People working on a PC and papers building a strategy
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Building a content strategy is never an easy process, even more so for those businesses who are building a content strategy for the first time. If you’re coming out of start-up mode and getting ready to set up these operations, understanding what it means to produce meaningful content that will have a positive impact on your target audience is paramount. This is one of the areas that if done right, it can carry your business into the next phase of growth. 

You’ve done the reading on the subject and have diligently digested some great article, on say, on how to get started on customer journey mapping and about the need for a strong content audit process. You’ve also gone through the due diligence of choosing between a Web CMS versus a digital experience platform.  The decision is made and, you now think, most of the work is over. Think again...

Who Owns Content Strategy

There are still some fundamental decisions that need to be made — especially when a content strategy shop is being set up from scratch.

Perhaps one of the most fundamental questions is this, do you want an audience-centric content operation or a customer-centric one?   

“There is a difference between an audience-centric content strategy, which draws users in based on what they find of value, versus the customer-centric approach which aims to push a customer to the site and then try and sell them something immediately,” said Brian Carlson, President of Carlson Consulting and former Second Vice President of Content Marketing for Traveler’s Insurance. 

According to him, the traditional mindset of sales and marketing in a typical organization is very much about selling their product, promoting themselves, their point of view and the value and the benefits that their product or service offers.” That is essentially the opposite strategy used when building a good audience-centric plan, Carlson said.

When Your Customers Are The Audience

An audience-centric content operation puts the audience — the customers — first and lets their needs drive the process. When building a strategy with the customer as the audience, these are some of the questions you need to be asking according to Carlson. 

  • What are the customer’s interests?
  • What do they care about?
  • What do they want to hear?
  • What do they want to talk about?

It is quite different from allowing sales or marketing to set the agenda, Carlson shares, “Some businesses say they want it but the reality of setting up an audience-centric content operation is not necessarily what they think it is.” It’s an important decision and one that will need careful explaining to the decision-makers at a company — who will likely need to have it spelled out for them why a certain piece of content is being created that is not directly about the company’s product but is still of value to the company.

Related Article: 10 Steps to Building a Successful Content Strategy

Indeed, the audience-centric approach can be foreign to anyone who’s not a publisher or anyone that hasn’t worked in editorial or audience-facing content development roles, Carlson cautions. And the answer to that question — why is that particular piece of content being created when it is not directly relevant to the company’s product — is this, he said, “Because it generates traffic, interest and engagement.” 

While it may be a foreign concept to some, audience-centric content is not rocket science either. Once management understands that the content that has been produced will eventually lead consumers to wanting to buy the product they should come on board. If that doesn't wind up happening, then the marketing should likely be the rightful owner of the content strategy operations because it takes a different orientation. Either way, a decision has to be made at the very beginning of the process.

Outline Goals and What Successful Outcomes Look Like

So now it’s on to customer mapping and content audits, right? Not quite. The next stage for a newly-hatched content strategy operation is to determine what is the outcome you want to achieve with the operation, says Jamie Posnanski, head of digital content for Accenture Interactive. Here are some questions to pose.

  • Do you want consistent and regular content? 
  • Do you want to achieve a certain level of engagement? 
  • Do you want to show that the content is providing value to the organization?

Of the three options Posnanski offered, probably the one question every company would answer affirmatively to is the this, everyone wants to produce content that is of value to the organization. But according to Posnaski, content shops have a tendency to let some of their efforts go to waste. “Our surveys and the research that we do shows that 20 percent of content that is created is actually never used," he said. The way to prevent that is to have transparency built into the process to make sure it is delivering value.

There are other goals, of course, that a company can choose for its content strategy — and these goals should tie in with the company’s larger business and sales goals. Maybe it wants the content to lead to improved conversions. Possibly it might want a content operation to be able to adjust what they are doing based on what their audience is telling them through their interaction with the content. These are decisions that need to be set before the group ramps up to actually start producing content, Posnanski points out.

Related Article: 7 Content Marketing Trends for 2018

Build an Editorial Team of the Right People

So now we can get that customer map thing going, right? Not quite yet. Now you need to hire the right people for the job. And the right number as well. This, too, may be a decision that needs to be explained to the C-suite, Carlson said, as some may think that one full-time person can handle the job. But to run a content strategy and content creation shop properly, he said, there needs to be at least these key roles.

  • A senior or managing editor
  • A full-time staff writer: Carlson said he doesn’t like exclusively using freelance and external agency support because it can be hard for them to grasp the company culture and language issues.
  • A publishing specialist: This person is going to publish to the CMS system and maintain the pages, update calls to action, update promo spots.
  • A vice president of content or a chief content officer: This person will work with the CMO to help set the overall strategy. He or she will also work with the product lead and the sales lead to help ensure the content strategy lines up with business goals. This is a person with 10 to 15 years of experience, Carlson said.

Okay, now with your team in place, a vision of what success looks like and goals that align with your business you are ready to start creating content.