10 Must-Haves for Your Content Marketing Guidelines

As published on the MarketingProfs blog, 12/3/20

Everything has changed because of the pandemic, including traditional marketing tactics. Industry events have been canceled. Your customers are working exclusively from home, and they’re busier than ever, adjusting to videoconferencing and juggling additional responsibilities.

How do you reach your target audience where they are?

Quality content, of course.

More than half of marketers are increasing their social media (55%) and thought leadership (53%) efforts right now, according to LinkedIn. And rightfully so: B2B and B2C customers are hungrier for your content than ever before.

So, are you ready to get on the content bandwagon?

Picture this: You and your marketing team create a list of content topics. You line up internal subject-matter experts (SMEs) for an interview. You hire a few freelance writers and hand out assignments. They’re off and running, and you’re optimistic about the great blog posts and articles coming your way.

But when you open the emails and read the first returns, something isn’t right. You like one writer’s headline. You like another one’s tone. Another writer’s conclusion and call to action are promising. The posts are good, but they’re disconnected from each other. They lack a single, unified voice.

Enter: Content marketing guidelines.

Because more than one writer is composing your thought leadership articles and blog and social media posts, you need to establish guidelines to ensure that all content (including your website’s) has a cohesive voice—the voice of your business.

How do you create content marketing guidelines?

For some businesses, the content marketing guidelines will be a 10-page e-book. For others, it’ll be a one-page PDF reference sheet. How comprehensive those guidelines are will depend on the depth of your content program, its goals, and the way you’ve organized your writers.

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

Include these 10 topics in your content guidelines:

  1. Tone. Is your content written in first or third person? Are your blog posts and thought leadership articles more authoritative or conversational?
  2. Audience. Who are your target audiences/markets? What type of language do they use? That issue 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, include content examples for them.
  3. Style. Do you follow AP style? List all of your exceptions to the rules (I promise you’ll have some!) and any unique stylistic nuances specific to your business. For example, what should your business be called, on first mention and in each subsequent mention?
  4. SEO. Specify SEO terms and how you want them used to optimize content. Research SEO terms for each blog post/article before distributing writing assignments. Going back to insert SEO after the content has been written will ruin its readability.
  5. Headline. Use the ETA formula for writing headlines: the END result your customer wants + the TIME they can get it in + ACTION they need to take to get it.
  6. Key takeaway or deck. Create a formula for your brand’s key takeaway or deck (i.e., the short paragraph between the headline and the copy that sums up your main points). Here’s 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 portfolio of companies can reduce the impact on their D&O coverage and bottom line. Boring? Yes, but you know exactly what you’re going to get.
  7. Citing statistics. Uninformed readers still deserve the truth. Instruct your writers on how you want statistics to be cited. Will you use footnotes or will you lead into each stat with “According to LinkedIn…”? Maybe you like to cite the source afterward: “Marketers who prioritize blogging are 13 times more likely to have a positive ROI, says Forbes.”
  8. Copy body. Your readers are short on time. Coach your writers to create multiple entry points in the copy for your audience to join and then rejoin later. Use bullets, numbered lists, or paragraph headers to keep re-engaging the reader.
  9. Call to action. Create a go-to CTA that can be dropped at the end of each piece of thought leadership to inform your reader of next steps. Use different CTAs for each platform: Your website blog will have one, a trade magazine article another, and social media yet another. Writers should be able to cut and paste them from the content guidelines.
  10. Internal approval process. Detail how writers should submit their blogs, what the pecking order is for internal approvals, and what expected timelines are. Many organizations use project management software like Basecamp or Scoro to manage workflow. Others will want to include a flow chart in the guidelines that directs the writer through the editing and approval process.

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

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

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