Three Stages to Successful Content Strategy
Whether you’re starting out with content marketing or you’ve been using the same approach for some time, it’s critical to have a formal content strategy in place.
Content strategy governs everything that goes into the planning, development and management of each piece of content you create and own – whether it’s written, visual or downloadable.
It starts by defining your message, point of view and personality. And then aligns your message to the customer journey. Finally, it documents how to produce content that’s fit for purpose, and defines how your content machine operates.
Let’s drill down into each stage in more detail.
Stage 1: Define
In their book How Not to Plan, adam&eveDDB planners Les Binet and Sarah Carter argue that differentiation is nigh-on impossible in markets as packed as today’s – there is simply too much competition to differentiate through product or service.
For marketing to be successful they argue (backed by two decades of IPA case studies in marketing effectiveness) it needs to be distinctive. That is, focused on the way you communicate, not trying to find product or service benefits your competitors don’t have. The ‘define’ element of a content strategy, therefore, is about codifying your content’s distinctive character, approach and personality – ensuring that your comms is consistently distinctive.
The constituent parts of this personality are your point of view (POV), your purpose and your principles – how you see the world, the goal of your content and the characteristics that underpin the way you communicate.
Defining those elements often means distilling existing work and insights – customer research, persona work, brand mission, keyword research, vision and values, market research, company goals, messaging frameworks, tone of voice, etc. For B2B brands who haven’t invested in content before, this can mean starting from scratch. Either way, this step should set the fundamental traits that define your content.
The second part of ‘define’ is to decide what topics you want to talk about. This isn’t necessarily as obvious as it seems. Yes, you might sell Cloud Hosting, but your themes need to be authentic to what you do and be crucial to your audience – things they want to learn that you have a unique opinion or insight on. The customer isn’t interested in Cloud Hosting per se, they’re interested in the ROI of Cloud Hosting or the transformational effect it has on the business. These outcomes make for better themes than product.
Stage 2: Align
Once you’ve established who you are and what you can talk about through your content, you need to apply this to your audience. The second element of your content strategy – ‘Align’ – takes the content framework described above and, well, aligns it to the stages of the customer journey, taking into account context, channels, customer need and more.
To do this well, we assess the key drivers your audience has at each stage of the journey, highlighting their most important questions along the way. A generic example: The driver could be something like ‘I need to find new ideas to keep our business ahead of competitors’. The questions could be ‘I need to know that this innovation works with my tech infrastructure’ or ‘What will the short-term impact on budgets be?’
Once established, we then apply our principles, purpose and point of view with that context in mind. We define the role the content should play, and the ideal channels and format for your audience. Finally, we apply success metrics to ensure we’re monitoring the right things to ascertain whether our strategy works.
Stage 3: Deliver
There is a danger that you pour all your efforts into a content strategy that looks, sounds and feels perfect for your brand, but then ends up in a folder or on a shelf with a bunch of other stuff, never to be looked at again. The strategy is the foundation for all your activity, it needs to be a practical, useable document.
That’s why the final part of strategy for us is the delivery. This transforms the previous two high-level stages into something tangible for clients. It includes an editorial calendar based on everything we’ve defined above. It means building a delivery process for your team to follow in-house, and the structure to ensure your goals are being met, and what to do if they’re not. It means developing your own briefing process, reporting process, and partnerships with relevant, effective third parties.
Essentially, it means building an operational roadmap that implements your strategy effectively and drives your content production in the near-to-medium future.
What does all this look like in practice? That depends. On your business, on your team, on the size of your content investment. It could be as simple as a booklet. For larger brands with multiple sites globally, it might need to be something bigger – an interactive tool or microsite that brings the strategy to life.
Whatever the output looks like, the strategy should be the north star for all your content output. A document that will ensure that all content creators, whether internal or external, have a clear understanding of what defines your organisation’s content, the right message to put out at the right time on the right channels, and a roadmap for implementation that they can work towards.
Once the foundation is in place, it’s your job to build creatively on top of it.