You don’t need a Content Strategy; You need a Content Framework.
What’s the difference between a strategy and a framework? Sounds like semantics and jargon, right?
But ask yourself, when was the last time you have created or seen a content strategy that you used to guide content execution on a day-to-day basis?
The problem with most content strategies is that they are too high-level and aren’t set up to be used on an ongoing basis. They are strategic documents, not operational documents.
That operational gap is where the problems happen, and is the reason why most content strategies get created, and then end up collecting dust while the marketing team puts out a lot of ad hoc content based on questions customers are asking and/or high volume organic search terms.
And of course, talking to customers is important, and so is understanding the organic search landscape, but that isn’t an operational strategy for long-term content success.
Content strategies need to be “operationalized”.
If you are convinced enough at this point, and want to skip to the “HOW”, you can do so here. Otherwise, read on for the three reasons that most content strategies fail.
Why most content strategies fail?
“Amateurs talk about strategy and tactics. Professionals talk about logistics and sustainability”
–United States Marine Corps four-star general Robert Hilliard Barrow.
Why do I bring up a military quote, when discussing marketing?
No, we aren’t fighting a content marketing war. However, in marketing we are in constant battle with competitors. If strategies and tactics were the end-all be-all, then the smartest and most strategic marketers would consistently win. That just isn’t the case.
You know who wins? Those who have a good strategy and who also have the capability to produce a high volume of relevant content. Volume alone won’t win either, but you can’t have success without both. Yet, most marketing teams spend a ton of time brainstorming and filling out content strategy/planning documents,only to start winging it when it comes time to execute. Why does this happen?
In my experience, this happens for three reasons:
- The content strategy is seller-focused, instead of buyer-focused. This is especially true in traditionally sales-led organizations (e.g. engineering, medical device, etc.) where sales often drives what content marketing creates. In this case, the content strategy is based on what the company wants to tell it’s prospects and customers, instead of what the prospects and customers want and need.
- The content strategy is too broad or high-level. Many companies will base their content strategy on who their customers are (firmographics) and the questions they commonly ask. While it’s a great start, it isn’t enough to keep you going long-term.
- The content strategy doesn’t include an execution and distribution plan. You can create the best strategy ever, but if you don’t have a plan for systematically executing against it, you won’t develop enough content. And, it doesn’t matter how much great content you create if you aren’t able to get it in front of the right people consistently.
So what’s a content marketer to do?
Again, content strategies need to be “operationalized”!
How to operationalize content strategy?
This is where logistics and sustainability come into play. You need a framework to not only create the plan, but also to deliver against this plan.
We have all heard of personas and ICP (Ideal Customer Profile), and lately they have gotten a bit of a bad rap. But this is mostly because most personas aren’t done appropriately or with enough detail. In the B2B space, most stop at basic firmographic information (company size, industry and job title).
It’s easy to spin your wheels by using 3rd party data sources to help you decide what content to create. You absolutely need to include 1st party qualitative data to develop your content strategy.
You need to interview customers and prospects. Figure out what they really care about and plan your messaging and content to address their concerns. But you can’t simply ask your customers what they want, or how they would behave in a hypothetical situation – they won’t tell you the truth. If you want a guide on how to convince customers to spend their time with you, and how to conduct these interviews to make them worth your while, read this guide.
Take this qualitative data and combine it with your external 3rd party research. Don’t forget to do your organic keyword research and grouping work at this stage. This will both help you understand the questions being asked and also to ask better questions in your customer interviews.
Now that you have your ICP defined along with having a whole bunch of research completed, it’s time to create a map of your content.
Based on all the research you did in step 1, you should be able to create a category/topic map like this one:
Let’s get a few definitions out of the way:
- Categories: A content category is a broad term that defines and groups all the relevant, useful and valuable content pertaining to the brand/product. Think of content categories as the pillars that hold up the content marketing “house.” They are inclusive of all the content that can and should be created to support the brand/product. Unless there is a major shift in the company, these will not change; they are evergreen and nascent to the brand.
- Topics: A content topic is the narrow, specific term that make up and define the individual content subjects within each category. Think of content topics as the individual “bricks” that help build and support each of the pillars in the content marketing house. They are inclusive of all the topics that can and should be created to support the brand/product. Unless there is a major shift in the company, these will not change; they are evergreen and nascent to the brand.
There is no single way to skin this cat, and there are no standard categories per say. However, you will likely end up with an “Industry Trends” category. That category will be critical as overtime it will feed other categories or require you to create a new one, especially if a trend in the industry forces your company to adjust the product roadmap.
This map serves a few important functions:
- It allows all stakeholders to align on what’s important and to identify gaps
- It creates a tagging and categorization framework for your content (e.g. blogs on your site, videos on YouTube, etc.)
- Serve as the base layer of your content strategy
BONUS TIP: Once your category topic map is ready, go back to your internal stakeholders (usually sales and customer success) and hold a few more interviews. The point of these interviews is to ensure that you aren’t missing anything. 90% of the time you will find that they help you identify a gap, which you will have to go back and do further research on.
Next, take this category and topic map and add a second dimension to it – the customer journey:
Again, you will use all the information about your personas which you have researched and defined prior, to map the content categories and topics across the customer journey.
This allows everyone involved in creating or distributing content – marketing, sales, customer success, executive leadership – to be aligned on what content is important to who and when.
This doesn’t mean that you are planning for a linear journey, but you should be planning objectives and CTAs for different content pieces based on where they fit along the journey. Your prospective customers will navigate this journey as they see fit, but your job is to ensure that you have the appropriate content for them when/where they need it.
Another important thing to note here, is that this document should outline the success measures for each stage of the journey. Not every piece of content can/should be measured based on MQLs, SQOs or revenue. Your top of funnel content should be measured based on consumption. Because if nobody views or reads your content, then it can’t possibly influence buying decisions. Further down the funnel, where your content has very clear sales CTAs (e.g. request demo, talk to sales), you can start measuring SQOs and revenue associated with that content.
NOTE: this needs to be done for each persona in your ICP.
Now this is where the rubber meets the road. This is where amateurs turn into professionals. Now you need to define each category and topic, map focus keywords, and define distribution channels, content mediums and frequency.
BONUS TIP: Don’t forget to include a promotional plan/budget here. The “if you build it they will come” strategy won’t work anymore. You need to get your content in front of and consumed by your target ICP/personas. And you will need to spend some media budget to do so.
The table above may seem simple, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. This is where a large chunk of your time should be spent. This is where you figure out and define what your content engine will be. This is where you ensure that your content plan has all the logistics in place and is actually sustainable.
NOTE: When you think about frequency, don’t think about how many net new pieces of original content you will need to create every month, but instead how many times will something about this topic be distributed (e.g. a share on social media counts as a distribution).
You need a content engine
When you are thinking about your hub and spoke content and about your distribution channels, you should be planning for not just what you will produce, but how you will produce it. You will need to produce a lot of content, and this work needs to be sustainable, which means it needs to be worked into your daily workflow.
Here are some ways you can create a lot of content on a consistent basis.
- Your people:
Get your people involved in content generation efforts. Make this part of your job descriptions, ensure that people plan for it as part of their workload, and make it easy for the rest of the team to share and distribute.
- A Podcast:
If planned appropriately, a podcast can provide you with an endless stream of content, which can be distributed across your owned and earned channels.
- Full episode audio
- Full episode video
- Short audio clips (audiograms)
- Short video clips
- Show notes/episode recap blog posts
- Internal meetings:
You might not think so, but by recording your internal strategy meetings, you can often develop a similar stream of content as you would for a podcast. It takes a bit more post-production work to get the content to a good spot, but this allows you to create content in the midst of your already existing workflow (especially for non-marketing subject matter experts)
- Customer masterminds or summits:
Any time you get a group of your customers in a room (or virtual room) is an opportunity to create amazing content. Your customers will likely love to be in a nurturing environment with their peers, and you get the benefit of creating that experience for them, while also getting the opportunity to create a ton of content that supports your strategy.
While you may not want to share all the raw footage or information shared in customer masterminds or summits, there may be parts which you can get consent from participants to share. On top of that, you can definitely use these as inspiration for both short-form and long-form content. These conversations can also be used to feed your podcast interviews and internal meeting discussions.
- Co-marketing or partner content:
Your industry partners are a great source of content, and they are often finding it just as hard to create enough content themselves. This creates a collaboration opportunity that not only takes some of the load of content creation off your team, but also allows you to tap into your partners’ audiences and create trust by association.
Are you seeing the trend here? The objective is to create a framework for content creation that is as integrated into your existing daily workflow as possible, and where your team isn’t directly responsible for coming up with all the content themselves. Otherwise it just won’t be sustainable.
How to measure content success
The all important question: how do you measure success?
The great thing is that this content framework also has a measurement framework built right in. You want to be able to measure performance for each category/topic and for each customer journey stage. Each stage in the matrix shown above should include Success Metrics and the Desired Customer Action, which simply get turned into the KPIs that you will measure.
Some of this measurement you will want to set up in your web analytics system (e.g. Google Analytics) and some you will also want in your marketing automation platform and/or CRM.
The technical details will vary based on the platform you are using, but we will be creating some technical guides soon to illustrate some of this.
Proofpoint can help
If you are looking to get a jump start on your content strategy, feel free to make a copy of Proofpoint’s content framework template. And if you are looking for some help with this process and/or with content development, don’t hesitate to reach out.