In the past, content distribution was constrained by physical location or one-way communication. Now, with an explosion of digital channels and the expectation of 24/7 availability it can be hard to keep up with all the ways to reach your audience – and all the ways your audience wants to reach you.

From content hubs, media relations and email to the multitude of apps and social networks, there have never been more options available to reach your audience with your content and messaging.

Unfortunately, the increase in options also means that it is easy to get lost in a crowded space. An audience-first approach to strategy and execution means content marketers should look for ways to reach their specific audience exactly where the audience wants it – not where it is convenient for an organisation. Enter: the channel strategy.

A channel strategy allows content marketers to evaluate methods of distribution across earned, owned and paid media channels to find an effective way to reach an audience.

Here’s how.

What is a content marketing channel strategy?

A channel strategy, in content marketing, is your plan for distributing your content to your audiences. It is an aspect of the wider content strategy.

When creating a channel strategy you need to consider:

  • Audiences’ channels of choice: where are your target audiences ‘hanging out’?
  • Context: audiences may not be open to your brand in certain spaces. Even if your audience uses Snapchat in their personal lives to interact with friends, it may well still be disruptive to see content from a B2B organisation there.
  • Channel objectives: what is best practice on the channel? Think formats, tone of voice. How can you marry that with your brand’s style (if you can’t, it’s probably not a suitable channel for your brand).
  • Cost and resources: focus on where you can create the most value instead of spreading yourself too thin.
  • Business objectives: your channels (and the metrics you use to track the channel’s success) need to align with what your organisation wants to achieve.

Why you should have a channel strategy before you start planning

Content marketing is not a case of ‘build it and they will come’. The best ways to approach your audiences differ. A graduate spending most of their time on Facebook will discover information differently to a 55-year-old reading the Australian Financial Review. Reaching the two of them comes back to that marketing fundamental – know your audience.

When you create a channel strategy before you plan your content, as part of your broader content strategy, the audience research, persona work and data analysis happens upfront. This makes it easier to plan and deliver messages that stick, and suit the platforms and channels you are going to publish and distribute on.

Look for your audience’s current watering holes. It’s easier to meet them there than to push them to new channels. Then, map out all your touchpoints, study the broader landscape including competitors and prioritise channels where you can connect with your audience in a genuine manner.

From there, you should be constantly evaluating the performance of your channels against previously agreed metrics. Make adjustments when unforeseen opportunities or challenges arise. For example, your research might suggest your audience is on LinkedIn but your results show a very high cost per click. The problem may be with the effectiveness of your content. However, it may also mean your audience wants to see your content elsewhere, in places they will more naturally engage with it. Be ready to be flexible and treat content distribution as a learning experience.

Being channel agnostic

You could find that your audience’s touchpoints are broad and complex. Engineers Australia, a Mahlab client, uses a large mix of channels. These don’t just span owned channels such as the content hub, email newsletter and various social media channels. They also include events, media relations, employee advocates and syndication partnerships through Apple News and Google News.

The most effective content marketing channel strategies assess distribution methods and publish across earned, owned and paid media without having a preconceived preference for one over another. At Mahlab, we look at all potential audience touchpoints to ensure we put the right emphasis on the right channels at the right time. This is a channel agnostic approach to strategy creation.

This will help you to avoid falling into chasing after shiny new things without considering what your audience actually wants. Even if, for example, you think smart speakers are the next big thing, if your audience isn’t using them to interact with the type of content that you are producing you shouldn’t let your own preferences sway your strategy. You might have 100 channels at your disposal, so you need to find and only use the two, five or 10 that work.

marketing channels

Matching channel to funnel stage

Considering all options across earned, owned and paid means that you can focus on finding the most effective path to reach your audience. It can also ensure that you get the most impact out of your content across different funnel stages.

One asset, story, interview or message can be adapted for each channel, keeping messaging consistent and  increasing efficiency (and ROI) as you get many bites of the cherry. Silo the content generation for these channels and you miss opportunities.

Treat your audience as your guide and you will find many interlocking paths of distribution across many channels. The way to avoid your message getting lost is to treat your audience’s needs as your north star.

Hannah Dixon contributed to the writing of this piece.

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