TAL .023: Content Strategies That Actually Work

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The Arete Letter

Bad content probably isn’t your writer’s fault. Here’s how to develop a more effective strategy.

Bad content (often) starts with bad strategy.

In this week’s letter, I’ll explain exactly what an effective content strategy should include.

(This is the eighth letter in a 12-part series that started with issue .016, which you can find here.)

1. The Problem

It’s easy to blame content creators for bad content.

In fact, that’s what normally happens when a content asset doesn’t perform.

And sometimes that blame is merited.

But, most of the time, chaff content isn’t the fault of experienced, competent creators.

It comes from a) a bad briefing or b) a bad strategy.

A bad content strategy looks like:

  • No substance. (Think lots of fluffy jargon that means nothing – it’s surprisingly common.)
  • No business alignment. (Content objectives need to match business objectives.)
  • No ‘how’. (Goals are important, but a strategy is about how to accomplish them.)
  • No feasibility. (If a strategy can’t be implemented due to political/resource issues, it’s useless.)
  • No clarity. (If the objectives or strategy are vague/incoherent, that’s a problem.)
  • No synergy. (Different parts of a strategy need to support each other, not clash.)

Some Quick Definitions

Marketing and content strategies can be easily confused.

While there’s overlap, the basic difference is:

Marketing strategy = how you can reach your ICP and convince them that your offering is the right solution for them

Content strategy = how you develop, deliver, distribute and maintain content

(And, for clarification, marketing content = any work (textual or otherwise) that adds value for your ICP and supports the outcomes defined in your marketing strategy)

2. The Solution

There’s no ‘right’ way to create a content strategy.

But, if you’re not sure what should be included, a template can be helpful.

Here’s the basic structure I use.

(The questions/comments I’ve cited are far from comprehensive, but they should give you a good starting point.)

  • Evaluation. What content activities are currently being undertaken? What results have we seen? What factors are at play in the current marketing environment?
  • Diagnosis. What’s going wrong? What challenge(s) are we trying to address? What overarching marketing and/or business goals are we supporting?
  • Kernel content definition. Define what good content is so everyone’s on the same page. I use the kernel–chaff rubric.
  • Thesis. At a high level, how should we approach our challenge(s)? What thesis do we have about solving it/them?
  • Ideation. How do we come up with content ideas? What research resources (SMEs, customers, product tests, etc.) do we have access to? Do we have a sustainable insights loop?
  • Distribution channels. What distribution channels will be most effective at connecting our ICP with our content assets? (Restate the channels you’ve previously determined in your marketing strategy.)
  • Management systems. What software and systems will we use to manage delivery, distribution and hygiene?
  • Delivery. How will we actually create content? Who is responsible for what? (You can use frameworks like DACI to help here.) What processes will we use?
  • Distribution. How will we distribute our assets using the pre-specified channels? How can we maximise ICP engagement? Who is responsible for distribution?
  • Hygiene. How do we maintain evergreen content? How often do we review assets? What’s our audit process, and who undertakes it?
  • Success metrics. What leading metrics do we use to measure performance against the objectives we defined previously? Do we have operational KPIs as well? How do we track those metrics, who analyses them, and when? How do we course-correct if something isn’t working?
  • Resources. What budget and timelines are we working with? How is budget allocated across different channels and content stages? What other internal resources is this strategy dependent on? (For example, a textual style guide would be essential for any content strategy involving written content.)
  • Action plan. What’s our step-by-step tactical plan for implementing the strategy? This aspect is optional and not technically ‘strategic’, but, in my experience, is incredibly helpful.

3. Implementation

Tech Needed: Word processing software like Microsoft Word or Google Docs

Ease of Uptake: Moderate

  1. If no content strategy exists or if your existing strategy isn’t working, draft a new strategy using the structure I covered.
    1. Keep in mind that business strategy > marketing strategy > content strategy. Make sure you have validated business and marketing strategies before creating a content strategy.
  2. Review your strategy at the intervals you’ve defined under your success metrics section. (Each quarter is generally ideal.)
  3. Adapt your strategy as needed.

By Duncan Croker

Duncan is a copywriter with a background in editing and storytelling. He loves collaborating with brands big and small, and thrives on the challenges of hard marketing.