December 3, 2022

Phidiastavern

Marketing Needs Experts

Don’t Create ‘Cat Food’ Content Without Doing This 1 Thing First

Updated Oct. 24, 2022

You’ve nailed your voice and tone. The preferred formats and channels are documented. The content ideas are confirmed. It’s all on a calendar so everyone can see where your content marketing is going in the next quarter or even year.

You think you’re all set, but you would be wrong. All those details are great, but they’re part of an editorial plan, not a content strategy. That vital missing component is the foundation on which to build your editorial plan.

Without a content strategy, your content plans have no definitive strategic purpose within your organization.

What is content strategy?

Here’s how I define content strategy:

Content strategy helps organizations provide the right content, to the right people, at the right times, for the right reasons.

When one of these strategic components is missing, the editorial plan likely won’t get you the needed results. Examples:

  • Not the right content. Content that isn’t right (not useful or irrelevant) for your target audience won’t get read – let alone acted on – by those people.
  • Not the right people. Without a defined and prioritized audience, the right people aren’t likely to see it because you don’t know who they are or where to find them. (Hint: The general public is no one’s audience.)
  • Not the right times. Without understanding your audiences’ questions or tasks, you don’t know when they need your content.
  • Not the right reasons. Failing to articulate measurable business goals as reasons for producing or sharing content likely wastes your budget (Hint: Engagement alone is no reason to produce content; it’s rarely defined well enough to tie to meaningful business goals.)

When I working at Brain Traffic, we considered these four aspects of a content strategy, as shown in the image below:

4 elements of your #ContentStrategy: substance, structure, workflow, governance via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

  • Substance: What is the content about?
  • Structure: How is the content organized and displayed?
  • Workflow: What people and processes are needed to support content creation and management?
  • Governance: Who will decide what content to keep and for how long?

All four aspects of this framework are anchored in a core content strategy statement – a statement that helps your content team determine where to focus its efforts. A core content strategy statement answers these questions:

  • What is the organization’s mission?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What are the business goals?
  • What are the content objectives?

You don’t need a core content strategy statement to come up with good content ideas, but it sure helps. (Do you wish for an example of a core content strategy statement right about now? Patience. I have my reasons for holding back. I’ll get there.)

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Black cat: An SEO story

A year ago, I interviewed a client stakeholder during a project’s discovery phase. His team was responsible for SEO, including creating content to drive search traffic to the company’s website. The retail business sold pet food, among other things. I asked a question about SEO. This (paraphrased) conversation ensued:

Client: Our SEO consultant recommends that we publish content in October to try to rank for the term ‘black cat’ because it’s something people Google a lot before Halloween.

Me: When those people get to your page, what’s your call to action?

Client: Buy our cat food.

Me: Can you put some spin on black-cat folklore that would motivate those people to buy cat food?

Client: No.

Me: So …

Client: We just want them to buy our cat food.

Me: People who search for “black cat” at Halloween probably don’t care about cat food.

Client: I guess not.

Henry Ford once said, “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” Sadly, that SEO consultant wasn’t thinking. They probably wasted thousands of the pet food company’s dollars. That “black cat” SEO strategy might have temporarily boosted search rankings, but it probably didn’t boost cat-food sales or cause black-cat searchers to buy the company’s cat food in the future.

If a core content strategy statement had guided the SEO effort, the pet food company could have created meaningful content that was more likely to boost its search rankings and help sell more cat food.

A core #ContentStrategy statement helps you create meaningful, effective content via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

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Put strategy before tactics

A content strategy, in general, and a core content strategy statement specifically help organizations say no to content ideas that fail to serve the audience or the business.

Let’s walk through an example that puts strategy before tactics and creates a core content strategy statement.

I’ll use Origin Meals, a meal service I use, as the brand. It sells fresh-cooked meals based on the paleo diet. Since I don’t have a core content strategy statement to guide content ideas and refinement, I’ll bump along one question at a time.

Here’s the task:

  1. Generate content ideas based on the Origin Meals mission.
  2. Narrow the list based on the target audience.
  3. Further narrow the list based on the business goals.
  4. Refine the list based on the content objectives.

This process can help you appreciate the value of a core content strategy statement (and the statement example when I finally get to it.)

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1. Generate content ideas based on the organization’s mission

The Origin Meals mission: “We believe a healthy diet should be full of real food, packed with nutrients, and free of potentially irritating ingredients that don’t serve the functions of your body (in short, a paleo diet).”

