We abhor buzz words and phrases, but sometimes we are forced to use them for lack of better words. ‘Content Strategy’ is one such term that you will see virtually everyone buzzing about — whether it is an ad agency, BTL agency, digital agency, PR agency or an SEO agency. They all use it with a similar intent, but there is usually a world of difference in their outcomes because of their angle on the notion of ‘content’.
Anyone who knows me professionally would probably know I not only dislike but hate the term ‘content writer’, primarily because it dilutes the creative thinking a good writer is usually associated with. It’s the difference between a pagemaker and a designer — content writers are people employed largely by SEO people to put ‘words’ on the Internet that search engine bots can read, whereas copywriters are social scientists who may have a bias for sales as well, but they aim to break the empathy barrier with their readers.
When creating a content strategy, we must understand that empathy is difficult to achieve, because ideally, you want the recipient leaving your caption, quip, soundbyte, article, video or any other content you create feeling elevated. You need a social scientist to understand what topics turn your audience on, to answer these questions:
What are the kind of topics that your brand can talk about, with authority as well as depth?
What kind of content is associated with these topics? What are some of the primary mediums?
The answers to these questions may not have anything to do with the kind of media your target market consumes — this is the challenging part of creating your content strategy: finding the stuff that overlaps.
This is quite straightforward for some industries — baby products targeting mothers will find tons of topics to talk about that overlap, for example. Generally speaking, this is easy enough for consumer products, but the moment you enter B2B, this gets real serious real fast.
To illustrate with another example, if you’re an IT company selling business intelligence products, your target market includes high-ranking decision makers from large organisations. These people don’t consume much content to begin with, and their attention span may be even lower than that of Generation Y. I use this example because in the past, I encountered this dilemma and found that educational webinars were the only way to reach out to these people — and it was tough to find a technical guy with people skills to fill the presenter spot. But it was the sweet spot because the strategy paid off, eventually (we had to do a series of webinars to build an audience).
Most marketeers will be fortunate enough not to witness such a narrow window of overlapping content. So we get to the next step, which is where you begin creating an editorial schedule accompanied by a content bank. Please take a moment to visualize a spreadsheet that looks like a calendar, with days fixed for specific themes or subjects, columns for headlines and links to the content bank where the content is stored — your personal content management system.
You may get this from someone doing your search engine results planning or keywords research using tools like Long Tail Pro, but what you really need to focus on is talent acquisition — inspiring and recruiting the right author to create your content (and fill in your ‘bank’).
I’d say you need to approach this the same way a journalist or a PR company would — giving preference to quality over quantity, talent over hard worker, ability over skill — though it is pertinent to state that you need ALL THAT. This is not where you save your advertising dollars — this is where you s p l u r g e. Your talent is like the fox-fur scarf from Burberry you wear over your bland Next coat — this is how your brand distinguishes itself.
So far you have only managed to get to the basics. What you need next is someone who knows how to build an audience — ideally, someone who has built audiences from scratch — even more ideally, someone who has built audiences on digital media — someone you may call a, I daresay, ‘content strategist’.
This person (or company) must be someone who has (ideally) worked in an editorial capacity for enough time with just the kind of audience you wish to target. Again, you should save your advertising dollars for one who can do this for you too — especially if you don’t have any audience to start with.
As someone who was into computer engineering before switching to economics and then communications, and as a celebrated writer (only within corporate circles), I understand that there aren’t many people who understand business, sales, information technology, design and creativity equally.
There is a dearth of skilled content strategists even within large digital agencies and media groups. Most of them end up running their own startups (rather successfully, I must say), so their services don’t remain on offer anyway.
This is the reason why I advocate brands to understand the digital medium as much as possible and aspire to help them by educating them — to enable them to develop in-house capabilities without relying on external sources. If Nestle can employ creative cooks to write recipes using their products, you can make use of good content creators too.
Chances are, you will do it better when you do it yourself.