10 must-haves for your content marketing guidelines

The pandemic has changed everything, including traditional marketing tactics. Industry events have been canceled. Your clients work entirely from home and are busier than ever. They prepare for video conferences and juggle additional tasks.

How do you reach your target group where they are?

High quality content, of course.

Currently, more than half of marketers are ramping up their social media efforts (55%) and thought leaders (53%), according to LinkedIn. And rightly so: B2B and B2C customers are hungrier for your content than ever before.

Are you ready to embark on the content train?

Imagine this: You and your marketing team create a list of content topics. You put together internal experts (SMEs) for an interview. They hire some freelance writers and distribute assignments. You are running and you are optimistic about the great blog posts and articles to come.

But when you open the emails and read the first few returns, something is wrong. You like a writer’s headline. You like someone else’s tone. Another writer’s conclusion and appeal are promising. The contributions are good, but they are not linked. They lack a single, unified voice.

Enter: guidelines for content marketing.

With more than one author contributing to your thought leadership articles, blog and social media posts, you need to establish guidelines to ensure that all content (including that of your website) has one cohesive voice – the voice of your company.

How do you create guidelines for content marketing?

For some companies, the guidelines for content marketing are a 10-page e-book. For others, it’s a one-page PDF reference sheet. How comprehensive these guidelines are will depend on the depth of your content program, its objectives, and the way you have organized your writers.

You may want a separate set of guidelines for each marketing channel or industry. Facebook is different from LinkedIn, your website blog is different from an industry publication. Each line of business is likely to target a unique audience. Therefore, when creating marketing guidelines, consider all of your marketing efforts and target audiences.

Include these 10 topics in your content guidelines:

  1. Volume. Is your content written in the first or third person? Are your blog posts and thought-guiding articles more authoritative or chatty?
  2. Audience. Who are your target groups / markets? What kind of language are they using? This problem is arguably more important than any other in optimizing content for your readership. If you’re working with new freelancers who aren’t familiar with your industry, add content samples to them.
  3. Style. Do you follow the AP style? List all of your exceptions to the rules (I promise you will have some!) And any unique stylistic nuances that are specific to your business. For example, what should your company be called the first time it is mentioned and each subsequent mention?
  4. SEO. Include SEO terms and how they should be used to optimize content. Before you hand out writing assignments, do some research on SEO terms for each blog post / article. If you re-paste SEO after writing the content, it will affect readability.
  5. Heading. Use the ETA formula to write headlines: the END result your client wants + the TIME they can get it + the PROMOTION they need to get it.
  6. Key to take away or deck. Create a formula for the key takeaway or deck of your brand (i.e. the short paragraph between the headline and the copy that summarizes your main points). Here is an example I wrote this week: Directors and officers (D&O) claims are expected to increase significantly in the post-COVID-19 environment. Here are 5 ways private equity firms and their corporate portfolio can reduce the impact on their D&O coverage and bottom line. Boring? Yes, but you know exactly what you are going to get.
  7. Quote statistics. Uninformed readers still deserve the truth. Instruct your authors how to quote statistics. Do you use footnotes or use “According to LinkedIn …” to lead to each statistic? You might want to quote the source later: “Marketers who prioritize blogging are 13 times more likely to get a positive ROI, says Forbes.”
  8. Copy body. Your readers have little time. Train your writers to create multiple entry points in the copy that your audience can participate and rejoin later. Use bullets, numbered lists, or paragraph headings to reactivate the reader.
  9. Call to action. Create a go-to CTA that can be deleted at the end of each thought line to let your reader know what to do next. Use different CTAs for each platform: your website blog has one, an article in a trade magazine, and another on social media. Authors should be able to cut and paste them from the content guidelines.
  10. Internal approval process. Include how authors should submit their blogs, the pecking order for internal approvals, and what schedules are expected. Many companies use project management software like Basecamp or Scoro to manage the workflow. Others may want to include a flowchart in the guidelines to walk the writer through the editing and approval process.

Of course, nothing is set in stone – not even the wonderful masterpiece you create as a content marketing guide. Like a LinkedIn post or website blog, your content marketing guidelines can and should evolve over time.

As marketing trends change, adapt and adjust your content marketing guidelines accordingly.

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