Marketers are having a hard time with content creation. This isn’t a secret.
In fact, B2B marketers – a group responsible for producing a significant portion of some of the web’s most confusing content – have a pretty good idea of why it’s happening: they don’t have a plan.
The Need for Content Strategy
A recent survey by the Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs found that while 93 percent of B2B marketers use content marketing, only 42 percent say they are effective at it. Within the ineffective group, 84 percent also admitted that they have no documented content strategy.
It’s not entirely their fault – with an array of established and emerging channels at play, the amount of content a brand needs increases exponentially every year. In that context, it’s not surprising that marketers aren’t taking time to craft a 652 step content strategy.
None of this particularly groundbreaking, but it does suggest that one of the thorniest problems for the modern marketer and brand is creating content at scale – in other words, in massive amounts, quickly and efficiently.
While quantity and speed are crucial, the other, less talked about byproduct of not planning is poor quality content. Listicles, unfocused stats, and random images are overwhelming the web.
What happens when you don’t plan, and try to create content at scale anyway? If you’ve ever been involved in a design project that doubled in budget and scope, you’re probably already familiar with what’s next.
People become unsure of what they’re expected to do, the goals for the project change but no one really lays out why or how, and tempers flare. Of course that can happen on any project, but when there’s a pipeline that consistently demands new content, and at a high volume, this gets even trickier.
Brand content strategy falls into one of three areas:
- At this level, creating content at scale is mostly about execution. There’s a creative brief for each project or set of projects that includes the script or story and exact dimensions per format, a set number of revisions or mocks, and a process for review and approval.
- The story is well defined, maps to a larger insight or storyline for the brand and concerns or questions typically center on making sure the tone and aesthetic of copy and imagery fits the brand.
- Caveat: many brands are still learning how to define channels and formats, and how to tell stories in a native environment. This sometimes means you are partially in the next category.
- This level applies to brands that are in the beginning stages of storytelling and creating content that can be applied across channels. Creative briefs may not be completely laid out, including formats and dimensions for each piece (e.g. “Whatever you think makes the most sense in terms of how to break up this infographic into smaller pieces for Twitter and Facebook.”)
- Concerns here include:
- Difficulty repurposing content across channels, as well as properly leveraging micro-content.
- A muddy connection between creative processes and overall metrics such as ROI.
- Engaging designers, journalists or writers, and other creatives is messy; doubling back is common in the creative process, expectations are unclear, and communication and collaboration suffer.
No content strategy at all
- At this level, a skilled project manager is almost a requirement in order to keep the project(s) focused. The creative process suffers, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to achieve high volume and quick deadlines, unless you’re willing to jettison quality altogether.
- This is the kind of nightmare scenario that all writers and designers fear. There’s no consistency in the stories or insights shared, and very little connection to audiences or end goals/metrics.
Marketers and brands in that last category in particular need a fast, flexible, easy-to-iterate structure for creating content and they need help defining a testing process that they can feed back into their strategy and storytelling.
The solution: a lightweight, flexible structure for creating content at scale
Developing a comprehensive content strategy is important, and it can’t be hacked together in a few days. It takes time, discipline, and there is a learning curve.
A good starting point is the 652 step content strategy plan I mentioned earlier – or if you’re really looking to dig in, Andy Crestodina of Chicago’s Orbit Media produced an excellent and easy to use illustrated guide to content marketing. Both will help you define a strategy for medium and long term success with your content.
The goal here is to get moving now, but not step on your own toes for when you do have the time and resources to create a solid, in-depth content strategy.
Find relevant stories / insight
There’s a rich ecosystem of data and stories available to any brand, both internally and externally. Consider things like SEO and analytics insights, customer development, internal data sets, traditional competitive market research, internal culture and aspirational/external culture.
Visually chart out stories for the year
Being able to see connections in your overall stories and insights is important. This is a step that many marketers skip, and as a result a good deal of data and strategy lives in word documents and spreadsheets. Think about how you can visually represent the ecosystem you want your brand to exist within, and some tools and practical examples of how to get it done.
Define formats and channels
Learn to tell stories natively across channels, how to quickly figure out what each channel is best suited for and how to break down larger stories and insights into micro-content that audiences actually want to see, hear and experience.
Define & set metrics that actually matter
Marketers are drowning in data. Even for the smallest company, there’s a wide array of information accessible. Signal vs. noise is more important than ever. Study up on the lean analytics approach – specifically, how to set comparable, actionable metrics that you can connect to both your content and the process of creating it.
Execute on content creation without wasting time or sacrificing creativity
Finally, analyze your creative process and identify what a good outline for a project looks like, as well as how to make sure that expectations are set correctly and teams work well together.
Creating high quality content at scale is no easy task, and some may even argue that the words “high quality content” and “at scale” don’t belong in a sentence together. But with a little bit of self-evaluation and a fair amount of critical thinking and planning, a strong content strategy can carry a brand a long way.