Content strategy: an activity that contains my two favorite words. The content strategy is the way a company communicates with its audience by responding to specific business objectives.
Content created without a larger project to guide is just words in the wind. The fact is simple: without analysis and strategy it is impossible to design valuable content for your customers. Production must be based on listening. Rhetoric, you say. Reality, I’ll answer you.
In fact, listening is not a cliché or an intentional repetition that begins to lose its meaning. For those involved in digital communication, digital marketing and more broadly marketing, it must continue to be the only possible way.
My marketing professor at the University used to say: don’t try to sell what you have produced, but produce what you can sell. Such as? Investigating the market, listening to your current and potential customers, and their expressed or latent needs.
And this also applies to communication and any online activity. Producing self-referential content, which no one seeks and which does not respond to any information, educational or entertainment need, is equivalent to wasting time and money.
So yes. If you ask me if it is worth investing in online content, the answer is obviously yes. With a following big BUT . It’s worth if, and only if, it’s meant for people. This is familiar to us at TSW and repeated countless times. But I would like to try to tell you why it is not something we say so much for, but something we believe in, that guides us.
Listening is therefore the approach that opens and closes a strategy of content, the alpha and the omega. In fact, the first part of a strategy consists of two listening activities that are fundamental for us:
The desk analysis will focus on the relevant factors that emerged from the brief: in this way it will immediately be more focused on achieving the desired objectives.
The analysis of what exists gives us the opportunity to understand where we start from, considering the reasoning behind the contents and the probable motivations that led to that publication. In this case we map the channels used by the brand, the themes of the content it publishes, the formats and the visual and textual choices that compose them.
In short, as they say: know yourself … Or in this case, the customer you identify with.
But this is only the starting point. To this is added the analysis of direct competitors or of need, focusing on the same elements considered in the assessment. The ideal is for the customer to provide a list of competitors that he already monitors at the marketing level. Sometimes this analysis is extended to other best players that can become an inspiration, a case study for the management of a channel, the production of certain types of content or the use of certain formats. Often these case studies have an element in common with the company for which the analysis is being conducted, for example the business structure or the sector (but not the market area). But sometimes it can happen that these brands are simply a masterful example of content marketing that cannot be ignored. The shoulders of the giants are there on purpose to help us see further, in short.
What comes out of all this pile of analysis? A document that presents our considerations, of course, but above all a list of key learning on sector communication and a collection of best practices from the case study benchmark.
But there is a third fundamental element of this listening phase: the moment of meeting with the people who make up the client company. This workshop activity is crucial for us, because it allows us to hear in the words of those who live the daily business reality, what are the business and communication objectives, what future prospects for the company and what challenges and opportunities we may encounter on this shared journey. The important thing is to always remember that the objectives to be achieved with the strategy we are going to define must arise from the company objectives.
Does the company aim at the acquisition of new customers? Or do you want to increase sales among existing customers? Do you want to increase the elasticity of demand? Or improve the reputation of the brand? Change positioning? Similar questions determine different communication objectives which can be awareness, engagement, reputation, site traffic, lead generation. Needless to say, being guided by one of these objectives rather than another determines the entire approach to the next steps: channels, types of content, media investments and tone of voice change.
Understanding the goals to be achieved helps us define the next step: defining who we want to talk to. Our audience is partly implicit in the goal, but it is the company we work for that gives the correct interpretation, also based on the data it already has. For those who do not have precise information, it is possible to integrate a listening activity consisting of in-depth interviews and online questionnaires. But this is a topic that I leave to my colleagues, UX and research experts.
Whether it’s people who follow the brand on social media, who read the company blog or who are doing a Google search, the crucial element of content marketing is to understand who these users are to provide them with what they are looking for: something that interests, entertains them, informs them and involves them.
Hence the definition of buyer personas. Knowing what their interests are, their professions, some socio-demographic characteristics and above all their customer journey – and therefore all the touchpoints with the brand – helps us to talk to them, not only in the best way, but also in the right channels.
A little simplistic quiz for you. Young target, generation Z: where would you go to intercept it most likely to find it? On Medium or on Tik Tok?
