The Strategic Guide To Writing A Content Marketing Proposal

Content Marketing has emerged as the biggest buzz word in the field of marketing in the last couple of years. To a novice, it is about writing a few blogs and then waiting to see if it attracts traffic. To experts, it is using content as the backbone of all marketing initiatives.

Being a specialist agency in Content Marketing, we’ve received all kinds of requests in the last few years. Most times, we have to explain to our clients that there are two words here that make this process happen – ‘Content’ and ‘Marketing’. These aren’t mutually independent and will have to work together if you have to see some magic in the form of traffic, engagement, leads and conversions on the website. Even then, we get requests for plain content writing – because we can churn out high quality content with regular frequency.

We generally sit down with such a request and then turn it into a strategy that can help our clients look back six months from now and think that they did the right thing by hiring us.

In this guide to writing a content marketing proposal, we’ve tried to outline what’s worked for us when it comes to creating a strategy for different industries and clients.

Before you get to it, here’s a quick note – We also have proposal writing guides for Social Media Clients and Search Engine Optimization Clients. These templates and strategy can come handy when you create your next proposal.

Now, getting back, here are steps to creating a content marketing proposal that’ll get you a client and also retain them. By the way, this proposal guide will come handy for both agencies and freelancers.


The brief gathering process

The brief for a content marketing strategy is generally gathered during a personal meet or a mix of a phone and email conversation. Asking a few pointed questions during this process is necessary to set the course of your strategy going forward.

Here are two questions that can help you get started

1. What is your main goal behind having a content marketing plan?
Universally, marketing has a few clear goals – activities that lead to traffic, engagement, visibility, branding and eventually leads and conversions. Does this percolate into the content marketing plan too?

2. How can content help you achieve your goals?
For some businesses like E-commerce, the connect to the sales pipeline is clear. But for others like B2B products which people don’t directly buy online, being able to create a measurable content marketing strategy requires a few additional parameters.


Setting goals

Once you’ve collected the brief, it is time to translate them into concrete goals.
Let’s take a B2C company selling groceries online, for example. Their goal was to

“Use content marketing to increase conversions and generate revenue”
To achieve this goal, you’ll have to define targeted metrics around it. For example,
Metric 1: Generate x% of website revenue from content marketing
Metric 2: Create content that ranks on the first page of Google for certain key terms

Or another goal example for a B2B company can be

Gain position as a leader in their industry
The translated metrics for this goal can be
Metric 1: Increase newsletter subscribers by x%
Metric 2: Increase white paper downloads by x%.
Metric 3: Increase content views by x%


Internal research task

a. Get thorough knowledge of the product / service you are selling: Real engaging content cannot come without understanding the product fully and how it works. Some industries are simpler than others since we may already be using the product every day. But when it comes to B2B, it is best to deep dive into Google and get a thorough research on the product and its categories. Our best bet is to generally spend some time with the product manager in the company. The human insights behind the product actually become its best story spinners. Besides, if you want to create cornerstone content, it can’t be all fluff and jargon but has to be based on experience to a certain degree.

If you are doing this as a team, use a single doc to cap ideas: Typically, there may be more than one writer in our team taking up the job. This works well when you need multiple perspectives on the product. We have an internal guideline document that helps writers tether their ideas to the central document which are then viewed by editors and constructed into a coherent flow.


Important: Before you move forward
At this point, you have all the basic info necessary to take a deep dive and get started. So this is the best time to present a sample piece of content and get an email in place about timelines and approx budgets. But can you set an agreement without completing the content audit?

It depends from client to client. For first timers, it is mostly a Yes. You see, the content audit below is a lot of work – and time from your internal team. So it is up to you to decide if you want to take up the full load before you actually bag the client. Whatever you discover from the content audit may have a direct impact on the overall budget. The budget here isn’t the entire cost of the project but more an approximate number that your client can have in mind.

Budget discussions are never easy as you thread on a thin line. All  agencies out there scream quality – but this can be proven only with time. We showcase ours by sharing case studies and testimonials from previous clients.

As a newbie, not doing this has caused quite a bit of heartache for us. You may find only one rotten mango among the pile but it is still best to have a shield and stay prepared. Here’s why.

I got duped by a rogue client. Here’s how you can protect yourself from one


Content Audit

Doing a current content audit

Taking stock of the present content and its marketing is a great way to get started on a Content Marketing project. The process reveals many insights and helps you set a base for your strategy.

