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From content marketing to content strategy: now is the time.

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Back in 1996, Bill Gates wrote an article on the future of the Internet. In it, he coined the now famous phrase “content is king”. But now, 17 years of online content marketing later, how strong stands our king really? With average bounce rates between 40% and 60%, Facebook engagement rates of a mere 1% and conversion rates below 2%, our content clearly isn’t  performing as well as it should.

Content is a marketer’s BFF

Still, for marketers, content has never been more important. If you want to get attention for your brand, you now have a clear choice: pay for it (‘outbound marketing’) or earn it by producing great content (‘inbound marketing’). Content has become the currency of the attention economy and a way to make people lower their marketing defense systems for just a moment. Moreover, it enables us to fuel conversations, build authenticity and ultimately gain the trust needed to grow sales. It’s the ultimate asset in our marketing arsenal.

I hear you

Content_5 Admittedly, it also has never been more challenging to make content work for your brand. How to prepare our content for the multitude of different devices it potentially can be consumed on? How to make our content stand out in the abundance of online information? How to target our customer with the right content at each step of the customer journey? How to optimize the content creation process? How to prove return? … One thing is certain: the old we’ll-deal-with-it-later approach isn’t going to cut it anymore. If we want to make content work in marketing today we need to step out of the ‘lorem ipsum’ mentality.

Content strategy to the rescue

Over the last few years a new, more strategic approach to content has slowly been emerging under the term ‘content strategy’. According to Kristina Halvorson, author of ‘content strategy for the web’, content strategy “plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content”. Personally however, I prefer the definition by Richard Sheffield (UPS): “content strategy is all the things you should have done so your content would have been useful and on time”. It prepares us for all the content challenges outlined above. Or as Rebecca Lieb of Altimeter Group puts it: “content strategy is what makes content marketing effective”.

At its best, a content strategy contains:
• A core strategy statement describing how content will bridge the space between audience needs and business requirements
• Buyer personas describing your target audience(s) and what makes them tick
• Key themes and messages
• A description of your brand voice and tone
• An overview of channels used at each step of the customer journey
• A guide to keyword usage for search engine optimization (SEO)
• An audit describing the current state of your content
• Implications of the strategic recommendations on content creation, publication and governance (think workflows, metadata frameworks, …)

Introducing the Content Wheel

To start organizing our thoughts and roll out a more efficient approach to content for our clients, we created the Content Wheel below.

At the center (in red), there’s the core content strategy, the way your company will use content to achieve the business objectives. It’s the axle that will make the content wheel spin. Around it, in blue, there’s the different steps of the content lifecycle: from planning over production and distribution to measuring and maintaining content, and back to planning. The grey circle in between depicts the people involved at each step of the lifecycle. They are all connected through the content strategy (and content strategist). The green circle is about the tools we use. Be it the CMS during production, S.E.O. for distribution or a content calendar for content audit for planning.

Everything having to do with ‘WHY’ we employ content and ‘WHO’ is involved in the process belongs to the field of content strategy. Everything answering the ‘WHAT’ we have to do and ‘HOW’ to make it work (the tools), we call content marketing.

With this in mind, we can get started to optimize every aspect of our content and content workflows to match the new realities. But that is something we’ll dive into in a next blog post.

Want to learn more about content strategy and how to make your content effective? Join us at our free WassUp session on content strategy on September 17, 2013 in Mechelen, Belgium. Follow this link to pre-register.

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