Four common mistakes in content strategy
And how to fix them
Over the past months and even years, all my conversations about content strategy reveal four common elements that hinder their success. Being aware of these pitfalls is half the solution.
Upfront my apologies for my bold direct Dutch approach writing down the problems exactly as they are, without any softening or mitigation.
My personal biggest frustration is that content strategy is no real rocket science, yet more often than not, done wrong and missing the point. The majority of the marketers do know the overall potential of content and fail to get a real strategy in place. They are bamboozled in the details by the fast-paced changes in the industry and the lack of short-term measurable attribution to sales.
With an apparent lack of real importance in the C-suite (read: budget) the marketing department is restricted, with the senior content people ruled out. As a consequence, they leave the strategic part to the mediors or even juniors in the team. Which results in so-called 'content strategies' that actually are rolling yearly campaign plannings.
Why it matters
Being accountable for your marketing budgets doesn't need any explanation. To have insight into 'why' you do content, invest media and production budget, and how the content efforts contribute to the business objectives, is quite essential. This all is secured in the content strategy.
The unknown makes unloved. To directly improve your content strategy, all you have to do is to take these four pitfalls into consideration.
What you will learn
A short outline of this long read with the four windows of opportunity
- Pitfall 1: It ain't a strategy
- Pitfall 2: Mindset: silo'ed, inside-out, social only, and no end-to-end
- Pitfall 3: No data
- Pitfall 4: No combination of media and content
More often than not, a brands' content strategy still is yearly planning in line with the Marcom calendar. It is a pity. Being aware of these four pitfalls in your content strategy gives you an advantage over your competitors
Pitfall 1: It ain't a strategy...
It is campaign-to-campaign planning in line with the Marcom calendar. Mostly an extensive bullshit loaded PowerPoint with too many slides, accompanied by an excel sheet with detailed content planning: divided into a matrix of campaigns and themes. For convenience, this is called a strategy. Recognizable for anyone?
If you don't grasp this directly, I strongly recommend you read 'Good Strategy, Bad Strategy' by Richard Rumelt. An excellent book that feeds the mind on why good strategy matters.
In a nutshell, a strategy is:
- How to get from the current status, the now, [point A]
- to the desired status and ambition [point B]
- and how to allocate scarce resources, such as employees and budgets, to get there [the actual strategy]
What brand-problem do you want to solve by producing and publishing content? What is the sense of urgency? What is your ambition or objective? All evidenced by data, research, and insights. More about data in a later paragraph.
Pitfall 2: Mindset
Don't know where to start to describe this... this is so common, and yet so easy to see if you have the right mindset.
Marketing produces marketing content. Sales produce sales content. Corporate communications produce corporate content. Public Relations produces PR content. Human Resources produce content to attract new talent. And last not the least, Customer Care produces webcare content. And all these silos operate on their own, with their individual planning and objective and send out their digital message to... right, exactly the same audiences.
The customer doesn't notice let alone cares if the content is from whatever department. The customer sees 'brand' and that is about it. Place yourself in their shoes and stare at their mobile screens for all content fired at them via social, CRM newsletters, and google search. A tangled stream of messages without any cohesion and consistency.
Solution: central planning
How to fix this? Quite simple: plan. Have central planning to align all departmental messages with a firm quality check.
This central planning is owned by an Editor in Chief or Content Director. The sole objective of this role is to publish the best content provided with media budgets to make an impact and to contribute to the business objectives (KPIs).
The 'Heads of the Departments' are the stakeholders, together with the Editor in Chief they decide what gets published when to whom with what objective.
The quality check by the Editor in Chief provides consistency in brand identity, secures the right call to action, and is the final proofreading for any of the slightest mistakes such as technical malfunctions or typos. Next to this, she or he can be responsible for the testing and data collections to improve all content assets campaign over campaign.
It is very logical and in human nature that you reason from yourself, or the brand you work for. Excited about the products, you are proud to tell the features and the specs.
Yet, what we often forget, is to reason from the customers' perspective in the content. 'What is in it for them'. What is the problem your product solves? What is their need for information or to be inspired?
Solution: add an external view
Most brands claim to be outside-in, however, in their content, they speak about themselves and how great and wonderful their products are. Sucked up and blinded by the daily business you sometimes need an outsider to switch the perspective from inside-out to outside-in. An agency, a freelance consultant, or a new and fresh employee.
From product features - to problem-solving
From descriptive - to inspire
From 'we recommend ourselves' - to user reviews
In all honesty, the customer doesn't give a sh*t about where they stumble upon your (digital) content: Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, search on Google or YouTube, or via a newsletter.
If they don't care, why do we marketers think in channels with the focus on social as the main driver for exposure and traffic? With social being the sexiest channel, most content efforts are spent here.
Solution: content eco-system
A content eco-system. Not another buzz word and worth to spend your time and resources to get it. The benefits are proven time over time for my clients.
It is a visual overview that helps to align all your touchpoints with a consistent and integrated message.
- In the center is your 'content house': your owned channels: www's, apps, organic SEO. The central place where you (should) publish all your content. From branded stories to commercial activations and campaigns.
- Surrounded by an overview of the channels to get eyeballs and to drive traffic. From social to search, to performance, to CRM, to the e-shop, and to your offline touchpoints as TVC, DOOH, brick and mortar shops with POS and product packaging.
