30 July 2017

Create a professional content strategy

Content is King, but only if it’s a valuable story for your audience.

The people you want to reach will only pay attention to your content when it enhances their lives in a way they value. They, like you, are interested only in things that matter to them – not someone’s need to communicate with them.

One of the most important takeaways from this post is: You get the fans you sing for.

Bombarding your audience with messages they do not value will train them to ignore your content along with the incessant commercial noise they are assailed with on a daily basis – doomed to be avoided. Similarly, messages that do not serve your strategic goals are a waste of everyone’s time.

Why you should take your content strategy seriously

  • 20% of all Web traffic comes from shared content.
  • 70% of consumers prefer getting to know a company via articles rather than advertisements.
  • 67% more leads are achieved by companies with active blogs.
  • 80% of business decision-makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles rather than an advertisement.
  • 70% report content marketing makes them feel closer to the sponsor.
  • 60% say that company content helps them make better product decisions.

Create a professional content strategy

  1. Understand your audience
  2. Create content for your organisation
  3. Market and brand your content
  4. Craft audience experiences
  5. Create a core creative concept
  6. Deliver your content
  7. Manage your content
  8. Build a core strategy (5 D’s)
  9. Outsourcing vs In-house creation
  10. Conclusion

1. Understand your audience

As a rule, self-interest and social identification precede motivation. In order to be heard, your message should be directed at the correct audience and address a topic of interest or of use to them. Not you.

Our internet-connected lives are hectic. The demands on our time and attention blur the line between work and our personal lives more than ever before. (And getting worse by the day.) It’s in this noisy, almost hostile world your message needs to survive and grow. There is a silver lining though, research has shown that an audience will take more of what they need to know when you give them more of what they want to know.

Taking these factors into account, your first imperative should be to deliver value and to empower your audience: to think about what they value, and how they behave. Learn what matters to your audience at work and in their personal lives. Remember, it’s all about them. A powerful tool to ensure your messages are relevant and easy to consume is to create “personas” or archetypes for individuals you believe to be the target for your organisation’s message. Think of these personas as your average Joe, Jane, etc. A persona is a symbolic representation of the goals and behaviour of a specific group of individuals. To build these personas you must understand your audience’s psychographic (values, fears and motivations) and demographic (eg. age and location) composition. Important: These personas and characteristics should ideally be based on research, not intuition. Here are a few examples of how you can craft personas that represent your target audience:

  1. Interview people in your target market.
  2. Follow them to see what their daytime experiences are like.
  3. Learn about your target market from external stakeholders.
  4. Learn about your target market from secondary research.

2. Create content for your organisation

“Never break a silence unless you can improve upon it”

Your audience can only attend to a finite number of topics at a time. Moreover, they can only pay attention to your topics when motivated to do so – and very often by displacing some other topic they care about.

The three challenges of creating effective content

  1. There is an ever-rising tidal wave of information around every subject and it (available information) continues to grow.
  2. Limited time, and increasing competition for your time and attention.
  3. The world is becoming more complicated.

The good news is that people will give you their time and attention – if you give them more of what they want. It’s for this reason that your messages should be credibletrustworthy and transparent while also delivered at a placetime and in a way your audience wants to consume them.

Principles of an effective content strategy

  1. If it’s not smart, it’s not strategic.
  2. Don’t overload people with too many non-strategic messages.
  3. Know your organization’s most important, prioritized strategic goals, and only focus on those.

What is “magnetic content”?

Magnetic content is content that is often linked to or discussed and attracts new individuals from your target audience. Narrative storytelling can be a powerful way to illuminate topics for your audience. The basic characteristics of magnetic content are that it’s story-driven, the message is useful and easy to find, the topic is current and engages the individual, and your message is easy to consume (on any device) and easy to share with others.

