The 5 Content Strategy Shortcuts That Aren’t Shortcuts At All
Building a content strategy isn't effective when you cut corners. Columnist Rebecca Lieb delves into some popular shortcuts — and explains why they aren’t really shortcuts at all.
According to my research, corroborated by other studies, while virtually every company is now practicing content marketing, a full 70 percent of them are doing so without first constructing a content strategy that addresses not just why, but how, they will create, disseminate, measure and apply business-related goals to their content.
Anecdotally, I find that’s changing. I’m getting more and more inquiries from companies that need help building content strategies, and so are my peers in the industry. But with those inquiries come requests for shortcuts and cut corners.
Clearly, everyone has to work within budget and time constraints. But it’s also true that strategy doesn’t just happen. It’s based on business goals, resource requirements, and other marketing and branding activities.
When organizations ask me to work with them to create a content strategy, some will understandably push back a bit on the scope of the engagement. Here are some of the most frequent asks for shortcuts — and why they often aren’t shortcuts at all. And also, as a sort of bonus, the one ask I hear most often that’s a shortcut in and of itself.
1. Content Audit
“We don’t need a content audit” is an all-too-frequent refrain from clients. Sorry, but unless you’ve been conducting content audits yourself (which I’ve only once encountered), you do.
A baseline audit is a cornerstone of a content strategy. You can’t chart where you’re going unless you know where you are. A content strategist needs to study the content, the channels it’s published in, the metrics and analytics around it, and learn how it’s created, approved, produced, reused, stored and interacted with.
An audit is not only about what’s there, it’s equally about what’s missing; gap analysis is a huge part of the process.
Audits should be conducted, at minimum, twice per year. Once the baseline audit has been conducted, you’ll know how to move forward with future audits that adhere to the same template. In that sense, an audit is a gift that keeps on giving.
I also often hear: “We already create content, so process isn’t a problem.” I hope not. But it might be. Content strategy is in large part about process. It’s not just establishing goals and benchmarks for content. Content strategy is equally about how those goals will be achieved with repeatable, governed processes.
This often involves numerous organizational divisions, staff, approval trees, legal and compliance, many steps of which can be overlooked or ignored. Efficient processes lead to substantial savings of both time and money. Ignoring process when establishing a content strategy is a surefire way to building time and money inefficiencies into process.
“We don’t have budget to hire new staff, so there’s no point in evaluating roles,” is another frequent refrain. I feel your pain. But like processes, people can’t be ignored in content strategy.
Often, tasks will be uncovered that can be filled by a temporary contractor, or even an intern, such as tagging assets for a digital asset management system (DAM). It can be the case that with additional domain or tools training, existing staff members can assume new responsibilities, creating greater career satisfaction and filling much-needed gaps.
Just because increased headcount isn’t an option doesn’t mean staffing needs go away. These needs can be dealt with as part of the content strategy.
Like people, above, there’s frequently pushback in the form of, “We’re not going to invest in it” (or “My department doesn’t make technology determinations”). As with people, audits and processes, ignoring tool and software needs doesn’t make them go away.
I attempt to work through this with my clients by taking a two-pronged approach. I’ll make broad recommendations (consider investing in digital asset management or a content creation platform), or I’ll take a much deeper dive, conducting stakeholder interviews and scrutinizing workflow scenarios and integration needs to make highly specific recommendations (consider these three software solutions).
Content doesn’t create itself, publish itself, measure or optimize itself, or make determinations about what channels and audiences it should connect with. Tools are a must-have, not a nice-to-have
Finally, that bonus “ask.” I hear this one a lot. It’s a shortcut in and of itself.
5. “Just Tell Us What Content Will Work For Us”
I wish I could; really I do. And I can probably tell you, from a strategy standpoint, what content will work this week, this month, or this quarter. Longer term, no one has a crystal ball that can automatically conjure the best content (and place it in the best channels to reach the right audience).
“Tell me what content will work” is a request akin to “Make me a viral video.” There will always be someone out there who will promise the moon (while cashing your check), but that’s not what a content strategy does.
What a content strategy will do is teach you how to learn what content will work against your goals and how to realign and readjust that content for different channels, audiences, projects and products, as well as external forces. What content works during the winter holiday season? When there’s breaking news around your industry? When consumers are talking about your brand or your product category?
Content strategy isn’t magic hocus-pocus. Instead, it’s “teach a man to fish.” The purpose is to develop sustainable, repeatable processes aligned to higher business goals. The content will invariably change. The bigger strategy? Not so much.