It’s all about the strategy, stupid!

Content marketing can have a tremendous impact on business outcome, but only under these conditions (at the very least):

  • It’s a strategic choice
  • It has the C-suite stamp of approval
  • It’s done properly and consistently

When these conditions are not met, it will only cost money with very little to show for. The conditions are also interlinked, as it will be hard to follow a strategic course without the knowledge and buy-in of C-level. And you’ll have very little chance of getting that coveted buy-in without a business case and solid, well-documented content marketing plan.

Content Marketing Strategy: what it is, and isn’t

Let me start first with clearing up what I mean by strategy, as it is a term which is often confused with goal, objective or even tactics. Strategy is of course none of those. It is not a company’s aspiration or objective, it is more than a particular action, and it is not the same as an organization’s vision or values.

Strategy, at its core, focuses on the how, more specifically on how you want to achieve your goal. If your business goal is to increase revenue or have better customers in market segment x, then content marketing could be a strategy you use to achieve that goal.

Building further upon this example, your content marketing strategy should answer the following questions, at least: why you create content (your business case), for whom (your total addressable market), and how you will do that in a way no other competitor is doing (your content ‘tilt’). It should also address the risks, and a vision of what short-term and long-term success look like.

When you have your strategy, you can start working on the content marketing plan. That’s where the tactics come in, as the plan details how you will implement the strategy. It includes who will be in charge of what, the key topic areas, the content you will create, the channels you will use to activate that content, the calls to action you will use and so on.

In reality, strategy and plan often blend into one single document. This is fine, as long as you don’t start talking tactics before you figured out what you are trying to achieve first. There are a number of extremely useful workbooks, which take you through the process step by step, highlight parts you have in place and find the ones you still need to work on. You’ll find a number of examples at the end of this blog post.

Symptoms of the no-strategy disease

In reality the strategy part is often skipped. According to the 2018 B2B Benchmark study by the Content Marketing Institute, only 37% percent of organizations (in North America) have a documented content marketing strategy in place. The rest is going about it blindfold, or claims to have a strategy, only it’s “not documented.”

So what are the symptoms of this lack of strategy? I can name at least four:

1. No C-suite buy-in
When your content marketing strategy and plan do not have the C-suite stamp of approval, it will be hard to get things done. Content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint, which means: it takes patience, planning and perseverance before you’ll be able to report solid results. You won’t get that if C-level does not know what you’re doing and why. You also won’t get the resources you need in terms of people, time and budget.

2. Juniors are put in charge
Juniors, in my experience, are seldom ready for strategic thinking. Most of them are driven to create and deliver. This makes them wonderful people to have on your (content) team, for sure. But this ‘urge to create’ means they’re not always the best choice for mapping out the strategy. This is not the fault of the juniors, of course. It is the fault of organizations jumping on the content marketing bandwagon without thinking things through.

3. Lack of cohesion and coordination among business units
It’s hard to implement or even design a strategy, much less a plan, when everyone in the organization is following his or her own agenda. And when the content team is small – as is often the case – the people in that team will start to feel like a tiny slice of butter spread out over a humongous sandwich. Because they will be forced to do a little bit here, and then a little bit there, their efforts will have little or no tangible impact.

4. ‘Do as you’re told’ mentality
When there’s no buy-in, no strategy or plan and no cohesion, the content team will be at the mercy of whatever is thrown at them. The ‘urge to create’ will prevail. This pushes them into a purely operational role, in which they will be required to do as they’re told. The people who do the ‘telling’ will probably still believe in the biggest misconception about content marketing (something which I address here).

The result? Content marketing in this type of organization will be seen as a total waste of time and money, because ‘it does not deliver’. The truth is: the content these organizations are producing, does not deliver.

An what kind of content is that? Content that is produced in an assembly-line manner by inexperienced content creators under pressure of delivery. People stop consuming that content, because it doesn’t speak to them.

The thing is: it doesn’t have to be this way. I firmly believe that every company is able to create content that is meaningful, that delivers real value, that is wanted (coveted even) and that is unique.

It is entirely possible, but it needs to be done properly and thoroughly. The first step is to think about – and work on – your strategy and plan. The next is to make your business case to the people holding the purse strings.

But remember: the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at the time. These workbooks will get you there, step by step:

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