Maggie: the essence of content strategy
Content strategy is about more than keyword rankings and backlinks. According to contributor Kyla Becker, it's about focusing on the customer's needs.
On more than one occasion, I have been asked the question, “What is the value of developing content?” Typically, the person asking the question already has an idea as to the answer, which usually includes some iteration of the concept that “content is king” — meaning that it is what Google prefers, and that it ultimately helps with search performance.
While accurate, I believe that this train of thought puts brands that are engaging in content marketing at somewhat of a disadvantage. Allow me for a moment to propose a different lens…
I’d like to tell you a story about Maggie. Maggie has lived in her hometown all of her life, and for the past 25 years she has worked for the same company. Her first day on the job, Maggie was at the door greeting customers. Twenty-five years later, Maggie holds a high-level role in the company and understands its ins and outs. Maggie has a deep knowledge of the value her company holds, not only for its customers, but also for its industry at large.
Although Maggie is an important person with lots to do, she still makes time to come out on the floor and participate in the day-to-day of the company. When a customer walks in the door, she greets them by name. When they need help making a purchasing decision or solving a problem the company’s industry typically solves, Maggie is able to speak intelligently to the options available and make an informed recommendation — even if Maggie’s company does not provide the solution.
This is because Maggie cares about the customer’s best interest and respects their time, money and individual needs. She understands that connecting with customers, listening to their needs and providing them with an excellent experience is what turns new customers into loyal customers, and loyal customers into brand advocates.
Maggie isn’t a used car dealer coming on strong with hard product pitches. She is someone her colleagues can count on to do a good job and someone customers ask for by name — because she has earned their trust and respect.
As you just read, Maggie is an ideal employee. Any company would be lucky to have someone like her on their team.
The fact is, companies doing business online actually do have a Maggie working for them. My friends, Maggie lives in your content.
“Sell” is not a strategy
It is important at this juncture to clarify that “content strategy” and “content marketing” are separate things. In keeping with my standard of simplicity, let me briefly explain: Content strategy is the plan developed; content marketing is how that plan gets executed. If your strategy is misinformed, your marketing efforts will be improperly targeted and thus minimally effective at best.
Let’s go back to the Maggie analogy: Maggie’s focus is not on sales, it’s on customer experience. This is an important distinction when understanding the goals of content strategy. While we can all acknowledge that leads and sales are how brands stay in business, any reasonable, business-minded person also knows that you don’t lead with the sale. Business is about relationships, as your content strategy should be. In this vein, it helps to think of your content as your Maggie.
- your customers on a personal level;
- your industry and your product/service like the back of her hand;
- how to provide informed recommendations when your customers need help — even if you don’t provide the solution; and
- how to build emotional relationships with your customers, because she cares.
Companies like Amazon and Zappos have been able to install “Maggies” within their customer service departments, maintaining that high-quality service experience. However, not all brands can scale to these levels. This is exactly the point where content marketing can pick up the slack and create value for your customers — if done correctly.
Online content can and should function in a customer service capacity. In turn, an informed content strategy should be able to identify your audience, understand their needs and place those needs ahead of sales quotas. In a world where corporate transparency and personalized service reign supreme, the trust that your content should develop is going to be the path of least resistance in hitting your business goals.
Ultimately, your content should be a place that reflects your efforts to listen to your customer — because, let’s face it, nobody ever made friends by constantly interrupting to talk about themselves.
Listening to your customer goes well beyond reading and responding to your social network comments (although this is a critical piece of the puzzle). Truly listening means digging into your analytics and asking the right questions:
- Who is visiting my site? (Audience Development)
- What tasks are they trying to complete? (Keyword Research)
- What challenges are they encountering in task fulfillment? (UX & IA)
- How are my competitors better serving my audience? (Competitive Analysis)
With this information and a commitment to consistency, you will be able to construct and execute on valuable content that services customers at every level of their buying journey.
What it is, and what it isn’t
Content strategy isn’t just about expanding your keyword profiles for better search performance or inundating your customers with information they don’t need or understand. It’s about getting a handle on who needs you, how they’re trying to find you and what they expect from you — then working hard to consistently deliver on those expectations with unified messaging and unwavering commitment to value. If your interest in your customers is sincere, and the help you try to provide them is valuable, then the amplification of your value will come along naturally.
Forget the bygone days of “cold calling” influencers who have no idea who you are to help launch your campaign, or the idea that content marketing is all about backlinks. Focus on these tactics, and you’ll surely miss a crucial step in the world that is content: building meaningful relationships. Whether it be your customers or influential voices in your space, valuing those relationships and being a good “friend” is the only way to ensure sincerity and value are instilled in your content and perceived by its readers.
It’s no coincidence that industry jargon around site value is steeped in terms like “Trust” and “Authority.” It’s a reflection of what users — and search engines who service those users — truly want from online entities: sources that know and understand their industry and audiences and can be trusted to give informed and considered advice. Content strategy, in turn, should look to connect those who need your company’s expertise with the information or tool that will help them solve their problems.
To those in the realm of content strategy and marketing: Be a good friend to your customers. Be their Maggie.
When developing content strategies, focus on the customer’s needs and always ask yourself: “What would Maggie do?”