Strategy – the surefire antidote to Random Acts of Content

Sonja Jefferson

Are you culpable of Random Acts of Content? What can you do to get your marketing back on track? The answer is to document your strategy & stick to it. Focus your energy where it will reap most reward. Learn how.

Content strategy on the map

In the Land of Content, content strategy is the fast route to success

When your content efforts go pear shaped

Do you ever get that nagging feeling that you’re slogging your heart out on all this content for little return? You’re doing the work (writing blogs, sending out a regular email newsletter, incessant social media, occasional talks). It’s darned hard work, and for what?

If clarity and confidence in your content efforts is slipping, like it was for us this time last year, then this post is for you. What can you do to rediscover your focus and put your content and marketing back on the path to Bountiful Bay?

Culpable of Random Acts of Content?

For nearly a decade content has been our magic business development bullet here at Valuable Content, producing a steady flow of inbound enquiries from just the type of people we love to do business with. Boom!

But at the beginning of last year the results Sharon and I had come to rely on started to wane. We were still producing content; where were the enquiries? We are Valuable Content for heaven’s sake – was our stuff no longer valuable?!? What the hell was going wrong?

When content marketing goes pear shaped

It had been months since we’d paused to think whether the content we were sharing was in line with our fast-evolving goals for the business. We were simply getting on with the job – doing what we’d always done without much thinking. With no clear, purposeful focus, we’d fallen victim to random content acts.

How to recognise if you’ve fallen into the Random Acts of Content trap:

  • You’re not getting any comment on your content and few shares
  • Enquiries are trickling in but it’s not the kind of work you’re after
  • Inbound enquiries have dried up entirely!
  • You look at the last 5 things you’ve written and there’s no common thread
  • You haven’t got a real person in mind when you’re writing
  • You can’t think who to send it to having written it
  • It’s all feeling a bit self-indulgent and just plain wrong

First, what NOT to do

Tricky times. But however tempting, here’s what not to do when you feel your content has lost its way.

  1. Give up. Switch off that content tap. Let the tumbleweed roll. [How else are you going to engage, to keep front of mind?]
  2. Start selling hard to your opt-in list of subscribers/your newsletter list. You’ve built their trust, it’s high time you saw the return. Forget the valuable stuff just sell, sell, sell. [The best way to lose that hard won trust, fast!]
  3. Carry on regardless. Must be a blip. A mere glitch in the matrix. Continue, push harder. Eventually it’ll all come good…. won’t it? [Nope. “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.”]

None of these three approaches will fire up your business development efforts. There’s a far smarter route, as we have found.

Documenting our own content marketing strategy pulled us out of the hole

Content Strategy Workbook

So Sharon and I dug our old strategy out of the drawer and started afresh. We thought hard about our business direction and realised we’d been barking up the wrong tree(s) with our content.

Much had changed in the business since we’d written the original content marketing strategy. We’d written it when our focus was moving towards an online learning model. Having spent months developing our social media course for the Digital Business Academy and it seemed like our own online programmes were the way to go. In the spirit of building your list before launching your product we wanted to pull ‘content marketers’ around the globe into our network. Much experimentation later, we’d come to the conclusion that the time wasn’t right for us to go the online route. (For ‘time wasn’t right’ read ‘it wasn’t much fun and we didn’t enjoy the process enough.’ Valid business reasons for changing tack in our view!) Putting our energies into creating an online course didn’t suit the kind of business we wanted to run, or the people we really wanted to help.

Our face-to-face marketing programme for groups of small businesses at Pub School was gathering pace (and we loved it) and we were honing our consultancy offer for larger firms. The people we wanted to reach weren’t content marketers and influencers around the world; they were owners, people running independent, purposeful businesses here in the UK. And as far as Pub School was concerned, people running independent businesses within travelling distance of Bristol. They weren’t interested in the same things as ‘global content marketers’ – they wanted practical help making content work for their businesses; actionable advice that would make a real difference today.

Re-writing our content marketing strategy in line with our business purpose, strategy and direction, and therefore in line with the needs of the customers we really wanted to help, was the ‘oh so obvious in retrospect’ switch that got us back on track.

Content strategy – the antidote to Random Acts

“Without strategy content is just stuff. And the world has enough stuff.” ~ Arjun Basu

As we discovered, the process of documenting or re-documenting your strategy makes all the difference if you want to be more effective at content marketing. It will ensure the content you create and share is valuable to you (delivers on your business objectives) and valuable to your readers (answers their questions): win, win.

A content marketing strategy is the means by which you make your website and content really work for your business. It forces you to make decisions on all the big content questions – why, who, what, how, where and when. It motivates you to focus your content activities and previous time around a clear goal.

A good content strategy starts with objectives and ends with results – a process and a plan to get you from A to B using the content on your website and beyond. But what does this involve?

Content marketing strategy – in 10 steps

Here’s our process.

