content strategyThe term content marketing has been gaining a lot of attention over the last few years, and rightfully so. Content is a lifeline in today’s social ecosystem, so its rise in popularity makes perfect sense. But content marketing holds little benefit if it isn’t supported with a strong content strategy that enables a brand to tell a very consistent story across the media landscape.

Your content strategy should help draw parallels between what’s important to customers and what your brand stands for; it enables marketing teams to create more relevant content based on what your brand is comfortable talking about (and what it’s not comfortable talking about). And it provides opportunities for your employees, partners, and customer service reps to be a part of your story, too.

If you are ready to upgrade your content strategy — or create one from scratch — here are 3 considerations that will help keep your business in line with current content marketing best practices.

1. Move past the content marketing mainstream

Content marketing is more than just fodder for SEO; it’s more than tweeting out a cool photo in real-time during the Super Bowl Halftime Show, and it’s so much more than an infographic that blesses your site with a multitude of back-links. Content must be emotional, tell a story, and aim to impact consumers’ behavior, attitudes, or perception of your brand. And, while search is certainly important, your brand story encompasses much more than what you write on your blog or website.

Everything you do in marketing, online and offline, must align with your brand narrative. So, yes, blog content, videos, status updates, tweets, photos, and even press releases are important. But so is the story you tell through your employees, customers, and partners as well as through your paid media initiatives. This is why you must develop your content strategy before you start marketing it.

Red Bull is a great example of a company that executes its content strategy flawlessly across all forms of media — paid, earned, and owned — in a unique, non-mainstream way. Red Bull Stratos was not only an epic event that placed Red Bull at the center of “space” conversations everywhere, but it also proved, once again, that when Red Bull executes a campaign, it goes all in. Content marketing is surely a small piece of the marketing puzzle here, but it is the strategy that keeps these conversations alive, even today.

2. Develop a compelling content narrative

Your content narrative must different from the brand pillars and positioning statements that comprise your brand narrative. In most cases, your brand narrative will not impact consumer behavior when shared in its purest form, as today’s consumers ignore brand messaging. Instead, your content narrative should translate the tenets of your brand narrative into a story that demonstrates how your business relates to its consumers.

To craft this content narrative, consider the inputs it should include:

  • Brand pillars/Corporate positioning: These are the key elements that you can take from your brand narrative to inform your content narrative.
  • What issues are important to your brand (e.g., its politics, sustainability practices, social causes, etc.)?
  • How is your brand perceived by the media: What do they say when they write about your brand?
  • How is your brand perceived by your community: How has your community reacted to your current content offerings?
  • Fan interests: What are your fans interested in, outside of their support of/interest in your brand?
  • Historical content performance: What basic performance data have you compiled to show which of your content efforts are working and which aren’t? Examples can include basic engagement metrics (i.e., “likes,” comments, shares, retweets, etc.) or post-level reach (potential impression) numbers.
  • Search behavior: What keywords or terms are consumers using when they conduct a search on your brand and its competitors?
  • Customers’ pain points: What support issues are your customers most concerned about, and how can your brand help address these challenges?

The output resulting from these considerations will help you craft a content strategy that can scale and produce content that can have a strong, positive impact on customer behavior — whether it’s selling more products, repositioning your company in its industry, or raising your company’s profile and its public perception.

As much as the content narrative is important, it’s equally important to decide how you want to execute it and in which channels. A stellar content strategy will help you determine the different content themes and prioritize the types, ideal frequency, and most effective distribution channels for your content.

For example, the template below shows five possible content themes — all with different distribution frequency percentages — as well as the core channels this content strategy should be executed through. The percentages are just examples, but for the most part, you should plan on talking more about your customers than yourself. Also, it’s important to note that every brand is different, so the content themes you choose should be unique to your brand, its goals, and the industries it operates within.

content strategy-distribution frequency

Here is one way a content strategy can play out with the above themes. Assume you are an electric car manufacturer and your content narrative is all about “making electric cars cool to own,” fighting the negative stereotype that they aren’t “cool.” Your content may look like the following; with the content in the shaded boxes meant to be shared in the corresponding channels shown in the template above:

  • Marketing and events: The content would revolve around new product launches, new dealership openings, and promotions; and would only be shared in the shaded channels (blog posts, press releases, tweets, videos, etc.).
  • Customer stories: This content would amplify customer success stories and product recommendations, specifically highlighting the “cool factor” of the cars and car owners.
  • Customer support: This content would focus on product recalls and common support issues; one example could be a series of videos with a very “cool and hip” customer support agent discussing the issues and providing solutions.
  • Curation from third-party sources: This content would be curated from third parties, and may include reports, articles, or blog posts that align with your brand’s content strategy.
  • Real-time news: You may want to consider leveraging the news cycle to create real-time content, though this will depend on how flexible your content strategy is.

3. Think like a media company

Every company is a media company.” This is what Tom Foremski, publisher of tech blog Silicon Valley Watcher has been saying for years now. And though I agree in concept, I also believe that marketers are still struggling to realize this potential in their organizations.

In addition to delivering a content strategy, here are six steps that can help brands transition themselves into publishers:

1 Establish a centralized editorial team: The core team should consist of marketing, public relations, customer support, IT, and product/brand representatives. This ensures that the many key stakeholders in your organization will all have a say when it comes to delivering your content strategy, internally and externally.

2 Assign the roles and responsibilities of your contributors: Contributors can include customers, partners, and employees. If you work for a large, multinational organization you will have to assign regional editors who will be responsible for approving/editing content submitted by the contributors.

3 Build content ideation, creation, approval, and distribution workflows: Controls should be established to ensure content is being shared externally at the right time, in the right channel and to the right customers. Many content marketing platforms have work flows that allow you to assign controls so that content contributors can’t publish directly to a channel; rather, they must go through a series of approvals first.

4 Create a real-time listening station: Also known as social business command centers, these “stations” should be used to respond to and engage with customers through your content efforts, as well as to capitalize on the latest internal and external trends related to your brand. Listening stations are usually powered by technology platforms like Radian6 and display visual data about your brand (i.e., share of voice, reach, engagement, and community growth).

5 Define your converged media: Partner with your paid media team and work through various models that can take your organic content and amplify it through paid media (i.e., triggers that will take Facebook posts and turn them into promoted posts). In this case, a trigger can be “average number of engaged users” on any given status update. Once the engagement hits that number, a decision will have to be made to push that organic update into sponsored content channels.

6 Invest in the right technology: Many tools and services are on the market that can facilitate your organization’s evolution into a media company. For planning and ideation, consider using Kapost, Compendium, or Contently. For content creation, approval, and distribution management, try Sprinklr, Spredfast, Expion, or Hootsuite Enterprise (full disclosure: Hootsuite Enterprise is an Edelman Client), all of which have built in work flows and approval processes. And, for real-time content optimization, you may want to check out SocialFlow.

For more tips on planning for content marketing success, read CMI’s eGuide on Developing a Content Marketing Strategy.