Every year around this time we (marketers, that is) create and consume a lot of content about the year that was and about the year to come. Over the past few weeks we've looked back at what made digital marketing news in 2016, and offered some marketing "don'ts" for 2017. But there's also one big takeaway to focus on in the year ahead, and that's the importance of having a documented content strategy. (Yes, documented -- it doesn't count if isn't written down and agreed upon by key stakeholders). The benefits of having a content strategy in place are clear -- documented goals, thorough research, and a detailed plan for going forward are just a few of the things you'll want away from the strategy process. If you've been scraping by without a content strategy until now, consider this your call-to-arms. It's time to put a strategy to paper. Still think you don't need one? Here are a few reasons to change your mind:

The competition is stiff

Precisely because so much has been made of the importance of content marketing, we're seeing more and more brands entering the content arms race. Everyone is jockeying to create content that is more useful, more engaging, and more effective than the competition, which means that the bar for what constitutes "good" content has gotten a lot higher over the past few years. There was a time when all it took to stand out was a regularly updated blog with posts that comprised more than just glorified press releases. Those days are long gone. In order to stand out in today's cluttered content marketplace you need to be producing content that adds serious value. Blog posts are part of the equation, but there's much more to it than that. In order to stay both current and relevant, the quality of the content you produce needs to be improving all the time. It's a serious challenge! And it's impossible to pull off unless you have a thorough, methodically-researched content strategy in hand.

There's pressure to produce

Per above, you're going to need to be creating more than just blog posts. The keyword is more. If you're ready to get serious about content marketing and all you've been doing to date are blog posts and newsletters, then 2017 is going to be your year of more. To be clear, that doesn't mean sacrificing quality for quantity, but the need to be producing quality content on a regular basis is greater than ever. The content strategy process is designed to help you determine which content types and topics will be most effective for your brand. It will also force you to create an editorial calendar which will keep you on track to create and distribute content regularly at a pace that neither overwhelms your audience, nor leaves them wondering if you'll ever publish something else again.

There are new avenues to pursue

In 2017 there are a lot more avenues for content than there used to be. Think about it. Five years ago you didn't have Snapchat or Instagram (well, maybe you did, but your brand likely wasn't investing time or money on either of those channels). It was difficult to coordinate a live stream. Podcasts weren't in the middle of a renaissance. It wasn't easy to locate niche influencers who align perfectly with your brand. All that has changed now. In 2017 we consume content in a huge variety of ways and the onus is on brands to determine which avenues to consumption are best-suited to them. It's crazy to think you can do it all, so you need to be strategic about where you focus your energies. Your content strategy will help you identify the best platforms for your content and eliminate questions like: should I be creating 10 second snaps or 10 page whitepapers? Besides which, if you don't have a plan in place, you'll never be able to stay on top of all the moving pieces.

Stakeholders want results

In the early days of content marketing you might have been able to get away with showing stakeholders and clients the breadth of content being produced and count your goals achieved. The goal for those of us just starting out, in other words, was simply to get quality content created and also usually to make sure it was seen. But our ability to measure and track is getting more sophisticated all the time and we're demanding more accountability for our marketing initiatives. A content strategy forces you to go through the exercise of creating goals and establishing metrics by which to measure them. Hopefully that's enough to convince you to invest in the future success of your content. 2017 is going to be (another) big year for content marketing in general, but the brands that will come out ahead will be the ones who've been strategic in their approach.