Content Strategy: Here’s the Secret Sauce to Doing It Well

By Sep 25, 2020

Let’s face it: Content may be king, but a lot of it feels like noise.

Brands competing for digital attention can reach more people today than ever before, but they have far less oxygen. Every social post and banner ad consumers come across is awash in a deluge of online communication.

It’s hard enough for brands to get noticed by anyone, let alone reach the right people.

On top of that, content marketing today is constantly evolving. Digital channels that resonate with how people consume information today or fill next-gen gaps—TikTok and Snapchat, anyone?—weren’t even blips on the radar a handful of fiscal years ago.

A modern marketer’s tool kit must solve for these modern challenges. And the best way to do that is with a content strategy. Only 33% of B2C marketers have a clear and defined content strategy, one that sets them up to effectively cut through the digital noise.

Content without strategy is rudderless.

Before you create content and build that newsletter, develop a content strategy that’s right for your business.

Here’s how you do it.

Set real goals. Make real progress. Don’t yawn.

Shiny Object Syndrome affects all marketers. Ask your doctor if content strategy is right for you. (Hint: it will be.)

The page views for that new cornerstone blog post or executive thought leadership essay might jump off the presentation slide, but it’s essential to ask: So what?

What exactly is content strategy? It’s how marketers plan for and actually do their content marketing efforts. Fewer kazoos, more key performance indicators (KPIs).

Two kinds of KPIs in particular are especially important for content strategy:

  • Leading indicators—metrics that measure efforts and predict the likelihood you’ll hit your revenue targets
  • Lagging indicators—metrics that measure the direct results of marketing efforts

When analyzing both, consider efforts versus results. The big difference is that marketers can reasonably control and improve the former. The latter? Not so much.

For example, engagement metrics like page views, email opens, and social shares (leading indicators) can influence users to eventually visit a financial institution to open a checking account (lagging indicator). Drops in those leading indicators could lead to drops in those in-person visits.

How your users engage with your content efforts suggests whether or not they’ll convert. Whether or not they become customers, loyal buyers, or brand ambassadors. Whether or not your content’s working as it should.

Thinking strategically adds color to those engagement numbers. How is this influencing buyer behavior? Can we do even better?

 

Process: If you build it, they will come.

Apologies to the wunderkinder prototyping teleportation devices in their basements, but getting from Seattle to San Francisco today still takes some work.

Content strategy for the web is no different. To yield the right results—to have real control of leading indicators—organizations must build frameworks, processes, and capacity that can get them there.

If anything, setting strategic targets (for efforts and results) is where the rubber meets the road.

Start with the frameworks. Learn your buyers’ personas. Know their values, their needs, and their objectives. Know the digital marketing touchpoints they engage with; that’s where your organization needs to be.

Craft the messaging plan. Entice your audience to engage, download, and decide. Dress your value proposition in the unique language it’ll take to make your unique buyer personas perk up.

Then, build the right processes. Leverage the right technology. This includes marketing automation, customer relationship management (CRM), and content distribution networks. Reach who you should when you should—the right technology will illuminate those triggers.

Finally, know your capacity. This isn’t just about budget or headcount. Both are undoubtedly essential; organizations need to have the bank and bandwidth to create and distribute content. More importantly, though, know what you’ve already got and what you’re gonna need.

If you’re planning to create a podcast, do you have the publishing platform, recording software, and studio gear ready to go? This might mean whipping out the checkbook.

If you’re adding sophistication to your email nurture program, do you need a bunch of brand-spanking-new content or do you already have the assets in tow? This might mean diving into a content audit.

Content strategy gives your content efforts a fighting chance to yield real business results. On top of that, it allows for effective scale.

 

But the most important thing...

Recent data shows that 97% of content marketers have the phrase “Be Data-Driven” tattooed on their arms.

This statistic is a great example of two things.

First, marketers tend to coalesce around bumper sticker clichés. (Go big or go home, amirite?)

Second, some data is really bad. (Like the above completely made-up statistic just to prove this point.)

That second point is worth repeating. Some data is really bad. In fact, the data sitting in your own CRM experiences a 30% decay every year. That means if your CRM contains 1,000 records, about 300 of them could be Judases who lie in wait to betray your trust.

And this is just the conservative estimate. If you’re in certain high-turnover industries, for example, the decay can hover around 70%. (And if your organization doesn’t go through a quarterly database hygiene process, this can be a real big mess.)

Bad data has a snowball effect on content strategy. If your customer data is iffy, your personas could be iffy. If your personas are iffy, your targeting could be iffy. Iffy targeting, iffy messaging. Iffy messaging, iffy tactics.

And as we all know, there’s no word content marketers love more than iffy.

But it’s not just regular database sweeps that content marketers must champion. It’s also good metric tracking habits.

Are your Google Analytics goals set up to track the new form fills and purchases? Is your page traffic data meaningful if your new blog post has only been live for five whole business days?

If these feel more like digital marketers’ concerns, that’s because they are. A lot of what happens with digital content sits in digital marketing territory. But content strategy requires understanding digital-speak (and, to some degree, operations-speak and revenue-speak) so content efforts tie to organizational goals instead of stalling in a vacuum.

Modern content strategy requires marketers working beyond silos to understand how the data can inform what levers to pull and content to create to influence the right audience.

 

Just do it.

I know what you’re thinking: the global pandemic really did a number on your personal and professional New Year’s resolution goals.

But good businesses don’t just make promises. They make plans. And a content strategy breathes life into those plans.

Maybe you know all this. Maybe your content strategy plan is tight. Maybe you’ve got the content calendar, your goals, and a briefcase full of content briefs to act on. Maybe you already know that building a company blog or content hub leads to 55% more web visitors and 67% more leads than organizations that don’t.

Some of this is industry knowledge.

But often, you’ll still need to take some risks. That new podcast may not directly and immediately lead to deals. The new surge of video content on the hot new social channel may not be getting you exactly what you’re looking for right away. (Consider yourself lucky if it does.) But there are lessons and insights ready to be discovered when you anchor to content strategy while reaching for the horizon.

Lessons about brand awareness and what makes your audience tick? Sure. But there are also things you can learn about your own stamina and how far you need to look for the right content levers to pull.

All of this is to say that digital content strategy comes down to three basic things: (1) Build strong processes. (2) Set realistic goals. (3) Leverage good data. But the difference between your content and everyone else’s is in the details.

Your results will speak for themselves.