How Startups Should Plan Their First Major Content Marketing Program

If you’re in the initial stages of building a new business, you may feel overwhelmed and underprepared to manage your ever-growing marketing to-do list. We’re here today to help simplify what can be a complex process: building a successful content marketing program.

In our step-by-step guide, we’ll walk through what you need to know to develop a sophisticated content marketing plan to hit your goals and win new customers for your business.

While 84% of businesses claim to have a content marketing strategy in place, only 11% believe they have an excellent one. To optimize your content planning, creation, and distribution efforts for maximum results, you need to set realistic goals for your business and develop a plan of attack to achieve them.

Percentage of companies with content marketing strategies

Source: Semrush

Quick Takeaways

  • A content marketing program is a carefully developed plan that encompasses strategy and gives you a roadmap for executing key objectives.
  • Content marketing is an essential growth strategy for new businesses. It can help new brands build awareness, establish an identity and niche, attract ideal customers, and generate leads and sales.
  • Building an effective content marketing program for your startup will involve careful thought, planning, creativity, time, effort, and resources.
  • Start by setting SMART goals, identifying your target audience, determining KPIs, and establishing a budget. Then you can map your buyer’s journey, choose relevant content formats and channels, and create content your target market craves.

What is a Content Marketing Program?

A content marketing program is a carefully developed plan for executing key business objectives. Before designing your program, it’s essential to establish a solid content strategy. A content marketing strategy outlines how a business will produce, manage, distribute, and repurpose content over time. Your program should incorporate your content strategy.

Why Do Startups Need Content Marketing?

Content marketing can be an essential growth strategy for new businesses. As Seth Godin famously said, “Content marketing is all the marketing that’s left.” It can help startups build brand awareness and trust, drive organic traffic, generate new leads, build customer loyalty, drive direct sales, and much more.

Quality content – written by experienced writers in your niche and optimized for SEO – can form a foundation for other business growth strategies, like advertising, influencer marketing, customer service, and sales. Give potential customers precisely what they’re seeking at the right place and time, and you’ll start building trust. You’ll also create memorable experiences that keep people coming back for more.

Without a clear, documented plan, you could end up wasting precious resources, fail to prove the value of your efforts, target the wrong audiences, and struggle to engage users successfully. Conversely, with a solid content marketing program, you can build a loyal customer base through consistent, strategic efforts. Using the right tactics, you can turn visitors into customers and brand evangelists who can’t wait to spread the word about your products and services.

Sales funnel example of a website visitor becoming a brand evangelist

Source: G2

How to Build and Execute a Successful Content Marketing Program

Building an effective content marketing program for your startup will involve careful thought, planning, creativity, time, effort, and resources. While that may sound overwhelming, remember you can always start simple. Later, once you know more about your business, influence, and customers, you can enhance your content marketing program.

Follow these 12 steps to build and execute a content plan that works.

1. Set SMART Goals and Objectives

One of your first initiatives should be defining your top goals and objectives for your content marketing program. Without attainable goals, you’ll never know if you’re making progress or reaching specific benchmarks in your business.

Start by identifying your top business objectives. What do you want to accomplish through content marketing? What are your top priorities for year one? Do you want to focus on building brand awareness, generating revenue, or creating a seamless customer experience?

Priority goals for content marketing

Source: Semrush

Once you have long-term, big-picture objectives in mind, you can get clearer by setting SMART goals. These goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely. An example could be to generate 50 new leads per month in Q1. Focus your goal(s) around scaling your startup and building a solid foundation to launch your business into the future.

2. Identify Your Target Audience

Next, it’s time to identify your target audience. If you target the wrong people, you could spend a lot of time and money attracting leads and traffic to your website that, ultimately, won’t be profitable for your business. Pinpointing the right types of leads to target is key to identifying relevant keywords, topics, and messaging for your marketing.

Buyer personas are ideal customer profiles. Create (at least) a primary and secondary buyer persona to target. Your primary audience is the group most likely to buy from you. Your content should target them first. Your secondary audience may require more convincing before making a purchase, but they’re still within reach.

You can fill out your buyer persona profiles with the following information:

  • Demographics
  • Psychographics
  • Pain points
  • Challenges
  • Motivators
  • Most-used digital channels
  • Preferred content types
  • Problems you want to help them solve

3. Determine Your KPIs

Choosing which key performance indicators (KPIs) and metrics to track is another vital step in setting your marketing team up for success. Measuring results from the start will show you how your program is working, where growth is occurring (or not), and where to adjust. Over time, you’ll better understand which KPIs make the most sense for your unique business to track.

KPIs should be specific and quantifiable. Use them to set your SMART goals. Focus on metrics that measure how well your marketing efforts are working and if you’re developing positive relationships with customers. You can track vanity metrics, like “likes” and followers, but don’t focus on them over more meaningful ones (like those listed below). You should choose KPIs based on your business goals and objectives.

Here are several metrics and KPIs to consider tracking as a startup:

  • Website visits
  • Website traffic
  • Leads
  • Sales
  • Conversion rates
  • Search volume
  • Social media engagement and reach
  • Search engine rankings
  • Brand mentions
  • Downloads
  • Bounce rates
  • Email subscribers
  • Click-through rates
  • Open rates
  • Time on site
  • Indexed pages
  • Domain authority
  • Pageviews

4. Establish Your Content Marketing Budget

How much of your marketing budget will you allocate to content marketing? On average, B2B businesses spend around 25% of their total budget on content marketing. However, the most successful companies allocate closer to 40%.

As a startup, expect your budget to evolve – based on how well your content performs. Consider starting on the lower end of the spending spectrum. Once you have proven strategies in place, you can consider boosting your budget to make a more significant impact.

