Strategy is a great word. It’s one of those mid-weight ones that can effortlessly be thrown into discussions to take it up just that notch or two.
But dig a little deeper and it soon becomes apparent that there is a lot of uncertainty around what strategy, and content strategy in particular, really means.
According to businessdictionary.com strategy is a method or plan chosen to bring about a desired future, such as achievement of a goal or solution to a problem. It is also the “art and science of planning and marshalling resources for their most efficient and effective use”.
The second definition’s reference to it being both an art and a science is spot on for content marketing. This is because while there are certain guidelines, formulas and best practices that should definitely be followed, a dynamic content strategy also relies on a bit of “art”, flair and creativity to achieve the desired results.
Influential content strategy thinker Kristina Halvorson defines content strategy as the “creation, publication and governance of useful, useable content”.
These definitions are especially useful in understanding the need and the purpose for a content marketing strategy as no business or brand should be producing content without a clearly defined plan in place. Metrics in this Content Marketing Institute article suggest that only 27% of B2C marketers have a documented content strategy. A strategy is not a strategy if it exists nowhere else but in somebody’s head!
A content strategy, in a nutshell, then is the plan that explains how a brand will go about its content marketing efforts, what exactly it will be producing, when this will happen and also allude to why the brand is making the effort in the first place and how it will measure success.
STRATEGY IN ACTION
Your content strategy should be a fluid, working document. The nature of content is such that it needs to be flexible, adaptable and user friendly. This way you’re able to allow for tactical opportunities too (another great term, but that’s a blog for another day), which is the currency of social marketing.
A content strategy can take many forms, and the line items within the strategy will depend on a brand’s particular aims and objectives. One of the most important elements of the strategy is that it answers the question: Why does your brand produce content?
The next important question is also a Why question, but this is – Why should anybody care about your content? Presumably you have a number of reasons – people love it, share it, engage with it, find it useful or interesting – but there are thousands of brands thinking the same thing.
START WITH WHY
Simon Sinek popularised the Why question for brands some years ago when he raised the issue of the golden circle. In his seminal TED Talk he suggests that consumers need to understand a brand’s “Why” before they buy into its vision, ideology, product or service. An understanding of this Why question is also important in unpacking the challenges caused by digital disruption, as I wrote here.
Watch Sinek’s video and then take the time to explore your brand’s Why. Make a list, draw a mindmap or write a report but think about why your brand does what it does. Think about the psychology and the emotions involved in purchasing your product or service and what human needs that action might satisfy. Ask your clients, friends, family and suppliers for their opinions too. This is a very useful exercise that will help you develop some great new insights about your brand and its offering.
The reality is also that we are exposed to masses of content every day. Hundreds of brands are vying for our attention on countless platforms (both online and offline) every minute of the day. For the content consumer this means the luxury of selecting the content you want to consume, when you want to consume it and even how you want to consume it. For the content producer this means having to produce unique, amazing, shoot-the-lights-out content ALL THE TIME. Thus, make sure your content speaks to your brand’s Why.
The worst kind of content is simply producing for the sake of it. Or because everybody else is doing it. The old adage applies; if you don’t have anything good to say, rather keep quiet.
But you can’t afford to keep quiet. So the solution is to craft a fit-to-purpose, brand-relevant and engaging content strategy that speaks directly to your target audience, while ensuring it is in line with your business objectives.
A comprehensive, integrated content strategy lays the foundation for a relevant, engaging and consistent online presence, which helps to position a brand and its offering favourably within its niche – and helps it to rank better in search results.
STRATEGY STEP BY STEP
Elements of the content strategy usually include:
- Defining the content aims and objectives
Start by asking why you want to do content. If you know why it is that you are doing content, it makes deciding what kind of content to do much easier.
- Are you producing content to drive sales?
- Is it to create brand awareness?
- To position your product/service in a better light?
- Is it to improve your SEO?
- Or to endear people to your brand?
- Are you doing it because your competitors are doing it?
- A major audit of the brand’s existing content
It’s likely that your brand owns a lot of content, you just haven’t called it ‘content’ and thought about repurposing it as such. This could be press coverage or a promotional video you had made once, or those behind-the-scenes photos that you have on your desktop. These are all forms of content that could be employed to tell your brand’s story.
- Keyword research
We were reminded of the importance of keyword research recently with a client where they referred to their offering as “ethical fashion” but keyword research revealed that the way people were landing on their online shop was through search terms like “green fashion”. This kind of “language barrier” is important to address. You want to make sure you’re speaking about your brand in the same way as your clients or customers. Keyword research can also help to ensure that the right people are engaging with your content and your brand. Google Trends is a useful tool for identifying when and where people are most frequently using those terms.
- Identify the content pillars
Content pillars are the broad categories a brand’s content can be classified into; within those topics define more specific content themes. Creating these kinds of content categories ensures brands don’t only produce self-referential promotional content but also include content that speaks to their ethos at large. For example, a catering brand’s content pillars might include nutrition, lifestyle and food-related product design, while some topics may be vegetable gardening, home entertaining and cooking equipment. When producing content it should always relate in some way to one of the defined pillars. The point here is to extend the relevance of the brand, thereby making it more interesting, but also laying down some parameters for content production. Pillars are necessary to help ensure that a cat video doesn’t escape and make its appearance on your (catering) brand’s Instagram feed.
- Identify and define the major content opportunities
This is about making place for your brand in the world. A content opportunity is anything (an event, news, a date or a concept) that can be leveraged for content. It could be your brand’s birthday that you’re using as the hook for a social media campaign. Or it could be that you sell cycling gear and you’re drawing on the excitement around the Tour de France to promote content about the best cycling routes in the province.
AND BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
Once you’ve got your content strategy down you can start working on a content calendar, another very useful and important document which I wrote about here.
A content calendar should typically include:
- Content ideas: Regular features, Q&As, interviews, videos, infographics, etc.
- Plan for dissemination across various online platforms
- How social media channels will be used: which platforms, regularity, content plan
- Tactical opportunities: leveraging media and influencers or trending topics or events
- Identification of important brand events and milestones and plan for supporting content
There are many different ways to go about developing, defining and refining your content strategy and plenty of resources online that you can draw on for help, advice and inspiration, but by following the suggestions and recommendations above you’re likely to be off to a good start.
Ultimately content, as part of an integrated marketing approach, should serve your business goals and drive sales, but that starts with a strategy. As Scott Abel of The Content Wrangler says, “content strategy helps you manage content as a business asset”.