If you do not know, please write to us, we will tell you more than willingly, together with the story of the company vision and the presentation of all our services … I joke. Or maybe not.
The next step is to define the tone of voice of the communication. Substantial help comes from the information the employees shared with us during the workshop. So listen to what is said, but also how it is said, and how the company team perceives the brand. Sometimes the tone of voice can already be defined in the guidelines that the company shares with us, or in a previous phase of defining / renewing the brand identity. In these cases the ToV can be adapted to the specific channel by defining specific needs and cases.
The fundamental aspect of the tone of voice is that it conveys the essence of the brand, its personality and therefore also determines its ability to talk to people: in a peer to peer digital world, we are therefore talking about Human-to-Human communication. Showing the personality not only allows you to differentiate yourself, but also to personify yourself and shorten the already considerable distances typical of mediated communication that eliminates non-verbal communication – thank you very much – but also the para-verbal one.
At this point we can proceed to define the editorial plan. What are the key elements? First of all, the editorial lines, determined together with the company, from ideas that emerged in the analysis and workshop phases, and when defining the personas. We are talking about medium-sized topics that can collect more different ideas. An example can be corporate values, corporate social responsibility initiatives, or advice for users such as “do it yourself”, or even “the expert advises”. I could go on, you understand that I like words …
But let’s tighten. At this point it is time to establish the channels to be exploited (blog, e-mail, social, …) and the most suitable formats: articles, videos, e-mails, infographics, or social contents such as carousels, gifs, slideshows, …
The editorial macro-plan outlined so far is then timed into an editorial calendar and deepened in detail in content, both visual and textual.
Wow, it’s not only nice to design a content strategy, but also to tell it! But let’s get back to us.
The ideal for a content strategy is therefore to be able to range across multiple channels to dedicate the right space to each content and allow people to find it. And this is truly a new chapter in promoting valuable content. The first choice is digital (and therefore also social) advertising, which allows people who have expressed their passions and preferences to be reached by sponsored content that is relevant and potentially interesting to them. The second option, more viable for content on proprietary channels such as the corporate website, is that of inbound marketing, that is to attract people to your site because they are looking for information on topics similar to the content you offer. This is closely linked to the concept of permission marketing that paves the way for the world of lead generation and email marketing. But even this is another story.
Let’s go back to inbound more closely linked to the production of original content: I’m talking about SEO, search engine optimization, which allows you to be found when a relevant search is done. How is SEO related to content strategy? In the strategic phase through the integration of the analysis with a search analysis, which investigates the most relevant keywords for the type of business and the SERP competitors. This allows you to define issues and editorial lines relevant for positioning purposes that must match those identified through content analysis. Psst, I’ll tell you a secret: often a good part emerges from both analyzes! But SEO research makes it possible to discover search trends that are perhaps less intuitive or intuitive and thus to complete the proposal of editorial lines that populate the editorial plan.
In the operational phase, SEO is linked to the content strategy thanks to SEO copywriting. If you want to learn more about this topic, here is the article on what SEO copywriting is, written by my colleague Valentina (a spoiler: watch out for keyword stuffing if you don’t want to incur its wrath!).
In short, writing for users and for search engines should produce similar results, because the purpose is certainly the same: to write relevant content to be found.
The time has come to pull the strings and say hello, they are tearing the pc from under my hands because this was supposed to be a mid-form, but I took advantage of it and it became a very long-form.
The closure goes back to the beginning, on the importance of listening. What do you think, has my story of how we listen to people convinced you? If something is still missing, I will quickly mention the last step of the content strategy: monitoring. The objectives defined at the beginning of the journey certainly resulted in KPIs that allow you to verify the achievement of the objectives. By monitoring the progress of these fundamental indicators, it is possible to understand the progress of the strategy and, if necessary, readjust it, adapt it, eliminating formats or types of content that are not successful. Some examples? If we talk about SEO driven content, the answer is intuitive: the position on the SERP. If instead we talk generically about site traffic, we will look at the number of visits, the bounce rate and the pages visited. For engagement, the number of impressions and interactions, … and so on.
But this only confirms: everything starts and ends with listening.
And leave for a new adventure.