How to Build an Effective Content Strategy Others Will Envy
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How to Build an Effective Content Strategy Others Will Envy

David Partain, Senior Vice President, Head of Marketing, Northern Trust
David Partain, Senior Vice President, Head of Marketing, Northern Trust

David Partain, Senior Vice President, Head of Marketing, Northern Trust

Every good business has something to say and sell. This naturally generates different types of content, such as communicating your values or telling people an event is coming up. A good content strategy will make all of these messages reach more people and build more solid customer relationships. The most effective strategies can overcome common hurdles and are built within a basic 5-step framework

The most common content issues leaders face As a content manager, you’ve got three big problems that can hold you back:

1. It’s easy for messages to get lost in the noise. Part of this is just because of the sheer number of businesses that are competing today on a global level. But it’s also because people have so many different channels to go to. It’s hard to pay attention to dozens of streams all happening at the same time.

2. Content is expensive to create. Costs can be especially high with video. But all content has costs, such as fees for generating text or buying a license for specific software. The goal has to be to reach the biggest audience for the lowest number of dollars without sacrificing message quality or accuracy.

3. You’re consistently reacting to business partner requests. In other words, people on your team have a really high sense of urgency when others come to them with something they need or want. You have to keep a cool head and get that urgency out of there, so it doesn’t push your content tasks or objectives to the side.

If you’re struggling to get these issues under control, you’re not alone. In a 2020 Gartner survey, just 15 percent of marketing heads thought that their content production process was very efficient. Only 7 percent considered their process to be very efficient. 

Businesses are constantly shifting priorities, and audience expectations can change quickly. Because of this, leaders always seem to be facing constraints either in tightening budgets or updated business goals.

For these reasons, content strategy is an area where most companies can improve, and the need for a great strategy is higher than ever.

Most companies that have improved their content production haven’t done it by changing their teams. Instead, they’ve changed their processes and structure. There are five key steps to doing this. 

1. Do an audit of your content system.

What do you have in terms of resources? Who’s involved in developing the messaging? How long does it take to communicate? Can you replicate the content to different platforms easily? Figure out what you’ve actually got to work with and identify the areas where there’s room for improvement. Look at whether there are bottlenecks and use metrics to see which parts of the system perform well and which parts don’t.

2. Establish your objectives.

If you’re a startup that needs to get people to know who you are, that’s very different from retaining an existing customer base of thousands of people. In the same way, you might want to use certain platforms more than others because of your philosophies, other resources, or target demographic. So decide what you need to achieve with the content right away.

3. Build audience understanding.

Too often, content strategy development relies disproportionately on what you are hearing internally. But the most valuable content strategy is a teeter-totter balancing act between what the business wants and what the audience wants. Talk to your clients and prospects and have focus groups on a very short set of topics to build empathy and show that you care. Then manage the tension between your audience and the internal stakeholders. 

4. Establish content priorities that align with your company’s objectives.

Based on what your audience tells you, narrow down what you’ll focus on with your content. Then check that all of those content points match your business strategy and desired outcomes. Matching the strategy and company goals/results keeps you accountable in terms of staying customer-centric. 

5. Finalize the content strategy and decide what you’ll pursue.

In an ideal world, you’ll be able to move forward with all of your content priorities. But you might have to put certain points on the back burner for a while, depending on your resources or circumstances. Regardless of whether you stick with your entire list or trim it, get buy-in from the appropriate group so you can start setting up specific task assignments

With a new strategy, your message can come through loud and clear for the long haul

The majority of marketing professionals don’t feel like they’re doing all that well when it comes to creating effective content strategies. You can beat the odds if you focus on changing the process—not people. Changing what you do doesn’t have to be complicated. Rework your approach with the five steps above to make sure people hear and respond to you, both now and into the future

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