“Should we be investing more in video?” “Let’s post every day on Twitter!” “Why don’t we start a podcast?” If you’re a marketer, you’ve probably been part of the “content conversation.” As digital transformation touches every industry, we’re in the midst of a content explosion and organizations are struggling to maintain control over all of their different properties and channels while delivering meaningful messages to the right customer at the right time. Content teams often act as the extra arm to many different departments within a larger organization, tackling everything from employer branding guides, event promotion, executive thought leadership, demand generation and much, much more. When everyone’s got something to say, how can a content manager maintain a unified brand voice and say something worthwhile?
Too many marketing departments confuse a list of trends or channels with a strategy. However, just jumping on the next big thing because that’s what all your competitors are doing can quickly lead to a confused and overstretched content department that sacrifices quality for quantity. Your content program shouldn’t be whipping up a new social media graphic every time a VP asks or pumping out daily Facebook statuses to meet some arbitrary cadence of how much you think you should be posting. Before you even put a single finger on a keyboard, here’s what you need to know about creating a strategic content plan. To make sure you’re creating insight rather than chatter, you first need to develop a strong content strategy.
Identify a Strategic Objective for Your Content Program
Back in 1996, Bill Gates penned his famous essay, “Content is King” and since then, organizations have eagerly pursued their own golden content crowns. And it’s easy to see why. Unlike paid media and display ads, good content marketing can be discovered organically through SEO, can be created in-house at relatively low cost with the right creative team and can establish a unique and creative voice for your brand in the market. However, just having a blog or a few videos up on your site is no longer the differentiator it once was. With practically every brand publishing material to the web, the competition to engage customers is steeper than ever.
Brands need to focus on the quality of what they’re producing and identify the goals and value to their audience for that content to have an impact. Sure, making cat memes about your new car models is a fun time for the graphic design team, but what purpose does it serve?
Every content program starts with defining a few strategic, specific objectives for how you’re going to create and publish content and how to measure the impact that your content has on driving larger business goals. Here are a few of the few essential questions every content marketing strategy needs to answer:
What does your content team look like?
Maybe you have one content director or editorial manager leading a group of in-house content specialists and strategists. Maybe you leverage freelance or agency talent to create your blog posts and whitepapers. For smaller organizations, content can even fall under the helm of a different department like PR/communications. No matter your business model, you need to understand how to best structure your team, determine the business investment and clearly define the responsibilities that each person has in bringing that content to life.
What is the purpose of the content?
Content can serve many functions from growing general brand awareness, encouraging customer retention, supporting other initiatives like demand generation and events promotion, or driving website traffic and improving search rankings. Understanding how your content will primarily be used in larger business operations lets you know what types of content will best suit these needs.
Who is your content for?
Once you know both your purpose and how you are going to create that content, the most important step becomes understanding your audience. Who are the people that will benefit the most from reading your posts, and how can you help them achieve their goals? Identifying your target customers begins by crafting detailed personas and mapping out the buyer’s journey.
Create Audience Personas That Feel Like Real People
Effective content marketing makes people, not your brand, the protagonist of the story. This means understanding who your customers are before you start the conversation. Content marketers do this by creating buyer personas: representations of their ideal customers based on research, behavior data, preferences and goals.
Unlike customer segmentation, which groups people into larger categories based on shared characteristics such as their age or vertical, good personas should be fully fleshed out profiles that understand a person’s current challenges and decision-making process. The two biggest traps marketers fall into when determining their target audience are making their focus too broad or too narrow. While you may want to sell your product to as many people as possible, generic statements about being the “best solution for everyone and anyone” come off as impersonal and lazy. On the other end, when brands focus only on attracting a single buyer like the CMO of a B2B tech company, they ignore all of the other people involved in buying and using your product every day.
Detailed personas are created from many different sources of information from market research to sales team feedback to data collected from a number of different tech and reporting tools. Once an organization feels they’ve gathered enough information about a prospective buyer’s job, education, region, preferred channels and a host of other unique identifiers, the issue then becomes bringing all of this data together into a unified customer profile and offering it at the right moment in each specific customer’s journey.
As Acquia’s content manager, I work within our editorial team to create content for many different audiences from digital marketers to software developers to partners and customers. Each blog post or e-book we put out needs to have a different reader’s interests in mind and use the kind of language that they understand. So when creating content for an editor, we may offer them material to help with boosting conversion rates or increasing web traffic, meanwhile, we would offer developers content focused on efficient deployments and integrations.
Having the right technology available makes it simple to keep all of this content organized and ensure that it is accessible to the right person at the right moment. Using a CMS, digital asset management tools and personalization tools with taxonomy capabilities lets marketers tag assets by persona, topic, content type, journey stage and more to easily match each kind of content to a specific user. Agreeing on distinct personas during the content planning stage allows your content editors to be more aware about who they’re writing each post for and approach projects as if they were starting a real-life dialogue with an individual rather than broadcasting a general announcement to the entire web.
Identify Themes and Map Them to Your Editorial Calendar
If you ever took an English Literature class in high school you’ve heard about the importance of “theme.” The theme of a book or piece of content is its underlying message or purpose that the author is trying to convey. It’s what drives the plot forward and motivates characters to take certain actions. Brand marketers use themes in their campaigns to convey a deeper meaning or sense of identity that their audience can associate with their product. For example, Tesla may produce content focused on being “eco-friendly” and “safe” while a brand like Jeep would focus on conveying themes of being “outdoorsy” or “ready for adventure.”
Determining a few content themes and pillars for your content gives organizations a focus and allows all of their messaging to feel cohesive. At Acquia, we keep content at the center of business operations by aligning each new project to a greater objective that fits within our overarching mission. Each quarter, leaders from all sides of the organization from product to sales to customer success come together to identify specific needs or goals. Building out this framework lets content teams easily fill in a blueprint of their editorial calendar that supports the needs of the business as a whole.
A content program is a democracy not a dictatorship or a mob rule. The best marketers aren’t the ones with the loudest voices who are always waiting for their turn to speak. They’re active listeners who only chime in when they know they’re offering something new and valuable to the conversation. By learning about who your audience is and understanding how you can help them, you can start a dialogue with your customers that keeps them engaged and helps your brand break through the ever-growing cacophony of digital noise.
Confident in your content strategy? Check back soon for our next post on how to start creating content at scale.