The early days of a startup are wild, frantic, and filled with non-stop things to do. That usually means you end up with a lot of content scattered around with no direction or strategy. You may also waste energy (and money) writing blogs you don’t even need.
In this article, I’ll go over content marketing management and strategy for startups, how it can fuel your growth, and why you need a content manager to execute it all.
What is a content strategy?
A content strategy is a plan that breaks down everything you need to build content that relates to your audience and converts them to customers. Here’s a typical content strategy outline:
1) Executive summary
This section offers a broad view of goals and plans. It covers how your content strategy maps to your overall business objectives and measurable goals for your content marketing. The summary should touch on channels, content types (ex. case studies, videos, features, testimonials), and the purpose and audience of each.
2) Mission and goals
This section discusses what your brand wants to accomplish. Your mission should include an overarching vision, and your goals should be measurable.
3) Competitive analysis
This section can also be called an external environment analysis. It covers who your competitors are, what they’re doing, their creative styles, their tone of voice, the channels they’re on, and what they do that does or does not work. The competitive analysis should look at businesses with similar goals, verticals, and primary mission or vision.
4) Business analysis
Your business analysis should include a SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats). You might include price points, channel access, process shortcomings, wrong business model, etc. This section should touch on how to differentiate your brand to stand out, and how content will drive business goals.
5) Target audience
Here, you should dive into your consumer analysis and buyer personas. It should lay out their channel usage trends, the differences between channels, and the target audience for each. Talk about why this audience and their content consumption habits are valuable to your business.
6) Content and channel strategy
This section should talk about what kinds of content you’ll create, for which channels, and why. Each platform you plan to publish content on should include a goal, key facts and figures, content type, why it’ll stand out, frequency, and a content creation plan. This is also a good place to include how to access each channel.
7) Amplification plan
Talk about how you’ll promote your content. For example, will you use paid ads? This section should include cross-promotion plans, media buying strategies, and the resources you have to share your content.
8) Execution plan
Here, you disclose your strategy and tactics. Each tactic should tie to a strategy, and each strategy should tie to a measurable goal. This section should have timelines, a schedule for status reports and check-ins, workflows, and the team structure (including who is an owner for what).
Add links to your templates, tools, and other resources in this section. You should include voice and tone guidelines, content sourcing and creation guides, dos and don’ts for your brand (with examples), and a cheatsheet of external resources (ex. freelance writers, CC0 image banks, video agencies).
Here is where you detail measurement and reporting. Recap what metrics you want to hit and why, and how to gauge success. Include tracking methods, how to measure by platform and goal, and where to find the data.
Tips for creating your startup content strategy
If you haven’t built a content strategy yet, here’s some advice for creating your own.
1) Talk to your customers
Do a discovery call with at least three customers to learn their pain points, what they prioritize, and the language they use. You should have a set of questions prepared, but stay open to the conversation that develops organically. You want to learn their job title, role responsibilities, the tools and software they use, and the type of content they find most valuable at different stages of the sales cycle (awareness, consideration, decision, and retention).
Startup audiences can change, so it’s important to interview your customers regularly to ascertain how they use your tool/service, how they found you, and what they like (and don’t like) about your brand. I recommend recording your customer interviews and then combing through the recordings to identify key points and themes.
2) Keep an eye on your competitors
You should be tracking your own brand, but don’t forget to watch your competitors, too. Set up Google Alerts for your main competitors, and do a content audit for each stage and type.
For example, do they have eBooks or webinars for people in the decision stage? Do they prioritize blogs and leverage mostly SEO for their top-funnel leads? Look at what they do well and where they’re lacking.
3) Explain your assumptions
Support all your recommendations with data. When you put together your content strategy, you should have a list of content ideas with themes and titles organized together into a hub-and-spoke (AKA content pillars) plan. Explain the assumptions behind why you decided on each strategy, and include the information and data you uncovered during your customer interviews.
Now that we’ve covered what a startup content strategy looks like, and why it’s important, let’s talk about finding the right person (or team) to execute it.
What is a content manager?
A content manager wears many hats and essentially is responsible for ensuring the soundness and success of your content strategy. They’re in charge of creating, distributing, and marketing your content, as well as the strategy behind it all.
Some high-level content manager tasks include:
- Planning editorial calendars
- Researching, writing, reviewing, and editing content
- Managing a content team
- Deciding where to invest team resources
- Organizing tasks and tracking budgets
- Working across teams to ensure deadlines are met
The split between management versus hands-on tasks depends on your startup size and resources. Some content managers run an entire team of writers, SEO experts, and assistants, while others outsource tasks to freelancers and content agencies.
