The Anatomy of a Great Content Strategy

The Anatomy of a Great Content Strategy

David Meerman Scott, bestselling author and marketing strategist, once said “you are what you publish online.” Never has this been more true than for brands. We aren’t just competing with rivals in our industry; we are competing for consumer attention, and consumers are sick and tired of being interrupted with content that is annoying and irrelevant. The only way to achieve that goal is with a truly remarkable inbound strategy focused on useful, helpful content. But what does it actually take to succeed with content? Below I’ve outlined the core elements of a successful content strategy to create an inbound experience for your customers, along with some tips, tricks, and insights we’ve learned along the way from building our own brand of HubSpot content. The Anatomy of a Great Content Strategy

Get Persona-fied

When a marketer asks me where to begin their approach to content, I always default to the same question: Who is your audience? Inevitably, I get a broad answer, like “moms” or “C-level executives,” and the reality is there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of businesses targeting those exact audiences on a daily basis. Before you start crafting content of any kind, you need clear buying personas so you can build your publishing and promotion strategy around your potential buyers.

If you’re not familiar with buying personas, think about them as a pseudo-Facebook profile for your core audiences. In other words, it’s not good enough to target “moms”. Your persona strategy should include demographics, sample content consumption, ages, buying habits, and other relevant information that will guide your strategy. For example, replace “moms” with a named potential consumer, such as Meghan. What does Meghan do all day? Who does she interact with? What social networks does she use regularly? What blogs or magazines does she enjoy? What motivates her? If you’re not sure how to create personas for your business, start by interviewing 3-5 customers or potential customers of your business and ask them open-ended questions about their day. By asking a bit about the tenor of their daily life, how they found your company, and what websites they visit daily, you’ll start to recognize some trends in demographics, motivation, and habits of your audience. It’s tempting to create 10-12 buyer personas, but doing so is a mistake.

Great content strategies identify 2-3 core personas and create tailored plans to succeed in reaching each of them. Persona development may sound like an exercise in make-believe, but building personas forces your team to be honest about who you are marketing to and who you are not. The “who you are not” portion of personas is imperative. Once you start creating and promoting content, you will inevitably be asked (by your sales team, your executive team, or by potential customers) to create more content, and being able to chart a clear path to content success with 2-3 personas is far more efficient and effective than trying to be all things to all people in the world of content.

Do Your Homework

The single biggest mistake you can make in developing a content strategy is doing exactly what everyone else does. In other words, copying the playbook of other brands in your space may work in other realms of marketing, but it falls flat in the content world. Think of your company’s content as a television channel: You don’t want to be the fifteenth channel competing with ESPN for around the clock sports coverage, do you? No, you want to create your own approach and give people a reason to tune in to your brand content on a regular basis.

To do that, you not only need to be different, you need to be remarkable. Being remarkable requires some investigative work: In addition to knowing what and when your target audience is reading on a regular basis, you should also have a basic understanding of the content landscape in your industry. We recommend that people do a qualitative and quantitative analysis of what’s already being written in their space. Seeing what other companies are publishing can help you win either by volume (if they rarely publish new material) or by quality (if their content is mediocre).

Mike Volpe

Mike Volpe

Mike Volpe is the CMO of HubSpot, an inbound marketing and sales platform company based in Cambridge, MA. With over 11,000 customers in more than 65 countries, HubSpot is helping businesses transform the way they market and sell to match how modern consumers shop and buy. Learn more at
Mike Volpe

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13 thoughts on “The Anatomy of a Great Content Strategy

    1. Thanks Keegan–personas have been a huge driver of our success here at HubSpot, and measurement is critical to any marketing effort now. Glad you enjoyed it.

    1. Preeti, thanks for reading and for your comment. We still get a significant number of leads from historical blog posts, so we get value from them long after they are published–you certainly can’t say the same for banner ads.

  1. I like the use of personas. It’s very handy when you write your content. The best way to do that is to really know your customer, their habits and how they interact. Good read! Thanks.

    1. Absolutely, Daniel–one of our customers actually created life-sized persona cutouts for their marketing personas, they really went the extra mile!

  2. I like how you addressed that marketing personas can appear as superfluous “make-believe”, but in fact they are critical in defining who you are targeting, and who you are not.

    Here at SEJ we took it a step further, and even created “anti-marketing” personas for those audiences we decided NOT to target. It incited a great discussion with the team. In the end the exercise helped validate our “regular” marketing personas, and eliminated distracting debates on why we weren’t going after those other A/B/C demographics.

    Would love to see a follow-up piece. For example your recommendation on performing a “qualitative and quantitative analysis of what’s already being written in their space”. How about a how-to? :)

    1. The anti-marketing personas are a great idea, I love that. A follow up post with more actionable tips is a great idea, I’ll add it to my to-do list (which I’m sure, like yours, is getting longer by the minute.) Have a great weekend!

  3. Awesome read, I’m a big believer in ‘doing your research’ and developing a greater understanding of who you’re marketing towards to gain that end goal.

  4. Really looking forward to reading this article. However, I’m not sure if its a display issue my end, but there are no paragraphs / line breaks to break up the huge chunks of copy. It’s quite hard to read as a guide. It’s probably my number 1 pet hate online.
    It’s also big content marketing faux pas in my humble opinion – readability is key!