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Content strategy, what you need to know

Content strategy, what you need to know

by: George Iacovou

5 must-haves for a successful content marketing strategy

What were you doing back in October 2014? Can’t remember? Neither can I. But I’m pretty sure the marketing team at Malaysia Airlines can remember.

You see, Malaysia Airlines had just launched a brand new content marketing campaign in Australia and New Zealand. It was all over social media: a contest where you could win discounts on flights and maybe even free tickets.

Malaysia Airlines didn’t have to wait long to see engagement. It came pouring in. More of it than they’d imagined. Just none of it in the form of happy contestants. In fact, no one was even playing their game. Quite the opposite: people were baffled, aghast, furious.

What went wrong? One, Malaysia Airlines’ contest was asking customers to send in bucket lists in return for prizes. You know, bucket lists, as in the ten things you want to do before you die? On most days, commercial air travel and memento mori are maybe not a winning combo. 

But it was even worse in October 2014, when the world was still mourning two horrific back-to-back Malaysia Airline crashes that left over 500 people dead. And now Malaysia Airlines was asking us what we wanted to do before we died. Seriously?

Content strategy: Your content marketing ground zero 

Everyone gets why Malaysia Airlines’ wildly out-of-touch marketing campaign failed—they didn’t take customer feelings into consideration, to put it mildly—but there’s a broader marketing principle at work here, too: no matter how clever your content is, or how widely you promote it, if you don’t have a competent strategy behind it, you’re doomed. 

While most small-to-medium-sized businesses we work with aren’t planning campaigns on the scale of national airlines, the tools they use are the same. So are the risks. Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn let us blast our messages to thousands of followers with the click of a button. If we don’t think carefully about what we say, where we’re saying it, and who we’re saying it to, we could be heading for smaller-scale content disasters of our own.

The fact that digital ad spend is usually a lot less than print or TV ads doesn’t necessarily help either. A few three-figure Facebook ads are a lot easier to fire off without thinking about the consequences than a six-figure TV ad. 

Bottom line? Target audience is a good place to start with your content strategy. (Actually thinking about their audience could have saved Malaysia Airline millions.) But it’s just one of many factors you need to get right before you launch your next marketing campaign. Here are five more pillars to consider when developing an effective content strategy, and some ideas for how to get started with each.

1. Discover your brand voice and be consistent

Reaching your audience is one thing. Keeping their attention long enough to have a conversation is another. If building customer trust is your goal, you can’t do it without a consistent, recognizable brand voice.

So whether it’s your social ads or website copy, your business cards, product packaging, video scripts, email signature or email newsletter, if you haven’t given any thought to what your business sounds like—visually and verbally—this is the first step in your marketing voyage. Here’s how to get started.

First, identify your target audience (remember what happens when you leave actual people out of the marketing equation). Next, make sure you’ve articulated your core values—not in a business plan sitting in your Google Drive, but in language your audience can relate to. This will take time and patience, but it’s absolutely fundamental and hugely rewarding in the end. Because, really, if you don’t know who you are and what you’re about, do you really expect your customers to buy in?

The next step is your creative: copywriters, graphic designers and marketers working together to convert your vision into marketing content. Finally, when you’ve got the colors and typeface, graphics and words that shout your brand out, you’re ready to let the world know you’re here. Not sure if your voice is there yet? A/B testing a few landing pages or ads definitely can’t hurt. 

2. Choose the best content strategy for your objective 

Every business wants the same things, right? To reach more customers. Sell more products. See more profit. In some sense, that’s true. We all want to grow. But growth is a big picture business goal. When you’re designing a content strategy, you’ve got to get more granular. You need to think in terms of objectives.

For example, an actionable marketing objective could be to establish yourself as an authority in your field. If so, publishing quality articles, how-to guides or video tutorials can help you get there. If, on the other hand, your goal is lead generation, you’re going to want to shift the focus of your strategy to your website UX and marketing emails: polishing landing pages and calls-to-action (CTAs) and improving offer copy and lead-nurturing campaigns. 

Not every objective has to show immediate results. Building interest groups around your products and services with ads or specialized content means you’ll have a ready-to-go audience segment to retarget later. These could be people who have already checked out one of your blog articles or landing pages, shown interest in a Google ad or interacted with one of your Facebook videos. The advantage of retargeting campaigns is that audiences you retarget are interested in you already and much more likely to respond than cold traffic. 

3. Pick the right marketing channels for your campaign

Quick. Billboard or postcard? Instagram or LinkedIn? Organic SEO or pay-per-click (PPC)? Or what about old-fashioned direct referral? Which of these is the right channel for your next content marketing campaign?

While we’re firm believers in a full-stack, omnichannel marketing approach that begins with solid brand communication and covers all the bases, we know that each of our clients has their own budget and priorities. When it’s time to turn a creative idea into a successful marketing message, we can’t have everything at once. We need to choose our channels wisely.

While we can’t tell you which channels to use for your next campaign, we can tell you from experience that once you’ve settled on your objectives, picking channels is a lot more straightforward. If your goal is building brand awareness, for example, your blog is probably not the best starting point. SEO, PPC advertising and social media marketing will give you better visibility. 

Likewise, if you’re promoting a special sale, a long-term retargeting campaign isn’t the way to go. You’re going to want to draw traffic to your website or e-shop, bring your products to a marketplace or collaborate with an affiliate program.

That said, here are a few things you can ask yourself to determine if a channel is right for you:

  • Does my target audience spend time there?  
  • Can I afford it?
  • Can I use it to communicate my message clearly?
  • Can I measure performance?
  • Does it fit my marketing mix?

If you can answer yes to all five of these, your channel is probably a good fit.

4. Decide on the media you need for your channels

Want the good news first? There’s no shortage of media to choose from these days. Unfortunately, not all of it is in our reach. Take video. We’re crazy about video at Base Element. It’s incredibly engaging, gets messages across quicker than practically any other medium, and you can share it with a click. 

But video is expensive, and even if you have the in-house expertise, you’ll always be paying more for a three-minute video or animation than a simple ad with copy and visuals.

The same goes for infographics, podcasts, webinars and how-to guides. Awesome for engagement, potentially rough on time and resources. Which is why, if you do invest in amazing content, figuring out the right way to market it is key.

Just like with your objectives and channel selection, you also need to answer some basic audience questions before you settle on your media. What kind of media does your target audience engage with? What do they share? Where do they hang out online? If your audience is really into video, it may actually be time to bite the bullet and consider your options. 

And speaking of objectives, don’t forget, every marketing medium is geared towards its own set of objectives. For instance, while videos are great for building brand awareness through sharing, e-books and case studies (on your website) are a better bet for lead generation.

5. Be creative and try new things

Your worst enemy as a growing business is content fatigue. But it’s a very real situation for a lot of SMEs. Figuring out how to stand out can be a real drain. 

While we have no recipe for pushing the content envelope, live creative brainstorming sessions with your team can work wonders for content ruts. 

And don’t forget, you don’t need to change the face of content marketing with every campaign. In fact, most innovative content marketing campaigns don’t reinvent the wheel, they show us how well wheels can work.   

Most important of all, when you do come up with a brilliant idea that has your team saying, “Really? But do you think that will actually work?”, don’t be afraid to try it. After all, the lower overhead of most of the owned digital channels we use has really opened up the playing field. As long as your brand voice and values are consistent, one landing page that doesn’t hit isn’t going to bankrupt you.  

That said, making great ideas fulfil their marketing potential is easier said than done. If you need help with this crucial part of your content marketing strategy, give us a shout. We do this for a living.