Why your startup needs a content marketing manager
Content marketing is one of the most important growth channels for a startup, because they drive multiple other initiatives as well as direct sales. Articles can be used across social media, email newsletters, and other channels to extend their value.
“In almost every case, the entrepreneur started the business ‘content-first.’ This simply means that they identified a content niche, built a loyal audience around that niche, and THEN developed products and services to sell.” – Joe Pulizzi, Why Startups Trump Large Enterprises in Content Marketing Every Time
To sum up, your content marketing manager is one of the most critical hires to make for your marketing team. Here’s why hiring the right person is essential:
1) A content marketing manager will help your startup grow organically
Organic growth is essential for your startup because it can generate leads while securing long-term success. After investing in content strategy, companies tend to see an 80% reduction in cost-per lead and a 4x growth in leads per $1,000 spent within three years.
Content doesn’t require paid promotion; you can share your articles in online communities, on social media, and on third-party websites for free. As long as you produce quality articles, they’ll usually be accepted, distributed, and sometimes even promoted by others, helping your startup grow organically.
One example of content-fueled organic growth comes from Mint, a personal finance tool.
Mint entered the startup world with a marketing plan to do “whatever we can do, basically, for cheap or for free.” They began an aggressive, content-rich marketing strategy that pumped out blogs relevant to its target audience (young professionals) long before the platform went live.
And its strategy was a resounding success, generating:
- 20-30k email leads
- Free advertising on 600 different blogs
- High ranking on Google and Bing
Mint’s refreshingly unique approach in a rigid and competitive industry helped it become the fastest-growing personal finance software company, growing to 1.5 million users and selling for $170 million in just two years.
Tip: Be sure to track which articles generate leads and conversions so you know which to expand and update.
2) Content provides compounding returns
As you build a robust blog, more people will read and share your articles, which generates awareness and engagement. This gives your content a better chance to rank and be seen by your target audience in searches, which increases visibility for your brand as well as visitors to your website – giving you the opportunity to turn them into leads.
A talented content marketing manager can use this cycle to your advantage, creating a flywheel effect that attracts leads on autopilot.
- You create great content that keeps readers on the page.
- You optimize it for search based on user intent so it ranks well for the relevant audience.
- Other brands discover your content when researching certain topics, and link to it from their website as a resource.
- Your website ranks even better thanks to additional ranking signals, like backlinks and a low bounce rate.
- Your content, which now appears high in searches for your target keyphrases, captures leads on an ongoing basis.
One example of content marketing that generates compounding returns comes from the marketing and sales platform, HubSpot.
HubSpot uses content marketing as their primary acquisition channel, with 75% of leads coming from content marketing efforts like blogs, webinars, and eBooks.
The returns from content marketing are ongoing, long-term, and constantly growing. Once an article ranks well and is optimized for conversion, you need to do anything more to continue pulling readers in and converting them to leads.
Tip: Great content must be written primarily for your reader. So, make sure it’s engaging for your audience to increase session lengths and lower bounce rates. It’ll also be optimized for relevant search terms, so your content only appears when someone is actively looking for and can get value from it.
3) A content marketing manager makes your startup more professional
A single spelling mistake can cause conversion rates to drop by up to 72%. It affects SEO, distracts readers, and makes you appear much less professional and credible. Your visitors expect a perfect website with perfect content.
A content manager is responsible for perfecting content, including:
- No grammar mistakes
- Compelling marketing materials
- Well-written articles
- Easy navigation
- Clear, concise copy
- Organized guest post exchanges
Honing and polishing your content, from your website to marketing materials, is all part of your user experience. A content marketing manager helps to make that experience seamless and as straightforward as possible.
4) Content empowers your sales team to close deals
Content isn’t just important for your organic leads; it can also fuel other teams’ efforts as well.
A content marketing manager can work with your sales team to equip them with solid marketing materials tailored to their audience. This can be especially useful in account-based marketing where your sales angle is always changing and needs to be customized.
One example of content empowering other teams can be seen in the accounting software, Xero.
“By putting the customer at the centre of your content, you can both attract and retain a network of users. Look to speak to your audience and collect as much valuable data that provides insights into your customers’ journey, so you can hone your marketing strategy across their preferred channels.” – Tam Al-Saad, Xero’s Growth Strategy – How they acquired 350k users in the last 12 months
The Xero marketing team tracks how long users watch their videos, where they drop off, and what actions they take next. Then, they share the data with the sales team, who can use this knowledge about the customer journey to tailor their outreach and make it more effective for the user’s buyer stage.
