement and relationship, it’s what builds trust.

Using Content to Make the Sale

In case you haven’t already picked up on it, the process we just went through is the same sales professionals use to make a sale. The Know-Like-Trust factor.

Now that you have established all three it’s time to close the deal. However, you can’t expect or rely on your customers to just run to you and throw their money in your pocket. You still have work to do to get them over the final hump or off the fence.

This is where you need to identify common objections your customers have that would prevent them from buying.

Things such as price, quality, deliverability, after-sales support, etc.

Create content focused on answering these questions and objections.

Another way to get potential customers off the fence is through free trials or have them ‘taste’ what you offer.

More often than not people tend not to buy out of fear they won’t get value for their money. By allowing them to try what you have to offer it eliminates that barrier.

Furthermore, if the experience of the product/service is good, then they become accustomed to using it, and it will be hard for them to do without it once the trial is over.

5. Content Creation

Next step is creating content for each stage of the Buying Process.

I call this Content Mapping.

It is using content as the means to drive this process. To help our potential customers progress along the journey, and map out the content we need to take them from one step to the next.

Once you have identified the challenges, pain points, and goals of your target audience, create content around those challenges by providing solutions to them in the form of content.

Pay close attention to their feedback and more specifically the words they use. Why? Because it makes it easier for them to connect and relate to the content.

Therefore, if someone says “I never seem to have the time to get things done”. Your content should read “How to create more time to get things done”. It shouldn’t read “How to be more efficient with your time”.

Though both are more or less saying the same thing, your audience won’t be able to make the connection because they don’t use words like ‘efficient’.

This content created will be you ‘Core Content’, it will form the foundation of other types of content you may create for Social Media, and other third party platform.

FYI, this is a good way to make your Social Media posts more relevant, increase engagement, and connect your Social Media to drive business goals.

6. Content Distribution

Step 6 is pretty straightforward. It’s knowing where you intend to distribute or publish your content.

Will it be on your blog or third-party text platform such as Medium or LinkedIn article feature. It could also be YouTube or Vimeo for video, or Soundcloud for audio/podcasts.

Ensure that whichever medium you choose that it does two things:

  1. Drives traffic back to your website

  2. Drives your business goals

7. Content Promotion

This step is all about letting the world know your content exists, in other words promoting it.

You want to promote it almost as you would promote a product or service. Reason being is this is what will get your potential customers’ attention, and lead them to the beginning of your Buying Process as was described above.

Some good ways to do this are:

  1. Social Media graphics (as mentioned above)

  2. Guest appearances on other blogs or podcasts

  3. Using Social Media ads

  4. PR (TV and radio interviews, press releases)

8. Content Analysis

At the end of it all you need to be measuring and tracking all the work you’ve done.

It’s pointless to put out so much effort and not be able to maximize the ROI for every dollar spent. This is why you need to analyze what you do in order to increase the effectiveness of your marketing.

Use tools such as Google Analytics or Social Media metrics in order to do this.

Here is where you pay attention to KPI’s such as Shares, Comments, Page Views, website visitors, demography, interests, etc.

My point Isn’t that you ignore these metrics, it’s that you use them to better understand your audience and what drives their buying behaviours. The metrics should be seen as the means to your end goal, not the end goal itself.

At the end of the day Reach or Impressions don’t build successful businesses or companies, revenue growth and bottom line results do.

My Final Thoughts

Creating and implementing an effective Content Marketing plan takes a lot of work that unfortunately most people aren’t willing to do.

The good news for you is it puts you at a significant advantage over your competitors, if you’re willing to go the extra mile to get this done.

Keep in mind that everything you do should be focused on driving your business goal, and serving the needs of your customers. By doing that everything else will take care of itself.

Which aspect of this process is most valuable in helping you achieve your business goals? Let me know your thoughts below (use the Facebook comments plugin)