3. Market and brand your content

Strong brands use experiences that marketers know are important to the consumer segment that they are trying to reach. Coca-Cola is one of the most famous brands in the world. When you think about it, how would you go about selling a product that’s basically canned brown, carbonated, sugar-infused water? Coca-Cola the brand doesn’t go around advertising a brown fizzy drink. Instead (with the help of some smart people) they market and sell “Happiness”, by linking their product to summer, with friends, with having a good time.

Articulate your brand

Good brands will always satisfy the following three criteria:

  1. Paint a clear picture of the central idea and concept surrounding a core product and service.
  2. Make it clear what to believe about the service or product and why it’s believable.
  3. Distinguish the product or service from other competitive possibilities.

A brand positioning statement is a useful tool to this end. The positioning statement specifies who the target segment is, what the core concept of your brand is, and how this is different from your competitors. We have included a brand positioning template recipe to help you get started:

  • To (your target market):
  • Who (have the following characteristic):
  • This brand (what it’s like and what you do):
  • That (how you are different from the competition):

When writing the position statement, make sure your content is relative to the same experiences (discussed in next section) your brand speaks to. Here is an example of a fictional brand position statement: For people who want to enjoy candy or desserts but are health conscious, Brand Y Cookies are a tasty, all-natural, low-fat alternative that will give you all the benefits of a health bar with the pleasure of dessert. In a blind taste test, Brand Y Cookies matched other market leaders in taste while keeping each serving to a reasonable 100 calories.

Craft audience experiences

Experiences are defined as the thoughts or feelings consumers have about how the product helps them achieve some goals in their life. (Think about the Coca-Cola example about happiness that we used earlier.) Experiences are a powerful tool to get your audience to identify with your brand. See if you can match any of the following experiences to a brand?

  1. Inspiration The individual believes she can accomplish anything in her own life. Nike is a good example of a brand that speaks to this experience.
  2. Identity Being a successful person. By wearing a Rolex, or driving a Mercedes you can identify yourself with success.
  3. Utilitarian How-to articles, useful advice and tips that make day to day life easier. For instance, consider how often have you yourself read a “How to” article.

Why do experiences matter?

  1. All content creates an experience, whether you like it or not.
  2. Experiences are linked to use.
  3. The content creator can shape and control the experience.

Experiences are applied at three levels

  1. Message level: Driving audience experiences through your story.
  2. Content distribution level: Telling the story of how, when and where your audience wants.
  3. Strategic level: Ensure that every audience contact maximizes the experiences you are trying to create and match your strategic objectives.

How to create powerful experiences

The first step in creating experiences begins with an understanding of your audience. When you have a clear idea of who you want to address, begin with a concept and ask yourself: What is your best idea of what the content should mean to readers or viewers? Think of it as not “what we do”, but rather what is “our value” to the audience in their mind. To help you get started, focus your efforts on the four most powerful experiences:

  1. By consuming your content it makes me a member of the audience smarter.
  2. Your content looks out for me and my interests.
  3. Convenience, your content makes my life easier (easy, instant access to relevant content)
  4. It gives me something to talk about and share with others (social experience)

5. Create a core creative concept

Over time, in every organization, you will produce many different pieces of content, most likely across many different media platforms. The key is that all of them should be tied to the experiences that your content strategy calls for. The best way to start is to create a thematic storyline for your content. Keep it general enough so that any individual piece of the content will tell it’s own story, but rich of enough to be relevant to the brand and the experiences it’s associated with.

ExperienceThematic storyline
InspirationGood guy vs. Bad guy
Make me feel smarterDo you remember FNB’s Steve?

Define your brand’s voice and tone

“Voice is how the author creates the illusion that the writer is speaking directly to the reader from the page or screen.”

The “Voice” can be thought of as a phone call from a trusted friend, you immediately tune in to what the person is saying. Your brand’s voice will convey the writer’s character, while e tone is the mood of the writer’s voice that creates nuance, depth and colour. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when writing for your audience:

  • Think about your audience and what they know about this topic.
  • Believe in the value of your message.
  • Be yourself, be direct and be clear.
  • Speak in a voice the audience will recognize as someone like them, this will help you hold the attention and interest of your audience.
  • Readers will first scan, and then zoom in on what captured their attention. Use captivating headings and provide enough detail (or links) where required.

