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The only expression more irritating than "we need it yesterday" is "ready, fire—aim!"

In my experience, nothing good ever came from rushing. In content marketing, if you pull the trigger before you've taken aim at your target, you'll most likely shoot yourself in the foot.

As content marketing's share of budget increases, so does the importance of having a sound strategy for how to employ it. That's especially true because of the large variety of content and the wide range of communication channels: newsletters, blogs, direct mail, whitepapers, social media, video, websites, and emails, to name a few.

Having a solid content strategy is the key to helping brands achieve their business goals and accurately measure performance. Companies can further avoid "ready-fire" accidents by combining their PR, marketing, and digital strategy.

Such an integrated approach helps ensure a consistent message—one of the keys to generating and enhancing brand awareness, thought leadership, and demand generation. Your message can reinforce your value proposition, highlight the company's strengths, or tie back to an overarching campaign theme.

And what's most important is that you must deliver the right message to the right audience, at the right time, and develop a consistent voice across all of your content.

Thus, an integrated approach encompasses the four "R's" of effective messaging (notice they are all plural):

  1. Right messages
  2. Right channels
  3. Right times
  4. Right audiences

With an integrated content strategy, marketers can provide a more consistent message, expand a company's network of potential customers, and better connect with prospective buyers—all while driving greater returns.

The following tips provide best-practices for developing and implementing an integrated strategy.

1. Lay the groundwork for success

Develop a strong foundation by getting your messaging, website, and collateral in place before launching your content marketing strategy.

You can avoid the too-busy-to-plan trap by creating the right team and processes to design, develop, and deliver content. It's important to have a content manager and a plan for where and how to obtain fresh, compelling content. Some creative thinking goes a long way toward finding internal and external sources for great content; you can learn from what companies in and outside of your industry are doing.

An important element of building the content marketing foundation is to ensure that the internal team is educating and informing content contributors across various departments regarding key messages and helping everyone stay "on message."

2. Work in teams

PR, Marketing, and Digital should be treated and executed as one integrated function, not separate entities. Departments often have their own brand vision and preferred outlets, which can lead to a disjointed experience and messages for the customer.

To get the most from content, you need to break down department silos and align goals. Integrating marketing, PR and digital media really means cross-promoting content.

Here's a quick example: Pitch and place a customer or industry survey with a media outlet; then promote it using multiple social medial channels, email for lead generation, and perhaps a direct mail campaign; blog about it, link to it, and feature the survey as premium content on your website; finally, use marketing automation to measure success or adjust tactics.

3. Take a channel-neutral approach

Distribute content across multiple channels for maximum reach. Taking a broad, integrated view of both content creation and distribution helps capture different segments of the market.

Buyers, decision-makers, and influencers spend time on several social media channels and sites. Using multiple channels optimizes the chances for different people to find and share your content. Sharing amplifies the reach of your content, so it helps that you encourage sharing wherever possible.

Social media monitoring tools and marketing automation provide an understanding of what marketing channels are actually delivering leads, so test your messaging using those tools.

Today, every company has access to some great marketing technology. "Marketing is rapidly becoming one of the most technology-dependent functions in business," according to a recent Harvard Business Review article.

The tools are out there, and almost every company can find solutions to meet their needs and budget.

4. Don't reinvent the content wheel

Coming up with new content to feed outlets can quickly get overwhelming. Scrambling for content also gives rise to hasty execution and subpar performance.

Work smarter, not harder: Repurposing content is a great way to make the content work for you.

A three-part whitepaper series can provide the majority of content to develop a webinar and several blog posts. Just as important, although whitepapers and blogs can help create awareness, the re-framed webinar can address the information needs of prospects in (or moving into) the consideration stage of the conversion funnel.

Integrating all customer-facing touchpoints increases the chances your message will get through and creates an overall positive experience for what will likely be a more satisfied customer.

5. Customize content for the buyer's journey

A whopping 77% of buyers want—actually need—different types of content at each stage of their product research process, according to Pardot. An integrated content strategy ensures sales prospects receive the right content to help them progress through the conversion funnel by choice and at their own pace.

Your buyer's sales journey starts with awareness and informational content, such as videos, infographics, and whitepapers. As they move along the funnel toward consideration and purchase, they need more detailed information, such as product datasheets, customer testimonials, and ultimately pricing information.

6. Make business personal

Innovative companies need new ways to reach their audience. The traditional scattershot approach to PR and marketing is out of pace with today's demand for a personalized experience.

Brands need an integrated and customized approach to attracting and converting prospects; and that approach is to generate hyper-specific content delivered to micro-targeted audiences.

Micro-targeting requires automation to segment by sales stage, industry, role, or title and then to use that data to personalize the message. Nurturing must be directly relevant to the prospect's needs at each stage in the conversion funnel.

Micro-targeting answers questions, so the "What's in It for Me" (WIIFM) principal applies here. If you can't answer the WIIFM question, you probably should rewrite it. Do it well, and you create real value in the mind of your audience members, and that will lead to their taking action.

* * *

It takes great strategy to make any marketing program work well. In some companies, marketing, PR, and digital/social media are three separate functions. It takes a village—a team working together with an integrated strategy—to succeed in content marketing.

Marketing, Digital, and PR need to be on the same page, maximizing every channel, cross-promoting content, and optimizing content for every step in the buyer's journey. It also takes technology, because marketing automation and social media monitoring are the only way to measure success.

When integrated content consistently connects and resonates with sales prospects through the entire conversion funnel, it is a winning content marketing program.

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image of Brad Dodge

Brad Dodge is the president of Dodge Communications, a full-service integrated public relations and marketing agency helping healthcare and technology companies build strong brands, demonstrate thought leadership, and drive sales.

Twitter: @BradDodge