More than 25 years after Bill Gates first declared “Content is King”, it reigns on as one of the most powerful tools in the marketing toolbox. And yet in today’s frenetic and fragmented media landscape, the technical mechanics of content marketing — optimizing placements and formats for algorithmic success — have come to dominate the discussion to such an extent that it’s easy to lose sight of the real objective: engaging real human beings through compelling storytelling that’s unique to your brand and offers substantive value.
At Wilks Communications Group, we caution clients that when chasing the next hot format, platform or device, it’s still essential to have a sound, consumer-centric strategy backing up the work. Of course, technical performance considerations like keywords, metadata standards, evolving formats and emerging channels demand attention. But these dimensions of content marketing aren’t equally relevant for every business, and when they do come into play, they’re only as valuable as the quality of the message they support.
When we hear ambitious marketers make statements like “video is trending, we should have some,” or “we need a podcast,” we applaud the spirit of the suggestion — and often, we agree. But before immediately diving into content production, we encourage clients to first tap the brakes and begin with the basics. Here’s how:
Leaping to a promotional plan before defining the content itself may seem counterintuitive. But, content only works when people see it — so “how will our content best reach and engage an audience?” must be question number one. Although this may seem obvious, it’s surprisingly common to see how many organizations skip this step and opt for the expensive video, only to be frustrated by its low engagement.
Unless you already have a large audience, just posting content to a blog or social channel is unlikely to garner a surge in views without an accompanying paid promotional plan. This may be fine if you’re a small business simply looking to super-serve organic site visitors or a community of loyal followers with high-value content. Millions of businesses use content in precisely this way with excellent results.
If, however, you’re a larger organization hoping to attract an audience at scale, things get more complicated. You must consider the budget required to achieve this goal and assess your organization’s appetite to funnel those funds into content versus alternatives such as direct-response advertising, for example. Or perhaps you’re considering an SEO play, hoping to draw an audience through organic search. This can be a brilliant strategy but it requires a significant investment in both content creation and technical management, and can take months to build a leadership position, something few organizations are willing to take on.
The decisions you make about priorities and budget for content distribution inform everything that comes next, from the overall scope of your program to the formats you produce to your publishing cadence. It’s important to keep in mind that there’s no one “right way” to do content marketing — the correct approach is the one that fits your business priorities.
Now that you’ve established the appropriate scope for your program, you’re ready to address the content itself. This begins by asking “what problem-solution or other value can we provide for our audience?”
Practical advice, inspiration, how-to, humor… content can do anything, and a strong program will include assets that deliver many different user benefits. Tap into these opportunities by digging deep into everything you know about your target’s interests, needs and pain points, and using content to address them from your brand’s expert perspective.
(Note that if SEO performance lies at the heart of your distribution model, keyword research will play a big role here. But even then, it’s important to stay grounded in your consumers’ mindset, creating content for real people rather than exclusively mapping your messaging to high-potential search terms.)
Depending on your budget and distribution plans, you may lean into articles, videos, audio, infographics, webinars or a mix of many formats. Identifying audience-relevant topics and addressing them through your special brand lens is the most important priority; format is secondary.
Content marketing is a tactic that thrives on volume. Despite the myth of the elusive, game-changing “viral video,” the potential long-term impact of any single content asset is usually limited. By contrast, a robust library of interlinked, high-quality content is far more valuable than the sum of its parts. When leveraged effectively, a strong content library provides multiple pathways to achieve rich, meaningful engagement with your audience.
Creating such a library begins with resisting the temptation of one-off “shiny object” content projects, planning and committing to a cadence of routine publishing. While every brand’s needs are different, in general we recommend planning content three to six months ahead and consider biweekly publishing a minimum standard to sustain organizational momentum.
At Wilks Communications Group, we help organizations large and small create content strategies to attract consumers, build credibility, and nurture enduring relationships with the audiences that matter most. If you’d like to learn more about how we can help kickstart your content marketing program, we’d love to hear from you.