Without strategy, your content is just stuff

I simply cannot believe how much content is created every year without a whiff of strategic thought behind it?! The thing that surprises me the most about this scenario is that a ‘lack of strategy’ seems to be the norm, and not the exception to the rule. Over and over again it seems to me that there is never enough time afforded to think properly about strategy.

Perhaps a more telling truth about strategy would be the fact that many businesses will tell you that they are operating from a very clear strategy, when in fact they aren’t. What they are really doing is making a strategy up as they go along. This isn’t a problem if you have consciously chosen an emergent strategic approach, but it is indeed a problem if you think your strategy is pre-determined – and you work as such.

Without a clearly-defined strategy, your content will never reach its intended participants, let alone the goals or outcomes you desire. A strategy provides a clear plan on how to solve a client’s business challenge through your chosen content mix.

It seems to me that ensuring there is enough time and focus put aside for strategic planning and strategy formulation is one of the biggest challenges content agencies and clients face in the fast-paced world in which we operate. This situation can be made even more complicated by the fact that the brief may come from a third-party, which then immediately brings into question the quality of that third-party’s strategic processes. Perhaps they also just made up some nice sounding strategic objectives for their client to get the business?

So how does one actually go about formulating a useful strategy for content marketing projects? Well, it really comes down to asking some fundamental questions about what you are actually trying to achieve? From there, credible answers based on actual insight will become available.

Have a look at this list of key content related questions (ISCOOP.com) that a solid content strategy should answer:

Who are the buyer personas and what are their content needs and preferences?

This question looks at the type of information different ‘archetypes’ of buyers seek during their buying journey, and maps the customer touch points, preferred communication channels, and – to some extent – the content formats. Buyer personas haven’t been invented for content marketing, but are used for an overall marketing strategy. In a content marketing strategy, you do take a more complete look at them, though.

Which marketing and other organisational goals can we realise or improve by better using content marketing?

Examples here are: traffic building, conversion optimisation, event marketing, lead generation and management, email marketing, social media marketing, marketing automation, and customer service. These can all be improved by a better usage of content and content marketing. Your content marketing strategy looks at this. Many people, especially those calling the buying shots, have no clue what content marketing is, as with many executives, even in marketing. So, ask what organisational goals you can support and strengthen instead of trying to separate content marketing from the overall equation.

Which content marketing metrics and KPIs do we need to gauge success, in correlation with other marketing metrics and KPIs?

Although there are some typical metrics used in content marketing, it’s important to speak a common language across all marketing and even business efforts. Content marketing is not an island. One of the crucial success factors in implementing marketing ROI across the organisation is finding common metrics and using a common language between different departments.

How will we structure the internal organisation – or better yet: how will we make sure that all content marketing related processes and flows are properly organised, in correlation with other marketing processes and/or teams?

Often, content marketing thinkers advise to build teams that are more or less dedicated to content marketing. In practice, this seldom happens (except in some major firms) and teams better focus on the tasks and goals than the exact roles, realising each company is different.

Which other marketing goals and even business purposes – on top of the usual suspects – can we use content marketing for?

Examples: to support your customer service team, to empower sales, to optimise website conversions, etc.

Which organisational processes, stumbling blocks, competitor data, management goals, customer insights, business stakeholders, teams, external partners, overall marketing priorities, etc. do I need to know in order to succeed?

Before even thinking about content strategy, content inventory, or content production, these crucial questions need to be made known.

How is the industry you are in changing?

And more specifically: how is the buyer’s journey of your buyer personas evolving in the industries your customers and business are active in? What role can content marketing play? As an example: look at the evolutions in the B2B services industry. Content plays a clear role, but look further. For instance: Key Account Management is a priority in that industry. Can it be served using an optimised content marketing strategy? Also look at the influencer sphere of the buyers in that industry and at the different types of buyers.

What questions do we need to answer and steps do we need to plan to put our content marketing strategy in action and move to the content strategy that looks at more content-related aspects?

What existing budgets can we tap into to better achieve the goals using content in areas where return is below expectations (and what are these areas, of course)?

An example: you may have an overall budget for your website but maybe it’s better to invest in more relevant content for your buyer personas instead and putting that design makeover on hold this year? Or maybe your organisation invests a bit too much in generating traffic and leads but conversions stay behind. You can turn down the volume a bit and invest more in conversion optimisation and lead nurturing, using content.

How do we forecast and get budgets when no existing budgets can be tapped into or adapted?

If your organisation is missing out on important opportunities – and it always is – you need to make the calculated case for additional budgets.

Without Strategy there are no useful questions being asked about your challenge, which implies that there will be no useful answers found either, which in turn suggests that whatever content you are making is going to fall far short of its true potential.

Be strategic before being creative! It can only help!

By James Lewis

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