Content marketing is on the rise. In fact, nine out of ten companies are now foregoing the traditional sales pitches of yesteryear, and instead, are publishing content that will enhance their brands while simultaneously creating value for its viewers. This new way of attracting and interacting with customers and leads has caused more businesses to understand that content truly is key. But what exactly is “content” and what is the best way to leverage it from a corporate standpoint?
To describe it in a simplistic manner, content is material (usually residing online) that does not explicitly promote a specific product or brand, but instead promotes ideas, solutions, and entertainment to stimulate the audience’s interest in the company’s products or services. This content can take the form of employee-produced blog posts on the corporate website, videos, helpful infographics, an emailed newsletter, or social media posts. This content can be curated from other sources as well. In fact, 95% of marketers worldwide share curated content from other organizations to heighten their presence; with 79% of that curation occurring through social media channels alone. The possibilities are really endless here and the potential for success is extremely high – but you have to know how to play your cards right.
“Know your audience, have a strategy, don’t feel you have to do everything, just make sure that what you do, you do it well. Create content that adds value, invest in experienced journalists to investigate, unearth and write your stories and finally, expect that it will take time to position your brand as an authority in your space.”
– Rakhal Ebeli, CEO of Newsmodo
An old Japanese proverb states, “Vision without action is a daydream. Action without vision is a nightmare.” While this proverb serves true for many aspects of life, this statement is especially true for content. Pushing out materials just to get it out there leads to disparate content without core themes or purposes; it can even hurt your brand’s perception if done carelessly. To get the most out of your content marketing and creating efforts, you must have a strategy supporting it. In this article, Kristina Halvorson, CEO of Brain Traffic, gives some great bullet points about what content strategy is:
- Content strategy connects your organization’s efforts with business goals and user needs
- Content strategy guides the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.
- Content strategy means getting the right content, to the right people, in the right place, at the right time.
- Content strategy is an integrated set of user-centered, goal-driven choices about content throughout its lifecycle.
An Overview of The Toolkit
Now that we have a baseline of what content strategy is and why it is important, how do we get to creating a solid strategy? In her book The Content Strategy Toolkit: Methods, Guidelines, and Templates for Getting Content Right, former Brain Traffic employee (now entrepreneur) Meghan Casey discusses the best ways to go about setting up and running a content strategy project. Within the first five chapters of the book, Casey leaves the reader with some important action items that will help get a strategy project off to a solid start.
The first action item Casey presents is to determine why the company needs to start a content strategy project. Hypothesize about the issues and conduct a content audit to document materials internally and see if there are discrepancies (outdated landing pages, faulty links, etc.) with what is already customer-facing. To gain additional insight, it is also wise to do some user testing. Throughout this preliminary process, begin to frame the problems you see as opportunities to improve, this will be crucial to the second action item.
Step two in the content strategy process is convincing leaders and securing resources. This action can be made possible and/or easier by pulling together all of the information you’ve discovered in step one but making it digestible for leadership to understand. Deliver the forecasted ROI and delicately position the current issues as opportunities that content strategy can capitalize on. Be upfront with the project’s needs in order to secure the appropriate budget and people.
Lastly, Casey urges the project leader to gather a selection of stakeholders that will run and oversee the project with them. Take the time to categorize their roles and types so that you may best utilize this network, as this will further streamline the process. In this last step, it is also important to create project management plans to divvy up responsibilities and updates. When completed, Casey believes that from these basic steps, the strategy project has a strong foundation to build upon.
“Getting buy-in for content strategy is less about the process. It’s about creating a culture of customer value that everyone can be a part of.”
– Lisa Hinz, Founder of LMHinz Marketing
Buying-In and Strategy Experts
As can be seen above, Casey thoroughly emphasizes the importance of preparation within the first chapters of The Content Strategy Toolkit. Within this preparation stage, the concept of buy-in is also heavily stressed. Buy-in is crucial because without support and alignment, your project is not going anywhere and that is almost certain. Casey states that one of the first things a person has to remember while doing a content strategy project is that they cannot do it alone. The stakeholders you identify will be the ones who know the targeted audience the best, where the content is, how it has been used in the past, and what will be coming down the pike. They are precious to you! As both Casey and Lisa Hinz agree, getting buy-in for strategy is about letting everyone know they are valuable and their time is being put to good use. No one will support a project where they feel alienated and unimportant. Make sure to ask lots of questions and implement good practices like thoughtful planning and facilitative listening. The strong sentiments towards buy-in are also preached by other content strategy experts, let’s take a look at a couple of them below.
One of those experts is Julia McCoy, founder and CEO of Express Writers. In her approach to strategy, McCoy also believes that preparation is key. By lining up all your ducks in a row, you are better positioned for success when pitching an idea. After reading a bunch of her blogs on Express Writers, I found one resource that I believe will help with securing buy-in. This infographic and case study does a great job in outlining ROI, why stakeholders should invest, and how to persuade by using McCoy’s Content Marketing Trifecta. To learn more about her Trifecta and how she convinces leadership to invest, check out this article on Forbes and this one on SiteProNews. Like Casey, she has also penned a book on content strategy, Practical Content Strategy & Marketing: The Content Strategy & Marketing Course Guidebook. After reading and enjoying her work on the Express Writers site, I am sure that I will soon pick up this volume to see how it compares to The Content Strategy Toolkit.
Another expert who emphasizes preparation and buy-in is Sarah O’Keefe, founder and CEO of Scriptorium Publishing. As she is a no stranger to content strategy, the blogs on her site are chock full of helpful tidbits provide value to her readers and clients. In this particular article, O’Keefe outlines how to navigate the “last mile” of getting approval on a strategy project and how to get the needed funding. As is a common theme for these expert strategists, O’Keefe has also written a book, Content Strategy 101 (that has a free downloadable version!) in which she emphasizes showing stakeholders and leadership through the process, rather than telling them your plans and needs. Her guide does a great job of breaking down big ideas so that anyone can grasp the concepts of content strategy – definitely a good beginner’s resource!
It is evident that the tides have been turning in regards to marketing, content, and engaging with potential customers. Heightened competition and saturated markets have contributed to content becoming one of the best ways to differentiate a company from their competition. By providing value through means that aren’t inherently branded or selling a product/service, consumers are more inclined to share that piece of content to their network. Content with enough viewership can pull numerous conversions that equate to positive company/brand recognition and a fatter wallet for you.
To get started on your own content journey, take a moment to think about the online content you consume. Does it lean more towards entertainment? Or are you really geared toward finding out the cold, hard facts? Assess what these sources have in common and what makes them unique. Becoming aware of the content you consume makes you a better strategist, hands down. Have fun with the process and don’t forget to document your findings, they may come in helpful for your next project.