As Dave Trott explained, “Strategy is the big picture. Tactics are the little pictures that make up the big picture. Tacticians are specialists. Strategists are generalists.” This is an important distinction and one that is particularly relevant to content marketing. Many SEOs seem to follow a form of content marketing that is simply a reaction to changes in Google; they see content as the best way to build organic visibility and links without risking penalties. Although correct, they have progressed little from the early days of link bait, give or take the level of their creativity and the content types they employ.
This approach to content marketing is far more tactical than strategic. In fact there is very little strategy involved without recognition of, as Trott puts it, the big picture. However the real problem is that this approach is unsustainable. The current focus on content means that content marketers can no longer afford to work in silo. Their success increasingly relies on collaboration and consent from a multi-stakeholder environment.
This strategic refocus allows you to move from producing link bait to delivering a mature content marketing strategy that performs across digital and brand objectives. The most important step in developing this strategy is gathering the right information from clients, or across your own organisation. This exercise, looking at the following key areas, will help form the foundations on which your strategic plans should be built.
Collect information on all the places your client or organisation can publish content. Think broadly about websites, micro-sites and social platforms. It’s common for enterprise websites to contain several platforms within the same domain, especially when it comes to e-commerce or support systems. SEO backlink analysis can play a useful role here by identifying current (sub) domains in use or those abandoned over time.
Being thorough in this exercise can unearth tactical content and give additional options should there be restrictions in publishing to the main domain. Understand the technical requirements in publishing to the platforms identified in this step, and details on content management systems (CMS) available. Any technical limitations, such as ability to use embedding video or third party scripts, will shape content decisions.
Get the complete picture of the stakeholders involved in publishing or distributing content, from PR to internal brand or communications teams. Understand the dependencies between these teams and the time-frames that they work to. Where appropriate, tie these stakeholders to the platforms identified in step 1 so that you understand their role better.
Establishing process between these teams is time consuming but essential to advancing a content strategy. Focus the discussions on flow diagrams and clearly defined responsibilities for content development, sign-off and distribution.
In mid-sized companies the communication strategy may be dictated by the PR agency, while larger organisations usually have their own brand/marketing teams. A good communications strategy will clearly identify the target audiences for the brand and the positioning needed to reach them. Key to stakeholder collaboration and sign-off is aligning your content marketing strategy with these objectives.
This approach will also future-proof your content contributions, as native advertising is predicted to become the preferred form of advertising by 2025. Filtering down a clear communications strategy provides context for the content that will be produced.
Most organisations have already produced content that is not reaching its potential. Talking to the stakeholders identified in step 2, take a thorough audit of all content available, e.g. internal reports, photos, website FAQs, articles or videos. If this content is online then look at traffic or engagement metrics to identify top performers that you can build upon.
These are early days for content marketing but some brands have already started to perform in this area. It is prudent to identify these competitors within your market and learn from their campaigns. New content tactics need to be tested and pivoted before committing significant funds to the idea; competitor insight can speed up this process and prevent costly mistakes.
An increased level of stakeholder involvement around content means it is more important than ever to prove ROI. Sharing the success of smaller projects will give them confidence to support more ambitious work.
Make yourself aware of above the line (ATL) advertising planned out for the brand. This allows you to align content strategy and discover opportunities for collaboration. Think broadly across and outside your organisation in terms of content producers, e.g. employees, suppliers and customers. Consider how you might use these relationships to create brand advocates or content partners.
Professional publishers have tools and processes in place that ensure the consistent, high quality content that is expected by their audience. Most brands have style and design guideline documents that ensure a consistent tone of voice and appearance for content. These documents allow content creators to work efficiency.
The Guardian newspaper makes their comprehensive style guide available online. Even a basic document will work to bring together your content stakeholders and provide a “rule of law” around common standards.
Another essential tool for publishers, and indeed PR or social teams, are content calendars. Develop a shared content calendar that details activity from as many stakeholders identified in step 2 as possible.
To help start you on this discovery exercise, I have shared a template document that covers the steps outlined in this post. I’d suggest customising this document for your needs, but it should help structure the conversations needed with content stakeholders. Once the information has been gathered for this “big picture” view, you will be in a much better position to develop mature content marketing strategies that align and perform across digital and brand objectives.
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You can download the template by filling in this form, you will then receive a link to the template in your e-mail.