Examine footprints: Check for where your client is already present – website, social media and what are the types of content that has been used
How good is the website content: ‘Good’ is a subjective term that needs to be backed with numbers.   Examine how well the website is optimized and what is the traffic to conversion ratio.
What are you ranking for: We generally use a tool like SEMRush to do a quick check on the current ranking status for various keywords and their search volumes.
What are you converting for: This is the one insight that’ll go a long way into determining strategy. Knowing what is working for your client is a low-hanging fruit and will allow you to create easy spin-offs that work equally well. To do this, research GA for the keywords and web pages that pull in the maximum traffic and conversions.

You can also check the social handles to see what type of content has received higher engagement. Doing this for the last three months can be a good audit timeline.

This process can consume quite a bit of time. Think of doing an audit for a website that already has 2000 pages of content! Which is why, doing the content audit after you have a basic agreement in place helps.


Insights from content audit

After the research comes the best part – discovery. This is something that we simply love. Looking at data in different angles to discover a pattern or a clue that forms the base of our content marketing strategy. This is also your key differentiator as a content marketing professional / agency. Using data as a base point for our strategy has lead to great results.

Based on the content audit we select and pick out content and classify them in one of these four categories

Outstanding: Cornerstone content that has high ranking and engagement from users leading to leads / conversions
Good: Content that is long-form and engaging but has a potential to rank better
Average: ‘Regular’ content that has some engagement and some traffic but nothing that converted
Poor: Content that hasn’t received traffic or engagement

This is a painstaking exercise. You’ll have to set customized criteria based on your client’s current stats and then classify all website content into these categories. Setting filters in GA is a great way to filter the first two from the last two. The rest is a bit of manual work.

What’s next: You now know where your client’s strengths and weaknesses are. Work to recreate outstanding content, remove or redo the poor one, use marketing for the Good and Average. Pick out categories that are working and those that aren’t. Present these insights to your client to ensure you both are on the same page on the way forward.aren’t. Present these insights to your client to ensure you both are on the same page on the way forward.


Discover your content’s consumers

Many people prefer to skip this step to make things quick. We’ve noticed that doing this exercise of creating personas helps us get more content ideas for them. So we highly recommend you try it out.

Set up customer personas 
A ‘persona’ is a character trait of your someone who may be a part of your target audience.  When you set up a persona, you get to understand particular habits and behaviour that is commonly perceived about them. How does it help? Let’s take an example of an online shopper for high end flash light. Depending on the make of the flash light it’ll have a particular type of target audience. For example, a flash light with a high throw can be used in the country side where you need long distance visibility into the field at night. Thus you have to create the persona for a country side farmer. A police flash light with pepper spray is used by a more urban crowd, primarily women, who are looking for a self-protection weapon to fit in their purse. So ‘she’ becomes your target audience.

One of the key questions that we get asked often is that is persona information the same as demographic. The persona information encompasses the demographic information but in addition it also does a lot more by giving a 360-degree view of entry points on how that person can be connected with your product. By creating personas, you also ensure that everyone in your content team are creating content with the same person in mind.

Guide to setting up personas
Let us continue with our police flash light example here to complete the story. Let’s think of Ideal Customer No. 1 for this product. Here are the questions you can ask

  • Who is this person (Male / Female)
  • Where does she live (Type of area / location)
  • Does she work (in an office)? (What type of industry / office can you typically find her in)
  • How easy or tough is the job? How long is the work day?
  • How does she perceive her current scenario in accessing your product / service?
  • What is the difficult part of her life / job?
  • How is she currently dealing with this difficulty?
  • What would make her consider your product / service for a solution?
  • Is she the sole decision maker? If there are others, who are they and how important is their role in the decision making?
  • If you have a secondary decision maker, you’ll have to add some additional content to suit his / her persona too
  • How does she currently find out about Police flash lights and their features?
  • Which are the primary sources from which she accesses content? Of these, which does she consider trustworthy?
  • Is the information accessed during work or at home?
  • How much does word of mouth influencer her buyer behaviour?
  • Which social networks is she present on? What is her general activity there?
  • Are there any external factors governing her decision making?


Using surveys to understand personas
Once you get to work on all the above questions, you’ll notice that it is not easy to find answers to  a few of them accurately. To make decisions backed by data, you can suggest quick online survey with a giveaway, which can help you gather the data quickly while you build a targeted online community.
You can do a social sentiment analysis also to get mass data on what your audience thinks. Don’t forget to check if you can get access to existing customers and speak to them, which can save a ton of time. Another valuable resource is the company’s sales team who interact with customers everyday.


