Why your content strategy falls off the rails, and what to do about it

We’ve all been there. We walk out of an all-team planning and strategy session bright-eyed and energized (and, in my case, pleasantly overcaffeinated). This will be the year our content is aligned with our business strategy and defined objectives; that we focus on quality over quantity; that each piece represents a clear vision and fresh industry perspectives; that all of our content is part of an audience-centric, integrated campaign rolling out in a strategic fashion. The strategy will guide the content production, rather than the “produce now, think later” approach. It’s taken time and effort to get here, and you’re about to reap the benefits.

Fast-forward about three months. Your team is producing content constantly, dealing with tight deadlines and competing priorities and requests from various areas of the business. Pressure to maintain an active presence in multiple content channels leads to an emphasis on quantity over quality and the core topics and messaging you developed have been all but abandoned. The strain on everyone’s time and resources means that you no longer have the chance to sit with an idea and ask whether the message is actually distinctive enough to share in the first place.

It happens to the best-intentioned and most strategic thinkers—content strategy falls off the rails. Simply put, the idea that “more is better” won out.

When content is king, subject matter experts and marketing professionals want to ensure they’re producing content at the same volume as competitors. No organization wants to be the one that hasn’t weighed in on a trending topic (blockchain, anyone?) or the only one that doesn’t have a prime spot in the LinkedIn content feed.

All of this adds up to an inadvertent pressure-testing of a company’s content marketing function. With looming deadlines and an Infinite Jest–length content production to-do list, no one’s stepping back to discuss how this particular piece fits into the integrated content campaign or mining audience insights to tailor the content to the desired target.

So, that happened—but how can you reverse course?

Document your content strategy, and secure buy-in from leadership. According to the latest research from the Content Marketing Institute, every organization is publishing—91 percent of B2B respondents said their organization is using content marketing—but only 37 percent have a documented content strategy. (And documented doesn’t necessarily mean in-use.)

Good energy and a will to be more strategic about content can’t be the only thing that comes out of that strategy and planning session; the organization needs a clear and comprehensive mission, defined goals, and well-articulated strategy for getting there, including its priority topics and themes. It then needs to be distributed broadly across the organization by a senior leader; this reinforces the importance of strategy and ensures that it’s an organization-wide initiative backed by leadership.

Look at the numbers, and use them to guide your content priorities. As a consumer, you’ve probably been in situations where the array of options is too overwhelming, giving way to analysis paralysis. It’s the same thing for B2B content consumers. There’s simply too much out there.

In this HBR article, the authors argue that while sellers strive to ensure that customers have all of the content they need to make a decision, this approach actually contributes to an 18 percent decrease in purchase ease, according to their survey. But sellers that took a prescriptive approach increased purchase ease by 86 percent.

The same type of approach applies to content production. Clear prescriptions are the key to strong content, and they convey that the author deeply understands client challenges and knows how to address them. If a piece doesn’t have a prescription, it falls into that first bucket and can in fact be more detrimental to an organization’s bottom line.

These types of audience insights help content marketers argue against the “produce now, think later” approach and shift back into strategy mode. Your audience is looking for quality content that demonstrates the level of expertise and thinking that will help solve their problem. By stripping out the middling pieces in favor of the quality ones, you’ll be better equipped to strategize.

Content strategy isn’t just a check-the-box exercise or a list of distribution channels; it’s a deep analysis of an organization’s priorities and perspectives and an articulation of how content supports business goals. It requires time and effort and a plan to get back on track when resources are drained. It happens to the best teams, but with a documented strategy, buy-in from senior executives, and data-backed priorities, it’s a challenge that’s just waiting to be tackled.

Alia Samhat

Alia is a partner at Leff. Her expertise is in creative strategy and content development. She spends her time working with writers, marketers, designers, video producers, analysts, and subject matter experts to produce meaningful work.

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