[09:38] Daniel Huynh

The key ingredients of a successful content strategy

The key ingredients of a successful content strategy

Content marketing. A modern buzzword. Content is hot, content is everywhere, and almost every organisation is working on this or is planning to start working on this soon. That’s understandable because this form of marketing can, if well thought out and executed, be a fine supplement to traditional marketing, which Seth Godin calls ‘interruption marketing[1]’. But the challenges are plenty and its implementation is often underestimated. ‘Where to start?’ ‘How do we know which content is relevant for our audience? ‘How do we ensure the production of relevant and interesting content is a continuous process and through which channels can we best share our content?’ ‘How do we know if our content marketing is having effect?  In practice it is especially the organisation of content and the development of a content strategy that are lacking, leaving the results unachieved. Research[2] shows that over 50% of organisations have trouble producing content, let alone ‘engaging’ content.

The answer lies in the creation of a multi-departmental content organisation with a clear governance that has boardroom buy-in. This is not a department, but a chain of departments. Developing a well thought-out client focused content strategy, and measuring effect are also indispensable.  Both the research and our practical experience show that organising content and developing a solid content strategy pose big challenges for organisations.

What is content?

Content is about sharing information. Information in the form of written text, audio, photos, video, etc. And besides the diversity in packaging, the content itself can also be of different types. There’s ‘basic content’, such as instruction manuals, guarantee conditions, fact sheets or prices and quotes. Then there’s the ‘differentiating content’, with which you can show the specific expertise of your organisation for example, with the aim of getting recognition. Another form of content is ‘leading content’, in which you can think of scientific publications containing ground-breaking insights but also of innovative content such as the term ‘BRIC[3]’, introduced by the former CEO of Goldman Sachs Asset Management, Jim O’Neill, to refer to the most quickly growing emerging markets at that time (as a symbol of globalisation and the decreasing monopoly of power of the G7). ‘Content’ is as such a ‘catch-all’ term. In the world of marketing, communications and reputation management, we above all want our content to be eye-catching for our clients and stakeholders and to positively influence the way that they think about us.  We hope that the right content will show, and help interested clients engage with, our story, our organisation and ultimately with our solutions, propositions, products and services.

Content can play a crucial role in escorting prospects and clients through the sales funnel: from awareness, engagement, lead generation, lead nurturing, conversion, to cross-sell, up-sell and retention.

Do not sell customers anything they do not need, but everything that they do need.

Remember, our motto[4] is that you should not sell customers anything they do not need, but everything that they do need. This makes the importance of content marketing clear. But in order for it to realise its potential, there must be a well thought-out process.

[6] Horizontal trust, marketing 3.0 by Philip Kotler

At moments in the funnel where customers potentially leave, the timely offering of good, relevant content, can decrease actual client loss. For example by providing a demo video which removes doubt about the ease of use of a product, the client can be helped to take the next step.

Content can also reduce the costs of servicing our clients, while at the same time increasing customer satisfaction. For example through the use of clever software which, in the form of a ‘robot help’, can be filled with up-to-date and relevant answers to the most frequently asked client questions, using the format of interactive Q&As that are available 24/7. Organisations such as Wehkamp have taken this to a whole new level, with their online client service champion ‘Sanne’. These kinds of applications accurately answer the most commonly raised questions from a rich database of answers, using clever algorithms. All based on rich, relevant content.

The importance of content marketing

International research carried out recently among 5,000 respondents, in 25 sectors and in 109 countries provides some insight.  The North American part of this research[5], with 1,800 participating B2B marketeers, shows that 86% of the interviewed marketeers indicate that they use content marketing. However, too often marketeers cannot explain sufficiently why content marketing is important to them. The experience we have with our clients, teaches us that companies often have trouble seeing the connection between A) the conversation with the client, B) commoditisation C) clutter and D) the importance of differentiation.

