Content strategy is a paradox. Every brand needs to figure out its content play. But there is already more existing content than anyone can ever consume.
In an environment boasting millions of tips, tricks, and hacks, billions of reviews, how-tos, and infographics, trillions of recipes, diets, or exercise routines, and zillions of videos on every conceivable topic, savvy marketers want to know what content is the strongest lure, how much content is enough, which combination of content is the most potent, and which content converts browsers into buyers fastest.
As a result two kinds of content strategists are emerging. The definition of the practice and the deliverables often mirror the skills, perspective, or experience of the practitioner. In thinking about deploying content strategists, consider two major tasks. Each requires a different kind of strategist with distinctive skills sets.
Systemic. Somebody has to figure out what is the best way for a brand to present itself and its story across platforms and channels. This strategic work requires a clear and consistent understanding of business goals and brand assets, which are mapped to customer actions and intentions with the idea of creating relevant, useful, and resonant conversations and interactions.
A systemic content strategist designs or curates an array of assets to intercept and intersect customers while simultaneously supporting each other. The best systemic strategists are big-picture thinkers who understand the available assets and channels and who can assemble content in different shapes and formats that will be where consumers expect it to be and deliver what consumers need to see or hear when they are mostly likely to see or hear it. They can get inside the heads of consumers and anticipate some of the asynchronous or idiosyncratic routes they take from awareness through purchase because they get the consumer and have an agile understanding of offline and online media behavior.
The essential brand story and value proposition plus the desired customer actions must be carefully understood, sequenced, and parsed across platforms and channels to create cohesive pathways for consumers to find, interact, and buy a brand. Search, (paid and organic), display media, owned assets (websites, mobile sites, social media pages, videos, mini-sites), and CRM or databases must be factored in and synchronized to create a “big picture” strategy for engaging existing customers and converting prospects.
Curation. Brands have closets full of content in all shapes and sizes and someone has to edit, sort, re-purpose, and confront bureaucratic content creep that occurs as each department fights for their “must have” but marginally useful information.
A curating strategist needs the personality and patience of a researcher, the insight of an archeologist, the imagination of an artist, and the political skills of a backroom politician. Sorting and editing branded content is not for the faint of heart because it involves forcing choices that are usually emotionally charged and frequently have financial consequences. Having a clear picture of what you want the target consumer to see, think, feel, and do dictates the kind of content and the sequences that will resonate. Buying is never completely rational, so content must provoke emotions as well as convey facts.
The goal of curation is evaluating content for utility, relevance, and impact by deciding which stuff gets trimmed down or re-written, which gets re-purposed, what gets transformed into an another format (like an infographic or video), and which gets dumped. The deliverable is a content plan that optimizes the information most useful to consumers and most effective at measurably driving them happily toward the brand’s business goal.
Each product or service has a buying cycle and a predictable series of customer questions, objections, and choices. Curation strategy zeroes in on buying patterns and maps relevant content to these patterns. Long tail considered purchases require different content than impulse or replenishment purchases. Some prospects require encyclopedic levels of content in multiple forms. Others convert with a few simple facts, a quirky video, or a simple diagram.
It is a tedious and taxing process that requires a crystal-clear insight into the target population’s thinking, behavior, and needs. Taking a sharp scalpel to materials already bought and paid for inherently challenges and potentially chastises clients on the way to figuring out the fastest and most impactful way to engage consumers in seconds, so sensitivity to personalities and political radar are mandatory skills.
In the near term, competitive brands will need both kinds of content strategists to find the differentiating posture and to deliver the content that unlocks customer preference and loyalty.
Danny Flamberg, EVP Managing Director of Digital Strategy and CRM at Publicis based in New York, has been building brands and building businesses for more than 30 years.Prior to joining Publicis, he led a successful global consulting group called Booster Rocket, as Managing Partner. Before becoming a consultant, he was Vice President of Global Marketing at SAP, SVP and Managing Director at Digitas in New York and Europe and President of Relationship Marketing at Amiratti Puris Lintas and Lowe Worldwide.