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5 Crucial Features Your Content Strategy Needs

By Rodney LawsRodney Laws (Guest)
A man piling up the jenga blocks

Every business with an online presence or any broad ambitions needs to create content. This was true in February 2020, and it’s still true as I write this, only massively more pressing in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit the world so hard and threatens to linger for a long time yet.

Offline marketing has gone from awkward to ineffective in the blink of an eye: with gathering places everywhere currently bereft of life, there’s little to be gained from running billboard ads. PPC still works, but it’s so tough to stand out in paid advertising, and the spoils typically go to those who can afford to outbid their competitors for the top spots.

The internet, meanwhile, is even more important than it was before — and it already dominated our attention. Not only is it still the top source of entertainment for people stuck indoors, but it’s also now the bedrock of the business world to an unprecedented extent. If you’ve been able to keep your business going, it’s almost certainly because you’ve been able to operate remotely.

Since digital content is the way forward, though, it needs to be taken seriously. There’s no sense in sporadically throwing out some mediocre blog posts and thinking they’ll yield impressive results. You need a comprehensive content strategy — but what should it involve? Here are five crucial features that every content strategy needs:

A relevant target audience

Great content presented to the wrong audience might as well be lorem ipsum for all the good it will do because greatness — in practical terms — is contextual. Even the world’s clearest guide on baking a cake will do nothing to catch the eye of someone who has zero interest in baking. Accordingly, before you can plan your content, you need to know which people you’re aiming at.

This is where there can be value in using buyer personas (or just follower personas if you’re not directly trying to sell anything). Think carefully about the average person you’d like to notice your content. What interests them? What kind of tone do they appreciate (serious, ironic, warm)? Only with a clear idea of whom you’re trying to reach can you polish your content.

One of the most common mistakes made me fledgling brands is trying to target everyone with scattergun content, hoping to be all things to all people. It won’t work outside of extraordinarily rare scenarios where brands truly have universal appeal — and can you think of such a brand? Apple has a rare level of popularity, but it caters to people who want high-end products that offer maximum convenience: any other approach would undermine its reputation for quality.

You can, of course, target different personas with your different content types (more on that next), though be very careful not to take on too significant a workload. As we’ll address later, consistently is an essential ingredient of a successful content marketing strategy, and efforts to produce content for more than two or three distinct personas are likely to end in failure.

A list of viable content types

Digital content isn’t limited to blog posts, obviously: there are infographics, live action video (explainers, behind-the-scenes shoots, narrative-based skits, etc.), animations, illustrations, photos, comics, long-form guides, social media stories, and other types besides. Unless you somehow have unlimited resources, you can’t meaningfully use them all, but it’s advisable that you use at least a few content types for the sake of variety.

To create your list — most likely of 3-4 content types — you need to think about various things: the skills and passions of your content creators (probably you and some of your employees), what your general content marketing ideas involve (some require specific formats), and how much time and money you’re willing to invest (even if you have an in-house animator and only need a short clip, a solid result is still going to take a while to achieve).

Down the line, you may decide that one type isn’t working for you and should be swapped out for something else. You could conclude that infographics take too long to research and don’t return enough value, for instance, and opt to try making explainer videos instead. That’s fine, but you always need a shortlist of options so you can plan ahead.

If there’s something that you’d like to try at some point but you don’t currently have the skills and/or the resources to cover, start putting aside some money and training time to move towards it. This is the best way to approach something complex like animation, being highly preferable to spending far too much time putting together a mediocre result that will only serve to make your brand look bad in the event that you actually release it.

A set of brand guidelines

Excellent brand guidelines are vital for keeping content consistent, and consistency is of paramount importance. It takes time to build effective brand associations, after all. If you want someone to see your brand name in the title of a piece of content and think “This will surely be worth my time”, you need to repeatedly produce worthwhile content with no exceptions.

As for what you should include in your brand guidelines, the essential baseline involves logo variants, a slogan, company descriptions of different lengths, structures for titles and content, tone of voice, a color scheme, and an outline of the types of business and/or website you’d like to work with. You can include more things if you deem them valuable, but that list should suffice.

Once you have your set of guidelines sorted, update your operating procedures to make its importance abundantly clear. Whenever you onboard a new hire, it needs to be one of the first things — perhaps the first thing — that they review. There’s no sense in investing time and effort in a fantastic resource that ends up being overlooked and underused.

And before any piece of content is put live or submitted to a given recipient, it should be reviewed to confirm that it meets the guidelines. If the wrong font has been used, or the layout is unsuitable, or an old version of the logo has been added, then it’s imperative that those issues be corrected. Letting mistakes slip through makes a brand look distinctly unprofessional.

A realistic posting schedule

Winging your content is never going to work. It’ll produce weak posts, inconsistent topics, audience apathy, and occasional stress spikes. A content strategy needs a content schedule setting out the process running from ideation to deployment. If you want to post a guide in three months then you can schedule ideation for six weeks beforehand and set a deadline of two weeks beforehand so there’s time for final editing.

Add as much information as you can for each piece. Here’s an example of how you might set one out: “August 10th: guide on writing blog posts (exact title TBD). 2000 words. Targeted at beginner writers. Must include visuals and examples. To be posted on the main blog. Draft in WordPress. Two rounds of edits needed before sign-off.”

Having an overarching view of the content you’re going to be posting throughout the year (if you can have an annual content calendar, you should, because that timeframe makes sense) will make it abundantly clear which topics you’re addressing too frequently or not frequently enough. This will make it so much easier to provide a good range of content.

It will also help you to deploy ephemeral content with maximum effect. Taking advantage of seasonal interest (writing posts on Christmas topics in the run-up to Christmas, for instance) is essential for maximizing traffic, and wheeling out some festive posts after Christmas is a huge waste. Know ahead of time how many posts you’re going to create and when they’ll need to be used, and you’ll be able to ensure that you deploy resources optimally.

A system for measuring results

Whether you’re blatantly trying to market something, building up your brand as an authority, or just trying to provide value to drum up audience support, you’re not engaging in content marketing as a charitable effort. You’re ultimately looking to see a return on your investment, but it isn’t enough to know what that return should be: you also need to be able to measure it.

In principle, this is easy enough with digital content: you can easily go into Google Analytics and see how well each piece has pushed people towards whatever conversions you’ve defined. But you need to know which metrics matter to you, because there are plenty that don’t mean much and can lead you astray if you focus on them. Optinmonster has a good guide on content marketing metrics that I recommend checking out: it’ll help you define your key metrics.

If you want your content to return results, you need to have an excellent strategy informing its creation and distribution — and every content strategy must include the five features we’ve looked at here. If yours is lacking one or more of them, you should address that shortcoming as a matter of urgency.

Author Bio:

Rodney Laws has more than a decade of experience providing marketing advice to online entrepreneurs and businesses. He’s set up and marketed his own businesses and consulted on crafting campaigns for established companies. See what Rodney can do to help you or your business by heading over to EcommercePlatforms.io and visiting @EcomPlatformsio for even more news and views on marketing as an ecommerce brand.

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