Here’s the question: Where do we begin as we plan our content strategy in 2016? It just doesn’t seem fair that we’ve spent the past few years evangelizing for a crafty content strategy to supercharge our traditional marketing and communications programs…and now that everyone is finally on board, dire predictions of “content saturation” darken the horizon.
But fear not. Even though others may clutter the digital landscape with bits of inauthentic junk, you can still distinguish yourself as a source of highly relevant content your customers will welcome as they meander across platforms during the course of their complicated, converged, multi-channel days. Your goal should be to follow them wherever they go –on the Web, on email, on social media—and provide highly authentic content they’ll find delightful, useful, and memorable—and always relevant enough to rise about the noise. Here’s how:
A GOOD EDITORIAL CALENDAR: Start by taking an aerial view of the year ahead. What newsmaker events are on the horizon for you—product rollouts and updates, sales events, company announcements, anticipated reorganizations, major industry conferences, market announcements, editorial calendars in the trade press, and customer programs. Then add in the events that will matter to your clients—supply chain events, major industry conferences and trends, customer programs. And finally add seasonal calendar items that are likely to make news—weather, holidays, consumer behavior, etc. You need to make sure that your announcements aren’t drowned out by other news that can be reasonably expected—everything from Super Bowl Sunday to Black Friday. You need to get a composite picture of the events that are going to shape your business—and your customers’ business—throughout the year.
THOUGHT LEADERSHIP: A QUESTION THAT NEEDS ANSWERED.Armed with the editorial calendar, you can estimate what’s likely to be relevant to your customers and when it’s going to matter the most during the course of the year. Decide which question intrigues your customers the most, which client conversations you want to join, and which ones you want to instigate. Then settle on your content; the best way to get attention is to create something original. Think about the questions associated with the biggest trends, technologies, and market forces your customers care about most. Then figure out a way to study those questions with a piece of original research or content that will add to the body of industry knowledge.
A FEAST OF CONTENT. Design a survey, commission an article, convene an expert panel—think of an exercise that will yield original, valuable intelligence that will matter to your audience. Whatever you decide, plan in advance to capture as much information as possible—perhaps not just aggregate survey data, but also individual customer testimonials, case studies, reviews, digital assets, survey methodology, and industry history. Once you have the results, you have a feast of information you carve up in a dozen different ways for months to come. Here’s how:
DIGITAL STRATEGY. You should invest in building a library of material around your central research question to live in a special area on your site, or perhaps a microsite. For one thing, we've heard long-form, high quality content will be rewarded by Google. And creating a sophisticated digital home for your original research will offer dozens of opportunities to integrate with your email marketing programs for both acquisition and retention. Make sure you include graphics, infographics, photos, videos, customer feedback and case studies wherever possible. You will be rewarded with both SEO and leads.
WHITE PAPERS AND WEBINARS DRIVE REGISTRATIONS. The centerpiece of your thought leadership program can be presented as a white paper for exclusive distribution to key customers and influencers, with a second wave of distribution linked to your digital marketing so you can capture leads with every download. Remember, think about how your new piece of intel fits into the industry’s news cycle during the year. With the 40k-foot view from your editorial calendar, you should be able to pitch your White Paper as a keynote or even a premium at a leading industry conference. If you can build a high-visibility industry panel around your findings, you’ll create even more original content that can then begin paying dividends when it lives on your site and becomes a new element of your digital marketing program.
A PROACTIVE MEDIA RELATIONS STRATEGY: When you don’t fully integrate media relations into your content strategy, you’re missing an important element. Ensure that you identify your customers’ most influential media outlets—particularly influential trade reporters—and create a release strategy that will build buzz around your thought leadership. Frequently, with sufficient planning (which is why the full-year view at the very start), you can pitch your story to an influential reporter, set the release for a prime-time industry conference, and then use the resulting media coverage as another wave of valuable content for your site and digital and social channels.
DEPLOY ON SOCIAL: By now you have a truly breathtaking inventory of great content that can be carved into highly engaging and shareable little bites on all the social channels your key audiences visit regularly. Remember that if you can tell the story with video, your aggregate leads, and your lead quality, will go through the roof. Indeed, video content is predicted to overtake written content in ROI for many industries this year. Remember too that the press you create gives you credibility—and even more digital marketing opportunities--as you share your clips. For B2B brands, LinkedIn and Twitter can be particularly effective for brand-building—and new live event features on Twitter and Facebook offer more opportunities than ever to promote your leadership. And this will be an important year for your social networking: Social content will be more readily indexed thanks to deals between Google and Facebook and Twitter—and more platforms will follow---further blurring the separation between the Web and social content from an SEO perspective.
YOU’RE NOT DONE: CONTEXTUALIZE. Remember, you started all this to become a leading voice in the industry, or least to join high level industry conversations where you could add value and interact with key business targets and opinion makers. Armed with your original content, make sure you bring it up at every opportunity. Every time your customers are hit with a piece of relevant news—market shifts, consumption or investment trends, technology shifts, whatever—be sure to blog about how this latest piece of the puzzle can be interpreted through the lens of your branded findings. This will keep you in the game even when you aren’t releasing new findings.
BUILD A FRANCHISE. You should set goals for conversion (however you choose to define it) at the start of your content strategy so you can measure relative effectiveness of whatever you do. If a certain piece of research or original content performs well, consider building a franchise around it—an annual survey, maybe combined with annual commentary from industry influentials, with the infrastructure to repeat the whole process outlined here.
Relevance is the key to opting out of the digital gridlock we call “content saturation” on the horizon. A strategic thought leadership program may be the ticket to relevance you need.
Amy Wolfcale is the CEO of Falcon + Wolf, a partner at Thought Leadership Strategies, and a Professor in the New York University Graduate School of Professional Studies, School of Strategic Communication, Marketing, and Media Management. She is also a writer and an actual (as opposed to demographically identifying) soccer mom. And she loves elephants.