Let’s start with a really quick task – go and Google ‘content’ and ‘content strategy’ and see what other terms come up as you’re typing.
It’s a lot, right?!
You get things like ‘content plan’, ‘content marketing’, ‘content framework’… the list goes on.
And that’s because “content” (imagine me doing the finger quote thing!) is BIG BUSINESS.
The output of content is increasing by about 35% per channel per year.
It’s so big that a number of organizations are using content marketing to lead their overall marketing efforts.
Drift is one such company that is following this approach – they even published a book in 2018. Yes, an actual printed book!
HubSpot is another. Did you know that they publish between 250 and 300 blog posts per month? That’s a lot of busy beavers.
🤔 So what is a content strategy?
Well, according to the Content Marketing Institute (who you think should know what they’re talking about!), a content strategy is the ‘creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.’
Ok, yeah, I’m not convinced either…
A look at Moz’s definition doesn’t really help either. They distinguish between a content strategy, a content marketing strategy and content marketing.
Eek, anybody else’s head hurt by now?
In the interest of keeping things simple (and for the purposes of this guide), I’d like to propose the following:
A content strategy is the step that translates your messaging into some form of marketable content. It outlines why you’re doing content in the first place, how it relates to what you’re selling and what sort of activities and campaigns you can do to promote that content.
In other words, it’s the why, how and what of content.
Now an important point that I’ve mentioned above is that it ‘translates your messaging’.
In fact, if you’ve got a messaging document or strategy, even if it’s scrappy, then you’re half way to building a content strategy already.
And don’t worry if you don’t have a messaging strategy. Because my aim with this guide is to help you define your content strategy in 3 easy steps.
I’ll walk you through some quick and easy exercises that you can even do as you read the guide. So have a notebook and pen – or your preferred online note-taking tool – open and ready to go.
No time like the present to get started!
🔍 3 easy steps to building a content strategy
I’ve seen a lot of different approaches to building a content strategy over the years. From large corporates to start-ups, from weeks of planning meetings to half day workshops.
The exact steps you’ll need to take will very much depend on your or your client’s organization and who needs to be involved. However, at the core of every effective content strategy I’ve witnessed are 3 easy steps.
👉 Step 1
Step 1 starts where people are most comfortable.
Talking about their product or service!
Now this may seem to go against the grain because most of the marketing literature out there will tell you to focus on the benefits or outcomes to the customer.
Bear with me! We’ll get there.
But when the natural place to start is always talking about the functionality of a product or the features of a service, it actually makes more sense to go with the flow.
What you do need to do though is apply the Rule of 3.
Yes, there are 3 easy steps and they also follow the rule of 3 – nice and simple to remember!
The Rule of 3.
If you’ve read the brilliant book by Carmine Gallo called ‘Talk Like Ted’ then you’ll recognize this principle. If you haven’t read it, then check it out. I highly recommend it not just for public speaking but also for clarifying ideas and structure.
How you apply the Rule of 3 is quite simple.
Start off by writing down all the different features of your product or service.
It’s usually a good idea to do this on post-it notes or in an online whiteboard tool like Miro. You’ll see why in a minute.
For example, an online product like a social media tool could have the following features:
- Scheduling feature
- Publishing calendar
- Monitoring to watch competitors or keywords
- Ability to share and review with colleagues
- Tag team members to include them in certain tasks
- Analytics dashboard to monitor performance
- Custom reports to track specific numbers
Equally, an IT-related service could have these features:
- Diagnostic process to uncover the problem
- Market review to assess the best-fit solutions
- Ongoing support for trouble-shooting and bug fixing
- On-site management of servers and equipment
- Remote monitoring and helpdesk teams
Now you’ll obviously come up with a lot more for your particular scenario. And the point here is to list them all, every last one!
When you’re happy with the full list, then the fun starts.
You need to group items where they feel like they ‘fit’ together.
And yes, you guessed it, you need to get to 3 groups.
Remember I mentioned about using post-it notes or an online whiteboard tool? Now you get why. So it’s easy to move things around and group them together visually.