Read more on the benefits and how to create it: 'Content eco-system'.
How many marketers go through the entire process from content to inspire up to the actual receiving of the products bought in the webshop? Gut feeling, under 10%, maybe 5% or even less. Yet this is quite an indispensable process. End to end. From the beginning of the journey with the inspirational social content to the product on your kitchen table.
Solution: buy it yourself
No rocket science, you yourself go through the entire process with the start of every campaign you develop. Yes, it takes time and effort. And yes it brings those ugly inconsistencies to the light. For example, selling a new sustainable t-shirt in your e-commerce shop, resulting in delivery in plastic - that is a no go.
As a backup, you can use the content eco-system to check all touchpoints per campaign. This is an excellent overview to use your common sense if it all lines up. From the beginning with the sexy post on Instagram to the end with unpacking the goods.
Pitfall 3: No data
As everyone drools on data, it is striking this often isn't used to define the content strategy. Yes, we got tons of (micro) data on campaigns, on reach, likes, clicks, and much more. However, the 'other' more macro data with insights in the market and trends are left out. Let alone the usage of Google and YouTube data on what the customer actually is searching in relation to your industry, brand, products, and competitors.
Both a precious source of insights and indispensable to develop content that answers the information needs of your audiences. If you combine this data with your brand strategy, your 'why', and with an old school SWOT analysis, you have a strong fundament for your strategy.
Another advantage, if your 'objective', the desired outcome of your content efforts, is based on data, you can derive your C-suite KPIs quite easily. No need to explain this reporting on main KPIs is quite essential to keep your stakeholders involved and onboard.
Solution: search and research
Dive into the market research, the trends in your industry, keep a close eye on your competitors, and combine this with Google data. This Google and YouTube research will cost you roughly between € 7k for local and € 15k for global. Read more on 'Data for content': 'With smarter usage of Google, you can produce content your audience actually wants to read.'
Sources for market insights and trends vary per industry. Some familiar names: Forrester, Gartner, WARC, Nielsen, etcetera.
Pitfall 4: No combination of media and content
To get the most bang for your buck on social, please combine your media buying with your content assets productions. Where most marketers and some agencies stop to hurry on to the next campaign, the game and the fun actually just begins.
- Facebook knows what type of content your target audience prefers to see based on their behavior: in the hurry of the morning a short video or ani gif of a few seconds, in the more relaxed evening some longer videos and extended stories.
- Facebook knows if your audience reacts better to a blue button, a pink one, a yellow one, or even a green one.
- Facebook also knows how long your audience watches a video and if they are ready to be taken down the funnel immediately or that there needs to be a re-show of the initial add.
- And Facebook knows, based on the behavior who is more eager to click or to buy or who developed an absolute ad-blindness.
Use these insights to let the algorithm work for you. All you need is a crystal clear measurable KPI for Facebook to chase, accompanied by a huge pile of content assets. You enable Facebook to select those content assets that work the best for your KPI.
About audiences... don't be too narrow
Another thing to keep in mind when you are setting up your campaign based on a KPI: don't be too narrow in your audience selections. Let Facebook help you reach the right audience for your KPI. If you set your audience targeting very narrow based on your inside-out rationale, you could be missing out on a valuable audience that's eager to buy your product.
Made more tangible: Nuud is a vegan deodorant. You should presume they target only on vegans. Not. They have very broad targeting and let the algorithm select what works best. With the mindset 'if it is good enough for a vegan, is for sure is good enough for me' they found (additional) audiences like athletes, moms, and adolescents. Next to the vegans.
Read the interview with Nuud on their smart usage of the Facebook algorithm for the audience selection and how they use reviews to broaden their targeting.
Remember, Facebook is happy if you are happy. Because if you are happy, you will continue to advertise with them. And the only way for you to become happy with your Facebook advertising is if it contributes to your objectives. And that closes the circle, it comes back to your KPI and content assets.
The last not the least on KPIs... please do not use the vanity metrics to steer your campaign. Step away from likes, engagement, or comments. Do your homework and make yourself familiar with the KPIs on Facebook and Instagram. Next is to consult your media agency and together you define that suits best for your campaign. More on KPIs for FB campaigns
Solution: a threesome
I do get this is quite complicated, with continuous changing details due to the fast-paced innovations in social. Please don't stick to the traditional process with the media procuration and have the content assets created accordingly.
Setup a threesome. You connect the media agency to your content production agency, 1:1 with yourself in the driver seat with your KPIs guiding the way. Set up an extensive testing plan to figure out what works best when for whom. With current technologies, the development of that huge pile of content assets to test is a piece of cake and can be done at a very low budget, and super fast.
More often than not, a brands' content strategy still is yearly planning in line with the Marcom calendar. It is a pity. Being aware of these four pitfalls in your content strategy gives you an advantage over your competitors. And to get more bang for your content buck in media buying and in production.
If you do know your content objective and you have a strategy on how to allocate the scarce resources, you are on your way to success.
Because knowing what you want to establish, being able to keep track of the success, and be accountable ensures timely adjustments and interventions when you are getting off track.
Content strategy is no real rocket science, yet more often than not done wrong and missing the point. The majority of the marketers do know the overall potential of content and fail to get a real strategy in place. They are bamboozled in the details by the fast-paced changes in the industry and the lack of short-term measurable attribution to sales. Being aware of these four pitfalls is half the solution.