Why having a content marketing strategy “just makes sense”

Content marketing strategy

“If you have no plan, then that’s your plan.” I had a college professor who used to say that. He probably thought it was profound; I thought it was kinda obvious. 19-year-old me probably wanted to know why it was better to spend time making plans rather than just winging it, which always sounds like the best plan when you’re 19…

Older me knows that planning and preparation are almost always worth the time. Especially when it comes to content marketing.

Having a content marketing strategy that governs your activity is critical (and yes, I’ve tried winging it, to poor results). Here are a few simple reasons why investing the time into developing a sound content strategy just makes sense.

Your content marketing strategy helps ensure you’re putting your effort in the right place

“We need more content on our website.” “Our sales team needs more case studies.” The IT group wants a white paper on this.” We’ve all heard these demands! How do you know which one is the right one to focus your energy on? Your strategy is the foundation for your content creation efforts. It should tell you what your objectives are, who your audience is, what they need, how you’re going to engage with them and how you’re going to track, measure and report on your progress. In other words, it’ll help you ensure you’re not creating content just for the sake of creating it (and should tell you with some degree of certainty whether your sales team really does need another case study).

It helps you determine the right resources (including budget)

It’s easy to look at content marketing and think, “well, I need a couple writers and a designer, and I’m good to go.” But your strategy should inform who the right people are and how much money you need. For example, if you’ve determined that your objective is to grow brand awareness and that your audience is social-savvy and more likely to consume infographics and video content, then you know you need budget for video and that you need a videographer rather than another writer.

Your content marketing strategy holds your content team accountable and showcases their value

A lot of marketing execs still give content, or at least content creators, the side-eye because they think the writers just sit in the corner pounding on their keyboards and the VP isn’t sure how to measure or track what they’re doing. 20 years ago, these efforts really were difficult to track, but every bit of content can be measured and reported on today. And if your strategy is clear on what you’re tracking, and why, and what your overall objectives are, then your content team is accountable to something specific. And, if you do it right, you’re able to prove their worth when those objectives are met.

It’s your business case (and protection against cost reductions)

No one likes to feel like they have to justify their existence in an organization, but unfortunately, that’s part of the gig. Especially because we all know that, when the company has a rough quarter or two, marketing is first place the axe comes down. But if you’ve got a strategy that clearly defines how your content team is contributing to this year’s overall company goals, including revenue and retention, then that helps define your team’s value and helps the execs understand what they’re losing if they cut your budget or your headcount.

It sets the groundwork for content beyond marketing

So let’s say you’ve done your marketing strategy, you know who you’re targeting and why, you’ve got production ducks in a row and your publishing and deploying your content according to plan. All done right? Not quite! How are you leveraging that content beyond external marketing? How are you enabling your salespeople to use it? Are you using it to get new employees up to speed? The content you create for marketing purposes has many uses, and the more you use it for, the more you’re getting your money’s worth. The good news is, your external marketing strategy can easily be repurposed for other audiences.

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These are just a few, I hope, less obvious reasons you should invest time in a proper content marketing strategy. Overall your content marketing strategy should help ensure you, your content team and your entire marketing department developing and publishing content in the more effective way possible.

Image courtesy Startup Stock Photos.

Taking the “hub and spoke” approach to content marketing

Content marketing hub and spoke

Content marketing is remains a critical component of today’s marketing strategies, but it’s resource-intensive and expensive to outsource.

One way to mitigate the overhead is by using the “hub and spoke” approach to content creation; that is, when you’re developing content to support your marketing strategy, start with a meaty topic and create a killer, high-value piece of content about it (the hub) and then create multiple smaller, lighter content assets that support it (the spokes). (Tip of the hat to my former colleague Jordan Stevens, the first person I heard use the term.)

Here are a few thoughts on why I like the hub and spoke approach:

The hub and spoke approach is efficient

I started believing in this approach mainly as a time saver. If you’re going to create multiple content pieces around a topic, it makes sense to create an outline, conduct the research, and write the largest, most valuable piece first; you’ve gathered all of your sources and data points, you understand the subject and you’ve no doubt come across multiple ideas for supporting assets along the way. You can build a repository of subject information, enough for several assets, before writing one, if you’re focused on the largest one first.  It just doesn’t work the same way in reverse; if a busy writer only needs enough data to write a 250-word blog post, he or she isn’t going to gather much more than that (especially if his or her time is dictated by hours in a scope or proposal).

It creates a better customer experience

Although efficiency was the gateway here, I’ve found that starting with the hub-and-spoke approach ultimately makes for a better user experience as well as a creation experience, because (assuming you understand the buyer and the buyer journey, and are creating content with the two in mind—and if you’re not, back up and start there!) if you’re doing the bulk of the research and creating the most valuable content first, your understanding of what the reader wants to know should only increase. And that should make your supporting assets, across the buyer journey, that much stronger.

Strategy-wise, the hub-and-spoke approach makes logical sense

The high-value piece of content is the one that should drive the most conversions for you; your lighter assets should be driving visitors to that high-value piece of content. Therefore it only makes sense to start with the high value one as your centerpiece, and fill in your other pieces around it in a way that makes sense to drive traffic back to your key conversion point.

It’s easily scalable

This approach works well if you’re creating a webinar and two supporting blogs, and it works equally well if you’re creating a white paper, an eBook, four blog posts, an infographic, a checklist and an explainer video.

It’s SEO-friendly

This is a new one, and I’m glad it’s here. We’ve been talking a lot about SEO lately on the content team at Brainrider; we all have backgrounds in journalism and communications, so SEO isn’t naturally top of mind for us when we write, even though it’s an important part of helping ensure the content we develop is meeting the needs of our clients (especially early-funnel stage content). The good news is of course, that more and more, Google is focusing on promoting well-written content as opposed to keyword optimized content. But more importantly, I recently read this piece from Hubspot, about how search algorithms are changing even further, to favor topic-based content, because people are searching using increasingly complex questions, to which they expect specific results. Which in turn means that a content publishing approach that starts with a page for a broad topic and links to sub-pages for sub-topics within in a logical manner should all rank well. Sounds familiar right?

Hubspot calls it a “topic pillar and cluster” model, and I’ll let them explain:

SEO is now shifting to a topic cluster model, where a single “pillar” page acts as the main hub of content for a overarching topic and multiple content pages that are related to that same topic link back to the pillar page and to each other.

It’s the same thing I described above for content production. Only now it has the dual benefit of being both efficient, and SEO-friendly. Win-win!

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If you have any thoughts on this approach—or an approach of your own that works—I’d love to hear them! Reach out any time and let’s talk content marketing.

The Straw that Broke the Social Media Camel’s Fake Back, or something

“Why’d you start this blog” is always a good blog post to write.

The easy answer is, “I’m a writer, I love to write and I have lots to say.” And that’s true, but there’s a little more to it, and it mainly has to do with Facebook, and social media.

Although I “celebrated” 10 years on Facebook earlier this year, I’ve never been a huge user of the platform. I have a small group of friends and family and check in regularly to see what they post; I don’t follow many “third parties” on there, other sites or personalities or what-have-you. This means my news feed is—other than ads—almost exclusively posts and shares from people I actually know.

I post maybe once a month or so myself; it was definitely more frequent 8-9 years ago.

On the other hand, I am was a fairly heavy Instagram user. I take a lot of photos on my phone and I like to share them. I recently started a second account to share some of the cool comics and geek stuff I have in my library, and that’s been a fun exercise (and the fact that I’ve been able to do it consistently is part of the reason I thought I might be able to make the blogging thing work this time). Both of those accounts are public.

But I haven’t posted on Facebook or either of my Instagram accounts in over three weeks. The ongoing string of “no, Facebook is actually kinda awful” stories seems to have broken me.

I don’t meant to single Facebook out; YouTube is taking crap right now for promoting fake news stories about Las Vegas as well, and I’m sure Snapchat and Twitter and LinkedIn and all the rest are equally awful. People in my age group and above have complained about social media for years and my response has always been, “hey, you’ll only get out of it what you put into it,” meaning if you don’t want to post about what you had for breakfast or read about the latest Kardashian dating crisis, you don’t have to. If you just wanted to connect with a few friends, like I was doing, it could be used for that.

But when these channels start influencing elections and terrorism and put peoples lives at risk, that’s something different. You can’t ignore that, or at least I can’t.

So I’m not sure how much I want to be present on those platforms anymore. I have 30+ photos and about half-dozen a posts written for the geek sanctuary account, just waiting to be posted, but I seem have lost the motivation to do so.

Meanwhile, as a content marketer, I know I can do all of this stuff myself, on a channel I own, without the help of Facebook. Sure, if I really want eyeballs, I should use those channels to promote my content. And of course, it’s a one-way communication channel. I lose the “social aspect” of it.

But then there’s the real question—what am I really losing? Am I really actively engaging with friends and family on social media, or is it just habit, activity for the sake of activity?

I don’t know. I just know it makes me uncomfortable these days.

So I’m gonna try this out for a while, and maybe wean myself off those other channels where I can, and see where I end up.

Thanks for reading.