While the content vs. context debate rages on, the issue of content strategy remains. Many of the comments on our previous post reminded us that context can’t exist without content. Today, we will talk about content strategy recipes and key ingredients.

A Recipe for Content Strategy

Effective content can’t be appropriately created without a sound strategy. Yet, there are so many ways that content can be developed, refined and enhanced in an effort to engage users in a conversation.

If we liken content strategy to a recipe, there are many ingredients, but only a few that are absolutely essential. We could spend all day talking about all the extra things you can be doing, but instead we’re going to address what we consider to be the three main ingredients of a content strategy.

1. Define Your Audience

You’ve probably been asked this question before, but you start anything, ask yourself “who is your audience?” Don’t confuse this question with “who is your target audience?” as the answers may not be the same. Most likely, you have people who buy your product – who are they? What do they do? How did they learn about your product? By taking the time to understand their behaviors and interests, means that you don’t have to guess. You’ll know exactly how they work, making it easier for you to write and produce content that meets their needs.

Now, ask yourself, “who do you wish was buying your product?” and learn more about how they access information and how they behave online. Compare your results. Do you see any overlapping data? Do both groups engage in social media? Do they have large budgets? Are they influencers or connectors?

Hopefully, learning more about your current and future customers has helped you develop a persona for your product. You product will talk and act similarly. The tone of voice will be familiar and will ask the right questions.

Key Questions to Ask

  • What is driving their interest? (Cost, time saved, packaging & design, functionality, convenience, etc)
  • Are they engaged in current events?
  • Who influences them the most in their industry? (Bill Gates, Tim O’Reilly, Rupert Murdoch, Steve Jobs, Ben Bernake, etc)
  • Will a blog meet their needs?
  • How long do they spend on our website?
  • What is the most frequently downloaded document?
  • How do they purchase your product? (online, phone, in person, email, etc)
  • Do they use social media? (If so, how many followers and fans do they have? What kind of information do they post?)
  • What are the words they use to describe what they want in a product/service?

Tools to Use

  • Klout: an easy to tool to measure one’s influence on twitter
  • Google Alerts: set up to see who’s talking about customers and why
  • Collecta: a real-time search engine with an auto-refresh feature that allows you to see the most recent mentions about you in blogs, articles, comments, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube.


2. Refine Your Content

Now that you understand more about how your customers think, feel and act, you can begin to mine and refine your content appropriately. This doesn’t necessarily mean starting from scratch. Most likely there’s already a lot of content on your website or in your brochures. That content was good enough to get you current clients. But now that you understand them better, look at it through their eyes.

Ask yourself, “what are the three main reasons our product is necessary?” Now, go on your website, peruse your brochures, watch your product demos. How easy is it for them to understand? Does it say exactly what you need it to say, in a manner that’s relatable and engaging?

Provide incentives. While the same foundational content should be the same across print and online media, each piece of information should include a new nugget of valuable information, otherwise you’ve wasted their time and lost the opportunity to teach them something new.

If there are areas where your current and future customers overlap, focus on that first. Then draft separate sets of content, which target the specific audiences. If one audience doesn’t spend much time on social media, but instead prefer to read product specs, make that content speak to them. If the other audience is greatly influenced by information shared on social media, develop a standard for pushing out valuable information.

Using what you learned from researching your audience and applying it towards your content allows you the opportunity to refine everything from your SEO to product descriptions to how you promote products via social media and beyond.

Key Questions to Ask

  • Are we using the right words?
  • Are we implementing the right media?
  • Are we engaging via the right platforms?
  • Does our content tell a story?
  • Does our content effectively explain how we solve a problem?
  • What do we want our customers to do with the content? (Share it, retweet it, like it, show their supervisors and colleagues, etc)

Tools to Use


[Editor's Note]

Here's where it get sticky. In editing this article, my wonderful, amazing (lol, but we'll go with) editor Barb Mosher questioned what I considered to be the third key ingredient in a content strategy -- engagement. She argued that the definition of content strategy only refers to content and that engagement is a separate entity, warranting its own strategy. In other words, a web engagement strategy includes a solid content strategy.

I argue that content is about conversations and if not for engagement, what is the point of defining your audience and refining your content. It could be that we're both right and the third ingredient is really an additional strategy. However, we're going to let you, dear reader, decide. Should engagement be a part of the content strategy or is it a separate strategy altogether?

3. Engage Your Customers

You’ve taken the time to learn more about what makes your customers tick. You’ve rewritten and re-purposed your content so that it speaks the right words. Now what? Now it’s time to engage with your customers. And because you seemingly know so much about them, you know what to say, right?

Engagement is the third key ingredient in our content strategy recipe because it helps to solidify everything you’ve done previously. And though it may be the yeast that keeps our strategy afloat, if it’s poked too much or left alone for too long, results can vary.

First, engaging users is more about keeping content up to date and refreshed and less about talking their ears off. Depending on your customers, you may need to keep the conversation formal or more casual. Ask questions and listen to every answer. Because you know where your customers are, you know where to find them.

If they are using social media, start there. Take conversations offline if necessary and follow up via email or phone, if appropriate. However, there’s a fine line between listening to what they say and what they do and stalking them. Let them initiate follow up contact.

Most customers don’t want to feel like they’re being used. Promote your company and product without actively boasting. Use your conversations as an opportunity to assert yourself as an authority, but not a know-it-all.

While user engagement can include everything from interactive online media to astute and timely replies and phone calls, above all, engaging your customers is about making them feel valued. Even if a prospective customer stays that way for sometime, cultivating relationships overtime will eventually help to build trust and loyalty, even if nothing is purchased.

Key Questions to Ask

  • Can I help you find something?
  • What problem are you looking to solve?
  • What would you like to know?
  • Would you like more information?
  • Would you like to talk to other customers?

Tools to Use


While we like to think these are the three key ingredients, we know that they are others that will help season your content strategy and help it become more palatable—to both you and your customers.

From usability testing, to digital media implementaton to social media monitoring, there are many different elements that can help you better understand how your product is perceived in the marketplace. However, by starting with what you know and what you can control, your content is on its way to engaging customers.