The Case for Content Strategy

Written by Andrew Kaufman on August 12, 2012.

​When clients hear the term Content Strategy, it’s not uncommon for them to get a blank look on their face – as though we‘re giving them a lecture on quantum physics. What’s a little surprising is the way they perk up when the subject of Content Marketing comes up.

Content marketing is one of the biggest media trends for 2013, but it’s not their interest in the area that surprises us (quite the opposite, in fact). It’s the knowledge that many clients are clamoring for content marketing programs without realizing that an effective content marketing program is impossible without a well-designed content strategy.

The situation is understandable, and we don’t take it personally. Content strategy is an emerging discipline and (at least in terms of using that name) there’s still a lot of confusion as to what content strategists actually produce and the business value that the discipline can offer.

As content strategists, it’s our job to educate our clients and colleagues on the importance and value of content strategy by teaching them the theory behind our work, as well as showing them the tangible products of our labor.

As part of our effort to educate and illuminate what we do and why it matters, we’re dedicating a series of articles to the various deliverables that are a part of the content strategy process, as well as the process itself.

One important note: the outputs that content strategy yields – from editorial calendars to content marketing programs -- don’t even begin to reflect the breadth of work that goes into bringing a deliverable or strategy into being. We suspect this is one of the main reasons it’s easy to take for granted all of the important steps along the way.

Content Strategy is not Magic

The most common misconception that people have about content is that it involves words that miraculously appear on the page. The truth is, fully formed and realized content doesn’t just spring forth from the minds of your employees or marketing team. It emanates from a content strategy.

content strategy magicThis is not content strategy

A true content strategy is about more than good writing. Oh yes…soooooo much more (cackles like a super villain). It’s a process that facilitates the development of good content by:

  • Increasing Consistency: Content strategy helps content producers create audience-specific content by helping them understand and incorporate brand messages, tone of voice requirements and audience personas. The net result is the ability to create content that markets your brand consistently.
  • Building Trust: Being consistent – whether it’s in your terminology, your tone of voice, or the way you present information – is one of the keys to building trust. And trust is key to any content marketing program because it builds loyalty and brand recognition.
  • Prioritization: If your target audience isn’t on Tumblr, why waste resources producing content for it? Content strategy helps you assess the relative value of your marketing channels so you can focus your efforts and create a scalable content marketing program.  
  • Maximizing your assets: Whether or not you believe it, your content is one of your most critical business assets. If your content isn’t producing the results you want, then you’re content marketing program is effectively wasting money. A well-designed content strategy can help you avoid that problem.
  • Increasing efficiency:  If you take a design-first, “Lorem Ipsum”-place holding mentality, chances are you’re going to  end up with designs that can’t accommodate the actual content you plan on producing. Content strategy can minimize design challenges by giving content requirements a voice early on so that you’re not rushing to create content in the 11th hour.

Content Strategy is a Process

As Content Strategist Kris Mausser so perfectly puts it in her article Content Strategy Is a Process Not a Deliverable:

“…a strategy is something that uses tactics but is not exclusively about them.”

Tactics, like writing landing page copy or migrating to a new content management system, won’t succeed unless they are informed by a robust content strategy. And to create a content strategy, you need to be able to place your tactics in the context of the organization’s overall goals.

The above explanation might make it seem like content strategists are just hired guns who come in to solve a specific problem with a specific tactic. But the truth is content strategy is a holistic process that takes advantage of various tactics in order to work toward a measurable objective.

A Typical Content Strategy Process

content strategy process

Tactics are just the building blocks of a content strategy 

Building a Business Case

If you’re truly interested in marketing your organization through content, you have to commit to a content strategy. We know that getting buy in for anything that has the word “strategy” in it can be a tricky proposition unless you can show the actual dollar value of your ROI.

If you can find a way to make decision-makers understand that better content can lead to more money, you’re going to have a lot more success getting resources to implement a content strategy. We know just the trick.

The first step is to identify a problem that can be addressed by content strategy, such as:

  • It’s taking one hour to manually code and publish each page of content to the server 
  • The content on our product pages is out-of-date
  • The leads we’re generating from our new pages aren’t from the audience we’re trying to target
  • Our banner and search ads aren’t getting a good click-through rate

The next step is to put a dollar amount to each problem.

  • We’re paying our developer $40/hr. If we publish three articles a week, that’s $120/week x 52 = $6240/year.
  • The conversion rate on our product pages has decreased by 15% since last year. While we used to make $500/day, we now only make $425, a $75/day decrease. That’s $27,375/year.
  • Because fewer of our leads are converting, our cost per acquisition has increased 10%. Since our previous CPA was around $50, we’re now spending $55 for each acquisition.
  • Because fewer users are clicking on our banner ad, our cost per lead has increased by 5%, meaning we’ll have to spend more money on impressions to generate the same number of leads.
accountant
You want money for what?

At this point, it’s just a matter of showing how an investment in content strategy can pay off in the long run. Whether it’s a $5,000 custom content management system that’s built for the specific needs of your organization (and pays for itself in less than a year), or revised landing page copy that does a better job conveying the key themes and product messages (and increases conversions by 10%), the economic benefits of a proactive content strategy can be conveyed in many different ways.

Content Strategy Deliverables

“OK, but what do I get for my money?” – said every manager, everywhere.

While content strategy is a process, it does have some tangible byproducts that you can point to when your supervisor asks you the question above. The deliverables that are produced at each step along the way work together to help paint a picture of where you are (Discovery), where you want to be (Objectives) and how you’re going to get there (Planning).    

Keep in mind, however, that content strategy isn’t a step-by-step process where you check off the same boxes for each project every time. In fact, one of the challenges of describing the content strategy process is that there aren’t any agreed upon best practices for the exact way a project should proceed.

Every project is different, and each tool in the content strategist’s toolkit isn’t appropriate for every project. Yes, there are a few critically important elements that can’t be overlooked, but even with those, the scope of the work might differ dramatically. This is why we’ll try to not only describe the specifics of each deliverable, but the context that they have in the overall content strategy.

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