Group of people collaborating on scoping a content strategy in an open, modern office.

5 questions to ask when scoping a content strategy

Everyone has heard the overused, oft-repeated adage, “content is king.” Well, it’s garbage. It’s simply not true. Any agency partner or vendor who tries to say otherwise is telling porky pies. Anyone can write, design, snap or film a new piece of content and hit publish. That’s why the internet is filled with poorly produced, unfocused, untargeted, non-performing B.S. content.

No, content isn’t king. Quality content is king.

Google has been telling us this for a while. Algorithm updates Panda (2011), Penguin (2012), Hummingbird (2013), Phantom (2015), RankBrain (2015) and Fred (2017), etc., all reward sites that produce quality content and penalize those that don’t.

Despite this, many organizations still struggle to plan and execute strategic content created to meet a user need, solve a problem or achieve a business goal. Some stick to publishing content that only promotes their product or service, undermining everything we know about marketing psychology and search engine preferences. We get it.

It’s understandable that some business unit leaders, internal SMEs and higher-ups get the most jazzed about content that highlights their company. It’s easy. It’s what they know best. And as many marketing executives can attest, there is no magical tree sprouting leaves of quality content that flitter and flutter to their feet.

What we do have, though, is a friend in content strategy. Asking the right questions, measuring the right metrics and gathering organizational support can put your business on the path to content success.

Scoping your content strategy

Any useful content strategy starts with self-reflection and information gathering. Businesses need to know where to start and be clear about what they hope to achieve. Whether you are creating a content strategy in-house or engaging an agency partner to help, scoping a content strategy requires answering some foundational questions.

1. Where do we start?

Good question. Where you start depends on what you want to achieve. Different types of content are designed to perform in different ways. For example, blog posts are great for building topic authority and keyword rankings, but paid campaigns are better if your goal is to drive a lot of traffic and build brand awareness quickly. Your business goal should inform your content type, not vice versa. 

Our recommendation: One way to anchor your content is by collaborating on a content strategy statement. We’ve seen the simple act of creating one shift the direction of an entire marketing department. It can help determine what content makes sense for you to develop and, perhaps more importantly, what does not. On its face, the act doesn’t appear to be revolutionary. But there’s power in documenting a shared vision.

Working with your team, leadership, BU leaders, internal SMEs, etc. to develop a statement (and agree on the verbiage!) can be a fun challenge. It creates a shared responsibility and enables everyone to hold each other accountable when it comes time to develop content.

There are several formulas out there you can use. We recommend finding one that’s oriented to performance and prioritizes your business goal and customer needs. Here’s a handy formula and an example of how to apply it: 

Your statement = [business goal] + [type of content] + [audience] + [what we want them to think, feel or do, based on their needs]

Example: To increase market share and showcase thought leadership, Acme Anvil Co. will create blog posts, earned media articles and paid social media campaigns. This content will guide, inform and empower roadrunners and coyotes as they navigate the complex world of hide and seek.

2. Who is our target audience?

Accurate information about your target audience is a guiding light when scoping a content strategy. We want to believe we know our target audiences—their titles, where they work, where they go for information, how they buy, where they live. But gathering ALL that information about them can feel like an elusive destination that’s always just out of reach.

A company with a new product or capability, for example, may want to target executives. Many digital platforms have effective targeting algorithms that make finding these decision-makers easier. But you might not actually be reaching them. A 2018 Harvard Business School study revealed CEOs enjoy about two hours of downtime per day … including time for social media. So, finding and targeting the right people might not be enough. Be creative about the resources you have at your disposal and don’t overlook the institutional knowledge that already exists.     

Our recommendation: A content strategy is a living, breathing framework that can evolve over time. As you gather and validate more information about your audience, adjust your strategy. Think of info gathering like a scavenger hunt. Ask customer-facing colleagues about the questions they hear and the top challenges customers face. Talk with technical marketing folks about how your website visitors behave on the site and their overall experience. Adding tidbits of audience information as it is uncovered is a great way to paint a fuller, more robust picture of your current and potential customers.  

3. How do we continue serving relevant content to our audience?

Quality content should entice, entertain and encourage people to visit your website, but traffic alone doesn’t pay the bills. We need our content to work harder than that. We need it to inspire current and potential customers to take action, be it to click, download, fill out, purchase or recommend our stuff.

That said, digital audiences today are savvy, and they don’t like being propositioned. Consumers gathering information about a product aren’t necessarily ready to buy it. Give them some space. They may want more information or more time to consider. Both options are fine—but don’t sit back and watch it happen, losing the opportunity to encourage their next action.

Our recommendation: Call in your favorite data nerds, reserve some time with the sales staff and invite your business strategists. Get everyone in a room with the goal of defining your audience’s buyer journey. The nerds can analyze the actions audiences take on the site. Sales folks can provide customer pain points, gripes and success stories. And the strategists can chime in with macro-level business goals.

Once you have a shared understanding of how, why and when your customers interact with your brand, map out content that encourages them to take the next logical step in their buyer journey. Giving people the information they need when they need it helps earn their business and build brand loyalty. 

4. How do we create and distribute the right content on the right channel(s)?

Choosing marketing and distribution channels requires knowing your audience and the business goals you want to achieve. It also requires a candid look at your team.

Content Marketing Institute surveyed more than a thousand B2B/B2C marketers for its annual report on trends, benchmarks and budgets. A full 83% of respondents said they distinguish themselves from their competitors by producing “better quality content.” To do so, 75% of respondents said they invested in video (of any length or format), while 61% focused on infographics and other data visualizations, and 33% went all-in on podcasts and other audio media.

Video. Graphics. Audio. What if your organization doesn’t have the expertise, equipment or capacity to do that work? Technology is expensive, hiring is hard and training staff takes time.

Our recommendation: Rather than focusing on channels or formats that require skills you don’t have right now, lean into your strengths. Research shows customers prefer integrated, cross-channel content experiences. You don’t need to be everything to everyone, just pick a trail and blaze it. As your team grows, you can add capabilities.

5. How do we measure success?

The analytics data you use to measure content success depends on what you want to achieve as a business. When it comes to owned media, awareness and engagement metrics are two categories that tell different but complementary stories. Awareness metrics demonstrate that users have found your site, i.e., they are aware of your presence. Impressions, average time on page, page views and bounce rates are examples of oft-used awareness metrics. Engagement metrics, on the other hand, analyze what users did while on your site. Metrics like scroll depth, event tracking, conversion rate and revenue attribution can further contribute to understanding audience behavior. Add to the equation earned media metrics like placements, linkbacks, referral traffic and third-party mentions, and it becomes clear how different data points reveal different kinds of success.  

Our recommendation: During the meeting in which you discuss buyer journey with folks from data, sales and strategy, take some time to identify the metrics that mean the most to each of them. A single data point cannot sufficiently illustrate content performance. But weaving together awareness and engagement metrics is an effective strategy that makes for a more comprehensive story.

The bottom line

Creating content for your organization can no longer be a secondary consideration and it doesn’t have to feel like a willy-nilly endeavor passed around to different departments. When done right, content can do the things you need it to do—raise brand awareness, showcase thought leadership and generate revenue. But scoping a content strategy can be challenging. It requires a clear understanding of what you want to achieve as a business, an organizational commitment and a healthy dash of TLC. This list of questions is a starting point, but there may be other elements that make sense to include. Enlisting the support of a strategic content-focused agency partner may be just what you need to plant the seed and have your content flourish.  

Ready to get started? Contact Inprela to learn more.

What's your take? Do you find this to be true in your work, as well? Share your comments on LinkedIn, tagging @Inprela.

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