The Field Notes of Content Strategy

Posted in Branding, Strategy by Les Kollegian

Creating a brand message that supports your core business objectives.

Think of your favorite consumer-facing website. Think about why you like it. Chances are it has delivered content that’s relevant to you, piques your interest and genuinely reflects the mission and/or capabilities of the brand. The combination of the message (the words), images and multimedia used to collectively tell the brand’s story and business objectives are the essential components established by a successful upfront content strategy. Good content strategy guides the development of content for achieving a company-determined business objective or goal. Kristina Halvorson, CEO and founder of Minneapolis-based content-strategy agency, Brain Traffic developed the industry-accepted definition of content strategy as “Planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.” In her excellent book, Content Strategy for the Web, she insists that to have a successful content strategy, you need to:

  • Identify what already exists
  • Decide what should be created
  • Confirm why it should be created

That last one is exceptionally important. There’s nothing worse than reading the copy or staring at another stock photo of smiling office workers on a corporate homepage, only to sit back and think to yourself, “Who cares? This says nothing that can help me.” If content isn’t relevant to you or if it doesn’t quickly address why you most likely came to the website in the first place, then that business has epically failed at reaching you – and more importantly, moving you from consumer to customer. I’m a design guy all the way, but I’d argue that the content is an extremely important component of good user experience. Certainly, even the most artfully designed website in the world is useless if the message doesn’t connect with anyone. So, where do you start to ensure that the content strategy of your website is on mark? It starts in the same place that developing a new brand or website starts – with discovery and planning.

Discovery and planning

The “planning” piece is of key importance since that’s the area that determines the ‘strategy’ part of a successful content strategy. The first step in planning is establishing what your brand’s unique values and/or core message happens to be. Conduct a competitive analysis and interview content stakeholders to validate what you believe to true in this regard. Next, ask yourself, “What are the unique characteristics of my brand? What is your brand voice? What is it about my business that differentiates it from others in our space?” In other words, where do you hang your hat on brand uniqueness. Every brand has a story to tell. What is it about your story or history that would connect to someone on an emotional level? For a glimpse at our brand story check out Behind the Name: How Kenneth Cole Inspired the Jacob Tyler Brand Once the story and business objectives are established, focus on the characteristics of your brand that make up your messaging architecture. Similar to what you’d find in a brand guide, agree on who your audience is, and make sure the voice and tone of the brand is locked in. These characteristics will serve as the baseline for your “content style and story.” If time allows, this is a good time to interview content stakeholders again to validate that your story and core message are compelling.

Audit your current content

Is your current content delivering on your agreed upon business objectives? Maybe it is. Before you scrap everything on your current website, give it a closer look and determine if the ideas and concepts are accurate. The content existing on your website could be fine, perhaps it just needs to be reorganized and restructured to better match the purchasing path and navigation habits of your customers.

Developing the goods

Okay, so now that you feel confident the voice, tone, and core message are on the mark, it’s time to consider what content is required to execute on your strategy. Select topical ownership within your organization to work with the writer(s). Determine who will create the copy (I recommend a skilled web copywriter) and set a timeframe for completion. Think about these assets in terms of the “content environment” with respect to page tables, workflow and content linking or bridging. Consider how all your assets connect. Examples include:

  • Front page copy, plus hero headline
  • Page copy
  • Blog posts
  • Case studies
  • Video
  • Customer testimonials

Maintain and sustain

It’s important to identify policy standards that will help govern the content lifecycle and determine who will maintain and update content through the life of the website. This is where that very important concept of governance comes into play. Many companies fall into the “band aid method” of website updating. Don’t do that. If your company is just making changes to your website on the fly without any consideration for rules or guidelines, you’re engaging in the opposite of content strategy - this is content sabotage. Determining who will manage and update the website to maintain the rules mapped out in the strategy is critical. Lastly, this is a good place to set parameters for measuring the success of your strategy. I’ll save those parameters for a later blog post!

Come out of the forest

Content strategy can sometimes feel like walking in the deep woods at night without a flashlight. You can kind of see the path, yet you keep running into trees. Fortunately after more than a decade of debating and arguing about what content strategy is, businesses are starting to understand that having a strategy is a key part of successfully engaging with consumers. It’s also fortunate that there are now content strategy experts who can help guide your business down the path. Content strategy is what makes your website sticky, keeps people coming back and ultimately drives sales. As Kristina Halvorson likes to say, it’s what makes the Internet good and valuable and worthy of our time.

About Les Kollegian

The Inbound Marketing Content Strategy Workbook

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