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No Content Strategy Is an Island

As we’re (hopefully) all aware by now, content strategy is the foundation of content marketing. But content strategy requires its own foundational elements, too. Without them, that strategy is very, very difficult to architect.

Creating a content strategy obviously must precede content marketing, but your brand must have some marketing fundamentals in place to enable that process to occur. Time and time again I’ve run up against this obstacle with my clients. They’re often smart enough to know not to go ahead and just “do” content without that all-essential strategy, but they’re nevertheless lacking some of the foundational strategic elements a content strategy must hook into.

I’ve identified four essential marketing elements that must precede a content strategy. Am I leaving anything out?

1. Brand

What is a brand? There are various elements in the concept of “brand.” One is what a prospect thinks of when they consider your products or services. Another is the promise your organization makes.

Brand has to do with perception, and companies work long and hard to decide what they want that perception to be, and how to achieve it. Without brand strategy, content strategy becomes unmoored.

I’m currently working on a content strategy engagement for a divisional group of one of the world’s leading financial conglomerates. The overarching business has an established brand and brand strategy, but the brand of the division in question is still in development. Without knowing what the organization wants to be, or how it will represent itself in the marketplace, it’s difficult to come up with strategies that support this utterly central marketing pillar.

2. Messaging

Like brand, messaging is another core element of an organization that underpins content strategy (and most of the rest of marketing). What does the business want to say and convey? What does it not want to address? How will it approach its delivery of messages? Obviously this applies to content, as well as many other forms of communication.

3. Positioning

Has the organization defined where it stands in its competitive landscape? What sets it apart from other banks (or stores, or insurance companies or pharmaceutical manufacturers)? What are its unique strengths? What are its shortcomings? If you asked its staff or clients what was great about the organization, as well as what it could be doing better, how would they reply?

No company stands alone. Everything is relative. So knowing the pros, cons, ins and outs of an organization’s position is an essential content strategy framework.

4. Values

What are the company’s core values? What does it want to promote? Some organizations highlight their innovative side, others corporate responsibility and giving back to the community. Some highlight their people. Values can, of course, be a combination of a number of assets and attributes, but without firmly rooting values to practices, content strategy becomes difficult.

“Innovation” is a value one company I’ve worked with wants to promote. That’s great. But in order to do that, the company can’t just aspire to be innovative; it must be able to point to products, people, processes — something that will provide ongoing fodder for content around the topic of innovation.

It’s hard to push back and ask clients to show you how they walk the walk (rather than just talk the talk). But that’s exactly what a good content strategist will do.

Good content isn’t created out of hopes and dreams. It must be grounded in reality and in fundamental marketing principles.

Just as content strategy is the starting point for content marketing, the basics of branding, messaging, positioning and values must first be in place so content can flourish. The same applies to advertising, communications, social media and every other marketing practice.

This post originally published on MarketingLand

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The Rise of Dubious Content Marketing Advice

For over a decade now, I’ve had a Google News alert for the term “content marketing.” I set it up around the time I delivered my first keynote on the topic and started to write my first book on the subject.

For years, it was a lonely little feed, updated mostly when a small handful of early content marketing-obsessed colleagues (Ann Handley, Lee Odden, Ardath Albee, Kristina Halvorson, Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose come to mind) blogged or posted on the topic. The feed was informative, illuminating, thought-provoking and just downright useful for my research and advisory work on the topic.

No more.

Now I’m seriously considering deleting the feed, which has become a sterling example of spoiling-the-commons junk advice on content marketing from self-anointed experts, gurus, divas, mavens, swamis and supreme potentates.

My feed is now filled with link-bait. Nearly every headline contains a number or promises a list, because common wisdom dictates that particular tactic encourages click-through (4 Reasons Why; 6 Reasons Why; 5 Ways to Make; 10 Make-or-Break Skills; and 7 Questions to Ask are all headlines on page one of this morning’s feed).

The writing is often appalling, editing and proofreading non-existent.

Ignoring the ‘why’ of content

But writing and click-bait aside, there’s a commonality in the bottomless pit of content marketing advice and “thought leadership” my feed has become. These articles, columns and blog posts are overwhelmingly prescriptive and highly tactical. They almost without exception start with “content marketing” and disregard the much more fundamental question of content strategy.

Their point of departure is often about how to reach a specific audience, or how to create content for a specific channel. What they almost universally disregard is the “why” of content: actual business goals.

One recent article I randomly clicked on assured readers that the first and foremost audience to target with content is to “existing customers.” That’s certainly a valid audience for many businesses, but it most definitely isn’t a recommendation that’s universally valid.

What if the company’s priority is attracting new clients or customers? More qualified leads? Shortening the time that those leads take to convert? Creating content for different stages in the customer journey?

What if goals aren’t even sales-oriented? For example, perhaps the need is to demonstrate thought leadership in the industry, to create brand favorability.

Then there are all those “content marketing” how-tos that are channel-, rather than strategy-oriented. Lately, these have been Snapchat-heavy, due to the company’s recent IPO. But just because Snapchat is attracting attention this week doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. (Moreover, Snapchat is more of a channel and a tactic than a strategy.)

These types of prescriptive, formulaic, devoid-of-strategic-oversight articles are what give content marketing a bad name. We’ve entered the eye-rolling phase of content, when noise overwhelms signal.

And we’ve seen it all before. Ten years ago, this happened to social media. The carpetbaggers moved in, and suddenly marketers branding themselves as social media experts were crawling out of the woodwork.

I wrote about one of these social media wannabes in August 2009. Here’s an excerpt:

This social media “expert” launched a blog in July 2008. She managed three entries last calendar year, and an equal number so far this year. Six entries in 13 months on a blog with no comments, no categories, and no keywords? No thank you. Over to Twitter, then. Our social media workshop leader has been on Twitter for a scant five months! She’s following 19 people, and has 22 followers. She’s posted 26 times since joining (yes, counting tweets like “testing from my blackberry”). Some of those are references to articles she’s published online, but without links that would help you to actually find and read them.

This species of social media fraudster is perfectly representative of the type of “expert” who is quick to migrate to the next shiny new object. We had them in email, we had them in search, then social, now content.

I can’t yet say where they’ll turn up next, but I will end this little rant with a resounding caveat emptor.

Brands seeking service providers need to conduct due diligence. And put strategy ahead of tactics.

This post originally published on MarketingLand.

Rebecca Lieb's picture

Watching the Future of TV

Watching the Future of TV Outcomes Eyeview Rebecca Lieb

As a recovering television executive,* I've been keeping an eye on my former industry.

Even more so now, as digital catches up and begins to overtake the broadcast model.

So I was delighted when my friends at Eyeview asked me to conduct some research on Addressable TV for the first issue of their new magazine, Outcomes (PDF magazine download). I got an opportunity to interview many trailblazers in the space including Mitch Oscar, Bill Harvey, and Tracey Sheppach.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts if you care to read the piece.

 

*I formerly headed global marketing for USA Networks International, which morphed into Universal Television Networks and before that, RTL Television in Germany, the largest non-US private network.

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Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb is a strategic advisor, consultant, research analyst, keynote speaker, author, and columnist.

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