5) A content manager takes action in times of crisis
Content marketing managers can quickly adapt your content strategy in times of crisis. Having someone on top of the content you send out (scheduled blog posts, automated emails, etc.) will help you avoid any reputational blunders and ill-timed messages.
For example, following reports that Amazon-owned Wholefoods was suggesting employees donate paid time off to workers impacted by COVID-19, Amazon’s content team went straight to action.
They created a blog series dedicated to everything Amazon was doing to support employees, help customers, and further research during COVID-19. This helped refute brand-damaging claims and demonstrated how Amazon was helping employees during a difficult time.
6) A content manager can double down on what works
Great content marketing managers can use data to see what’s effective and wring the best results from that content.
For example, if you have a high-converting blog, a content manager can:
- Repurpose the topic into a webinar
- Turn it into a video and open up new acquisition channels (ex. YouTube)
- Share the article on social media
- Create an infographic out of it and pitch it to other blogs to get backlinks to your main article
- Expand the content and turn it into an eBook
- Send out a survey about the topic to build a whitepaper
Likewise, content marketing managers can pinpoint what type of content does best based on the funnel and buyer stage. For example, different pieces of content are more effective for leads who have requested a demo (bottom-of-funnel, decision stage) versus your social media audience, which typically consists of top-of-funnel, awareness stage leads.
AdEspresso by Hootsuite provides an example of a brand repurposing content effectively. AdEspresso published a guide to social proof marketing. They later added an addendum of 27 examples of social proof that companies use on the web. Then, they published a slide deck on the topic and an eBook on social proof.
“They all contain the same repurposed material.” – How To Outpublish The Competition By Repurposing Existing Content
The AdEspresso team built the Slideshare presentation from their articles and created the eBook from their guide and addendum.
7) A content manager avoids redundancies
Ever write a blog post, then realize you already had a guest post on a similar topic? Well, now you have two blogs competing with each other for the top spot on search, which is never a good idea. A content manager reduces wasted efforts like this, which you can’t afford in a startup.
An example of a large, complex content operation comes from Deliverr. They have a blog bursting with articles, but each piece focuses on a different topic, angle, or audience to ensure their content never competes with itself.
If you search for Deliverr blogs on content marketing, you won’t find the same post twice. Instead, they present you with different subtopics and angles.
Using your time and resources wisely is vital in a startup, so a content manager needs to ensure all content is created and organized efficiently. In addition to reducing duplicate efforts, a content manager can plan complementary content that feeds into high-converting pieces, which encourages visitors to stay on your website longer.
Note: Deliverr is a client of mine (in case you didn’t catch the author bios above).
8) A content manager provides clear direction
Finally, a content manager gives your content strategy a clear direction, helping your content hit company KPIs and deliver impactful results.
Rather than firing out random pieces of content that have no sense or purpose, a manager can skillfully craft a schedule that helps you:
- Demonstrate expertise in a particular area.
- Target different search trends that occur throughout the year.
- Build backlinks to increase SEO and website traffic.
- Be at the forefront of new trends, news, and practices.
Every piece of content plays a part in the bigger picture.
How to know when it’s time to hire a content marketing manager
The perfect time to hire a content marketing manager varies for every startup, but some common indicators are the need to increase growth and a lack of time or skills internally.
1. You’re ready to invest in acquisition
The success of content marketing depends on the time and effort it receives. If you have the resources to invest in acquisition and want to scale sustainably, content marketing brings an excellent ROI that generates compounding returns.
2. You want to accelerate your growth
Content fuels your overall growth, from acquisition to retention and engagement. If you want to expand to new channels, distribute guest content, and ramp up your blog output to fuel your startup growth, you need a content marketing manager’s laser focus.
3. You don’t have enough time to manage your content
If you (or your marketing director) no longer have time to manage your existing content without making mistakes, missing deadlines, or working through the weekend, it’s time to consider expanding your team.
4. You don’t enjoy creating or managing content
If you don’t like managing content, you likely aren’t the best person to do it. Not everyone is a born writer, tweeter, or content manager (and that’s perfectly fine). Instead, outsource content marketing to someone who can strategically manage your content in your stead.
What to look for in a content marketing manager
Rapid growth on a content-lined rocketship can’t occur without the right captain. You need a content marketing manager with the right skill set to achieve it. During your search, there are a few key skills you should look for in a potential content manager.
A great content manager should possess great writing skills, even if they outsource content creation to a team of employees or freelancers.
It’s important they can identify fantastic copy, review and edit content, generate outlines, and write engaging pitches for third parties. And, in case of a crisis, they should be able to grab the reins to generate compelling, informative, and outstanding copy themselves.