In the last decades, country borders have become more vague globally. Competition comes from everywhere (see Alibaba), and the client has unlimited choice, with many similar products as a result and pressure on prices lurking: the commodity trap. In this world with its abundance of providers and countless messages provided to potential clients on an explosion of channels (clutter), the question is how an organisation can continue to distinguish itself (differentiation).

A way to distinguish yourself is by sharing interesting, relevant content with potential clients. In the hope that people will find the content worth sharing. The content is then shared with others and thus its reach is increased. An added advantage is that content which is shared by peers is considered more trustworthy[6] and gets very positive rankings in the search engines. The content furthermore creates opportunities for real conversations with your clients and ultimately a positive attitude towards the organisation.

Content is still too often a missed opportunity

Although the importance of content marketing is massive, and a large proportion of marketeers realise this, there are still mistakes being made in practice. Often-made mistakes are:

  • The ad hoc approach: pouring a disproportionately large amount of time and energy into a one-off content marketing drive, in which the production of content is not an ongoing process. The impact is short-lived.  
  • The inside out approach: publishing content without taking into account what is on the target audience’s mind. Much energy is put into producing and distributing content which is not relevant for the audience and is therefore not read or shared.
  • The ‘Laissez faire’ approach: not measuring the effect of content marketing. Comparable to driving a car without a speedometer or fuel gauge.
  • Misalignment between the production and distribution of content: This broadly speaking knows two types. Much time and budget is spent generating traffic to a website with poor content or producing excellent content that cannot easily be found, read or shared.

The above mentioned research shows that only 38% of companies consider the content they produce sufficiently effective. Of the participants in this research, 54% say that they have trouble producing ‘engaging’ content and 50% indicate that producing consistent content is difficult in practice. Furthermore, 49% indicate that measuring effectiveness is difficult, while 42% has trouble producing enough content. In short, it seems that content production is not always easy. When we analyse the responses a bit more, it seems that some of the respondents are above all worried about whether they have sufficient content to fill the new (social) media channels. A concern which, as we see in practice, is often caused by not having a content strategy and a functioning content organisation.

What does a good content strategy look like?

Every company knows how important it is to have an optimal business strategy. Without it, your company will quickly veer off course and there will be little or no consistency in your direction. With inefficient allocation of people and resources among the result. This makes it even more incomprehensible that many companies hardly pay any attention to setting up a good strategy. As Lewis Carrol put it so well a century ago: ’If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.’

Although studying various organisations does not lead to a set format which can be applied to all organisations in their quest for a good content strategy, the way there can be guided and sped up. By using the 8 ‘w’s for developing a  good content strategy. In first instance this is about asking and answering the following key questions:

  1. Why are we publishing? (Define a concrete and credible goal.) 
  2. Who do we want to reach? (Describe the audiences for whom you want to develop content and their interests.)
  3. What/about what do we want to publish? (Specify the themes you want to publish content about, those that you don’t want to publish about and the tone.)
  4. What do we publish on? (Establish which tactical options you have for content publishing.)
  5. Where do we publish? (Your own website, social media, media campaigns are all platforms through which you can share content.)
  6. When do we publish? (How often should we publish in order to stay up-to-date? Do we decide on periodic publication of for example e-newsletters? Can we align with certain events?)
  7. Who produces content? (Do we arrange the production internally and/or externally?)
  8. What effect does our content have? (Do we have appropriate statistics or other means of measuring effectiveness?)

Many organisations do not take this laborious yet very connecting step of formulating an organisation-wide content strategy, only to find out months later that it is unavoidable, ‘It’s a price you’ve got to pay.’ A thing that is often overlooked is that finding answers to the questions above  requires effort from the entire organisation. On the way to a well-scripted content strategy, crucial relations are forged between all the relevant functions: sales, marketing, technicians, lawyers, compliance officers, management etc. With each of these having their own beliefs and interests, this process tests the underlying relationships.

