red neon sign that says "no content" with a green backdrop.
PHOTO: Chris Dlugosz

Marketers want to get better at content. Content marketing tied for third place in last year’s top digital-related priorities in the Adobe/Econsultancy 2019 Digital Trends report behind customer journey management and targeting and personalization. Those pretty much go hand in hand seeing content is the bedrock of many of those marketing aspirations. 

But what about content that represents your organization’s core values? Content you want to resonate with your targeted audiences? Content that works and doesn’t waste your resources with massive production and time costs? “Your content is representing everything that your business does,” said content strategist Hilary Marsh. “If your business is out there in the world in a bad way, regardless of how good the product is, or how good the program or service is, people aren't really going to get it as they should if the content isn’t good. They're not going to see the value and act compelled to use it or buy it.”

Five Key Questions to Avoid Wasteful Content

The first step in making content successful? Not producing content when you don't have to. According to Marsh, that starts with asking a few important questions: 

  • How do we know our audience wants/needs this?
  • What is the business need for it?
  • What is our (measurable) goal for creating it?
  • How do we know we need NEW content about this topic?
  • What is our capacity for doing this?

What Are Your Content Goals?

In short, this comes down to: Can we do this? Should we do this? Before you produce any content, you have to establish a clear goal, according to Marsh. “You have to think about what's your goal in covering topic X with your limited time today versus topic Y, and does your audience want it?” said Marsh, chief strategist at the Content Company.

While a simple content goal, one may be page views. But thinking even deeper, what action do you want your audience to take by viewing the content? Is it to drive registration for a conference? Share the content within the viewer’s personal channels? Learn more about a topic? 

Whatever the goal, it must be clearly established at the outset and constantly acknowledged throughout the production process, according to Marsh. She cited a recent content campaign with a big-city school district whose content creation goal was to help schools in their district avoid risk. That goal was always kept in mind throughout the content-creation process.

Related Article: 8 Reasons Why Your Content Marketing Strategy May Suck

Does Your Audience Even Want This?

You can avoid producing unnecessary content if you truly think about the audience’s need for your content. In a blog post, Marsh said organizations should know some basic information about their potential audience before they even consider serving them content

  • Whether your audience has contacted customer service asking about this more than X times in the past year
  • Whether people have searched for this information on your website more than X times in the past year
  • Whether the topic has gotten covered by other sources that your audience follows more than X times in the past year

Making each bit of information establishes a clear framework for decision-making, preventing decisions based on internal politics or interests, Marsh wrote.

Why Are We Doing This?

The most important question content producers should ask is “why?” according to Kim Moutsos, vice president of editorial for the Content Marketing Institute. “Why should we produce this content? Why would this be worthy of our audience’s — or prospects’ or customers’ — time? Why would it be worth the resources it will take to produce?”

Moutsos told CMSWire that important follow up questions include:

  • How will this content be distributed and promoted? There’s nothing more wasteful than content that isn’t consumed.
  • Do we already have something that meets this need or could be adapted to meet the need? Reusing and recycling reduces content waste.

Do You Need to Produce New Content?

Reusing content can be an organization’s best friend in the content toolkit. It’s such a priority vendors have made products for it. “Do we already have content about that?” Marsh said organizations should ask. “You may not need to create new content if so. Let's just go back to the one we created two years ago and just update it. So rather than investing the 30 hours of time that it takes to create a new web page start to finish, let's just spend five hours updating it.”

Related Article: Let the Voice of the Customer Shape Your B2B Content Marketing Strategy

Can We Do This?

Organizations embarking on content campaigns need to think about the time commitment it’s probably going to take, Marsh said. You may be able to avoid an expensive proposition, resources-wise, if you determine you simply don’t have the bandwidth. “Do we have time? What are we going to stop doing to make the time because this is now a priority?” Marsh said. “Is this more important than the other five things we are already committed to doing this week, and do we know what time it will take?”

Final Thoughts

Marsh said with any content production, and deciding if it’s a worthy venture — it really comes down to knowing who the audience is and what’s the goal. “Those are the two questions,” Marsh said, “people don't ask themselves enough.” she said.