7 Things You Should Know Before Researching Content Marketing Solutions

Imagine you’re a tailor. One afternoon, someone calls your shop and asks you to make a pair of pants.

“What kind of pants?” you ask.

“Oh, just pants,” they say. “How much do pants cost?”

Taken aback, you ask the well-meaning caller why they need the pants. Is it for a wedding? A work event? A rap-themed bar mitzvah? They’re not sure. What about the kind of material they want? Nope, no clue. Can they at least tell you what size the pants should be? Unfortunately, they cannot.

This sounds crazy, right? Sadly, this is how many first-time marketers approach content marketing solutions during their initial selection process. To ensure that vendors provide proposals that are accurate, actionable, customized to your business, and won’t waste your time and money, here are seven factors you should understand before you start shopping around.

1. Goals

This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be shocked by how many organizations don’t actually know why they want to create content. In some cases, an executive will tell a marketer the company needs to double down on content without an explanation. In others, a marketer might blindly invest in content to catch up to competitors.

Whatever the reason, a lack of clear goals makes it virtually impossible for a content vendor to have enough insight to support your efforts. Before you approach anyone, outline the business challenge you’re trying to solve through content.

2. KPIs

What metrics matter most to you? Engagement? Social shares? Leads? Knowing this information ahead of time will give potential partners a chance to anticipate your strategy over the long term.

If you aren’t sure which metrics to measure, think about what data your boss asks for on a regular basis. Those old KPIs should apply to content performance since the ultimate goal of driving revenue will stay the same. This handy chart from our Content Methodology framework should help.

content marketing KPIs

3. Budget

This factor is simple. The amount of money you can spend on a content solution will be a huge influence on whether or not a vendor can support you. (That doesn’t mean all vendors are out to bleed your budget dry.) If you’re honest about your available budget, you’ll be able to determine what services you can get from a potential content partner. With a realistic approach to money, you won’t waste everyone’s time ordering champagne service on a beer budget. This guide will help you figure out where to spend those valuable dollars.

4. Audience

A VP of marketing at a major CPG company once told me that her target audience consisted of “consumers with an interest in food.” In other words, every human on Earth. Suffice to say, her answer was distinctly unhelpful.

Smart vendors are going to ask about audience from the very beginning. Without this input, they won’t be able to analyze what your audience reads and shares. You’ll probably receive a half-baked proposal, and in the end, regret paying for something you weren’t ready for. So make sure you come to the table with a well-defined audience. The more specific, the better.

5. Topics

Marketers new to content often make the mistake of going too broad. Not just for audience, but content topics as well. However, the opposite approach is almost always wiser—until you build an audience, at least.

Start by thinking about what kind of information your audience wants to see. If you run content for a cloud hosting company, your audience probably won’t want general stories about I.T. best practices. They will, however, want to hear your POV on the state of the cloud hosting industry, developments in the space, and cybersecurity.

6. Voice

How do you want to talk to your audience? Formal and authoritative? Friendly and conversational? Somewhere in between? If you’re unsure, just think about how you want customers to perceive your brand. This is where a tone analyzer can be a huge help. It’s certainly not foolproof, but getting some data will help you understand how your voice ranks in the context of other digital content. To learn more about defining your brand’s voice, offers a lengthy tutorial for novices and experts alike.

7. Staff

I saved this item for last because it’s the most overlooked aspect of getting started with content. Companies interested in content marketing may ask vendors the right questions, but they don’t always ask the right questions internally. And the talent you already have will impact how vendors talk to you.

Do you have a robust internal team, including employees capable of posting stories on your CMS, selecting images, and managing social sharing? Proposals you receive should focus on content production then. If not, they’ll likely include a number of other services such as strategy, asset management, workflow automation, and talent. (Check out our CMO’s guide to content marketing hiring for more.)

None of this is rocket science, friends. Before you begin evaluating content marketing solutions, make sure you have each item on this list buttoned up. You don’t want to be the person on the hook for thousands of dollars after you made a decision by the seat of your pants. If you take care of your homework, you should end up with the right solution—one that’s tailored for your organization.

Image by Tomm L /Getty

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