Building a Content-Strategy Blueprint
9 Core Processes (Deliverables) That Help Us Guide Our Content Strategy
Listen, I am not going to lie. Content strategy is complex. I struggle with the immensity of its promise. I struggle with defining the intersection on the Venn diagram where digital strategy, content strategy, and (gasp!) content marketing overlap.
But I also understand the promise, the utility, and the importance of content strategy. I cherish the fact that—especially in this #FOMO, instant-gratification-centric climate—there is still a purpose, a philosophy, and a community that advocate on behalf of clarity in communication and creating remarkable and purposeful user experiences.
This article will focus on the actionable utility of content strategy, the power of creating structured content, Britton Marketing & Design Group’s core content-strategy processes, and a look at what the future holds.
An Abbreviated History of the Strategy of Content
OK. So there are many, many, many articles that talk about the inception and purpose of content strategy as a practice. For us, at the core of content strategy lies clarity in processes and structured, substantive content creation.
At BMDG we’re known for our award-winning creative and our brand-centered priority on content creation, so for us the approach has been to focus on improving existing processes and workflow to support a more structured approach to content production.
Our focus has been to improve and optimize the people part of content strategy, to ensure that the content part is scalable, consistent, and following best practices for whatever tactic and channel the content will be shared on. The people-and-content approach, of course, stems from the content-strategy quad created by Brain Traffic, and it is always at the core of everything we do.
For us, at the core of content strategy lies clarity in processes and structured, substantive content creation.
The substance has always been there. It’s the legacy that has sustained and steered BMDG for its 10-plus years of existence. We had to focus on establishing an environment of content creation where that substantive-content process could sustain the high level of refinement and world-class creative needed in today’s highly structured space, while also optimizing the content so that it is channel- and device-agnostic. Oh, we also needed to ensure that our content is created both for humans and for search engines, algorithms, or any other channel-specific barriers.
The Power of Structuring Content in Chunks
So why should we create content in chunks? Why is modular content a thing we should pursue? Why, why, why? There are many reasons why we should create content in a more flexible way. Think about it this way: How do you create a UX that is positive on every device, every screen, every browser, every resolution, every technology, etc.? Well, you can’t. But what we can do is create content that we can programmatically pull and display based on these specifications so that it does create a positive UX. But in order for that to work, we need to strip content from all the unnecessary barriers and boil it down to assets, such as metadata, that can classify—given a proper taxonomy—and then distribute when called upon. NPR’s COPE approach affirms the power of creating structured content this way.
Content strategist Karen McGrane, author of Content Strategy for Mobile, explained in an easy-to-digest way the intricacies of how we consume content: “People use every device in every location, in every context. They use mobile handsets in restaurants and on the sofa. They use tablets with a focused determination in meetings and in a lazy-Sunday-morning haze in bed. They use laptops with fat pipes of employer-provided connectivity and with a thin trickle of data siphoned through expensive hotel Wi-Fi. They use desktop workstations on the beach—okay, they really only use traditional desktop machines at desks. You’ve got me on that one.”
User habits are individual. They don’t follow a rhyme or reason or have consistent patterns (only on an individual basis). Sure, people use mobile devices more than desktops to browse the internet. Sure, some of our browsing takes place in bathrooms. Sure, some of us use only iPads to read. Sure, sure, sure. The takeaway here is that in order for us to focus on creating good user experiences for the majority of our fans or customers, we have to create content that is flexible, adaptive, and structured for deployment in chunks.
Creating structured content is part of the implementation process for a project. Before we get to this part, we get close to the brand. We learn its voice and channel-specific tonality. We learn about its current audience and potential future audiences. We learn about its content and messaging goals. We learn about its overarching branding and marketing goals. We learn by employing many different workshops, tactics, techniques, and deliverables. These are some of our main content-strategy processes that we competitively deliver to our clients.
