Getting Content Strategy Right

CONTENT. It’s like today’s biggest buzzword. If you’re thinking about this word literally, it could mean any piece of art or literature you create: from a watercolor canvas to music to poems to a brochure on how to remove bunions. For the purposes of this article, let’s narrow our purview for just a second as we think about content in the context of marketing. Or “inbound marketing” to be more exact. And let’s go a bit further to say we’re not talking about advertising here. According to the Content Marketing Institute and Marketing Profs, 32% of total B2C marketing budgets is spent on content marketing and 77% of B2C marketers say they’re planning on producing more content this year versus last.

The Content Quest

We’ve talked a lot about content on the re:group blog: from creating content calendars with good content to crowdsourcing content via social media contests to content analysis. But we’ve never really gone into the process of how we approach content strategy for our clients.

Most often, my team at re:group is focused on creating social media content (posts for social networks, blogs, videos, etc.), but content is bigger. What kind of content does your organization create to educate, inform or entertain (or what I refer to as the three content consumption motivations)?

Now, bigger challenge for you: how did you decide what content to put resources behind creating? Was it reactionary? Did a customer somehow figure out a way to use your company’s famous dish rag as sieve for catching flies and you had to write about it? Or maybe your call center was getting 1,000 questions about why Miley Cyrus was photographed blowing her nose with your tissue versus the Kleenex brand and, suddenly, you knew you had to connect with her and start a social mini-series called “Under the Weather but on Top of the Sneezes with Miley.” Is this the kind of platform your content stands on?

If so, first make sure the floor under you isn’t wobbly and then hop down and take a walk with me. (Disclaimer: just in case you’re worried about Miley, all of the above was completely fake; I’m pretty sure she’s fine, but you’d have to ask her just to be 100%).

And now I’m going to say something that maybe you won’t believe. I’m not going to say those pieces of completely fabricated content above are a bad idea! They’re not wrong!

Crafting Content with Purpose

But I am here today to tell you that a content strategy for your organization is much more than that. Because, see, your content strategy is the foundation of your inbound marketing program. Without it, you’re randomly shooting around some killer and some less aerodynamic paper airplanes and hoping one flies for more than a second before nose-diving. You’re going to have some that sail because you’ve got one heck of a creative on your team, but without following the instruction manual, you’re a lot less likely to sink that landing into the recycling bin across the room.

A content strategy isn’t a silver bullet and it’s not foolproof. And it’s never one-and-done. A content strategy is meant to guide your ongoing content development program so that:

  • Your content is in support of your marketing objectives (which, ideally, should have the master business goals in mind).
  • You have some documentation of how often and how successful previous pieces of content were.
  • You have one engine that powers all the different parts of your content strategy.

I need to share this visual with you right now:

Illustration of a beverage dispenser

Imagine a delicious beverage dispenser full of margaritas and that the center console was filled with ice, thereby keeping our favorite super tasty cocktail nice and cold. Without this staple, you’d have a sad version of a margarita. You might even spit it out because, let’s face it, warm margaritas are just gross. If there were limes in a warm margarita, they’d probably be sad. Nobody wants a sad lime. But with that ice-cold chill stick holding down the center, the other ingredients are ready TO DO THIS!

This, my friends, is your content strategy. Sure, that beverage dispenser has probably seen some different recipes that will, in the end, create a pretty fantastic margarita, but without the ice, it’s pretty much a fail. And, as we all know well, the search for that perfect margarita is never really over. One recipe might go over well with one group of friends and completely bomb with another. Or one of your nephews (over 21, of course) might have an allergy to limes, so you’ll have to tweak the ingredients again, just a bit. This is your content journey. Set on a foundation, but ever-evolving to meet the needs of your different audiences: at the time you create it, then customized for your audience 10 years later.

At re:group, we come up with a content strategy like this (it works for us!). We start with the marketing objectives. Is it to increase website visits by 100? Fantastic. Then, what’s on the website? What are the audience’s motivations for going there? Is providing the link and saying “click here to find the perfect product” enough, or do we have to develop some creative messaging that motivates more users to click through? I can say with confidence that when you’re writing for social media (NOT for social advertising), the answer is almost always no—providing a link is not enough. People are not on social media to buy. They’re there to—I’ll say it again—be entertained, informed or educated…and even those three consumption motivations can vary by network.

Content Craftsmanship

Let’s look at an example from comedian Mike Albanese, who talked channeling “opposition problem solving” as content approach at the Detroit Digital Summit. I am obsessed with this because it’s fighting a battle we run into every once in a while with clients. Not all clients have flashy or novel products or services. You get lucky when their audiences aren’t into that kind of thing. For example, think the IT manager that would prefer no frills or ruffles and wants you to give it to him straight! But, especially for consumers living in an information-saturated world, marketers’ messaging—their content—has to make people stop in their tracks and think, say, do or click something. When we’re consuming so many marketing messages per day, that message better be compelling. Humor is a way to do that. And opposition problem solving is a unique approach. First, an example from Mike:

In this spot, Geico is arguably selling something that’s not quite that interesting here. But they’re doing it in a way that gets you to pay attention, through humor.

When you think about content as a whole, you start to realize that the value of it is only partly in the website referral or the immediate lead—it’s in holding your audience’s hand through the customer journey. It’s giving them confidence that your brand is a brand they want to do business with. It’s creating a positive association with your brand and a motivation to move forward—to pursue that brand loyalty.

Content Calculation

My big a-ha moment at the Detroit Digital Summit was when Matthew Sharp, associate director of consumer analytics for AOL, talked about measuring the effectiveness of content through data analysis, a.k.a., refining your content strategy. AOL, with Ipsos and Radius, built a new methodology for measuring content effectiveness that included a copy test and a content test. They tested 60 programs, 300+ content marketing activations and 63,000 consumer experiences and found that branded content works when compared to a control group!

AOL Results of Content Study on Branded Content Slide

So, that’s good news, but the real illustrative thing came when Matthew talked about how different types of content work for different brands. For an unnamed pet food brand, the study found that three types of content activated the audience: depressing (a beagle rescue’s first time on the grass); entertaining (Denver, the snack-stealing dog); and inspiring (training content where the dog mimics the human).

The study also found something hugely interesting: moments matter! While you should be segmenting content based on the people you’re creating for, the contexts within which people consume information is also important. AOL found that there are eight moments:

AOL Content Study Eight Content Moments

A lot to think about, right? Creating content matters because consumers are reacting and using it at different points of the customer journey and at different moments throughout their day.

What I learned at the Detroit Digital Summit is that there’s not one right way to approach a content strategy, but that a strategy is absolutely imperative when your brand is investing resources into producing it. This is true whether it’s for a production budget large enough to sustain a video series featuring an influencer who sells himself for $500M a video, or a collection of tweets produced in-house. Because really, why do anything if there isn’t a purpose? Like this blog, for instance. I’m writing for you, so that you learn to prioritize strategy when leading the charge for your brand’s content. I’d love to talk about it with you.


A couple weeks ago, my colleague Dave Lemieux and I were lucky enough to attend the second-annual Detroit Digital Summit! You might remember Dan Kimball’s zinger of a post last year from this brand spankin’ new event; it was on historical blog optimization (if you haven’t read it yet, it’s a goodie, and something we’re using here at re:group today). My goal for every conference is to walk away with at least one thing that will either impact how I think or how I manage our clients’ social media accounts. The 2016 conference did not disappoint! The idea for this blog post goes to #DSDET!

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