A whole bunch of new houses are under construction on my street, and watching them go up is fascinating. Some have solid concrete pad foundations and some have concrete form foundations, but most have block foundations, which are set on gravel. Once the foundation is built, various crews come in – the framers, the roofers, the people who put in windows, the finishing carpenters, the sheetrock crews, the flooring crews, the painters, the electricians and plumbers, the landscapers, and probably more professionals I don’t even know about.
But none of that can happen without a secure foundation to hold up the house.
You know an analogy is coming, right? Building a marketing program is similar to building a house, and content strategy often serves as the foundation. Just as with the houses down the street, the foundation can vary, though. Perhaps events are more suitable for an industry and are the foundation of the marketing programs, and content is more like the frame, or maybe most of a company’s leads come from direct marketing and content is finishing touches, like trim and paint.
Since I’m a content producer, this post is going to talk about content marketing strategy as the foundational element of a marketing program, and why it needs to be carefully constructed.
Watching the houses at the end of my street go up, I’ve noticed how much work happens that you can’t see at all once the house is completed. For example, months before any building started, they cleared and leveled the lots. Even before that, the piece of property was divided into lots. Access from the road had to be created using heavy equipment and gravel, and the first three areas for access didn’t become driveways—those were created after the houses were in place so that they led to the garages precisely.
Often, content creators work to increase their value to their clients by filling a consultative role. We’re sometimes asked to help come up with topic ideas for blog posts, white papers, ebooks, videos, and other marketing assets. The problem with that is all the work that gets done before the visible construction.
What does your audience need?
A good content strategy includes audience research. Far too many business leaders think they know what their audience wants and don’t take the time to actually confirm it. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard the story about how Henry Ford didn’t deliver what people wanted (faster carriages) but instead made what they needed (cars). That misses the fact that cars addressed a specific pain point: the need to move people and goods faster and more efficiently.
It also makes it seem like your business needs to be completely transformational to be successful. Consider all the iterations of car design since the Model A. Business leaders need to know what their audience wants; a multitude of solutions exist for most every pain point.
Audience research is similar to clearing the lot and creating access from the road. It’s a basic first step that isn’t visible when you’re looking at the completed project.
Keywords (and meta descriptions and subheads and more)
Another crucial element in content strategy is understanding and using SEO properly. As a writer, I’m sometimes tasked with using particular keywords in a piece and I’m pretty good at it. However, I’m not an SEO expert because of it. SEO is essentially a house all by itself. The list of keywords is just one small part of it.
The thing about SEO best practices is that they change significantly over time. Foundations for houses used to be stacks of rocks (and in the case of my house, those rocks weren’t always perfectly suited to the heavy task they are supposed to perform), but modern construction has evolved. Keyword stuffing was considered the right thing to do for a long time, but techniques have evolved (thankfully!) and different approaches are better now.
What’s everyone else doing?
Along with understanding the pain points of your audience, you need a clear picture of what your competitors are doing. How are they working to make things better? Where do they post content? How is it received?
The houses at the end of my street under construction now aren’t part of an organized subdivision, but they are part of the same development. That means they look nice next to each other. They are all painted some shade of gray, have similar finishing touches, like rock work and nice wooden trim. If one of them were pink it would stand out, and no matter how lovely it might be, it wouldn’t stand out in a good way.
However, if one of them had a nicer front porch than the others, or if a homeowner were to put in some eye-catching flower beds, that house would get noticed and complimented. Companies need to know what their audience is used to, and how they can differentiate rather than alienate, themselves.
What are YOU doing?
Before the framers and roofers show up to do their part of the work, the foundation has to be completely finished. Concrete needs to be thoroughly cured before it’s dried. There must be openings for plumbing and ventilation. The whole thing has to be structurally sound, so that it can safely support the weight of the house.
For businesses building a content strategy, it’s important to understand what already exists, and how it can be best used going forward. A content audit shows what is working well, what’s not working at all, and shows where any gaps might be. Repurposing existing content can save money and time and is rarely a priority. Building a content strategy based on existing strengths simply makes sense.