There are days when I feel like my job is a lot like practicing medicine: I examine the patient, recognize classic symptoms and recommend a treatment. Inspired by some of my latest mandates, I’ve come to reflect upon a severe lack of consistency and structure amongst online and offline brand content. It seems that although the term content strategy is thrown around a lot, what’s being implemented is rather content marketing.
To clarify, according to Kristina Halvorson, author of Content Strategy for the Web, “content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content”. Just like your runny nose is likely an indication of other imbalances in your body, content is just the tip of the iceberg. A proper content strategy not only identifies key themes and messages, but also content purpose, platforms, their respective roles, targeted audiences and brand objectives. It also clarifies key processes and resources for content creation, publication, analysis and optimisation.
Here are 7 signs that you need to take a step back and strategize:
Unless this is a lead generation tactic, I’m fairly confident this is unintentional. Essentially, this means your content isn’t sufficiently clear and, although your users want to be autonomous in their information collection, your disregard with presenting them useful and comprehensive content is both frustrating them and costing you money. The priceless customer insights obtained by your customer service agents or other client-facing staff are probably not being leveraged. These resources are important to better understand the evolving needs of your various audiences. Understanding how these audiences access your content, the context of their use and on what devices will help you develop a strategy to provide the right content to the right person at the right time on the right channel, ultimately meeting one of your business objectives. In most cases, there also lacks a plan for content evaluation, optimization and strategy evolution.
What does your brand have to offer? To whom? What values distinguish your brand from competitors? If this isn’t clear, genuine and communicated throughout the organisation, it will be challenging to provide a coherent brand content experience to users (which will impact your ROI).
*To clarify, I’m not referring to situations where content needs to be published online for legal purposes.
These types of requests lead me to believe that the team responsible for the web is perceived as operational / a support team – the strengths and weaknesses of which my colleague Jean-Sébastien wrote about previously. Generally, this comment is also an indication of a lack of content ownership, which could lead to efforts wasted in the wrong places. Who’s reviewing content to ensure consistent styles and tones? Who’s ensuring the provided content respects your message architecture? Who’s looking at analytics? Who’s making improvements to your content offering? Who’s identifying new information gaps?
Basically, you’re using your home page carousel to please internal stakeholders. Classic! But really this is a one-sided band-aid solution as users are unlikely to see what you’re promoting in this space. Establishing clear roles for each of the brand’s platforms (including specific sections or zones on the website), as well as the kind of messages that will be shared, will ensure your content efforts are supporting actual business objectives. You’ll need to understand how providing a particular bit of content on a particular topic, on a particular platform, through a particular medium, will support your organisation’s objectives because it corresponds to a particular need.
Social media is still often perceived as a distraction in the workplace that most managers could do without. However, if your staff is not able to monitor pertinent conversations, benchmark the competition and obtain a sense of community engagement on your end (i.e. how content is shared, discussed and perceived), it will limit the impact they will have to optimise such presences. Innovation can come from everywhere, so let these guys in.
Once again, this is an indication that content is perceived as operational, rather than a strategic asset to target customer segments according to – and whilst addressing their specific needs within – their lifecycle stage (top, middle and bottom of the funnel). A disregard for platforms beyond your site, and formats beyond text, can potentially limit your content’s audience and findability. When content types such as webinars, infographics, videos, photos, ebooks and platforms such as third-party blogs, forums, video sharing sites and social networks are cross-referenced properly, can be far more relevant and useful for users than a lengthy article hosted on your website.
Content created without an intended audience is a shame. A thorough analysis of current and targeted users will help you identify their tasks – and therefore identify opportunities for you to provide content in order to facilitate such tasks. Also, you’ll want to find a voice and tone for the content that addresses this audience. Your users deserve better content and in a language they can relate to.
Of course, these are simply a few examples. I’d love to hear your tell-tale signs of a need for content strategy – please share in the comments below!