Planning Today’s Content Distribution Strategy (for Tomorrow’s Audience)

By Oct 19, 2020

So, you’ve got your content hat on. You’ve got your content strategy hat on. And you’ve got your content marketing hat on.

First of all, that’s way too many hats.

Second, you’re missing one important thing: a content distribution strategy. It’s what makes your content assets and your content strategy actually come alive.

Pick the wrong channels? The content won’t reach people. Promote the wrong content? … Let’s not imagine burning through company dollars.

Brands must navigate available content distribution and promotion channels to really make content efforts worth the investment. Not just for the audience that you’re reaching today, but also for the next generation of marketers you need to start building trust with.

The nuances that define your audience segments—both today’s and tomorrow’s—make a distribution strategy that much more important.

 

What is content distribution?

Content distribution determines where your content is seen. It’s the process of publishing and promoting your brand’s content—from a new post on a company blog to curating your social media feeds with carefully planned content.

Brands have three primary avenues for content distribution:

  • Owned media. Think your website, emails, and subscriber newsletters. These are channels your brand owns.
  • Shared media. Think social media channels. More than half the world uses social media. Your brand can publish and share content on these third-party sites, but only as long as you follow the channels’ shifting policies (and as long as they stay in business).
  • Paid media. Think content promotion. For a cost, your brand can control who sees your content and how, when, and where they’re seeing it.

A distribution plan is the bridge between your overarching content strategy (e.g., audience targeting, messaging, goals) and the actual publishing of that content across channels. You’ve got to know what your options are before you pick some.

Ultimately, your distribution strategy is a lot like planning a family reunion dinner at home. You want to give people good things to consume, and you want them to remember how good they felt consuming it.

Doing content distribution well ultimately drives more traffic and builds more brand loyalty.

But doing it well requires a little bit of work.

 

If we’ve learned anything this year...

Change is inevitable. A lot like death, taxes, and The Walking Dead spin-offs.

For marketers, the ground is always going to be shifting underneath them. Owned channels will require constant tweaking. Social media channels come and go. Costs for digital advertising ebb and flow.

A great example of all this volatility? 2020. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, financial markets are unpredictable, there’s unrest in the streets, and Kanye West is running for president.

It’s because of the tectonic shifts of these last few months that 37% of consumers say they want brands to make them feel safe. Another 31% say they want brands to make them feel positive (and turn their frowns upside down).

So, it’s not just about blog posts, witty emails, and quote graphics plastered across Instagram anymore. Priorities have shifted for audiences, and so they’ve consequently shifted for brands.

Brands that have succeeded during the pandemic reoriented their content strategy to match. They’ve had to become more adept at content marketing (i.e., giving audiences value without being salesy) and testing new channel distribution strategies. In fact, the pandemic itself has triggered the need for brands to have a better pulse on the world around them—87% of consumers appreciate the brands that deliver timely, thoughtful, and relevant information during the crisis.

Brands must be willing to test channel distribution strategies—to constantly learn and constantly iterate.

This constant learning allows marketers to stay out in front of shiny new trends—and brand new audiences.

 

When tomorrow’s trends are your friends

When developing your content distribution strategy, lean into the audience trends you’re noticing. The channel strategy becomes clearer when you do.

Most importantly, familiarize yourself with the conversations and avenues your affinity audiences are comfortable with. Marketing for today is important—and so is being equipped for marketing for tomorrow.

Think about the questions they’re asking. Use keyword research, insights from boots on the ground (e.g., your sales and customer support reps), and industry studies to determine the conversations you should engage in. If you’re, say, an online stockbroker, channels like Quora matter when your audience wants to know the technical aspects of high-frequency trading; channels like Instagram begin to matter when they want to know why the stock market is being driven by short-term speculators and not long-term investors.

Think about the tools they’re using. Go beyond just looking at the social platforms your audience lives on. That’s obvious. But if newspapers are really dead, what digital publications are people reading every morning? Half the world’s web traffic is from mobile devices—is that true for your audience? This can illuminate opportunities for sponsored content, content syndication, and media channels that your audience is likely going to see and care enough to engage with.

Use what you’re learning from audience trends to bolster your content distribution strategy and constantly refine your overarching content strategy.

Social media trends are especially important to explore. Over the past few years, as mobile technology has caught up with Silicon Valley social network innovations, it’s led to an increase in video consumption. In fact, video content is expected to make up 80% of all web traffic by 2021.

It’s why brands are increasingly turning to livestreams, informational videos, and behind-the-scenes video content to reach their audiences. The people demand it. Especially the young people that make up Gen Z, who consume video content far more than groups that came of age before them.

Surfacing these new audiences and their tendencies should be an important component of your content strategy. For brands that want staying power, learning how to market effectively today is only as good as learning how to market effectively tomorrow. What will that future audience require?

But how far should you go? Is it worth throwing your eggs into the TikTok basket because it has 800 million active users today if—like we’ve discussed—change is inevitable tomorrow?

Sort of.

 

Plan for future buyers. Even if that means more TikTok.

Someone wise once quipped: “Dress for the job you want, not for the job you have.”

This adage was a bit more relevant back before we all Zoomed our work meetings—business casual from the waist up and pajama bottoms from the waist down. But the sentiment rings true: we should always plan ahead.

Your content distribution strategy should be flexible enough to experiment with new ways to reach new audiences.

TikTok is a great example. The skeptics will say—and rightfully so—that before TikTok, it was Snapchat. Before Snapchat, it was Vine.

There were other channels before, and there will be other channels after. Although this is true, the impermanence of these networks shouldn’t scare brands off completely.

For financial institutions that market primarily to boomers and Gen X, the value in reaching millennials may seem more obvious than the value in trying to go after fleeting impressions from Gen Z. But both groups are future users, and brands must aim to build trust with these someday-investors. Being present in their socialsphere allows brands to establish trust and advocacy early on, so when they’re ready, these investors-to-be will invest with them.

Believe it or not, Gen Z is as old as 24 right now. That’s a lot of recent college grads who are looking to purchase their first home and start a family. To reach them, you’ll have to consider where they spend most of their time: streaming content online. (Video consumption trends are only increasing.)

A content distribution strategy that aims to build brand awareness with Gen Z won’t necessarily mean throwing the entire content budget and bandwidth into TikTok efforts. In fact, it should be relatively small. But any amount is more than most in a world obsessed with immediate gratification. Targeting Gen Z is a longer-term play. But it should mean TikTok potentially serves as meaningful opportunity for market learning. And Instagram. And Snapchat.

Planning ahead to reach these new audience segments doesn’t mean blindly chasing bandwagons. But it does mean taking calculated chances on new channels.

 

Think through your strategy

Your content should grow your brand anywhere it sees the light of day. Don’t hide it under a bushel basket. Thinking through your distribution strategy is as important as planning the content itself. Map out the channels available and prioritize meeting your audience wherever they’re hanging out.

And remember to think about more than the audience you sell to today. There are future buyers and affinity groups you should build trust with—or at least learn from.