Insights from setting personas
Once you map your personas, you have to state the process they go through to typically buy your product and the problems they face at each stage.

Continuing with the police flash light example, we consider the urban female demographic audience who has late working hours and wants to feel safe if she is alone outside at late hours.

Problem identification: Feels unsafe when alone outside at late hours
Understand requirements: Requires small but tough flash light that doubles as a weapon
Competitor analysis: Who are the possible competitors she is looking up?
Why pick me: What are here top reasons to pick you over them
Make a purchase decision? Does she consider a friend’s opinion, online reviews, product description or other things before making her decision.

Now each of these stages will require targeted content that will answer the questions that help her reach the purchase decision.


Mapping products to personas
While the urban female is one persona for the police flash light, there can be other personas for the product too. You could use the technical aspects, powerful beam and long battery life of the flash light to make it an ideal flash light that can be in someone’s car. Therefore, your audience may also include a male who drives his own car and generally likes to keep it equipped with the latest tools.


Where does your audience exist?

Other than their specific physical location, which is not the best way to pin them down, you’ll have to examine online locations like blogs, social channels, forums and communities where your audience regularly engages.

This task is tougher than it looks. Some audiences like an urban female who works late can cast too wide a net, other specific sectors like CaSuper Yacht Captains are too niche. It takes a good amount of research to see where exactly your audience are, the communities they are attached with and engage often. What information do they find useful and who do they follow in terms of influencers?


Keyword discovery and Google Analytics for optimized content

While you may have already fully checked analytics during the audit process, this time, you can look at the data in a new light. Check for

Existing keywords driving traffic: If you have analytics connected to the site’s Search Console, you’ll be able to map your highest traffic driving keywords.

Map search volume to phrases: Once you have the keywords, you can look up their search volume to see optimization gaps and which pages can immediately deliver value with a bit of content optimization.


Competitor Content Analysis

Our easily go-to tool for competitor research is AHREFs. You can use the tool to do a quick spy on your competitors and their backlinks. Knowing who is linking to them and for what content can give you ideas on what content you need to create. Besides, you’ll also get to find out out their cornerstone content and how you can improvise.

The next thing to analyse is where your competitors are disseminating their content and how you can get there too. From social to their influencer strategy to their landing pages, knowing what you are up against gives a holistic view to your goals.


30 types of content you can create and how will it map to your goals
There isn’t just written content. Content will need a 360-degree view to have a uniform voice and common communication theme.

  • Website content
  • Blogs
  • Images on the site
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • Case studies
  • Testimonials
  • Product descriptions
  • Press and Media
  • Memes
  • Guides
  • White papers
  • Reviews
  • How-to
  • Lists
  • Landing pages
  • eBooks
  • Interviews
  • Podcasts
  • Research papers
  • Guest blogs
  • Contests
  • Games
  • Social media content
  • QnA
  • FAQs
  • Webinars
  • Newsletters
  • Emails
  • Advetorials

Remember the questions we had while creating personas. Now you can try answering each of them using the best medium from the 30 content types and then choose to create it. You’ll have to do this for all your goals.


Team and workflow

To help your client gain better confidence in your work, introduce them to your precious team of writers who keep fuelling the supply of great content. Explaining processes over calls and especially getting an agreement over email and then a slew of regular updates will keep the client happy and calm.

Editorial calender

The Editorial Calender is the execution engine for your content. You’ll have to create a detailed calender for everything that will be done each week and then map these to actual outcomes. Once the campaign is tried, its insights should also be saved virtually for future use.

Marketing the content

Now comes the best part – marketing your content doesn’t seem like too daunting task when you have insights backed by data and strategy backed by research. In addition to creating an editorial calendar, you’ll also need to create a clear promotional calendar. This comes handy when you want to compare which piece of content was posted how often and what results it got eventually on a granular level. With every piece of content you create, you need to move towards the goals you’ve set – or change course and experiment.


Content marketing requires dedicated, skilled expertise. It needs to be done every day to create content that lives, breathes and propagates traffic. Unless you have an army dedicated to do this, it is best to have a specialist agency in place who can take over and get you the results you are looking for.

Don’t forget to read our other proposals.


About The Author

Payel Mukherjee

Payel dreams about travelling the world and relaxing in quaint beach cafes – when she is not helping brands find real growth through powerful content experiences. She loves waging the war against mediocre content marketing and is passionate about entrepreneurship and startups. She is also a Darjeeling tea junkie and the founder of Justwords.

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