Getting Started with Digital Content Strategy
“I hate the word “content,” which has infiltrated our profession. You have people who are called chief content officers and things like that. I don’t like the word content. To me, it’s like saying the word “stuff.” It has no meaning, whereas journalism actually does have meaning.” Marty Baron, editor in chief of the Washington Post in Newsonomics
“Content” is all the rage in digital marketing and has been ever since brands realized their first websites gave them the power and means of production to publish their own messages and information without depending on the press or advertising to distribute it. Looking at content as a marketing communications tactic, without a unifying strategy to build and deliver it as demand for it grows, is a recipe for missed opportunities, mixed messages, high costs and big risks to your brand. How a digital marketer plans to design and deliver content will ultimately determine how it is distributed and measured for success and further optimization.
If you don’t have a comprehensive content strategy in place, you’re not alone. According to Altimeter, 70% of marketers lack a consistent or integrated content strategy. This is a quick guide to how to lay the foundations for a sensible content strategy with the technology and structure we’ve seen succeed with our customers and users of the Acquia Platform.
Know your audience
Understanding the customer and their role comes first. Without a solid understanding of that reader and the issues and language that they are most familiar with, then any content -- no matter how well intentioned -- will lack the empathy and genuine tone essential for establishing some level of credibility. Planning and developing content without your customer personas in mind means you aren’t planning content for your audience but for your marketing department. Understanding the audience -- the tone, their level of knowledge, and their issues -- is the key to rising above the ever-exploding abundance of information competing for their attention.
Marketing content is -- and let’s be honest -- biased “advertorial” with far less objectivity and value than a customer’s honest review, the unfiltered words of the press, or the published opinions of an industry analyst. The burden is on the content team to design and develop honest content informed by insights gained through careful research. Determining what matters to the reader can only be uncovered using data pulled from CRM records, historical web logs, social media trends, etc.; yet crunching numbers is only one step towards gaining a better understanding of the audience. There is no substitute for talking directly to customers or to those people in your organization who do on a regular basis. Sales teams, field reps, and customer support are all excellent sources of insight and gut-checks.
It’s more than websites: tame the chaos
In a 2015 Demand Gen report, 67% of B2B buyers said that this year they will rely more on content for research purposes and to make B2B purchasing decisions. As a result of content’s growing importance to an organization -- for hitting sales targets to telling the corporate story -- brands and enterprises are generating massive amounts of content, leading to what many call "content chaos." Chaos occurs when content is created independently by multiple departments and multiple teams, in multiple languages and geographies, all with different agendas and audiences in mind. With content popping up in so many different locations, it becomes difficult to effectively manage it, let alone find it.
There is virtually no major brand or company that maintains a single website. Mid- to large-sized companies often have multiple sites under their control. In fact, according to a 2015 study by Forrester Research, the typical enterprise organization has more than 250 sites associated with its brands and products. Content is needed for each and every site, channel, and touchpoint, ranging from the main brand homepage, across social media, mobile apps, and individual brand or product sites. Content is also needed for distribution outside of the organization’s own sites as well, making it even more important for enterprises to have a strong strategy and technical tools in place.
The true pain comes not from populating content across multiple sites, but instead it comes from updating and maintaining the most mundane content such as terms and conditions, boiler plates, disclaimers, copyright information, etc. Without a content strategy in place for maintaining all content across all sites and channels, updating each of these becomes a time-consuming, manual task with a high risk for human error. A decimal point in the wrong place or outdated legal copy can lead to a costly headache for you and your organization. If a mandate from legal comes down that a piece of content needs to be removed from all global sites by the end of the day, how can you possibly meet that deadline without a structure and tool in place to do so? The most boring piece of content is the one that could cost you your job.
Content strategy should have the underlying goal of achieving harmony across your organization. All content authors and managers should be aligned through a well-defined process. The first step in creating this process is to determine what you want your content to do; setting realistic goals is the first step. Are you looking to drive engagement? Do you want to generate revenue? Are you teaching an existing user something about the use of your product? Are you showcasing a customer? Are you citing news related to your customer’s interests? Knowing what purpose your content serves helps you create the right content to achieve those goals.
Who does what?: Identifying roles and workflow is key to successful content production and governance, especially if you need to scale. Who are your authors? Where is the information coming from? Who has the final say on what goes live, and when? What is the process for creating a new piece of content or updating an existing one? Knowing who is responsible for what throughout the content production and distribution journey helps to streamline the process.
Set standards and best practices: Defining processes and establishing guidelines for review and approvals across the entire organization will help keep the various content creators on the same page and keep content production moving at a steady pace. Governance is critical to effective content management.
Figure out what content you already have: Before you dedicate your time and resources to creating content, consider what might already be available. Performing a content audit can help you find existing content that can be reused or repurposed instead of spending time creating/recreating it.
Build your content marketing technology stack: When it comes to content distribution, automation, discovery and aggregation, it’s not all on your/your team. There are a wide variety of tools and technologies available to help further streamline your process, personalize your digital experiences and extend your reach.
Having a solid content strategy in place isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a need-to-have. Having the right content tools and technologies in place to support your overall strategy helps to not just distribute content and keep websites fresh, but it also mitigates the risk associated with outdated, inaccurate or non-compliant content. Consumers are tech savvy and even a minor error in a product description can come back to haunt you. A successful content strategy should keep everyone producing and managing content within your organization on the same page. The right content plan with the right technology stack is the key.