This post was composed in collaboration with Mike O’Toole. – MTG
The production and distribution of informative content has been part of marketing for a long time, particularly in the B2B space. Today, however, every aspect of content-based marketing is undergoing a radical transformation.
Broadly speaking, this transformation has content moving from…
- Promotional to non-partisan
- Highly controlled to less controlled
- Occasional to ongoing
- “Corporate” voice to “authentic, personal” voice
- One-way to conversational
You already have content to distribute, so you don’t have to start from scratch if you want your marketing to become more content-driven. Nevertheless, given these many changes, you may have to rethink how you use content as well as explore a range of new tactics, channels, and media. To help you do that, we suggest these five rules for the development and deployment of a robust and flexible content strategy.
1. Content Strategy Starts with Marketing Strategy
Before you start cranking out a lot of fresh, new content, you need to know your audience, what sort of content they are most interested in, and how they prefer to consume information (especially since these consumption habits are changing rapidly, as this PJA/Toolbox survey shows). Most importantly, you have to be very clear on what you hope to accomplish by producing all this content. By starting with your marketing strategy, you not only provide yourself a solid framework to guide content production, you also give yourself concrete goals for measuring the success or failure of your content efforts.
2. Effective Content is Useful.
The world is swimming in content, but there is a shortage of thoughtful, well-produced, non-promotional content that educates people and helps them solve problems (such as figuring out how to best meet specific business challenges). When creating content, you should always be asking yourself, “Even if someone never works with us, would they still find this content valuable?” This is key. If people find your content valuable in itself, there is a high probability that they will share it with others, which is exactly what you want them to do.
As an added bonus, focusing on “use” should also get you out of the “content = copy” mindset. Tools and apps are content, too. (HubSpot’s Website Grader is a good example of tool as content.)
3. Keep Your Message Consistent, but Speak with Many Voices.
Your brand message should remain consistent across channels, but this doesn’t mean that you have to speak with the same voice everywhere. On the contrary, voice, tone, and presentation should vary according to the medium (blog, video, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.). Starting with an overarching strategy and brand framework serves to keep your message consistent; actively participating in various media – listening, learning, contributing – shows you what works best where.
4. Content Strategy Requires Platforms and People.
Content marketing requires an infrastructure consisting of platforms (blogs, podcasts, webcasts, social networking sites, etc.) and people who are accountable for producing and managing content. Accountability is critical because the successful implementation of your strategy calls for people participating, responding, and contributing on an ongoing basis.
The good news is that most of the popular platforms for staging and syndicating content are free (LinkedIn and YouTube still don’t charge to set up corporate pages). However, free platforms don’t equal “no cost” marketing. Indeed, we see the traditional investment in paid media being shifted increasingly to human capital: the people (you, your employees, and your agencies) who are doing the daily work of posting, commenting, syndicating, etc.
5. You Can’t Control Content.
As David Meerman Scott suggests in a recent e-book, it is time to lose control of your marketing. Useful, shareable content is by definition surrendered to the community: you want to lose control of it. Anyway, you’ve already lost control! There’s content out there – blog posts, reviews, etc. – produced not by you but by your customers, your critics, and your competitors. You can’t control this content, but if you listen and show that you’re listening through thoughtful responses and sincere, open engagement, you can influence it.
In the end, content strategy isn’t just about putting stuff out there. It’s about being out there and playing an active part in the sometimes cacophonous, sometimes symphonic conversation about your company, your products, and your industry.