With the first example above – the social media tool – 3 potential groups start to emerge:
- Scheduling and publishing
With the second example above – the IT service company – the following groups can be teased out:
- Fixing or implementation
Once you start moving things around and seeing the connections, it becomes easier. It’s just a matter of trying out different combinations and seeing if they fit.
Then you’re ready for Step 2.
👉 Step 2
Ok, so by now you should have 3 groups of features and a rough idea of what to call each group.
Don’t worry about these sounding pretty, they are just working names and won’t be used for anything external or marketing-related.
They’ll look something like this:
Our next step is to translate these features into what they mean for the customer.
Ah yes – remember when I mentioned earlier about the whole benefits-led approach? Well this is it.
Now, I’ll let you in on a little secret that I’ve used time and again in marketing and content planning.
Your customer benefits nearly always map back to the things outlined below. Now of course, there are some other benefits along the way… but our main modern-day woes nearly always come back to one of these:
- Saving (or having more) time
- Saving (or having more) money
- Better communication
- Better forecasting or ‘seeing into the future’
- Better understanding (although this then leads on to one of other benefits above)
- Better health (also closely related to 4. above!)
Still not convinced?
Well let’s take our Feature Group boxes above.
Group 1 – Scheduling and Publishing >> the benefit is usually to do this faster, i.e. save time.
Group 2 – Collaboration >> better communication.
Group 3 – Analytics >> better understanding and therefore forecasting.
Now it’s probably advisable to add a bit more detail against each of these depending on your specific case.
In other words, specify how Feature Group 1 results in Benefit 1. How exactly does it save time? Has it got a special gizmo in it that is faster than the other solutions on the market?
Same for Feature Groups 2 and 3 – how exactly do they result in these benefits? Is there a special sauce baked in that only your company knows about?
By the end of this step, you’ll have something like this:
You’re almost done!
See, I told you it was simple.
👉 Step 3
This next step is where we finally land on our content strategy.
And we do that simply by translating the benefits from Step 2 into what are commonly known as ‘pain points’ or ‘challenges’.
In other words, we’re saying ‘ok, our product delivers this benefit, so what pain point is that fixing for the customer?’
For example, our Benefit 1 above that was all about saving time.
Well, the pain point is, at its crudest, the fact that the customer is time-poor – they are too busy doing other stuff like attending meetings or managing day-to-day tasks that they don’t have time to do the scheduling and publishing.
Similarly, Benefit 2 above was about helping communication, probably between dispersed teams in an organization.
So the pain point or challenge here is that teams suffer from poor communication – their inboxes are overflowing, they aren’t kept up-to-date with important stuff, etc, etc.
If we add these ideas into our visual, then we’ll get something like this…
At this stage, you’ll also start to see the actual campaign and content ideas forming.
Think of articles you read on your commute or videos you watch on Facebook.
Couldn’t the above topics be done in a similar way?
So a blog article all about saving time in your work day.
Or a top 10 list on things that will improve team communication.
Or a video all about how to read historical data and spot trends.
A word of warning!
At this point, it’s very tempting to slip back into talking about the Features.
But here’s the thing – customers don’t want to be sold to. They want advice and tips and that’s what good content is all about.
You’ve heard of the Elevator pitch. Well I like to think of this one as the BBQ pitch.
Imagine you’re at a friend’s BBQ and someone is asking your advice on a problem they’re having at work. Now you wouldn’t go straight in for the sale. You’d give them advice on what you’ve found to work, or tell them to speak to Rosie across the garden because she’s been through the exact same thing.
Please, don’t be the sales person at a BBQ!
📝 In summary
Let’s go back over that really quickly.
Step 1 – You start out thinking about the features of your product or service – what you’re comfortable talking about – and group them into 3 main groups.
Step 2 – You then translate each of these 3 groups into a benefit for the customer, keeping it simple of course.
Step 3 – And finally you flip the benefits into pain points. What challenges or frustrations are you solving for your customer? And how can you start to advise your customer on fixing these pain points – but as if you were talking to them at a BBQ, not giving them a sales pitch!
You’ve got yourself a content strategy.
Not only that, but you’ve also teased out some of the ways in which you can really start to help your customer and add value to that overall relationship.
Now go forth and create that content!
💜 Happy Planning!
From Emma at immerj
[Main photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash].