Written by Kris Herbert
Published on 23rd Jul, 2018
Kris Herbert of Creative Agent defines content and strategy to demonstrate the link with doing better business.
I’ve started defining content marketing as “strategic storytelling”. It sound much more fun, don’t you think? Maybe it will catch on.
I’ve started renaming my content strategy documents “storytelling strategy”, my workshops as storytelling workshops and even been recommending to clients that they hire storytellers rather than marketers or content creators.
I know storytelling is a buzzword, but it’s survived since the very earliest time of human history so I’m not going to label it jargon.
It’s can be hard for companies to get their head around content strategy. This is because of some common misperceptions about what content is - and what strategy is.
In my framework, content is any opportunity for storytelling - from a campfire to a tweet to a white paper or a blog post. Experience is an important part of storytelling, because we can only tell stories about experiences. If you are short on stories, you may need to start by engineering some new experiences.
Strategy is often mistaken as a to-do list. Content strategy mistaken as an editorial calendar. My favourite book about strategy is Good Strategy, Bad Strategy by Richard P. Rumelt. He explains that strategy is about co-ordinated action.
There’s a great example from the Gulf War. The US military pulled a move straight from page one of military strategy (seriously, there is a book and anyone can read it on the internet) - pretend to attack from the sea and then actually attack from the land.
So the strategy was not the brilliant part. The co-ordination was. The forces had to work together. The Navy Seals leaders had to suppress their belief that a sea attack would be most effective. The Air Force command had to let go of their idea that air attack would win. Strategic plans are not difficult. Coordinated execution is difficult. The plan worked. The attack succeed and the whole thing was over in 90 hours.
With content strategy, the first step is to understand your purpose - this is harder than it sounds. I do it with a technique borrowed from Japanese automobile production - five whys.
You ask what you do or what you deliver to your customers and then ask why? Then you keep asking why until something interesting falls out. This is how companies discover that they don’t sell jackets, they sell access to the outdoors; they don’t sell petroleum, they sell energy. Why? Maybe to keep the world moving.
Step two is understanding your audience, not their physical characteristics but their needs, hopes and desires. You should be able to find some overlap. This is where your content strategy starts.
Let’s say you’re a financial services company and you’ve defined your mission as helping people find security through financial freedom. So, you’re audience is going to be people who are interested in learning about how to make smart decisions with their money.
You could launch a blog called “Smart Money” and pat yourself on the back.
But wait. There are 14,000 new pages published every minute - on WordPress alone. Will more generic articles on saving and investing get you noticed? Probably not.
You have to look for a unique approach. Sometimes this means getting a lot more niche. Maybe you have a former All Black as one of your client managers. How did he end up here? Is this an opportunity to create a targeted suit of content helping sports professionals to plan for financial freedom? And then working with them, you can tell each of their stories to appeal to a wider audience of sports fans. Maybe you can work with The Big Idea to apply this approach to artists and musicians. What other niche audiences can you tap into and tell stories about?
Hang on - targeting niche audiences (customers) to leverage into to wider ones? This sounds like a business strategy. And here we arrive at the crux. Your content strategy and your business strategy should be best buddies. They should bounce off each other in the search for opportunities.
Because a good business strategy should make for a great story. And a good storytelling strategy should crack open new business opportunities.
The customer journey – also called the sales funnel – is a framework for describing how a prospective customer converts from stranger to lead to convert. We use the framework to review how your content marketing efforts support this journey so that customers 1) find you, 2) engage with your content, 3) email, call or sign up to your newsletter, and 4) become a paying customer.
A successful content calendar has everyone knowing exactly what they’re doing, and when. An unsuccessful content calendar is published, then never seen nor heard from again.