4 Important Ideas for Creating an Effective Content Strategy

Kathryn Hillis's picture

By now, most people have heard that content is important.

Even more important, in my view, is content strategy. After all, without strategy, you’re putting things out there with little rhyme or reason and crossing your fingers that something sticks.  

What’s interesting about content strategy for me is how deep, complex and forward-thinking it has to be in order to succeed, particularly in the digital space. It requires the merging of age-old philosophies about storytelling with data-driven insights about user behavior and business objectives.  

Since it is such a complex topic, content strategy is something that I like to re-learn from time to time, mostly to ensure that our content audit is as comprehensive and effective as possible. So, I figured a good way to kick off 2016 might to be to get reacquainted with tried-and-true ideas in this area.


What is content strategy?

Okay, first things first – what is content strategy?

Here’s a good definition by Adria Saracino and Hannah Smith:

A content strategy is the high-level vision that guides future content development to deliver against a specific business objective.

(If you want to read more about the topic, Hannah shares some ideas over the Distilled blog in this post: What is Content Strategy?).


With that in mind, here are some important ideas to consider when creating content strategies.

1.       Know where the company is going and how content will contribute to that vision.

A company’s vision is foundational in so many ways when growing a business, and its impact on content strategy should be equally strong. One of the things brought up in Moz’s guide to content marketing is that it’s important to have a vision for where a company aspires to be when you’re creating its content strategy.

Content strategy is one of those aspects of a business that really needs an eye to the future, not least of which because it’s largely agreed that content is something that’s important now and will continue to be in the future. Adopting a vision-centric perspective makes it more likely that a company will produce work that serves them well into the future.


2.       Become the authority.

Google likes authority. That’s an idea that Rhea Drysdale aptly drew attention to in her deck “Applying Digital Ethology to Content Strategy.”

She talks about how being authoritative doesn’t necessarily mean creating massive pieces of content, but rather developing something that matches the intent of your audience.

Source: http://www.slideshare.net/rdrysdale/applying-digital-ethology-to-content...

Sometimes it’s tempting to go big because there is evidence that longer posts get more links and shares. And sure, sometimes going bigger is the best approach. However, there are also times when going big for the sake of it might end up obfuscating an authoritative message.

So, how do we figure out what our authoritative content should be?

Starting on slide 72, Rhea outlines some ways we can observe customers in order to get a better understanding of what they value and how we as marketers can help respond to that value through content.

One tip that stood out to me was the idea that we should make sure content strategy is couched in terminology that is actually used by customers and seems likely to still be in use going forward. A quick look at Google trends can help uncover whether you might be creating content that seems irrelevant (and by extension, not particularly authoritative).

Source: http://www.slideshare.net/rdrysdale/applying-digital-ethology-to-content-strategy

This is an example of one of those big-picture things that can be easy to overlook when you’re digging through the details of a big marketing campaign.


3.       Consider using the 70/20/10 rule when designing content strategy.

Coca-Cola structures content development so that 70% of content is low risk, 20% is more innovative, and 10% is high risk. (I learned about this idea from a member of the Portent staff in this blog post. The CEO of Portent, Ian Laurie, follows a very similar philosophy when recommending on-site content.)

Here’s a screenshot based off of the message shared by Jonathan Mildenhall, former Vice President of Global Advertising Strategy and Creative Excellence at Coca-Cola. (He works for AirBnb now.)

How Coca-Cola Approaches Content Creation

Source: https://youtu.be/fiwIq-8GWA8

The value of creating innovative and high-risk content is that it gives you a chance to engage more deeply with your audience. Additionally, creating high-risk content is a valuable learning opportunity. It can teach you what flops; you may also develop unique, compelling ideas that really take off and eventually find a home in the lower-risk categories.


4.       Use competitive research to overcome resistance about content.

There are a lot of different ideas about how to use competitive research and the extent to which it should be conducted. In “How to Create a Content Strategy (In Only 652 Steps),” Ian Laurie says that he rarely does deep competitive analysis, but that he has found competitive research helpful when a competitor is doing something effectively and, unless your client changes their tune, they’re likely to be left in the dust.

To be clear, the idea here isn’t to swipe competitors’ ideas. Rather, the point is that gesturing to others’ strategies is a good way to underscore bigger ideas that may meet resistance. For example, you may get push-back for recommending the creation of content that isn’t explicitly marketing focused, but you can put those fears to rest a bit if you can prove that competitors are already doing that and it’s paying off.


Do you have any ideas about content strategy that you’re going to use a lot in 2016? We’d love to hear about them.

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