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Is hiring strategic content writers without a formal content marketing plan smart?

[Note: I originally wrote this blog post in 2016, and I updated it in 2019 and 2023, but only to remove outdated links. So, this post reflects the blog structure used in 2016 and my writing style at the time. As one of my latest blog posts shows, both have changed measurably since then. Estimated reading time: 8 1/2 minutes.]

More brands and organizations are launching or accelerating their content marketing programs each day. As they do, the need for specialized talent to provide the components of the strategy, like written content, increases. In fact, among the first type of contractors that firms will hire are strategic content writers.

These specialized professional writers have a thorough understanding of both content marketing strategy and storytelling. If they’re current or former journalists, they also have experience with editorial strategy. They can help you produce written content that integrates seamlessly into your content marketing program.

But, the challenge with working with such experienced professionals is that they work best with enterprises that have established a formal content marketing strategy. So, your firm shouldn’t hire them before you have that in place.

Formal Content Marketing Strategy vs. Series of Content Ideas

The reason formal content marketing plans are most helpful to strategic content writers is that, from those plans, you can answer necessary questions to help them do their work well. Accordingly, it’s vital that you’re not calling a ‘formal content marketing strategy’ what really is a series of content marketing ideas you’ve written down while brainstorming.

Because they’re professional marketing strategists who focus on providing written content, strategic content writing consultants will know the difference between a formal content marketing strategy and an informal one. A series of strong concepts on paper forms a casual content marketing strategy, even if it’s based on research on the current best practices.

That’s not right for an organization that can afford to contract with top professional strategic content writing professionals but is more common than believed.

Moreover, when you’re making this level of investment in marketing talent, it’s in your best interest to give a strategic content writer more than vague details about your audience or your goals. Examples include barely defined goals like:

  • “We want to get to be number one in search.”
  • “We want more traffic to our website so you’ll write SEO content based on these keywords.”
  • “We want to beat our principal competitors in search by having our content appear above theirs on Google.”

But, it’s also important to tell a strategic content writing consultant the “why?” or “what then?” behind such goals. Having strategic content writing professionals produce content without an endgame better than “to rank higher in search” is not a formal plan. It’s one tactic in a plan, and it should lead to what you want your audience to do when they get to your site. Then, your site’s structure should support that goal.

When asked who your target audiences are, be ready to give detailed information based on buyer personas, not merely vague demographic data. Also, be able to provide precise information on your reach strategy.

This all means you must have determined precisely whom you’re trying to reach and where they live on the social web. You must know what works to get that prospect to come to your site (where it’s essential to drive most of your target audience), and what you’d like them to do when they get to your site. That’s part of the qualified lead-generation process but not everyone is a qualified lead, and a formal content marketing strategy helps you define who is.

Creating formal content marketing plan requires substantial research and understanding of who your current core audience is on a personal level. But it helps you define precisely what your target audience’s needs, challenges and desires are and whether your brand offers what they need as a solution or service.

That’s important to know because most people are looking to solve problems when they search online so your content must address their pain points. The only way to know what those pain points are is with formal market research. In fact, you should have detailed buyer personas on which you’ve based your content marketing strategy.

A formal content marketing strategy is not only well-researched, it’s carefully structured to meet specific but achievable goals over a reasonable but defined time. It’s also tied to specific revenue targets, sales strategies for closing new business and overall business development strategy for your enterprise.

In fact, consider and include all other components of your business development and retention strategies in content marketing strategy. That way, you can involve other members of your marketing team tasked with helping make sure marketing executives reach revenue goals in developing a content marketing strategy.

After all, marketing managers in most organizations are now line positions charged to generate revenue. You should carefully structure content market strategy to support those goals.

A formal content marketing strategy also should directly show exactly how your content you need to produce content to support those related internal business development functions. This way, personnel executing those functions have content they need to nurture qualified leads and close new business.

As important, you get the best content writing outcomes from strategic content writers once you’ve laid your digital marketing foundation with a formal content marketing plan.

Content Marketing Strategy or Advertising Plan?

Because many have a journalism background, strategic content writers also are digital marketing professionals with high standards of integrity. Like most of you, they know an authentic content marketing program is not an advertising campaign in disguise. There are fundamental differences, and strategic content writers understand that there is still a disconnect among many marketing professionals in knowing what those are.

