Building A Solid Content Strategy Foundation

Just two weeks into the new year, and things already feel back to full speed. Client programs are being set into motion; the bar this year has been set higher than ever before. And in the spirit of my public proclamation from last week’s column that I am committed to becoming more focused and action-oriented, let’s investigate the one fundamental communication component that will determine whether we succeed against those lofty expectations: our content strategy.

"Content" and “content strategy” are loosely used (abused) terms. Everyone conceptually understands the importance of meaningful content, but many fall short in developing content experiences that attract prospects and customers time and again. We recognize that content is king, but it’s time-consuming to produce, and there’s uncertainty about whether what’s being built is appropriate.

Couple that reality with the topic du jour in digital marketing: rapid iteration based on insights gleaned from a variety of big data sources. Leading brands are orchestrating experiences in near real time, responding to the incremental customer insight that is gathered from each touch point. That represents a very exciting reality for marketers, but without a solid content foundation to build upon, no legitimate analysis and experimentation can occur.

There are undoubtedly many ways to determine a base content strategy. I call the method I have used and refined over the years an “offer inventory and decision trees” (OI/DT) exercise. Rather than focus just on the ultimate objective/conversion, the process helps determine what content “offers” are required at all phases of purchase consideration to create engagement and greater conversion throughput.

It certainly doesn’t solve all content needs, but this methodology helps establish the baseline set of engagement hooks needed to succeed.

 

OI/DT Core Components

Primary and secondary research

There’s no better way to understand the pulse of the marketplace than to investigate it firsthand. Stakeholder interviews (both internal and external to the organization) function as a forum for discovery, and allow marketers to understand marketplace dynamics from several perspectives. Off-the-shelf secondary research, if available, can help fill in the gaps.

For those of us who subscribe to the central thesis of Philip Graves’ Consumer.ology, that actual consumer behavior invariably differs from verbatim statements about behaviors and preferences, future analysis and experimentation will either confirm or rebut these findings.

 

Competitor audit

Whether we admit it or not, the competition typically does a few things better than we do. Specifically, the web offers that exist across competitor websites and Web properties can help us understand how those organizations view customer needs. There’s no shame in copying some of the better approaches, especially those that appear to have significant marketing spend behind them.

Assume that your competitors are not asleep at the wheel, and that their allocation of marketing dollars is justified. That simple rationale can help you identify which areas are hot buttons to your shared prospective customer base.

 

“Best practices” from other industries

Similar to the competitor audit above, look to website offers that exist across leading sites in other industry verticals. Sometimes the best ideas originate outside of your own space, so don’t limit your investigation.

In addition to reviewing these site experiences, consider conducting an internal team workshop to ferret out extra ideas to consider and possibly test.

 

Prioritize offers

Give website offers priority scores based on their relative proximity to the ultimate conversion event (e.g. an ecommerce sale, a website registration, a sales lead, etc.).  Not only will you be able to better determine which offers deserve the most attention today, but over time you can additionally assess which lower-priority offers best facilitate subsequent conversions.

As you accrue more data, you may find that some offers are falling flat and entirely new ones are needed. You may reset some of the original priority scores. You could discover justification for a site re-architecture. You can cross-examine data from multiple websites, mobile applications, social sites, etc.

The knowledge you gain from this practice will prove to be a very powerful asset.

Beyond the conversion

Admittedly, it’s easy to think of content needs strictly as they pertais to prospective customers. In reality, leveraging content to retain existing customers is equally as important. Becoming a valued partner to customers includes considering their needs “beyond the conversion.”

This simple, practical framework for building a content foundation will allow for a future transition into the hipper realm of real-time content experiments.

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3 comments about "Building A Solid Content Strategy Foundation".
  1. Evan W from Experience Advertising, Inc. , January 14, 2013 at 4:37 p.m.
    Nice tips!
  2. Dennis Hart from AnalyticsSEO , January 14, 2013 at 4:52 p.m.
    Ryan- What I love is that your "content" is always makes sense business advice that oh, by the way, ALSO relates to search. I believe that if more "search marketers" behaved more like good solid business marketers, much less time would be wasted by too many others to overcome all the grey and black hat trickery that gives search marketers a bad rap.
  3. Pete Austin from Triggered Messaging , January 15, 2013 at 6:49 a.m.
    Re: "There’s no better way to understand the pulse of the marketplace than to investigate it firsthand". Disagree. There are only so many hours in the day, so you need to alocate them wisely. Everyone lies but it's rare that you really need high accuracy.