Before you launch a content marketing initiative, you need to figure out your strategy. Now, plenty of organizations skip this step – they just start blogging without really thinking through why they’re doing it and what their goals are. However, there’s plenty of evidence that  the companies that succeed with content marketing are the ones that have a documented strategy.

But when you’re just starting out, creating that strategy can seem daunting. The world of content marketing is moving very fast, there are so many different decisions to be made, and it’s difficult to figure out what your goals should be, let alone how you could ever possibly reach those goals.

So let’s keep it simple.

You don’t have to be on every social media platform and create videos and infographics and blog posts and whitepapers all on Day One. You need to establish a presence somewhere, figure out how you can have an impact, and then learn and improve.

With that in mind, here are the bare bones of the strategy you need to build in order to have some early success. You can increase the complexity later, but for now let’s just focus on the blocking and tackling of getting this machine rolling.

Set your goals. Your ultimate goal is to help your business sell stuff, so keep that in mind. However, you can’t launch a content marketing effort with the idea that you’re going to immediately sell more widgets. You need to focus, at least initially, on marketing goals rather than sales goals. We recommend paying attention to email subscribers, as well as increased website visits (assuming the content lives on your website) and increased social media followers. Someday, you’ll be able to monitor “time on site” and other advanced metrics, but for now we just want to build an audience.

Identify your audience. You must build persona profiles of your customers and prospects. You need to understand as much as you can about their lifestyle or workstyle, how they consume content, and where they get their information. However, you don’t have to make this a months-long research project. If you’ve been in your industry for a few years, or have an experienced sales team, you should be able to get to at least 80 percent of a good persona profile with relatively modest effort.

Decide on what type of content. Please please please don’t start with “we’re going to launch a blog!” That is a tactic, not a strategy. However, you do need to figure out your tactics at some point. After you have a handle on your audience, you’ll have a better idea of the types of content they want. Do they have the time and inclination to read in-depth whitepapers? Or are you better off creating quick-hit videos? You also need to determine what topics you’ll be covering, and which topics you won’t be covering – this is the editorial promise you make to your audience.

Determine how you will create that content. This requires you to figure out who will create the content (Marketing staff? Freelancers? An agency?), who will manage them, and what your approval process is. Try to keep this workflow as tight as possible; if it gets too unwieldy and too many people are involved, the process can get bogged down and it becomes difficult to find the right cadence for your content.

Determine how you will distribute that content. You may have noticed that there’s a lot of content out there on the Internet. If you’re thinking that you’ll just publish content to your website and the audience will find you, think again. At least half of your effort should be focused on distribution – whether that’s through social media, media relations, an influencer marketing campaign, paid distribution, or some combination of those.  

Establish what you are going to measure. This goes hand in hand with what your goals are. If you’re trying to grow an email subscriber list, you need to keep rigorous track of email sign-ups. It’s also important to learn from what you’re measuring. Do you get twice as many sign-ups on Tuesdays compared to Fridays? Why? Do certain topics generate more subscriptions? Again, why?

This is the skeleton of your content marketing strategy. Don’t overcomplicate things coming out of the gate. Keep your processes tight. Know that it will get more complex as time goes by, and you learn and improve. The key is to recognize this is a starting point, and you will evolve as you move forward. But first you have to take that first step.