In just one of the features available in PerformanceIN's free-to-download Content Marketing digital supplement, Vikki Chowney (H+K Strategies), Mark Addis (NewsCred) and Mark Irwin (broadbandchoices) discuss the ways of ensuring a content marketing strategy runs smoothly from the off.
In building a content strategy from scratch, where precisely do you start?
Vikki Chowney: Brand purpose, plans and objectives. Otherwise you jump straight to the medium (‘let’s run a Twitter competition’), rather than working out which channel is actually going to be the most effective.
Mark Addis: It's really important that brands start off by thinking about the value that they want to provide with their content marketing. By truly understanding your audience and what types of content are relevant and useful to them, the rest of the content marketing journey will become much more clear. Building out the business case, defining key measurement metrics and gaining executive buy-in all rely heavily on finding the unique value you are able to provide.
Mark Irwin: Assuming you have already identified the purpose of your content as part of the overall strategy, you’ll need an understanding of the consumer’s requirements and what your role is in fulfilling those requirements – that gives direction for your substance. An understanding of the consumer’s preferences and how you can match those – that gives you style and tone. Everything after that is structure and operations.
How imperative is ‘brand purpose’ to this process?
MI: If content is an important part of your overall strategy then it can actually be the thing that drives your brand – we produce more pieces of content and have more site visits than we make adverts and have airtime, so the brand identity comes from the content more than anything else. It is who we are, not just an advert of who we say we are. Of course, if content is not a key part of the strategy then it might not matter at all.
MA: Tying in your brand purpose to your content marketing is a must. Consumers today call ‘bs’ faster than any other time in history, so if you aren't being truly authentic to what your company stands for, your content marketing will not resonate. The ideas and messages you want to communicate, and how they differentiate you from competitors, are all important factors to think about through the lens of your brand purpose.
What are the typical errors you see people making in the early stages of strategy development?
VC: Focusing on tactical content rather than strategic. As in, content for the sake of being ‘always on’ rather than having it mean anything in the context of your brand.
MA: The most common mistake that we see is that many companies focus too much on volume. It’s not just about more content; you really want to make sure you set a quality threshold and publish quality stuff – pieces that you would read or would be proud to tell your mum that you’re publishing! Set the quality bar first and then drive toward quantity goals at that level. The other mistake is companies trying to be too different in their messaging at the early stages. Make the customer the hero early on and your point of view can come later.
MI: No insight: lacking direction of what the consumer really needs and wants as opposed to just what you want to talk about. No idea: no unifying purpose that makes the whole range of content greater than its individual pieces. No integration: not having it align with all your other public or consumer touchpoints, and thus seeming schizophrenic.
Which company representatives should be in the room when talks over strategy are beginning?
MA: For the initial discussions around strategy, it's most important to have the employees who will have a direct impact on the process in the room. Examples of directly involved contributors would be a social media strategist, an editor (if you have one), your point person responsible for the success of your content marketing, and the higher-level employee who will be acting as champion for the initiative. With a balanced group you can make sure not to leave out any important viewpoints and cover all your bases when building out your strategy.
MI: That’s hard to answer, as it really depends on the business size, and importance of content within the overall strategy. For a small publisher, probably CEO and downwards. For a FTSE100 financial company that doesn’t have content at its heart, probably just the brand team and content producers involved. My general rule for whom should be present in forming strategy is anyone (at any level) that really matters and feels part of the process, because their role is such that they are someone who can make it a success or failure. Anyone outside of that definition is less relevant.
VC: The most senior people you can get, because they’re the ones setting out business objectives and targets. This is often driven by a CMO or equivalent, but to save endless rounds of changes and tweaks at later stages, you have to get stakeholder buy-in early on.
Any tips for helping marketers stay on the right track with content strategy?
MI: Your advertising team will typically have a brand guidelines deck – the content team should have their own version, as well as a gold standard piece of content of each type produced to refer back to. A single-minded editor or champion helps as well.
VC: My favourite quote on this subject is from Tyler Brule’s article in 'Contagious' from the beginning of 2015: “Brands must learn to edit”. I can’t stress the importance of this enough. There is so much opportunity to create and publish content that it becomes overwhelming. New platforms and tools can dilute your content strategy, and distract you from the places you need to focus on to make most impact. Fewer, bigger, better, with a heavy emphasis on quality not quantity, is my motto.
MA: Document your strategy, don’t just talk about it! It’s relatively easy to create a baseline strategy in a group discussion on how you want to proceed, but without a written reference to keep coming back to it’s very easy for content marketing to fall through the cracks. In addition, set someone as the individual responsible for content marketing. Not clearly defining the employee responsible for successful execution of your strategy will result in your team spinning their wheels without gaining much traction