Why An Effective Content Strategy is Fundamental to Effective Content Marketing
We hope you’re a firm believer in the value of content marketing. If so, you know how important it is to deliver relevant and valuable content to your most important current and prospective customers. With that understanding, you are ahead of the game.
However, it is vital to incorporate a content strategy process so that you can deliver on the full promise of content marketing.
Content strategy is the kissing cousin of content marketing. As Wikipedia defines it, content strategy is "the practice of planning for content creation, delivery, and governance" and "a repeatable system that defines the entire editorial content development process for a website development project." If you don’t have an online content strategy, it’s high time you begin work on developing one to keep your content marketing on target.
Thanks to two info-packed days I spent at the April 2010 Content Strategy Forum, I’d like to give you a head start. The Forum provided a wealth of insights on developing and deploying the right process to transform your content marketing vision into a reality that delivers bottom-line results.
Here are the top 10 takeaways on the how-to’s of content strategy:
- From the very moment you launch your website, you are in the publishing business. As we have said for several years, you need to think like a publisher in order to do content marketing effectively. But the even bigger idea from the Forum is that a website, like it or not, is a publication. For that site, and your strategy, to succeed, you must operate as though you were running a magazine or newspaper.
- You must assign a content strategy leader with both responsibility and authority in order to succeed. Too many organizations, including many well known global multinationals, are cranking out content without a coherent strategy driven by an appointed leader. In organizations of every size, it is essential that a skilled, trusted individual be given the power to drive your content strategy.
- Conduct a thorough content audit at the beginning of your process. This means determining exactly what online content you have, where it resides, who’s responsible for it, who is the target reader, and how it is being created and maintained. Because so many organizations have developed a patchwork quilt of content over many years, they may be completely clueless about what they have and where it is. Without this basic understanding, you cannot hope to roll out an effective content strategy.
- Effective content is much more than words on a virtual page. Your content includes both the verbal and visual components and should reflect an understanding of how your target users will respond once they reach your website. This requires an understanding of information architecture and user interface design. All of these elements must work in concert to deliver results.
- You must have a clear assessment of what your target customers expect to find online when they are searching for answers to their problems. A relatively small number of companies are really clued in to their prospects’ online information needs. These may well be different from what they want at your retail location or when they call you on the phone.
- Include all participants in the content creation process from the get go. This includes your key marketing folks, your content strategists, copywriters, designers, and, as appropriate, senior management. When key decision-makers are left out of the process in the beginning, content problem-solving becomes extremely difficult as your launch approaches.
- Determine what internal and external resources will be required to generate every element of the content that will become part of your online strategy. It’s not enough to determine what you need to provide. Just as important is determining who will be delivering all that content. Moreover, you need to establish a process workflow so that their contributions will show up just the way that you want them and exactly when you need them.
- Define and deploy a repeatable process in order to maintain and expand your content. Although great ideas underlie great content, without effective process management you cannot hope to deliver consistent quality. This is very much like a traditional publication which develops an annual editorial calendar and a carefully crafted workflow for each issue. Since you are now in the publishing business, you need to do exactly the same.
- Design your content so that results are quantifiable and easy to measure. Amorphous marketing is out. Measurable marketing is in. The nature of the web makes it pretty easy to measure almost every user activity on your website. To make that measurement meaningful, you need to determine what quantifiable results you need, how to deliver those results, and how to make changes when you results don’t match your objectives. All of this needs to be built in from the beginning.
- "Content strategy will be as hot as social media and 12 months," Kristina Halvorson. Although I’m not sure that I’m totally on board with Kristina’s prediction, I am confident that she’s on the right conceptual track. Social media is the bright shiny new toy under the content marketing Christmas tree. Because it’s new and buzzworthy, lots of marketers think they need social media whether or not it’s appropriate. As content marketing replaces more and more traditional marketing, having an effective content strategy will rise to the top of the marketing concept food chain. Social media isn’t going away. That said, it may well be, just another component of an effective high-level content strategy.
The bottom line: It’s hard to make things easy for your customers online. Without an effective content strategy, hard becomes impossible.
But, with an effective content strategy,it becomes much less hard to make things much more easy for your customers to trust you, to engage with you, and finally to buy from you.
If you’re ready to start developing that strategy, run out and buy Kristina Halvorson’s practical, put-it-to-work book, Content Strategy for the Web.