In the world of content marketing, strategy is king. The Content Marketing Institute's 2015 B2C Benchmark Report shows that 47 percent of the most effective content marketers have a documented strategy, while only 5 percent of the least effective do. This trend is mirrored in B2B content marketing, where 54 percent of the most effective practitioners have a documented strategy, compared with 11 percent of the least effective.

Having a documented strategy--and following it--seems to be the secret sauce behind content marketing success. But how exactly should you build that strategy?

A Modern Approach to Traditional Market Research.

Content strategy should be determined by research and hard numbers, not hunches. With the proper tools and processes, you can use data to take the guess work out of marketing, thus creating the greatest likelihood of winning.

As with all marketing initiatives, it's important to conduct research to understand the four W's--who, what, where, and why--in order to maximize effectiveness. And when it comes to content marketing research, those four W's translate into four critical components that every strategy should have baked into it: audience, trends, media, and competition.

1. Audience assessment--the "who."

An audience assessment is, of course, the key to understanding the behavior of your prospects online. Specifically, this analysis will show you how your audience seeks information, how they evaluate brands and products, how they're influenced throughout the buyer's journey, and how they make purchases.

Research tactics for the audience assessment should include a combination of qualitative and quantitative research:

  • Brand immersion
  • Keyword research
  • User-generated content analysis
  • Customer interviews and surveys
  • Expert interviews
  • Analytics assessment

Altogether, these research tactics will allow you to put together comprehensive buyer personas, identify pain points, create a buyer's journey map, and understand the purchasing considerations of your audience.

2. Trends assessment--the "what."

The goal of a trends assessment is to build the "what" component of your content strategy. By compiling and analyzing the most engaging content in your space, you can use hard data to identify trending content patterns and determine opportunities for contributions that are likely to resonate with your audience. The following research tactics can be used for a trends assessment:

  • Sentiment analysis
  • Angle identification
  • Sub topic identification
  • Compelling questions analysis
  • Resources cited analysis
  • Experts quoted analysis

These research practices will help you understand what's being cited and shared by your audience, what questions are and aren't being answered, and why people are interacting with content in the first place.

3. Media assessment--the "where."

A media assessment can be used to identify the top online media and influencers in your space. In conjunction with the trends assessment, the media assessment will help you understand how best to create content that will resonate with your audience and how to maximize the amplification of that content. This assessment should include the following:

  • Industry publications analysis
  • Industry social influencers analysis
  • Industry experts analysis
  • Paid media analysis
  • Social engagement analysis

By identifying and analyzing the channels and outlets through which content performs well in your industry, you can set yourself up for success through earned and paid promotion efforts.

4. Competitive assessment--the "why."

In business, the drive to beat out competitors is the reason, or the "why," behind content marketing. In particular, the competitive assessment is useful for identifying middle- and bottom-of-the-funnel opportunities that may or may not already be capitalized on by your competitors. A competitive content assessment may include the following:

  • Content inventory
  • Sentiment analysis
  • Keyword gap analysis
  • Site architecture and navigation audit
  • Local SEO evaluation

Together, these research tactics will help you understand what your competitors are focusing on and where opportunities for content marketing growth lie.

Content Strategy Powered by Research

More than three-quarters of content marketers claim to have a strategy in place, but fewer than one-third have actually documented that strategy. Having a documented strategy helps increase effectiveness in all areas of content marketing, especially when that strategy is backed by quantitative and qualitative research.

Join Kevin Bailey, co-founder of DigitalRelevance, this Thursday at 1 p.m. ET for Content Strategy Powered by Research, a presentation that will take a deep dive into DigitalRelevance's research process, including the four essential components of audience, trends, media, and competitive assessments.