The Three Legs of Content Strategy

As we talk about the collision between search and social media the question that most markets and salespeople are thinking about is “how does my  company participate in this?”  I think there’s a big answer to that question, which I’ll leave for another post: you become a social enterprise—where the entire way of doing business in your company changes from “command and control,” to “highly aligned—loosely coupled.”  This will become true for everything from product development and the supply chain to how you sell and service customers.

But a narrower question is “how does my company participate in social marketing and selling?”

The answer is: by participating with, and engaging prospects through communications on the Social Internet.  That can include participating on very trendy social networks like Twitter and Facebook, but it also includes less glamorous channels like e-mail marketing, specialty blogs and bulletin boards.

This participation needs to be organized—people and resources in our company need to be “highly aligned” and then allowed to be “loosely coupled,” so they can engage.  This organization is called “content strategy, which I define as an over-all strategy for developing and delivering information and tools to customers.   Notice I didn’t say “over the Internet.”   I personally feel we need to open social engagement to include the valuable ways in which traditional advertising and other marketing deliver.  Content strategy is growing up along with the Social Internet because delivering content that is helpful to your prospects and clients has now become the responsibility of the organization—not our ad agency or the media channels they bring to the table.  Social communication has to be owned by the company, not agencies.  Agencies (ahem, including Native Instinct) have learned how to help companies make this transition.

Anyone who’s seen the poor results from the “Pepsi Challenge,” knows that social networks can’t be all of the marketing and sales communications, especially for large B2C brands.  (For those who don’t know, Pepsi’s massive investment in the social media campaign “The Pepsi Challenge,” has resulted in an 8% drop in sales for Pepsi, who now ranks behind Diet Coke as the 3rd most popular soft drink.)  I think the lesson is that a social marketing and sales strategy lives as part of the traditional marketing framework.  In some companies that should be smaller—like Pepsi—and for other companies it should command most of the resources and people.  Examples of the latter include B2B companies selling high levels of expertise or technology, such as software companies, law firms, commercial banks, travel and hotel companies, and media companies.

Content strategy should be governed by this question: “what are our customer’s problems and opportunities, and how can we help them with information and tools?”

The two key ideas in that question are first, it’s all about your customer—not you—and second, thinking objectively (and empathetically) understand the ways that you can help them.   If you do a great job of understanding this combination of two powerful ideas, you will have defined the “true north” that can guide you through all of the strategy and tactics that come with a content strategy.

If you can define what content and tools you can create to help your customers, the next step is to determine how to engage and deliver that content—and the human service that goes with it.  There are a large range of networks and channels in which your content can be distributed.  Figuring that out is trying to “fish where the fish are.”  Your company Website doesn’t attract a lot of fish by itself.  Your Web content can get wide distribution if you know who your customers are and where they can be found.  This  can be solved through market and network research tools.  Developing persona and mapping customer journeys is a central, valuable spine of understanding for our teams as we begin working with a new client.

Search is as important as content and communications channels.  Search is the preferred method for doing research in almost every industry.  Google executes almost 12 billion searches a month, so they and the lesser search engines are primary decision-makers about the quality and importance of your content, especially the huge majority of people who only look through the first search engine results page (SERP).  How many people click on results only from the first page?  Google won’t say officially, but research points to a number like 95%, if you include the number of people who click on PPC ads on the first page as well as the organic results.  Here’s a fascinating breakdown of number of organic search click-throughs from SEO Black Hat, analyzing data made public by AOL’s search engine in 2010, showing how many first SERP visitors click on each of the organic results:

Ranking Number 1 receives 42.1 percent
Ranking Number 2 receives 11.9 percent
Ranking Number 3 receives 8.5 percent
Ranking Number 4 receives 6.1 percent
Ranking Number 5 receives 4.9 percent

This data doesn’t include the pay per click (PPC) ads above and along-side the organic results, which typically run 5-15% very much depending on the search term and the ads.  The point?  Get on the first page of SERPs.  The nuance? We need to be sure we’re working to get on the first SERP for the terms our customers and prospects are actually searching for.

Content without search engine optimization and search engine marketing is missing most of the distribution strategy.

Here’s a chart of the three major components of a content strategy: content, communications and search:



Content strategy is founded on the idea that if your company serves customers with great products and services, then you must be some kind of experts in your marketplace.   If that’s true, then talking to customers and doing other kinds of insightful market research, as well as looking at Web traffic in your marketplace will help you understand how customers and prospects are thinking and how you can help them.

And when the time comes to engage with a human being for the first time (or buy from an e-commerce site) they need to be properly converted.  Conversion online comes at the landing page.  The landing page is the new front door of our business.  This is where our messaging and engagement with the prospect has to be the “right ask.”  On our landing pages we’re asking prospects to take the next step with us.

We’ll look into research around landing page design soon.  A lot has been written (including a great post by Oli Gardner on the 7 elements of a great landing page.) and Googling around will find you many showcases of well optimized landing pages.

The point of helping customers with content is that you build trust by giving and not asking.  By helping customers from the first moment they encounter our company, we give them the message that we’re always willing to trade value for value.  If they give us the value of their time and engagement, we will give them valuable content and tools.  As we move this engagement further along to consideration we need to make sure we’re getting prospects into the right channel of communications.  However we can narrowly segment prospects into meaningful sub-groups, we’ll be able to build even better content and tools to help them.

That’s all part of mapping the customer journey.  I’m currently doing research on how people research and map the customer journey.  I would greatly appreciate any ideas or links you might have that you can send me.  I promise to share what I find out shortly.

That’s the “true north” of our content strategy.


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About Rohn Jay Miller

I'm a strategic designer who works with clients who are transforming their business models because of change brought on by the Internet. Solving disruption is often a problem and an opportunity at the same time. Previously I was a founding partner of Ikonic/USWeb in San Francisco, and Senior Vice President--Product & Technology for Knight Ridder in San Jose.

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