Content Strategy Liz WilsonWe’re all publishers now, which brings a new challenge: how to publish more strategically.

Publishing has become too easy. That means there’s too much content that doesn’t resonate with anybody. Content producers need to make sure that audiences only receive content they want to consume. Enter content strategy.

If you’ve heard the words content strategy being bandied around but you’re not sure how to start practicing it, here are six simple steps to follow.

1. Know your audience

Content strategists start by understanding who the organization wants to have conversations with – customers, members, or other interested parties.

We put ourselves in the audience’s shoes to delve into their lifestyle and motivation so deeply that we produce only the content that interests them or is useful.

We segment the audience: there’s no such thing as a mass audience any more. Segmentation should be not only by demographics like age, nationality, and location, but also by psychographics – values, opinions, attitudes, behavior, lifestyle preferences, and interests.

Then we create personae – fictional characters who represent the individuals at the core of the target market – to aid a deep understanding. Personae are based on research, not intuition – which means interviewing audiences and watching how they interact with content.

2. Concept

Your organization’s concept is more than a simple description of a product or service. It’s an aspirational statement explaining what the organization stands for, who the target audience is, and what kind of experiences the organization will create. It guides all contacts between the organization and the audience.

When Amazon started out in 2001, this was its concept:

For World Wide Web users who enjoy books, Amazon.com is a retail bookseller that provides instant access to over 1.1 million books. Unlike traditional book retailers, Amazon.com provides a combination of extraordinary convenience, low prices, and comprehensive selection.

This example gives rise to a template, defined by Doug Stayman, Associate Professor of Marketing, Cornell University Johnson Graduate School of Management.

For [insert Target Market], the [insert Brand] is the [insert Point of Differentiation] among all [insert Frame of Reference] because [insert Reason to Believe].

3. Contacts

Contacts are the moments when the audience consumes the organization’s content. Contacts are made through editorial content, advertising, in an online shop, on social media, on packaging, with customer service – anywhere organization and audience meet.

The content strategy defines where these contacts will be made – at least, those contacts initiated by the organization. In the real world there are other contacts not defined in the strategy – people can tweet or post about an organization wherever they choose.

4. Experiences

When people consume the organization’s content, they have an emotional reaction – an experience.

Positive experiences drive usage of products or services – the intensity of the experiences cause people to be loyal and stay with the organization. Negative experiences mean the person will drift away.

Researchers at the Media Management Center at Northwestern University identified 40 types of experiences among media users. Organizations only need to create a few of the most powerful experiences, says Steven Duke, Associate Professor.

Some examples of powerful experiences:

  • It makes me smarter about things that I care about.
  • It looks out for my interests.
  • It’s convenient – easy to access and readily available.
  • It gives me something to talk about and share with others.
  • It helps me relax.

Content strategists shape the experiences to be positive by really understanding what content interests the audience and only providing that type of content (back to step 1).

5. Engagement

Engagement is the outcome of an individual’s experiences with an organization. A sign that someone is engaged is when they ‘like’ content on social media or recommend it to others, and when they feel loyal to it. Engagement is not an end, but a step in the audience-organisation relationship, ultimately leading to trust and outcomes like orders, donations or viral sharing.

Engagement needs to be measurable. The content strategist makes sure that metrics are chosen and a plan is made for implementation.

6. Content

Content strategists and writers define a message architecture – the priority messages that marry the organization’s strategic goals and the interests of the audience.

All content in all channels delivers these same messages – but in vastly different ways, depending on the platform.

The content strategist also defines a framework for the content creation, including a tone of voice to unify content, and roles and responsibilities for producing it, keeping it updated and analyzing the metrics.

These 6 steps should kick-start a content strategy that delivers your organization’s outcomes. If you want to delve deeper, here are some of the resources I’ve found useful.

Blog post: The 3 Biggest Discussions Driving Content Strategy.

Course: Content Strategy for Professionals in Organisations run by Northwestern University for Coursera.

Book: Content Strategy at Work: Real-World Stories to Strengthen Every Interactive Project by Margot Blomstein.

Conference: Confab is the leading content strategy conference.

List: The Epic List of Content Strategy Resources.

Will you be incorporating content strategy into your job? Do you think it’s essential for organizations to have a content strategy? Leave a comment below.