As crucial for you, strategic content writers with journalism experience also know how savvy and skeptical the public is when it comes to advertising and marketing. They are aware of how much distrust the public has in business marketing. Thus, most want to help you avoid participating in what your audience may see as misleading marketing. That includes attempting to
pass advertising (like native content) off as pure content marketing as many inexperienced online marketers would.

Instead, the goal of most strategic content writers is to make your target customers into trusting brand loyalists and keep them loyal to your brand. Like you, strategic content writers know brands achieve that with content that is immediately useful, solves a problem or grants a wish, is relatable and shareable.

That also means that most of your content can’t ‘marketing’ copy because people want to buy from you, not have you sell to
them. It’s no overstatement that you create willing buyers by providing them content they want that is authentic, connects with them and is compelling.

That’s why it’s important to make sure whatever content development tactics you use (like native advertising or marketing automation) focus on properly defined content marketing strategies, not on the principles of advertising.

Strategic content writers can ease the plan development process with fundamental knowledge about how to write content to meet that objective.

Brand-Focused vs. Editorially Focused Content

You’ve heard the term “branded content” a lot by now and some even still use the term. But, it’s given content marketing a bad reputation. While branding is an essential part of marketing strategy, when it comes to written content, an editorial approach is the basis of the most compelling content.

And, while most often, this type of editorial content writing is also called “brand journalism,” it is not the same. It often causes branding strategists to blur the lines between what’s editorial content and what is sales copy.

Sales collateral focuses on touting what’s excellent about your brand to reach sales goals, not on developing trust for your brand in consumers. The product or service become plays a central role in the story the brand tells, not what the audience wants. It’s product or service marketing based on particular campaigns, not the audience.

Advertising campaigns are not ongoing editorial programs that are concentrating on producing content that helps your target audience make better decisions, choices or understand their options. As stated before, “salesy” copy is advertising copy that puts on business aims first. It’s not editorial content centered on the audience first.

That’s why it’s become crucial to have marketing team members with editorial backgrounds, like strategic content writers. They can identify content that’s becoming ad copy and help repurpose it into editorial content that focuses on audience needs.

In fact, in an interview earlier this year, Seth Godin agreed. He made it very plain that organizations should get the help of those with editorial backgrounds to help develop and execute content plans. Widely considered the godfather of modern marketing, Godin said in that interview, “You need editors, not brand managers."

If you are not positioned or do not wish to hire editors to lead your organizations’ content marketing initiatives, at very least, you should hire strategic content writers to write the content. Before they do, however, smart enterprises are recognizing how important to wait to hire these content marketing professionals only after they’ve understood the distinctions identified above.

They’ve also trained their staff and executive team on the differences, gotten their commitment and have incorporated those differences into their formal content marketing strategy.

Formal Content Marketing Strategies Lead to Effective Written Content

There are many excellent reasons to have an official content marketing plan in place before contracting with strategic content writing consultants. Their background means they are capable of helping you tweak (and in some cases, restructure) your content marketing strategy so their written material achieves your goals.

But, for that to happen, you must convey those content marketing objectives to them precisely.

By engaging in these strategic activities in the correct order, your enterprise can hire strategic content writing professionals to create the most relevant content for your audience. Again, strategic content writing consultants aren’t “just writers.” They are marketing professionals, and the best can become a part of your marketing team.

When you treat them as the content marketing professionals they are, they can produce expertly written content based on your formal content marketing plan. That content increases reach and, ultimately, helps your sales team generate revenue.

In turn, your organization can prove the value of its content marketing programs to leadership and, with their support, continue its content marketing programs. Success in content marketing programs also leads to stronger relationships with top strategic content writing professionals who are as challenging to replace as they are to find. After all, because you worked
strategically with them, they helped you meet your aims.

(c) 2016-2023. Dahna M. Chandler for The Stellar Communicator, Inc., a division of Thrive Media Collaborative, Inc. All rights reserved. This blog post may not be reproduced or reposted in whole or in part without express written permission of the author. Reading time estimated by Read-O-Meter.

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