As we’re (hopefully) all aware by now, content strategy is the foundation of content marketing. But content strategy requires its own foundational elements, too. Without them, that strategy is very, very difficult to architect.
Creating a content strategy obviously must precede content marketing, but your brand must have some marketing fundamentals in place to enable that process to occur. Time and time again I’ve run up against this obstacle with my clients. They’re often smart enough to know not to go ahead and just “do” content without that all-essential strategy, but they’re nevertheless lacking some of the foundational strategic elements a content strategy must hook into.
I’ve identified four essential marketing elements that must precede a content strategy. Am I leaving anything out?
What is a brand? There are various elements in the concept of “brand.” One is what a prospect thinks of when they consider your products or services. Another is the promise your organization makes.
Brand has to do with perception, and companies work long and hard to decide what they want that perception to be, and how to achieve it. Without brand strategy, content strategy becomes unmoored.
I’m currently working on a content strategy engagement for a divisional group of one of the world’s leading financial conglomerates. The overarching business has an established brand and brand strategy, but the brand of the division in question is still in development. Without knowing what the organization wants to be, or how it will represent itself in the marketplace, it’s difficult to come up with strategies that support this utterly central marketing pillar.
Like brand, messaging is another core element of an organization that underpins content strategy (and most of the rest of marketing). What does the business want to say and convey? What does it not want to address? How will it approach its delivery of messages? Obviously this applies to content, as well as many other forms of communication.
Has the organization defined where it stands in its competitive landscape? What sets it apart from other banks (or stores, or insurance companies or pharmaceutical manufacturers)? What are its unique strengths? What are its shortcomings? If you asked its staff or clients what was great about the organization, as well as what it could be doing better, how would they reply?
No company stands alone. Everything is relative. So knowing the pros, cons, ins and outs of an organization’s position is an essential content strategy framework.
What are the company’s core values? What does it want to promote? Some organizations highlight their innovative side, others corporate responsibility and giving back to the community. Some highlight their people. Values can, of course, be a combination of a number of assets and attributes, but without firmly rooting values to practices, content strategy becomes difficult.
“Innovation” is a value one company I’ve worked with wants to promote. That’s great. But in order to do that, the company can’t just aspire to be innovative; it must be able to point to products, people, processes — something that will provide ongoing fodder for content around the topic of innovation.
It’s hard to push back and ask clients to show you how they walk the walk (rather than just talk the talk). But that’s exactly what a good content strategist will do.
Good content isn’t created out of hopes and dreams. It must be grounded in reality and in fundamental marketing principles.
Just as content strategy is the starting point for content marketing, the basics of branding, messaging, positioning and values must first be in place so content can flourish. The same applies to advertising, communications, social media and every other marketing practice.