9 Core Processes (Deliverables) That Help Us Guide Our Content Strategy
- User identities
- Messaging framework
- Core-model session
- RACI model
- Content style guide
- Content-production/content-creation process
- Aggregation and curation strategy
- Channel-specific strategies
- Editorial calendar and publishing schedule
1. User Identities
In order for us to know who we’re talking to, we create user identities. As we have become more sophisticated in our processes, we have added tools and resources that help us define these user identities with a more data-driven approach.
All our research strategies consider primary client-collected quantitative and qualitative data and secondary industry data. Then we merge the data from these sources with data from tools that give us access to syndicated data, social-listening data, and search data. This helps us limit the assumptive and subjective part of strategy and create audience targeting that is in line with brand needs and objectives and that is actionable for targeting.
Our current user identities include buyer personas, user stories, and user scenarios.
Buyer personas are a visual and detailed profile of a brand’s core audience(s). We create personas to assist not only with content creation but also with creating consistency in brand messaging and voice. Personas should be accessible and always used in the content-creation process.
User stories are short, descriptive sentences that guide the content user to create content for the specific audience and channel. User stories are specific to singular content (like a web page), or they can be expanded to sections and/or groups.
User scenarios chronicle how the user will interact with content. These detailed descriptions cover a wide range of research-based assumptions and are also based on secondary data. A user scenario will chronicle the many ways a user engages with a brand or with content and the many devices content traverses in the buying/awareness life cycle. Once the audience(s) is defined, we start working on messaging.
2. Messaging Framework
We begin by creating a value statement based on the first impression we want to make when the audience interacts with our content. We round it out by establishing a proof that we want our customers to know or believe is true. This is the core of our messaging framework, guiding the customer from first impression to value statement to proof. Here is an example: We want our customers to feel valued and part of a community of like-minded people whose lives are enhanced by the product we create.
Then we create a messaging matrix informed by previous brand DNA work (branded mission and purpose statements, vision statements, etc.) and user identities to define accurate and purposeful branded messaging for each targeted audience on each channel of choice.
We define the applicable targeted audience(s) in hierarchical order:
- Primary [p1]
- Secondary [p2]
- Tertiary [p3]
- Quaternary [p4]
- And so forth [p5]
Messaging Matrix (Sample Template)
Once the core messaging matrix is defined, we supplement the matrix with content direction, content themes, content pillars, and content ratios to flesh out the content-creation process.
3. Core-Model Session
A core-model workshop is at the core (cwatididthere?) of creating web-page content that converts. It’s also about creating content that meets the user’s needs and business objectives. The steps in a core-model session are, at minimum, these:
- Identify the core-content elements.
- How does the user find the content?
- Determine the core content.
- What does the user do after the task?
- Structure all core-content ideas or elements using a mobile-first approach.
Following these steps will empower your content creators to write targeted content that is purposeful and useful for its audience.
4. RACI Model
If there’s one thing we know as it relates to project management and processes, it’s that the more clarity you add to roles and responsibilities, the greater your chances of having a successful outcome. We use a RACI model to determine who does what, when, and how.
RACI stands for Responsible (the people who handle the project, content, tactic, deliverables, etc.), Assigned (the person who is the creator or the one actually performing the task), Consulted (the person who has the knowledge about how to execute the task), and Informed (the person who needs to be in the loop about where the task is in the process). Using this model adds accountability and provides a clear path to success for any project, because everyone should know what their part in the project is from kickoff to execution to post-mortem.
5. Content Style Guide
Is a style guide a brand’s favorite tool or something that gets created, shared, and never referenced again? We live and breathe by creating actionable content style guides. They are the blueprint that all content creators need to follow. They ensure consistency in planning, setting up, creating, distributing, and managing all content.
All content style guides are not created equal. We have our own version that generally includes these parts, but what’s included can vary depending on the needs of the brand and project:
- Mission and purpose statement
- Our message
- Our voice and tone
- User identities
- Messaging matrix
- Brand standards
- Glossary of important terms
- Naming conventions
- Channel best practices
- Channel-specific strategies and native features
- Community-management response plan
6. Content-Production/Content-Creation Process
To create content that is substantive, scalable, and tailored for your brand’s audience, make your process tangible with a flowchart. This will keep everyone involved accountable, it will give you a blueprint for how many hours this content type takes to create, and it will make it easier to quote, manage, and optimize the process.