Tip: Content managers usually handle much more than just blogs. They should be comfortable with all forms of writing, from long-form articles to social media posts.
Content managers need to orchestrate everything from content creation to distribution and analysis. Organizational skills are vital to keeping your content machine running smoothly. You want someone with a great internal system for managing projects, meeting deadlines, and documenting task details.
Tip: Check out the Trello board I use for my content projects in my free resources section.
A great content manager owns their responsibilities and holds themselves accountable for meeting their KPIs. They also own their mistakes and should be quick to acknowledge when something isn’t working.
Tip: Find a content marketing manager who is willing to take risks, try new channels, and experiment with new tactics, as long as they hold themselves accountable for those decisions.
Your content manager must cooperate with content partners, pivot your strategy in light of new product updates, respond to current events, and answer queries from freelance support out of hours. In other words, they must be flexible and agile.
For example, Deliverr pivoted its content marketing strategy in light of COVID-19 and Amazon FBA’s downtime. They generated blogs, webinars, and guest content about COVID-19 and how to continue delivering online orders without Amazon FBA. It wasn’t in their original content strategy, but they were able to implement this topic in the nick of time and capture leads and conversions as a result.
Attention to detail
Content managers require impeccable attention to detail, and that doesn’t just mean spotting typos (although that’s necessary, too).
Your content manager needs to delve into your marketing personas and SEO strategy to guarantee every piece of content is targeted and relevant. They must also stay on top of your industry and parallel industries to spot emerging trends. This ensures your content is always timely and engaging.
A content marketing manager will likely need to coordinate a team, freelancers, agencies, and other departments. To execute this successfully, your content manager must be a great communicator. They need to be able to get their point across succinctly and efficiently, in-person and online.
Being a good listener and concise communicator is imperative in a startup, where everyone is short on time and wears multiple hats.
Having a solid handle on data and how your content performs can show you where you’re wasting time and what you should do instead. Find a content manager who can collect, crunch, and analyze data from your current content efforts to improve future campaign performance. This includes understanding KPIs, monitoring results, and identifying content that generates the best organic growth and ROI.
For example, some questions a great content manager should be able to answer include:
- How long does it take for a cohort to convert from their first touchpoint?
- How many touchpoints does it take (on average) before someone converts?
- Where are your best leads finding you? Look at speed of conversion, low customer acquisition, and customer lifetime value.
- How well do webinar leads convert through your funnel?
- What pieces of content best convert leads who are already subscribed to your newsletter?
- What topics are the most successful at convincing someone to subscribe to your newsletter?
- How much monthly revenue comes from customers who discovered you through content (first-touch)?
- What content performs the best on which channels?
While your content manager doesn’t need a degree in computer science, they do need the technical capability to work with a variety of tools and tactics. Your content marketing manager likely needs to work with content management systems like WordPress, email marketing tools like MailChimp, editorial calendar tools and integrations, planning tools like HubSpot, and analytics software like Google Analytics.
How to hire a content marketing manager
Ready to ramp up your content, equip your customer-facing teams, and fuel your growth? It’s time to hire a content marketing manager for your startup.
1) Create a job description
Create a job description that includes:
- An introduction to your startup and why they should care
- Main role and responsibilities, with scope for the role to develop
- Salary range and benefits, including share options
2) Share it far and wide
Post your opening on your careers page, LinkedIn, AngelList, share it on social media, send it to your Slack communities, and add a listing on job boards. You can even share it on relevant subreddits like r/HireaWriter.
Tip: Reach out to your network to see if they have any recommendations. Some of the best writers I’ve worked with came from recommendations. (Some of my most successful, best-fit, long-term clients were recommended as well.)
3) Run a test or trial
Once you start getting applications and resumes, look at their experience. There are content managers who specialize in working with growing companies, enterprise clients, and startups. You want to hire for the unique soft skills necessary for success in startups, such as the ability to wear multiple hats and move fast.
For example, an enterprise content department likely has strict processes in place, so you want someone who is good at taking direction and following structure. In a startup, you move quickly, and content needs shift all the time, so you want someone who can implement efficient processes that are ready to scale.
Run a test or have a two-month trial to see how you work together and if it’s a good fit. You want to keep an eye out for the skills I mentioned above, and look at how clearly they communicate, how quickly they respond, and how well they hit deadlines.
Tip: If you aren’t ready for a full-time content marketing manager, consider outsourcing content to a freelancer first.
Wrapping up – Startup content marketing strategy
Content is one of the most powerful tools in your startup growth arsenal. A skilled content marketing manager can bring your content strategy to life, help you achieve organic and scalable growth, and execute multi-faceted campaigns efficiently.