What is “content engagement”?

Engagement is a key tool for attracting audience members to your content. The collective set of experiences that a person has with your content creates their overall engagement with the brand. The measure of engagement with your content is how you serve and gain loyalty from audience members and customers, not how often people read, view, “like” or recommend your content.

6. Deliver your content

Chances are you have heard the wise men say: Form must follow function. Similarly, when you are creating content for your organisation, format follows the story. Your content design and delivery (where and how) should be seen as an iterative step in a series of phases – in other words, a process and not a project that starts and stops. Designers will cycle through these phases multiple times. A good design process starts with low-fidelity of quick, rough-hewn prototypes to get initial broad feedback. After the initial prototyping, your design then moves on to higher-fidelity prototypes that test specific features or actions. It’s critical to measure and test your content against your primary goals. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have access to enough data or technical resources to implement the testing. Any testing is better than no testing.

Social Media

The rise of Social and Mobile means your content can be distributed on social platforms that all share the following unique characteristics:

  • Information and interactions happen in real-time.
  • You have access to a global audience.
  • People often turn to social media to seek expertise and expert advice.
  • The conversations and topics are consumer controlled.
  • Newsfeeds and interactions are content focused. (Remember your audience want content that relates to them and their lives.)
  • Multimedia (text, audio and video) can be used.
  • Diverse delivery to desktop computers, mobile phones, or tablets, and iPods. (This means you can reach your audience at work, on the train, at the gym during a workout, or on their phones as they search for the closest burger.)

Social media also provides the unique ability to target specific audiences and interest groups, like Social communities, which are formed around a common interest or topic. These groups are internally driven and range in passion levels with permanent communities and stable members (eg. Fashionistas, fan pages, etc) Trigger event communities are externally and internally driven by lifestyle changes or some specific real-world event. Members tend to be temporary (eg. getting married, having a baby, or a political or social event). Points to consider when targeting trigger event communities:

  • You can coordinate marketing to an individual’s natural timeline.
  • We have the ability to reuse material because it will be “new” to the new members.
  • The key is to understand the “community lifecycle”, and then to support it.

Find and reach audiences on social media platforms

  1. How to find the mission of the community? Diagnosis: What is the nature of the challenge faced by the social community? Guiding policy: How can you or your organisation help them deal with that challenge? Coherent Action: Set of coordinated activities you will perform to accomplish the goals in the guiding policy.
  1. Identify hot topics. Keep an eye on the news, trends and current affairs and build content that complements these topics.
  2. Filter & focus on specific audience groups with specific interests that are in alignment with your message.

Differentiated messaging

Consider that your audience is highly mobile and distributed over various platforms – varying media preferences. If that isn’t enough of a challenge, your audience is also time-constrained and probably doesn’t have time to visit your site and read your content. You will need to go to them. We all respond to different sorts of messages. To make sure your messages are effective it’s important to generate and test different sorts of messages to figure out how to attract your target audience. A popular method of differentiated messaging is to structure your content around Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs:

  1. Self Actualization (achieving one’s full potential, including creative activities)
  2. Esteem needs (prestige and feeling of accomplishment)
  3. Belongingness and love needs (intimate relationships, friends)
  4. Safety needs (security, safety)
  5. Physiological needs (food, water, warmth, rest)

Measure the performance of each of the messages against your campaign objectives and key performance metrics. Learn, refine, and repeat.

7. Manage your content

Employing writers to create content, and having a content strategy is not the same thing. Your content strategy concerns all areas including content creation, delivery and governance in line with your organisation’s objectives. Planning your content strategy starts with having a clear purpose and objective. What will the content do and deliver for your business and users?

