The beauty of content marketing is this: no matter your brand size or sector, the same rules apply.

The following questions will give you and your marketing team a jumping-off point from which to gain a clear understanding of your brand’s specific content tilt.

1. Who Am I Really Speaking To?

This is not as self-explanatory as it appears. This means getting to know your audience as multi-faceted, complicated and sophisticated personas rather than two dimensional, unmoving sales targets—which takes time and analysis. Start by doing a deep-dive into their interests; as we’ll explain in great depth over the course of our publications, audiences aren’t defined by age or gender any more.

Segment the audience to reflect the two or three largest groupings you’re hoping to reach, using the research you have at your disposal, your tools (such as Facebook Ad Manager) and your own sales data.

Not every piece of content should speak to the same grouping, but it’s a non-negotiable that each piece of content has an end ‘someone’ in mind. If you can’t see immediately who it speaks to, drop it and start over.

2. Value: What’s in it for the Audience?

Effective content marketing is about building trust with your audience. How to do this – and how to cut through the masses of noise online? By offering them something of genuine value that they will appreciate.

It sounds remarkably obvious, but it’s something that a stunning number of brands are failing to get on board with. Shift your focus back to the user, considering once again the main personas you have by now created. What can you offer your audience in terms of real value?  What will make them engage with, and trust (/invest) in your brand?

When planning your content pillars, ask yourself what’s in it for them? Education, for example, offers real value, as does (original) entertainment – ripping off a Buzzfeed listicle ain’t gonna cut it.

3. What Unique Story Does my Brand Have to Tell?

Look hard at your brand. Not in terms of ROI or revenue. Look at the mission statement, the brand culture, and the history of the brand. Step away from it, kick the tyres around, look under the bonnet, scrutinise your brand in the context of your competitors.

What are your brand’s defining characteristics? Is it domestically produced? A family business handed down over generations? Is it a start up that has set out to disrupt the sector, and if so – why? Are there human qualities that an audience could relate to, at work behind the scenes? Call on the collective imaginative your team to brainstorm this – use mood boards, ask the interns, survey your network. Find the unique, relatable story: your brand’s content tilt.

4. Resources: What’s Realistic? Scalable?

No matter how innovative the content strategy, if you don’t take a careful, realistic look at your resources and understand your production capabilities and limits, it can’t be realised. Perhaps rather than hiring in-house, it’d be more cost-effective to hire a content marketing agency and pay them a retainer to run your brand’s website and social media channels for you.

Or maybe it could be worth considering using a network of freelance video producers for a single campaign and scaling throughout the quarter by using different edits of the same video. The important thing is to bite off the right amount for you, and scale as you feel ready and able.

5. Where Does My Audience Hang Out?

There’s no point in creating a custom state of the art Snapchat filter if the bulk of your audience has an average of  20 friends on Snapchat and Facebook is their day to day social media channel of choice. That’s some very costly tumbleweed. The same goes for creating a superb podcast and expecting to reach a ready-made audience.

What specific publishing sites, blogs and podcasts does your target audience interact with already? Have you exhausted the data and insights available to you? Are there influencers you could collaborate with to reach your audience?

6. What Type of Content Does my Audience Consume… and When?

This will involve some testing of various lengths and formats of content. Look at your Google Analytics Behaviour Report, examine those on-page times, the site path, number of pages visited. Make use of your on-site and Facebook analytics. But make sure to examine them within the context of a comparative framework and assign goals.

There is no guaranteed fix. Plan, test, analyse and optimise.

7. Who Can I Learn From?

That you should look at your competition goes without saying, you need to understand your position and what’s there for the taking on social media, your search ranking and so on. But you should also be looking beyond your immediate sector and looking at the very best in other sectors.

Think outside the box; immerse yourself in the nuances of content. Think in terms of quality content rather than in terms of industry or product type.