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The content strategy non-negotiables…

The next time you’re on a train, take a second to observe your fellow commuters – it’s almost certain that the carriage is full of people watching, reading or listening to something on a smart device. Content is being created and consumed en masse and brands are having to work harder than ever to cut through.

If you’re a brand investing in content, it’s important to have good engagement and a return for your effort – something only possible with a well-considered strategy.

The Content Marketing Institute found “brands that write a plan…’ and adapt it ‘…are by far the most successful.”, while only “37% of B2B marketers and 40% of B2C marketers…’ have one handy. A clear strategy will help you define a clear direction for all brand content, allowing you and your team to adjust, adapt, or correct – ultimately, arriving at your desired endpoint without veering off course.

So, what are the non-negotiables for a good content strategy?

Set your direction – the ‘why’

Before you get moving, you need to define the guiding elements of your content marketing efforts, your objectives, and your mission.

Defining objectives will help you and your team understand how your efforts will be measured – defining what success actually looks like. Objectives should link directly to your business goals, therefore, they will vary by organisation.

Common goals include:

  • increasing brand awareness
  • Generating leads
  • Improving customer loyalty and retention
  • Up-selling services.

Your mission is a single-minded statement that defines your target audience, what will be delivered to them, and the outcome for that audience (i.e. the value your content will give them).

You now know your why.

Audience – the ‘who’

No surprises here, but before you can create relevant and timely content for your brand, you’ll need to know your audience intimately – like they’re your best friends.

To help make this easy, take the time to develop audience personas. They’re semi-fictional representations of your ideal customer that define audience demographics, needs, challenges, goals, and therefore acts as a guide to formulate content with relevant messaging, and across the right channels.

They should not be based on just assumptions about your existing customers.  You need to rely on real data and research. You can conduct surveys with your current customers, gather website and social media insights, and talk to your team (sales, customer service) to have a better understanding of your audience.

A good persona uncovers all the information you need to produce content that passes on value to your audience through education, inspiration and or entertainment.

Audit – the ‘what’

The task here is to be curious and gather all the information you can on the current content landscape, start by asking these questions:

  • What content do you already have, and what is planned?
  • What are competitors and the category doing well and not so well?
  • What content formats are currently trending?
  • What is missing, where are the gaps?

To answer these questions, first look at your active brand channels, such as your website (e.g. bounce rate, number of new visitors, user behaviour), email (e.g. open and click-through rate, engaged audience) or social platforms (e.g. engagement rate, reach, followers).

To gather competitor and category insights and trends, you can use a range of tools such as Google Trends, Google Keyword Planner, Hotjar, Buzzsumo or HubSpot. Last but not least, online forums can lead to some incredibly specific insights – things your audience wants to learn, their pain points, or any unknown problems that your content could solve.

Then, categorise your findings into groups to fuel meaningful insights and allow some inspired content ideation to begin.

Pillars

It’s time to review your audit findings and group them into guiding pillars.

A content pillar is a thematic grouping of content that appeals to a defined audience. They’re the bond that links a customer to a brand. They’ll establish your brand as authoritative and authentic, giving your audience a reason to connect, engage and build a relationship with your brand.

We find the best pillars come from answering a few important questions.

Will the pillars:

  • Position your brand as an authority in your area of expertise?
  • Be relevant to your audience?
  • Give your audience value?
  • Be distinct and not overlap?
  • Support an ‘always on’ content effort?

We like to form somewhere between 2-4 pillars, and pressure test them by developing a list of content ideas and creative concepts for each pillar, helping us to see them come to life and prove their efficacy.

Once you’re happy with your pillars, it’s time to get creative and plan, plan, plan!

Planning

This is where the objectives, audit, personas and pillars will come in handy. Based on the insights you’ve generated from these activities, you’re ready to think about the content plan.

Any robust plan should consider these elements:

  • Journey mapping – Identify the content needs for your audience at each stage of a customer journey (awareness, consideration, purchase, post-purchase) and plot what you have and don’t have at each stage.
  • Channel selection – Determine the most relevant environments to place your content based on your audience personas.
  • Frequency – This defines how often you create content, and post it on your selected channels, it is advised that this reflects the resource you have available to develop content.
  • Time – What time of year, day or week will you be creating and posting your content? Are there any particular dates to watch out for any seasonal opportunity that may eventually appear?
  • Format – What type(s) of content do you want to create – is it a video, an infographic, a newsletter, an article? Your audit will help you determine what formats are suitable for your audience and channels.
  • Goals – Setting specific goals and KPIs for each piece of content you produce.

Once you have completed your planning, you will pop all the relevant information in a content calendar, a document that helps organise your information, track results and evolve plans ongoing.

Amplification

Once you’ve settled on what you’re going to create (and who it’s created for), you’ll need to decide where your content should live, and how you can get it to grow.

Traditionally, it was enough to just post your content on your blog, and on your social channels, but with organic reach declining across channels in recent times, the chances of having your content discovered are diminishing.

This is why you need to carefully consider how to use owned, earned and paid avenues to maximise reach and ROI.

Let’s take a look at the options.

Owned Media

These are channels owned by your brand, such as websites, apps, brand blogs and social media pages – they’re places that are free and where you have total control.

We treat this as the logical first step and mandatory for content amplification. For instance, if you’ve written an article, you will publish it within your owned channels at first place – your website or blog and on any relevant social media channel(s).

Paid Media

This is a pay to play space, and will give you the opportunity to highly target extend your reach and build audiences, and allow you to see immediate results.

Paid media could include but are not limited to native ads, social media (Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn), influencer marketing, paid search and remarketing.

The relevant avenues for your business will depend on your objectives, audience and budget.

Earned Media

This is typically the result of paid and owned media. Earned media can be conversations generated about your brand, products and services. You can consider this as free advertising. Think about mentions on social networks, bloggers’ reviews, word of mouth.

As part of your strategy, you should consider how all 3 media types can work together to drive outcomes for your business.

Measure and evolve

Here you pin up the goals we set earlier on a board, and ask – what is working well? What is underperforming? Are there any new opportunities? What needs immediate attention? You should be reviewing your activity every day, and conducting thorough reviews against historical performance monthly (at a minimum) for a real picture of success.

We believe in setting up content strategies that provide direction, but are flexible enough to evolve based on meaningful insights over time. When it comes to content strategy development, there are certainly many elements to consider.

We believe a well-considered and documented plan can help maximise your brand’s ability to reach and engage more of your target audience, and ultimately move them from the prospect funnel to become a true brand loyalist.