A few years ago, I was approached by a new client about a problem they’d been having with their content marketing program. They, like many other marketers, had jumped on the content marketing bandwagon some years earlier. Attending several huge content marketing conferences and drinking the “content Kool-Aid” by the gallon, they had bought into the hype around content marketing and decided to make a big bet on it by launching content channels to support several different lines of business at the same time.
Overall, the feeling inside the company was that they’d been having success with the program but were unable to quantify exactly why or by how much. They were also feeling overwhelmed by the scale of the commitment—they now had to constantly fill multiple channels with new pieces of content. Additionally, because of the decentralized approach they had taken, they were concerned about the lack of consistency across those channels. This manifested itself in small ways—for example, certain acronyms were formatted differently on their many websites. But also in larger, and potentially wasteful, ways. To name two: Articles were published that
were completely outside of their subject-area expertise, and duplicative content was being produced across different lines of business.
The first question I asked them during our initial call was, “Do you have a content strategy?” The answer I received was similar to the one I nearly always get when I ask that question: “Yes, of course we have one.” I also normally get a sense that the client is offended I’d even asked that question. The unspoken sentiment is, “Do you think we’d be investing this much time, money and effort without one?”
However, when I dug a little further and asked to see their strategy document, things got murkier “Well, of course you can, but it’s not just in one place; there are pieces in a few different documents, so we’d have to pull them together for you,” was the response.
This is not a totally unusual situation. Marketers often find themselves working on parallel projects that overlap in some areas. Customer personas can transfer from project to project, as can some competitive insights. But when you discover the competitive insights are three years old and your customer journeys relate to a very different project and don’t reflect the pain points experienced in this context, it’s time to rethink what you have, what needs updating and what’s simply nonexistent.
My advice to anybody who is investing in content marketing is always the same: If your strategy isn’t contained in a single document, and if it isn’t readily accessible, then it’s really not a content strategy. Or, at the very least, it’s not a very effective one.
I’m sure in the example I share above, these clients had lots of meetings and conversations about how to map out their program. Without a doubt there was some consideration before they jumped into creating content. But how could they chart a path toward success without knowing where they wanted to go and how they were going to get there? It’s madness to expect you’d be able to create a cohesive, coordinated program—one where you can prove its value—without a documented strategy.
I think that was the point when the penny started to drop with the client. They knew they needed an enterprise-level content strategy to help guide their output. But simply defining a problem wasn’t enough. The question then changed to “how do we find the solution?” I’ve experienced this situation many times with clients and our starting point to fix it is always the same—start to gather insights.
I’m sure if you’ve read this far that you’ve probably already concluded you need a strategy. And you’ve probably researched terms like “what is a content strategy,” “content strategy development” and “what’s in a content strategy.” Maybe that’s even how you found this article. I, myself, have searched these terms. And I can tell you there’s a lot of conflicting information out there.
I’ll save you the hassle of trying to put all the pieces together by outlining the steps we use for developing an effective content strategy for our clients (and occasionally ourselves). We’ve written a series of articles to accompany this one, which we’re sharing with you on this site. Each of these articles will expand on one of the individual key points that inform our outputs, which, together, form the overarching strategy.
I’ve tried to break down what we do and simplify it to make it easy to follow—but building an actual strategy is often more complex. If you need help building a new strategy, or with the execution of a current one, we’d love to talk to you! Please reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Part 2 we will expand on the individual key points that inform our outputs, which, together, form the overarching strategy.
Robin Riddle is the lead content marketing strategist at Foundry 360. He works across B2B as well as B2C and specializes in financial services, insurance, and health care. Prior to his time here, he led content marketing businesses at both The Economist and The Wall Street Journal.
A passionate advocate for the value of content marketing, Robin is also heavily involved in industry issues and speaks at many events on the topics of content marketing and native advertising.