As VP of Digital Strategy here at Pace, I cover many accounts, attend many meetings and get asked a LOT of questions. They run the gamut from user experience (UX) to content creation to tactic performance. But in the end, I help people see how all of these things contribute to a holistic, well-grounded strategy.
Q: YOU LEAD DIGITAL STRATEGY. HOW DO YOU DEFINE DIGITAL STRATEGY?
A strategy is the way to work to solve a problem. In general, my team and I create data-driven solutions to brands’ biggest challenges by leveraging key tactics to help along the way. To be clear, content is not the solution, but a tactic that helps us solve most problems.
But to get more specific, digital strategy is the coordination of cross-functional teams to grow and test audience-first approaches based on established goals and objectives. Cross-functional teams include UX/UI, Social Media, Paid Activation, Interactive Design, Development and Analytics.
Based on the goals, objectives and budgets for accounts, digital strategy works to solve problems using as much data as possible. If the data is not available, we tap our testing and optimization toolsets to provide data-driven solutions or test options to move projects forward.
For us to provide solid strategies, we need to be educated and informed on the business. Your dedicated strategist is not your employee or vendor, but your partner.
Q: WE WANT TO CREATE CONTENT. WHERE DO WE PRIORITIZE OUR RESOURCES?
The first question I would ask is, “What are your goals, and why do you think content is the right solution?” Content isn’t always the solution. But if it is in this case, I would discover where the need is the greatest by conducting a content audit. This is a deep dive into all the content you have in your ecosystem to identify gaps or misalignments and help you build a strong content strategy that aligns to your goals and objectives. I would also review your competitors’ content and industry trends to learn what they are doing from a tactical standpoint to find ways to differentiate yourself.
To oversimplify, one of the first steps of a content audit is diagramming your audience’s journey and mapping existing content to this journey. The content must meet the needs of your audience at each step in their journey. It must also support your brand values and style guidelines. If gaps exist, start there.
Next, focus on existing content that needs improvement and create a testing and optimization plan. Pull data to see how the content affects traffic and engagement. Content often needs to be specific to each channel to be successful. If the content is too aggressive — or not aggressive enough — in the journey, it will not help you meet your goals. Depending on how much content you have across your various channels, a content audit could be time-consuming, but it’s extremely beneficial to help you determine — with confidence — the right content to produce in the future to accomplish your goals.
Q: WE HAVE MORE THAN ONE TARGET AUDIENCE. WHICH ONE SHOULD WE PRIORITIZE?
That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child. I can’t do it. If you’re only focusing on a single audience, you’re leaving things on the table. Each company is different, but I’d recommend focusing on at least two or three audiences really well. You can prioritize your resources and content marketing efforts based on the audience with the greatest need that can provide the greatest impact to help you achieve your goals, but don’t ignore everyone else.
Q: HOW MUCH CONTENT SHOULD WE PRODUCE?
It all depends on the needs of your target audience. Creating content to meet a self-imposed publishing schedule or annual goal based on production instead of engagement is a mistake. How much content does your audience need to help meet the goals and objectives you have set for them? Where are you housing this content, and how often will they go — or be driven — to this location?
If you are producing a great deal of content, review the shelf life of your content to see if producing less may provide more value. You can test the shelf life of your content by reviewing visits to the content each day after publication. If engagement drops off quickly because new content is competing, test a plan to reduce content production. Your hypothesis to test would be to see if you can still achieve the same traffic metrics with less content being published.
If you notice only incremental waves of traffic, consider producing more content (perhaps search-friendly) to drive more consistent volumes of traffic to your site.
Q: DO WE REALLY NEED A DOCUMENTED CONTENT STRATEGY?
Absolutely. This isn’t just “brain work” — it’s the foundation of a successful content marketing effort. You need guardrails for your creative so your content stays laser-focused, addresses the right audiences and achieves your goals over time. Content creation without a strategy tends to wander afield from the original purpose.
A content strategy includes audience profiles, content pillars (not to be confused with brand values), recommended content types, recommended channels, an editorial plan and a measurement framework. In fact, a recent CMI study found that 39% of companies who have a documented strategy are “more effective in nearly all aspects of content marketing than their peers who either have a verbal-only strategy or no strategy at all.”
Q: DO WE HAVE THE RIGHT RESOURCES?
This all depends on the type of content you need to create, how often you should publish content and in which channels.
Once you think this through and forecast resources based on your prioritized efforts, you’ll soon realize you need a budget for execution. Do your homework to plan a workable ROI model to help get approval for the incremental funds. The more organized you are and the better your case for the need, the more likely you will be to get the funds needed.
Don’t be discouraged. You don’t need to have an arsenal of in-house content creators or 15 full-time employees at an agency to have a successful content marketing program. Just make sure your resources are following a strategy, creating quality work that leads your audience to action, and establishing processes for editing, optimization and approval to make sure time isn’t wasted in a wrong direction.
Q: WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE?
I’ve learned you can’t simply lump all content and tactics together to measure the success of a program. Instead, you must look at each element by channel to measure success. Email, social, and digital content assets all have different jobs — specific to their channels.
For example, the job of a Google search ad is to be found when an audience is searching and to be compelling enough to solicit a click. Sure, you need to make sure your destination URL is correct, but it’s not the job of the ad to get a conversion. Once the audience is on the page, it’s the role of the website to move audiences through the journey.
For email, the subject line gets the open (in conjunction with strong deliverability and appropriate timing), but the design and content within earns the click. For social, are you aiming for strong in-channel engagement, or do you want your audience to take the action of clicking through? You should design your content plan accordingly.
Q: HOW DO WE MAINTAIN THE CONTENT?
Each piece is an investment, so once content goes live, your job isn’t over. You should track content by performance and modify it as needed to meet the demands of your audience. The web moves so quickly that for each batch of content you publish, there are probably two older batches ready for review.
To support this ongoing maintenance process, you should develop a consistent governance plan, with the frequency of review based on the amount of content being published. There’s no need to review content on a monthly basis if you’re only publishing a piece or page a week.