Knowing only what it sells and its mission, I brainstormed content ideas to drive awareness and promote its products. This image shows the resulting list. Among the ideas: eating paleo and working out, profiles of people who met health goals eating paleo, a list of paleo-friendly restaurants, tips for going paleo, easy-to-make paleo menus, feeding your family paleo-style, benefits of eating paleo, paleo recipes and shopping lists, ways to turn dishes you already make into paleo-compliant meals. It also details two guest blogging partners – CrossFit gyms and people new to eating paleo.

It’s a nice little list of cool stuff that could be done. Not all these ideas will appeal to the target audience, so now I need to consider that audience.

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2. Narrow the list based on the target audience

I know the people in this target audience are:

  • Single
  • Busy
  • Believe in the paleo philosophy
  • Eat paleo when they have time to cook and prep meals
  • Work out regularly at a CrossFit or small, locally-owned gym

What does that audience understanding do to our list of ideas? It eliminates the items that will have little appeal for this audience. These folks aren’t looking for tips on going paleo, information on feeding a family paleo-style, benefits of eating paleo, or other information for people new to eating paleo.

This target audience will care about those crossed-off topics about as much as people searching Google for “black cat” at Halloween would care about cat food.

Armed with only those content ideas with the most potential appeal for the target audience, it’s time to consider business objectives.

Narrow your #content ideas to ones relevant to your target audience via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

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3. Further narrow the list based on the business goals

Next, let’s imagine some business goals on which Origin Meals might focus:

  • Increase first-time orders from partner-gym members
  • Increase recurring orders from partner-gym members

Since securing new orders are the brand’s purpose for the content, the idea list dwindles further, removing a list of paleo-friendly restaurants, easy-to-make paleo menus, paleo recipes, and shopping lists.

Now the content ideas have narrowed to those with the most potential appeal for the primary target audience that support business goals. I’m ready to layer on content objectives.

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4. Refine the list based on the content objectives

What do you want the content asset to accomplish? In the Origin Meals scenario, here are a couple of possible content objectives:

  • Demonstrate how Origin Meals helps athletes eat to perform
  • Help athletes choose the meal options that best fit their lives

With this additional information, the content ideas are refined to these three:

  • Choosing a paleo plan that matches your workouts
  • Profiles of people who met their fitness goals eating Origin Meals
  • Guest blogger series partnership with CrossFit gyms about eating to perform

Bummer, you might think. All that effort and only three ideas to show for it. In fact, the three strategically sound ideas will beat a slew of ideas that fail to connect with your target audience, business goals, and content objectives.

Still, it did take a lot of work to arrive at these three ideas. Fortunately, you can cut down that idea refinement time by creating a core content strategy statement.

Shortcut to refining content ideas

Having a core content strategy statement from the start might have helped the initial idea list look more like the final idea list. That’s because a core content strategy statement answers these four questions:

  • What is the organization’s mission?
  • Who is the target audience?
  • What are the business goals?
  • What are the content objectives?

In the Origin Meals example, the answers might look like this:

  • Mission: to promote the paleo lifestyle
  • Target audience: busy, single paleo-minded athletes
  • Business goals: to increase new and recurring orders
  • Content objectives: to motivate people to eat paleo and show them how this way of eating fits into their lifestyles

So for Origin Meals, what would a core content strategy statement look like? Here, finally, is the example you’ve been waiting for:

At Origin Meals, we help increase new and recurring orders by creating, distributing, and managing motivating content that shows busy, single, paleo-minded athletes how Origin Meals fits into their lifestyles.

Try it for yourself. Brainstorm some content ideas based on this core content strategy statement.

When you start with a core content strategy statement like this, your content ideas are more likely to:

  • Make strategic sense for the company
  • Make better use of the company’s time and money
  • Provide information the target audience can use
  • Positively influence client acquisition and retention (make more money)
  • Give content producers better direction when they’re creating content

Yay!

Of course, the process-of-elimination brainstorming exercise helps you come up with good content ideas that support an organization’s mission statement, business goals, target audience, and content objectives.

However, I find distilling those fundamental bits of information into a memorable core content strategy statement helps in a couple of ways:

  1. Stakeholders can operate on the same page
  2. Content creators have an easy way to remember what kind of content they want to create and why

For more tools to help you develop a core strategy statement and use it to make content decisions, see Keep Your Content On-Strategy With This Single Statement [Templates].

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Do one or the other

Next time you’re brainstorming content ideas, walk through the four-step process outlined here to arrive at focused ideas. Or take a stab at creating a core strategy statement to guide your brainstorming. Either way, put strategy before tactics. You’ll get better results for the business – and for your audience.

I’d love to hear how you brainstorm your content ideas. Please share in the comments.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute