Last week, we helped you define your identity. Today, we seek to give our identity the words it needs to thrive in the marketplace. The way we says things, where we say it and to whom we say it can be the difference between shouting our message blindly from the rooftops or whispering it to an empty room. Ideally, we aim to be somewhere in the middle, talking in our own voice, conversationally to a room full of interested people.

Emptying the Contents

Before we go further, let’s define the key term we’ll be using: Content. The phrase "content strategy" is tossed around today rather liberally, but no one really knows what it means.

con·tent [kon-tent] noun

  1. Usually, contents.
  • something that is contained: the contents of a box.
  • the subjects or topics covered in a book or document.
  • the chapters or other formal divisions of a book or document: a table of contents."

Kristina Halvorson defines content strategy as “plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content.”

However, because the words needed are usually overlooked during the web development or even design and branding, most content strategy is done after the fact. As a result, many businesses are emptying the contents of their websites, brochures and other marketing materials to find a unified voice for their unified communications strategy.

But let’s assume you’re starting from scratch. To write effective, useful, usable content, we must know what is useful and for whom it would be usable. That’s where your identity comes in. Take the keywords, audience and personality that you created last week and write in that tone.

Where Do You Start?

Let’s also assume that our 30-second elevator pitch is now a friendly, 3-minute conversation over drinks. It’s loud, and there are many distractions. A target audience member is with you. She asks three questions:

  • Who are you?
  • What do you do?
  • Why should I care?

In a sentence for each, write the words that answer the questions. If your tone doesn’t match your customer, she’ll think you’re too smug or worse, not serious. If you bore her with too many unnecessary details, she’ll walk away.

Adapting for Context

But your content isn’t in a bar. It’s on a website. Or a smartphone. Or on a billboard in the subway. And there are many more distractions. Which brings us to another useful definition.

con·text [kon-tekst] noun

  1. the parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect: You have misinterpreted my remark because you took it out of context.
  2. the set of circumstances or facts that surround a particular event, situation, etc."

If you know who you are, what you do and the utility of it all, then you need to be able to convey that message, no matter where you are. It used to be that you had a captive audience. Now, your message is held captive by whatever interface has it.

The one-to-two sentences that you wrote isn’t as effective when it’s on a smaller screen. What will look concise on your 17-inch Macbook Pro will look like War and Peace on your iPhone. Therefore, you need to develop the Cliff's Notes for your content.

It’s not that you need to dumb the message down -- you just need to figure out what the Call to Action is. If your message could fit on a button, what would it say that would effectively convey to the user what you want them to do?

The call to action on website vs. mobile site adapts for context

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The call to action on website vs. mobile site adapts for context

Curate Your Words Free

Now that you have written your words and tailored them for the appropriate setting, it’s time to take your words and make them available for reuse.

The word curation, usually reserved for art historians, has become a part of content strategy. The idea is that your content lives on beyond websites and mobile. It becomes malleable, shareable and valuable to others.

Curation is often the most challenging phase of content strategy, because it occurs after you create and develop your words and it requires you to let go. When you set your words free, you are essentially giving permission to your users to carry your message onwards and hopefully upwards. But there is always the chance that it can go in other directions.

If your words are seeds, waiting for planting within your audience or prospective audience, social networks are the wind that will carry them to their destination. Yet, where they go is never guaranteed.

If you have created your content so it accurately represents who you are, what you do and why it’s important, your content will go great places -- with or without your consent.

Next week: Marketing strategies, goals and metrics

Editor's note: Check Marisa's entire series devoted to Social media Marketing.