To establish your budget, consider:

  • Your content marketing team
  • The tools, platforms, technology, and software you need
  • What types of content you’ll create and publish on which channels
  • Any outsourcing costs
  • Advertising and promotion costs

5. Map Out the Buyer’s Journey

What journey do you want a prospect to take from the moment they interact with your brand or visit your website to the moment they make their first purchase? You should address challenges and pain points prospects may face throughout their entire experience. This involves producing content for every stage of the buyer’s journey: awareness, consideration, and decision.

Mapping out the buyer’s journey for your business can help you identify specific consumer pain points, motivations, and triggers. Your content should encourage users to move from one stage to the next until they make it through the entire sales funnel. Remember that the journey doesn’t end after you convert leads into customers. How will you continue engaging your customers to build long-term loyalty?

6. Identify Potential Market Opportunities

Now’s the time to study your competitors. What are they doing that you also should do or not doing that you could? To stand out from the competition, identify creative ways to fill gaps in your niche, industry, or market. Developing a unique perspective and brand voice can help you connect with prospects and give them the value they seek.

7. Choose the Best Content Types

The types of content you choose to create will depend on your audience and industry. What content formats are the leaders in your industry producing? What does your target audience love to consume? How do they most commonly look for answers online?

A blog is an excellent way to build a strong foundation of content and domain authority by publishing valuable content consistently for your audience. Blog posts are also easy to share, promote, and distribute. Standard blog formats include:

  • Listicles
  • How-to articles
  • Interviews
  • Pillar pages
  • Guides
  • Checklists and cheat sheets
  • Guest blog posts

Regularly publishing on social media is another beneficial strategy for many businesses. Social media is one of the best ways to engage with consumers on a personal level. It humanizes your brand. Often, you can repurpose content you already have and share it on social. Social media posts can empower your business to reach more prospects and build authentic relationships with consumers through organic and paid marketing campaigns.

Here are several other popular content formats for modern businesses:

  • Ebooks and guides
  • Podcasts
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • Case studies
  • Paid ads
  • Email

Various types of content marketing

Source: G2

8. Identify Relevant Content Channels

Once you know which types of content you’re going to focus on, you can identify the most relevant channels for distribution and promotion. Email marketing, social media, and SEO are three of the most effective ways to get your content in front of the right people as a startup. You can find additional channel opportunities by studying your competitors and prospects using tools like BuzzSumo and Alexa.

9. Build a Content Calendar

Your content marketing program should also cover how you’ll organize and create your content. Developing a content (editorial) calendar will help keep everyone involved on the same page and on track. Create a well-thought-out, diverse, and balanced calendar of content ideas. You can create one for the next month, quarter, half a year, or even an entire year. Content calendars allow teams to be proactive and work ahead.

Come up with topics and keywords for evergreen content ideas for your website, blog, social media, email marketing, etc. Be sure to build out your content calendar with your SMART goals in mind. The content you produce should address consumers at every stage of the buyer’s journey.

Also determine your publishing schedule. Consistency is key, so choose a plan your team can realistically stick to. According to HubSpot, the “sweet spot” for blogging depends on your overarching goals. For building organic traffic, shoot for publishing three to four blog posts per week. If your main goal is to build brand awareness, post one to four times a week.

10. Create and Publish Your Content

Here comes the fun part – creating new, customer-centric content to fill your website and other chosen distribution channels. Writing engaging, relevant content that provides value for users is essential. Solving problems, answering questions, and addressing pain points will help you connect with people and build trust.

Think about the buyer’s journey when developing every piece of content. Your blog posts, for example, should encourage users to take the next step on their path toward purchase. You might include a call to action that encourages readers to sign up for a free consultation or subscribe to a newsletter. It all depends on your goals and how you plan to move prospects organically down the sales funnel.

11. Distribute, Market, and Promote

What’s the point of all that strategizing, planning, and creating if no one sees your content? You can gain a lot of traffic and leads through organic means, but it shouldn’t be your only method. To get the most out of every piece of content you create, maximize your efforts by distributing and promoting it across various channels. Depending on your budget, channels could include:

  • Paid advertising
  • Social media marketing and ads
  • Email marketing
  • Search engine optimization
  • Influencer marketing
  • Search engine marketing
  • Sponsored content
  • SlideShare
  • BuzzFeed
  • Reddit
  • Guest posting

12. Analyze and Measure Results

You can gauge how successful your content marketing efforts are by measuring and analyzing your results over time. Use the KPIs you’ve already identified, and consistently track how your content performs across various channels. You may find that certain channels are more effective than others or that specific content formats resonate better with your audience. Monitor and adjust your strategies to optimize your program and improve your results.

Need Help Creating an Effective Content Marketing Program for Your Startup?

We are a content marketing agency that creates quality, engaging, SEO-driven content to help businesses reach and engage consumers at every stage of the buyer’s journey. We can build a customized content marketing program to help you produce all the content needed to win new customers. We’ll also measure and calculate ROI so you know precisely how successful your efforts are over time.

Our team will research your target market to gain a deep understanding of your buyer personas and industry. Then we’ll develop keyword-rich content that meets prospects where they are and leads them seamlessly down the sales funnel.

Learn more about our Content Builder Services.

Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner  is a Top CMO, Content Marketing and Digital Marketing Influencer, an international keynote speaker, author of "Mean People Suck" and "The Content Formula" and he is the CEO and Founder of Marketing Insider Group, a leading Content Marketing Agency . He has worked in leadership positions in sales and marketing for global brands like SAP and Nielsen, as well as for thriving startups. Today, Michael helps build successful content marketing programs for leading brands and startups alike. Subscribe here for regular updates.