Content Challenges: What is a content strategy?
Current accepted thinking on a content strategy is that you think of some themes that you want to create content around – you may well call these content pillars – and then you brainstorm some ideas about what content would fit around these pillars. Once you have a list of ideas you then apply this to a calendar as a schedule of what you are going to create and when it will be published. This then serves as your editorial calendar. You may go a bit further than this and for each item of content you may decide what format it needs to be and what channels you are going to deliver it through. If you look online for editorial calendars this is the essence of what they do, for the most part you could do this in a spreadsheet. At this point your content beast is born and now you have to start feeding it, and it has a veracious appetite!
Often if you ask the “why” question – i.e. “why are you doing content marketing?” – then responses vary from stating it is for SEO purposes, for social reach or to build an audience, through to improving brand perception or more worryingly just because everyone else is doing it.
Distilling down these reasons, there is a clear consensus that content is fundamentally being used to increase engagement around a message the brand wants to convey as the more traditional forms of marketing are no longer working. In response, marketers are looking at the engagement stats and creating lots of test and learn content to see what engages people the most. This in turn leads to an endless cycle of content generation. However, marketers quickly find themselves scratching their heads over what content to produce next while realising they have created the significant burden of feeding the content beast to sate the appetites of their newly acquired audience. It’s at this point that the mistake is made where the content strategy is created to do nothing more than to help produce more content.
By creating such a content strategy, the marketer has simply put in place a strategy to keep themselves busy – they have a production schedule after all. Marketing budget is now being spent on content production so that their managers will feel something is being done to push the brand forward. As the content goes “live” they will then have various mechanisms in place to measure what engagement their content marketing programme is achieving. Mostly, this is clicks, likes and shares. Then it’s time to celebrate right? After all, they have an audience engaging with their brand.
You will hopefully not be surprised to hear that such celebrations are premature. So, instead of cracking open the champagne, it is time to take a step back and consider what a content strategy should be achieving that will drive clear commercial value.
Firstly, engaging with content is not the same as engaging with a brand. Secondly, engaging with all this content is not driving commercial goals in itself. Lastly, this type of content is only marketing content. If a content strategy is going to be created that delivers on commercial goals then consideration needs to be given to having marketing content at the beginning of the customer journey, sales content in the middle of the journey and then customer content (loyalty, retention and support) at the end of the journey as part of the ongoing relationship with the customer. The spread of content and effort across these three different content areas will depend on the nature of the company’s products or services.
The fundamental problem with traditional content strategies based solely on content pillars is that no thought has been put into creating a destination for the audience to go to next once they are engaged. The way to solve this problem of providing a destination for an audience is to step back from the “how” and really focus on the “why” of content marketing. And the “why” fundamentally comes down to engaging an audience in order to influence them towards a business goal. And it is this second part that many brands fail to define in their strategy – i.e. they are good at creating content to engage an audience but then not following through with this engagement to deliver any tangible result.
The solution to answering the “why” of “engaging an audience in order to influence them towards a business goal” is through a structured audience journey. If you are able to identify key personas of your target audience, a common interest or, as we call it, the Point of Mutuality between you and your audience, and a defined goal you want the audience to achieve, then you have the foundations of a journey you can map. This audience journey then becomes the overarching strategy that you can map content to as each step of the journey will require different content to fulfil the individual needs and wants of the audience. The output of this is a series of briefs for content along the entire journey of the customer that will most likely fall across several different departments. Following this approach means that content is the tool you are using to deliver upon this audience strategy instead of content being a strategy itself.
When using this method to create your content strategy, each item of content is then measured in terms of how well it moves your audience to the next step and ultimately how it converts customers to sales. By structuring your content in this manner, you are able to attribute some of the success of the sale to the content that got your customer to that point. Clearly, this then provides commercial value to your content.
By looking at content for your customers’ entire journey and not just thinking about content at the engagement stage, we can create communications that are connected and provide a seamless experience for your customer. But more importantly your content then becomes a valuable tool for retention and cross and up sell and a mechanism for deepening your relationship with your customers.