Many organisations do not take this laborious yet very connecting step of formulating an organisation-wide content strategy, only to find out months later that it is unavoidable, ‘It’s a price you’ve got to pay.’ A thing that is often overlooked is that finding answers to the questions above  requires effort from the entire organisation. On the way to a well-scripted content strategy, crucial relations are forged between all the relevant functions: sales, marketing, technicians, lawyers, compliance officers, management etc. With each of these having their own beliefs and interests, this process tests the underlying relationships.

Content organisation

After asking and answering the 8 ‘W’ questions, it is important that the content strategy is embedded in the organisation. This is of crucial importance in order to continuously and consistently deliver content which meets the desired goals (a positive client experience, brand awareness, recognition of expertise, product launches or even thought-leadership). When using the term ‘content organisation’, we mean the multidisciplinary organisational chain that is collectively responsible for the ongoing development, management, maintenance and distribution of all content. The role of the content organisation should be: to continuously deliver relevant and attractive content, which reflects the organisation’s expertise and positively distinguishes the company from the competition, for all the target audiences. The production of content should happen in a timely, holistic, efficient and consistent manner and be suitable for the channels used by the clients.

Our practice shows that shaping the content organisation is the most overlooked item when dealing with content. Our experience is that the organisation of content has in 90% of cases grown organically, that the stakeholders have no clear agreement about how the content calendar is created, if there even is an organisation-wide content calendar. In some organisations this leads to the publication of contradictory content on the same topic, because organisational units are not aware of each other’s publications. Or an article is written from scratch, where a content system with clear tags could provide the author with access to all existing content about the required subject. All this when a good organisation is so crucial, even if only because without a good content organisation you cannot achieve consistent production of relevant content. Producing structured, relevant and attractive content is not a quick win. It has many aspects.

Just having some marketeers and a few communications specialist will not cut it. A good content organisation unites all areas of expertise and functions as a multidisciplinary organisational chain. Every part of the chain has its own expertise but at the same time is constantly and consciously part of the chain geared to achieving the end result. In other words: an integrated content organisation. The disciplines are, among others:

  • Experts who know everything about the products and services
  • Strategists who decide on topics
  • Writers and copy writers
  • Editors
  • Chief Editor
  • Translators
  • Publishers who help spread, measure and improve the content
  • Specialists who manage the content and ensure repurposing
  • Employees who manage the logistics of producing the content

Often there’s a mind shift needed for companies to learn to think and act like publishers in relation to their content. Take news sites such as cnn.com. They cannot publish one day and then not publish the next. For a newspaper it is a real no brainer. Processes, systems, functions, roles, positioning and themes are known and replicable. We advise our clients to look at media companies and their organisations. It is very inspiring to see how organisations that ‘get it’, succeed in fundamentally transforming their content organisation and become publishers of their own specific and relevant content.

Finally

Most companies do see the importance of content marketing, but do not fully realise that content marketing is more than just creating a channel, such as an e-newsletter or a Facebook page. Continuously creating trustworthy, authentic and relevant content requires a solid strategy and  a content organisation which is embedded at the highest level. There’s a lot to be won when it comes to content marketing. And once your organisation has it all sorted? Then you can make your content work hard for you. Being seen as the expert within your industry, the sympathy and appreciation of your clients who find the information they are looking for, clients sharing your content and who increase your reach and impact within an interested audience, measurable results on your marketing investments and increasing efficiency within the organisation. These are just a few of the ROIs when investing in content strategy and content organisation. 

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[1] Seth Godins’ book “purple cow”

[2] B2B contentmarketing 2015 North America, Content marketing Institute in cooperation with MarketingProfs

[3]http://www.goldmansachs.com/our-thinking/archive/archive-pdfs/build-better-brics.pdf

[4] Article “Do marketeers understand the 21st century, published in May 2015 on Marketingonline by Hooplot, Breeschoten and Paulissen

[5] B2B contentmarketing 2015 North America, Content marketing Institute in cooperation with MarketingProfs