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. However, content marketing is still a vital process for startups, and can become your differentiator when done well.
Most internet journeys (and customer journeys) start with a single search.
Before people buy or subscribe to things, they do a quick search for “best X 2022” or “X reviews 2022.” Which is probably why 46% of shoppers say they discover new products through Google. But to be discoverable on Google, Google needs to know you exist.
And the only way that Google can find you is through your content.
In this guide, we’ll go through:
- What content marketing for startups entails
- Why startup content marketing is so important
- Tips to get you started on your content creation journey
Shine a light on your business—and generate more sales—with content that answers your customers’ needs.
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?
Content is what you call most things that you find on the Internet. Blog articles, website copy, social media posts, videos, infographics, and pictures are all examples of content.
Content marketing is the act of creating content and strategically distributing it so that it reaches the right audience. For startups, that means finding out who your hyper-specific target audience is, what they want to hear from you, and how you can reach them.
Content marketing strategy outline
To create impactful, cohesive content for your brand, you need a content marketing strategy that ties your brand goals and audience goals all together.
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.
Most well-defined content strategies have the following 10 sections.
1) Executive summary
The executive summary is a broad overview that maps business objectives and measurable goals for your content marketing. It should touch on channels, content types (eg., case studies, videos, features, testimonials), and the purpose and audience of each.
2) Mission and goals
The mission and goals section should discuss 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. Competitive analysis covers;
- Who your competitors are
- What they’re doing
- What their creative styles and tone of voice are
- Which channels they’re on
- What they do that works.
It should look at businesses with similar goals, verticals, and primary mission or vision.
4) Business analysis
The business analysis should include a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis. It touches on how to differentiate your brand and drive business goals through content. In your analysis, include price points, channel access, process shortcomings, wrong business model, etc.
5) Target audience
The target audience section dives into your consumer analysis and buyer personas. It lays out your potential and existing customers’ 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 type and channel strategy
Content type and channel strategy talks 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, your differentiator, posting frequency, and a content creation plan. This is also a good place to include how to access each channel.
7) Amplification plan
Amplification plan talks about how you’ll promote your content. For example, will you use paid ads? Will you post on communities, and if so which ones?
This section should include cross-promotion plans, media buying strategies, and the resources you have to share your content.
8) Execution plan
The execution plan discloses how you’ll implement your strategy and tactics. Each tactic should tie to a strategy, and each strategy should lead to a measurable goal. Include timelines, a schedule for status reports and check-ins, workflows, and the team structure (including who owns each task).
The resources section should contain links to your templates, tools, and other useful assets. 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 (eg., freelance writers, CC0 image banks, video agencies).
The evaluation section details 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.
While we recommend having all 10 sections, customize this content marketing strategy outline to suit your business.
Why content marketing for startups is so important
Apart from building brand awareness, content marketing for startups is especially important because it drives sales on a small budget. If your potential customers can find you, they’ll buy from you. But more specifically, content marketing is important because it affects improves lead generation, provides compounding results, and boosts your sales team.
1) It’s affordable and evergreen
The average well-researched 1,500-word article only costs US$300. Meaning to publish eight articles a month, you only need to spend US$2,400.
Compare that to other types of marketing:
- Producing and broadcasting TV ads → US$105K to over US$1M
- Renting a billboard per month → US$1.5K to over US$14K
- Predicted SMB Google ad spend in 2022 per month → US$9K to $US10K
On top of the high price point, other types of marketing are only effective while they’re running. TV ads sometimes make lasting impressions, but they’re not as effective as funny memories.
Content, on the other hand, is evergreen, meaning it produces compounding results. A study from Animalz highlights how Auth0’s content grew nearly three times faster in phase two and phase three of their growth:
Your can use this cycle to your advantage, creating a flywheel effect that attracts leads on autopilot.
- Create great content that keeps readers on the page.
- Optimize it for search based on user intent so it ranks well for the relevant audience.
- Get discovered by other brands and gain backlinks
- Rank better because of the low bounce rate and numerous backlinks
- Capture leads
At some point, even if you stop producing new content, your existing content will continue to increase your brand’s reach and reputation.
2. It generates better leads organically
Content marketing doesn’t instantly get you thousands of leads. In fact, it gets you less leads than paid ads will. But it does get you higher quality leads who are actually interested in your product.
A blog visitor who reads your 1,500-word article or watches your 10-minute video then hits the “book a demo” button is interested in your products. Whereas someone who sees a paid ad on social media and clicks on your link may be window shopping.
Marketers who have started relying on content instead of in-person events agree. One of them said, “Before COVID, 50% of our leads came from in-person events. We’ve had to double down on focusing on email marketing, SEO, SEM, and emails. Things are slower, yes, but the quality of leads is quite high.”
Tip: Be sure to track which pieces of content generate leads and conversions so you know which to expand and update.
3. It empowers other teams
Create content that answers your audience’s questions and shows them how you can solve their problems. And then give those pieces of content to your sales team. That way, when potential customers have questions, your sales team can send them lasting pieces of content that were created to convert.
One example of content empowering other teams can be seen in the accounting software, Xero.
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.
In the same way, content can also help your customer success team. When confused customers ask your success team questions, they can redirect those customers to a video or article that provides the answer.
5 tips to effectively create content for your startup
The hardest thing about creating content is getting started. So if you’re struggling, here are five things you can do today to kickstart your content marketing journey.
1) Talk to your customers before you build your strategy
Your content needs to answer your potential customers’ questions and needs.
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).
Tip: Talk to your most loyal customers and find out what their pain points and priorities are. After all, you want more customers like your loyal ones.
There are three ways you can get in touch with your customers:
- Send a group of your most loyal customers an email asking them to get on a quick feedback call
- Send a group of your most loyal customers an email asking them to reply with feedback
- Ask your customers to answer a short survey—you can offer them some incentives to encourage them to respond
Ask your customers questions like:
- What is your current job title?
- What are your main responsibilities?
- What products do you use on a daily basis to help you work?
- What types of content do you find most valuable?
- How do you find those pieces of content?
- Is there a recent piece of content from us that you enjoyed?
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. If you decided to conduct a survey, summarize recurring themes in a spreadsheet. For example, if 10 of your customers said that they enjoy how-to guides, take note of that.
2. Plan to create different types of content
Don’t restrict yourself to articles. Create different types of content to reach different parts of your target audience. Here are eight types of content you should look into creating:
- Blog articles are short- or long-form pieces of written content that live on your blog
- Videos can be used on your blog, posted on YouTube, or repurposed into a course
- Social media content are bite-sized pieces of content that usually highlight your blog posts and videos
- Lead magnets are highly valuable pieces of content that readers can only get if they give you their content information (e.g., a State of Content 2022 report that readers can access after filling out a form)
- Case studies use data and stories to show potential customers how happy your existing customers are
- Email campaigns keep your existing customers engaged while also nurturing your prospects
- Podcasts are voice-only pieces of content that your potential customers are listen to while doing other things
- Sales enablement content are any piece of content designed to be used by your sales reps
But of course, don’t create all those pieces of content all at once. For today, choose three that you want to prioritize and start creating one.
For example, you can choose to create blog articles, social media content, and a video. Start by writing out your blog. When you’re done with that, create a video that supports it and a social post that amplifies it. Easy, right?
Then continue doing that for a few months until you start to see results. When you start seeing results from your content, you’ll be more motivated to experiment with other types of content.
3. Research before you create
Before you create your first piece of content, do some research—whether that’s primary research (i.e., your own proprietary data) or secondary research (i.e., researching by looking at other people’s works).
Support all your recommendations with data. Even if you’re an expert, backing up your claims with statistics and expert quotes will make your content stronger and more believable.
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.
After you decide on a topic for your content, figure out what information you’ll need to have. For example, for this article, we needed:
- Stats on the cost of traditional marketing vs. content marketing
- Stories with stats about compounding content
- Stories about how content empowers other teams
There are a couple of ways you can find the information you need in less time.
Search for “X stats” or PDFs on Google
The easiest way to find information to back up your claims is by looking for recent reports or stats on Google.
For example, for this article, we used search queries like “content marketing is affordable stats” and “state of content marketing 2022 pdf.”
Google then pulled up a list of recent reports from various websites.
But keep in mind Google is your best friend and worst enemy when it comes to research. It contains reliable information, but also quite a bit of junk.
Don’t link to sources that are merely a list of stats on a website that did nothing but compile stats. Always look for the original source of any statistic, otherwise your resource does nothing for your article. In some cases, linking out to a stat listicle may even hurt your article’s credibility.
Do a Google site search through reputable research organizations
To do a site search, type “site:[yoursite.com] [search query]” into the Google search bar. For example, if we wanted to look through McKinsey & Company’s database for articles on content marketing, we would search for “site:https://www.mckinsey.com/ content marketing.”
Doing so would pull up articles from McKinsey & Company that either mentions or is related to content marketing.
You can do a site search for any website. So if you’re looking for more specific data on a certain company, you can look through their database for more information by using the site search formula we mentioned above
Statista is a database of data. It combs through the internet, gather reports and turning them into easily-digestible charts that you can use in your content.
With a free plan, you get access to charts and some of their data. With a paid plan, you can find the sources to all of their data points and request more specific research.
4. Keep your content skimmable
After you have all your data, it’s time to start outlining. No matter what type of content you create, you need an outline to guide you. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a mess of words or clips on your laptop that no one will understand but you.
The other benefit of having an outline is that it can give you a clear overview of what your article will look like from the reader’s point of view. After all, a reader skims first to find out whether or not your article is worth reading. If it is, they’ll go deeper. But if your headers don’t align and your article isn’t skimmable, they probably won’t move onto doing the actual reading.
All of your subheaders need to answer each other — from your H1 to your H4s.
Your H1 or title needs to tell your reader exactly what they’re getting into. All of your H2s need to answer your H1. So for example, if your article is entitled “A Complete Guide to X,” then your H2s need to be, “What is X,” “Why is X important,” and “How to do X.”
If you want to get into more detail with some H3s, then make sure that your H3s are parallel and that they all answer the corresponding H2. The same goes for H4s and H5s.
Creating an outline with cohesive headers will help you write an article that your readers can understand whether they decide to skim or read.
5. Keep an eye on your competitors
You should be tracking your own brand, but don’t forget to watch your competitors, because they can give you content ideas. For example, if one of your competitors started a podcast and got tons of traffic from it, you might want to create a podcast as well.
To track your competitors, set up Google Alerts. When you set up an alert, Google will automatically generate a list of relevant articles that mention your chosen keyword and send those links to you through email. Do content audits for each type of content, and different buyer journey stages they are created for.
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.
Bonus: Remember to “BLUF”
BLUF means bottom line upfront. BLUFing is when you explain the main point of each section in the very first paragraph after your header. BLUFing is important for both skimmability and user experience.
Have you ever looked up a recipe online? Recipe sites are infamously terrible at BLUFing. When you search for a recipe, all you want is a list of ingredients, a list of instructions, and maybe a nutrition table — not the backstory of whatever dish you want to make.
But unlike recipe sites, your reader isn’t going to assume that if they scroll down, they’ll get what they came to your article for. Instead, they’ll scan your piece a little, not find that they want, and then leave to go look for a better article.
No matter how great your information is, if it’s buried under a long backstory that no one wants to hear, no one will find it. Don’t make your reader dig around your article for buried treasure — they won’t do it.
For example, in this bonus tip, we started off the section by explaining what BLUF means.
Create content that converts without years of trial and error
Content is one of the most powerful tools in your startup growth arsenal.
But creating content isn’t easy. It takes years of practice, SEO knowledge, and trial and error. Which is why we recommend looking into hiring a content manager who can:
- Plan your content calendars
- Research, write, review, and edit your content
- Manage a content team
- Decide where to invest team resources
- Organize tasks and track budgets
- Work across teams to ensure deadlines are met
Wrapping up — Invest in your startup content marketing strategy
Investing in your startup content marketing strategy may not provide immediate results, but it will begin generating compounding results. As you continue to research and refine your content based on your audience and consumer research, you’ll notice better leads and increasingly effective pieces that can even empower other teams.
Published: Jan 11, 2021
Updated: May 23, 2022