Organizational considerations

What are your policies, guidelines and standards for new and existing content?How does content happen (from creation to deletion)?
Who has the last say?Who is involved?
Who thinks of content?What about costs and guidelines?
What happens to the content when it’s edited?Track revisions and suggestions
What is the approval process?With whom does the buck stop?
What happens when positions change or people leave?Succession planning, to take over each of the roles.

8. Build a core strategy (5 D’s)

Discover, Define, Design, Develop, and Deploy.

i. Discover

Conduct a thorough content audit that lists all the content the organisation currently owns. Create an inventory that includes information like the page ID, title, URL, notes, meta title, meta description, meta keywords, primary image, etc. The content in the inventory can be re-used and provides a bird’s eye view that informs the creation of future content. Here are some important considerations during this phase:

  • Is research needed? (current technology, stakeholder interviews, competitors, trends, etc)
  • Should all stakeholders participate in overall planning?
  • Content management systems (CMS) and available technology.
  • Current trends and what is your competition doing?
  • What do you already have?
  • What is the current style of your content and what do you want it to be?
  • Should the content be styled for specific channels?
  • Are there audiences that you need to provide further options? (Translations and accessibility)
  • Are there seasonality considerations?

ii. Define

Define your content, requirements and plan moving forward:

  • Create a project plan.
  • Write down all your objectives.
  • Define success metrics to measure your performance against the key objectives.
  • Sketch the high-level architecture.
  • Development plan and content schedule.
  • Specify user testing/Quality Assurance (QA) standards.
  • What will happen to your content after its initial use?
  • Categorize content (homepage, products, blog topics).
  • The frequency of content updates and refresh cycles.
  • What the mix of multimedia content will be?

content calendar is often used to assign responsibility, track progress and coordinate content maintenance and publishing requirements. We created a “bare-bones” content calendar to help you get started: http://bit.ly/1g1AirI

iii. Design

  • Detailed sitemap.
  • Page types.
  • Wireframes.
  • Storyboards.
  • Video/audio creation.
  • Content Management System (CMS) templates.
  • Design hierarchy of styles (what is a headline, subhead, etc).

iv. Develop

  • Backend components.
  • Quality Assurance metrics and procedures.

v. Deploy

Deploy, measure, and enjoy! 🙂

9. Outsourcing vs In-house creation

A winning content strategy requires skilled experts and a great deal of time. We have seen an increasing trend to outsource content strategy development and management to professional agencies with experience and a proven track record. Both approaches have advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes content outsourcers are able to create the content and distribute it for you, so you get the advantage of their distribution mechanisms. On the other hand, when you keep the content creation inside the organisation, you know the creators really understand the brand and the concept that you want to convey. Here is a quick summary of the most important factors for your consideration:

More controlDifferent mindsets can distort your messages
Closer to judgementMore experience and productive
Flexibility to change direction more easilyTeam of experts
Grow skills and human capitalControl themes, voice, message and style

Either way, you need to consider digital capacity, and an ability to find your audience – and for your audience to find you. Both of these considerations should be guaranteed by professional agencies that focus on delivering tangible results measured against your objectives. As you decide

  • Create an editorial calendar for insourcing and outsourcing timelines.
  • Consider the possibility of a hybrid approach, to get the best of both worlds.
  • Be sure to investigate what you already have through an inventory audit.
  • Decide on who is responsible for SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
  • When you find writers you like, book them for the future.

10. Conclusion

Your audience’s first priority is always something that matters to them, not what you want them to know. By understanding your audience you can craft messages that create pleasurable experiences that will make your content more magnetic. Measure to make it better. If it can be measured, it can be improved. If not, not. State your objectives and define metrics to make sure you stay on track.

Understanding your audience to craft messages that create pleasurable experiences

Your audience’s first priority is always something that matters to them, not what you want them to know. Let us know if you found this article useful, or if you need help with your content strategy.

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