7. Aggregation and Curation Strategy
Content creation is generally about original content, but there’s merit in finding and sharing community-created content. That’s why you need to define your process, decide which tools you’ll use, and determine the ratio of original to community-aggregated and community-created content you’ll include.
What tool(s) and services should we use to find content that is applicable and curated to fit the needs of the brand’s audience?
An aggregation plan is crucial to your strategies for content curation and social media communication. An integral part of community building is to share industry and community content that resonates with a brand’s audience. This can be content that is not produced by you. Sharing other brands’ and other individuals’ content is considered good digital manners and can amplify your credibility and your community-building.
Consider using a tool like the VENT (valuable, engaging, necessary, true) model to determine if the content you’re aggregating is applicable to your audience.
8. Channel-Specific Strategies
The brand strategy has been set, goals and objectives have been defined, campaign KPIs and KLIs have been established, and tactics have been selected, so now it’s time to determine what each tactic’s purpose is in informing the strategies. We create channel-specific strategies to determine the following utility and rationale for each channel (or tactic):
- Channel purpose (driven by an AIDA approach; is the tactic/channel built for conversion? for engagement? for impressions?)
- Content focus and purpose (what should the content focus on to inform the purpose?)
- Audience-targeting hierarchy (what audience uses this channel or tactic? how do we prioritize these?)
- Best practices (highlighting which native features to harness)
Once the channel-specific purpose and strategies have been defined, delivered, and agreed upon, we’re ready to start getting into content planning and editorial themes and cadence.
9. Editorial Calendar and Publishing Schedule
It’s every marketer’s favorite tool: the editorial calendar. Love it or hate it, without a calendar, we can’t even pretend to be marketers or content creators. The calendar ensures that we’re consistent in publishing. It allows for consistency in content creation and distribution. This, in turn, makes it easier for us to find patterns in our campaigns so that we can target and adjust our content creation, curation, and management.
For most of our projects we create many different calendars. We have an overarching schedule we often refer to as the drive-period-planning master calendar. This is an abbreviated look at all the content, events, and external communication that will happen during a calendar year. From this calendar we create a detailed quarterly calendar that defines channels of distribution, publishing dates, content-production due dates, and more. From there we create a weekly channel-specific publishing calendar that highlights daily cadences, themes, times, and the content focus for each channel used. It’s a super granular framework that allows us to stay on top of daily content shared and lets us be agile and move on real-time opportunities that may present themselves.
Other Things Content Strategists Do and Deliver
We’ve covered nine of our favorite content-strategy processes and deliverables that we provide here at BMDG, but these are just a few of the many things content strategists do. We also perform the following services (depending on the scope of the project):
- Tools assessment
- User research, both quantitative and qualitative
- Competitive review
- Repurposing plans
- Metadata (and keyword) strategy
- VMT framework
- Content audit
- Content inventory
- Communication and creative briefs
- Campaign checklist(s)
- Content and page templates
- Account setup and training
- Analytics and reporting
- Process and workflow analysis
- Ideation and brainstorming sessions
- Content modeling
Before you get mad at me for leaving out what many content strategists might consider the best friend of our core processes (yes, I am talking about the content audit), know that I left it out on purpose. It deserves its own blog post. So stay tuned.
The Future of Content Strategy
It’s integrated. It’s fast. It’s modular. It’s still focused on advocating on behalf of a good user experience. It’s about being transparent and device-agnostic. It’s about creating content that allows for anyone, anywhere, at any time, with any device to access that content while having a good user experience. It’s about user empathy. It’s about combating digital invasiveness. It’s about creating purposeful and helpful storytelling in an environment and world focused on and addicted to quick conversions.
It’s about many things.
I leave you with this email that I (and everyone else on the Confab email list) received recently from Kristina Halvorson. I share it with you because it epitomizes the core values of content strategy. So forge ahead, collaborate, and add clarity wherever you can.
Photos/screenshots/graphics: Shutterstock and BMDG