  1. Get clear on your goals. What is the difference that you want this focus on content to make to your business? Don’t skip this step. The clearer your focus, the more targeted your content marketing efforts will be. >> Here’s a post to help you set clear content marketing goals
  2. Know your business. Make time for some naval gazing and take a hard look at your business. Not just at what the business sells (that is very important) but WHY it exists, its purpose in the world, beyond financial targets. Getting clear on your why will help you to position your content firmly in your area of expertise. If you miss out this step there’s a danger that you’ll create content that meets your customers’ needs (and they will have many) but will never move your business forward. >> Read – Businesses with purpose create better content
  3. Know your customers. Knowing what to talk about with your content relies on knowing who you are talking to and what they care about and value. You’ll know stuff about your customers of course, but to create content that really hits the spot you’ll need to go deeper. Reach out and ask your customers directly. Get curious – call them up, spend some time interviewing them to uncover their real needs. Their answers will always surprise you.
  4. Get clear on your perspective. Your unique, differentiating point of view. >> Read Sharon’s post – How to harness the awesome power of perspective and stand out from the crowd
  5. Set out your content sweet spot and vision. Now we get to the heart of your valuable content strategy process. What is the conversation you want to own with your content? Think big here. As a business, what are you better equipped than anyone else to help people with? Uncover your sweet spot then set out an inspiring vision for your content marketing. How will you win?
  6. Make a content commitment and plan. Your aim is to work towards a bank of high quality, valuable content that you can distribute effectively throughout the year. What’s your schedule? What commitment will you make to valuable content over the next 12 months? Remember: consistency and quality are always more important than volume. Aim for an achievable pattern – something you can stick to as a business.
  7. Prepare your platform and pick your tools. You have defined the vision for your content marketing. What kind of website platform will you need to support you in making that work? How will you create it and how will you get it out there? What content creation and distribution tools will you add to the mix to support your strategy? >> See: What does good content marketing look like.
  8. Organise to make it work. To make your content strategy work you’ll need a team, a budget and an efficient process. But who will be involved? What roles do you need in place to make the process work? How will you organise, work together and manage and control what you do? >> Read – Planning your content marketing A-team
  9. Measure what matters. Before you press go work out how you will assess whether your new strategy is working. You’ve done the thinking about your objectives and goals in Step 1 so refer back to the decisions you made here. Create a set of meaningful measures that are aligned to your ambitions as a business.
  10. Make it so. The power of any good strategy is in its implementation. What do the decisions you’ve made here mean for your website, how you’re organised, your current content, your business? What changes must be put in place to make the new strategy fly? The first thing to do is understand what content, tools and resources you already have at your disposal. Conduct a content audit and gap analysis. The place to begin is a detailed look at your current content. What do you have, and is it any good? Does it meet the needs of your new strategy?

That’s how we’ve seen the process work best. The businesses that take the time to document and regularly visit their content marketing strategy are way more effective than those who don’t.

“If you want to be more effective at content marketing, take the time to research, decide and document your strategy.”

If you’re serious about content marketing and want to drive real competitive advantage revisit your business goals and take some time to write your strategy down.

Content on purpose, and back on track

“Want to be successful? Write down goals, share with your peers & review consistently.” Dr. Gail Matthews.

It feels so frustrating and tiring when your content’s not hitting the mark. It’s hard not to take it personally if it feels like no one is listening. But if you’re leading the content charge in your business and you’ve fought hard to get it on the agenda, don’t give up!

Don’t lose heart but do get smart. Invest thought into your content marketing strategy and stick to it. Focus your time and energy where it will reap most rewards.

Yes, it takes effort but the hard thinking you’ll do on this is never wasted. As well as driving better sales results, the process of developing your content strategy will bring a renewed customer-focus to all you do and sharpen up your business thinking – a great catalyst for a change in fortune all round.

Download our content marketing strategy workbook

Content strategy chapter

>> If you want to take the DIY route then download the valuable content marketing strategy workbook which accompanies the latest edition of our book.

Any questions, or more help required, just let us know.

Sonja

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4 Comments

  1. It was really helpful and heartening to read this, and to see that even you at Valuable Content needed to keep revisiting your strategy and site. We developed our website http://www.playingout.net about 4 years ago now, taking the Valuable Content approach of doing proper research into users’ needs first, and it really paid off – everyone has said how useful it is and how it has been great for finding out everything they want to know about helping children to play out. But our aims have shifted now – we want to significantly grow the street play network and movement and make change for children and we’ve won some funding to do this – and our website needs to support these new aims and help make it happen! We’re still at the early stages of this, and a lot of things in this article have rung true for where we’re at with our site.

    We’re finding Pub School REALLY helpful because we’ve been going through our strategic review step by step, and it’s either confirming all the bits of our site that still work, or high-lighting all the major gaps. It’s surprising what some of them are, given what we’re trying to do. We’ve also been doing interviews with our users again – some of them more important to the change we want to make than they were 4 years ago (like local authorities) – and this is feeding in important stuff too. We’ll be making changes over the next 6 months and see what they bring.

    But from all experience so far, the strategic approach – looking closely at the meeting point of our aims and users’ needs and then planning content changes – has worked in the past, and makes sense, and also has benefits beyond the site: it helps you to look at all of your communications and planning in a more holistic way.

    Thank you Sonja and Sharon! PS I also LOVE the map – we’re familiar with most topography there.

    Reply
    • VC

      Thanks Ingrid. You’re doing great stuff at Playing Out, and we’re so delighted that Pub School is helping you develop still further.

      We’re definitely still tweaking our own strategy, it’s so useful to revisit the basics – who do we want to connect with, and what will be most helpful/interesting for them?

      See you next week!

      Sharon

      Reply
  2. This is a very helpful post Sonja! Thanks a lot for sharing! I was wondering, how often do you suggest we make new content?

    Reply

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