No Strategy. Just Content Please!
Did you just say that?
Oh my. You’ve just committed the first cardinal sin of bad branding.
Asking for content minus the strategy is akin to cooking without a recipe, driving without directions, or going to war without a battle-plan.
The result? Chaos. Pretty much.
Ask yourself: "Why do I need content?"
Okay, you need content. Why? Is it because every other person has a website including the store down the corner? Or is it because you need to connect with your target market and build your brand?
It is important to identify the purpose that you are trying to fulfill through content so that you may craft the right content for the right audience and distribute it through the right channels at the right time. That, my friend, is Content Strategy.
Do you want to know how a Content Strategist approaches any assignment? Think with me:
What purpose is the content expected to fulfill?
Is it to establish a point of connection with your target market in the World Wide Web? Is it to generate leads? Is it to establish a relationship with your leads? Is it to establish your authority over a subject? Is it all of these and more? Introspect and specify what exactly you want to achieve through content in order to figure out the next steps.
So, who should your content be addressed to?
Enter audience identification and segmentation. Think about your ideal customer and her problems that your product/service proposes to solve. Don’t fall into the trap of traditional audience mapping which makes too many assumptions. Instead, check out this supremely enlightening (Forgive the adjective but it is indeed very good) post by Alan Klement on the Intercom blog on the Jobs-to-be-done framework, and try to implement the same approach for your business.
Wait. Don’t you also need to connect with investors, partners, employees (prospective, current & ex) and the media? Take all stakeholders into account and figure out the messages that you want to convey to them.
Simultaneously, you need to figure out how do you want to define your organization. You need to go beyond the products and services that you offer to describe what difference does your business make to your target market. It helps to keep the competition on the radar to figure out how to best position yourself. In other words, this is brand mapping, and the result of this exercise will reflect across all your content in the form of messages you send out to your target audience.
If you have the messages in place, bravo! Now figure out how do these people consume information. Do they read newspapers? Which blogs do they frequent? Which social media platforms do they inhabit? Once you’ve identified the channels of communication, figure out the kind of content that would be suitable for each of these channels. That’s your content universe. (Yeah. Sounds cool, doesn’t it!) Check out this cool Venn diagram by CBD Marketing that lists pretty much everything that comes under the purview of content.
Now, this is actually when you start the creation of content. Now, when you know who you are creating the content for, for what purpose, to be distributed over what kind of channel, to convey what messages, and so on so forth. This kind of content will be effective. It will not add to the noise. While you are at it, steer clear of these assumptions that content creators and project managers often make about content. In fact, if your content is really good, which in other words means – helpful and educative – your target audience will seek it out. Well done!
Great content, if not distributed well, is pretty much a waste of resources. Back your content by distributing it over the channels you identified earlier at the right time. By the way, I wonder if you’ve noticed that we are now skirting the domain of Content Marketing.
You see, not all enterprises may need Content Marketing. But they all need Content Strategy. You have to have information out there to tell the world what you do in the form of a website, profiles on social media channels and industry listings. But you do have a choice regarding whether you want to actively market yourself or not by utilizing emails, blog posts, social media posts etc.
At the end of the day, Strategy and Marketing go hand in hand. After all, why would anyone be in business and not want to market their offering?
But of course, all content has a lifetime. If your content doesn’t address the current context, it is no longer useful to your target audience. That is why you need to update your website periodically. You also need to update your product/service descriptions accurately and edit blog posts to take into account latest relevant developments and keep them useful. You also need to consider whether items such as datasheets, FAQs, whitepapers etc have to be retired since your business no longer deals in that space.
If you plan to engage in Content Marketing, remember that it is a dish that must be cooked slowly. How slow? Ah well… give it at least 6 months of sustained effort. There is a sea of content out there and everybody is fighting for the audience’s attention. You can’t win by employing underhand tactics such as black hat SEO. Neither should you expect people to read your blog post just because you’ve spent time and money on one. You need to build authority in order to be noticed, which can be achieved only by consistently sharing useful information with your audience over a long period of time.
“When you’re looking to influence people and build a powerful business online, authority is the way to go. People respect other people who have authority, expertise, and impressive credentials just like they respect people in lab coats and police uniforms.”
Brian Clark, Copyblogger
This kind of authority will be recognized by your audience as well as search engines. In fact, if you really want to understand how authority plays a role in building your brand, I’d recommend Authority Rules, a brilliant guide by Copyblogger’s Brian Clark.
An effective Content Strategy helps build your brand
What’s the connection? Well, think of it this way. Brand is basically what your audience says about you, not what you say about yourself. Perception is created by engaging with your audience and letting them know what you do (Hence websites and profiles on listings etc) and that you do it well by sharing your knowledge (Content Marketing). If you are truly knowledgeable and helpful, your audience will acknowledge these traits by sharing your posts and quoting you. You will be considered an industry expert. That, as you may have already guessed, is an organic way of building confidence and trust in your audience, as compared to ads whose pushy approach is usually seen an a nuisance, affecting positive recall.
There. I hope this post has provided you with the big picture that describes how Content Strategy ties up with brand image. In fact, I’m curious: How have you been using content to brand your business? Do comment below!