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How to Play Content Strategy “Top Trumps”

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Read Time: 11 min

As a content strategist I wear many hats. This can make describing what I do succinctly a challenge. More so because as well as the strategy that I develop, I implement that strategy through the content production and then I govern that content, followed by the measurement of its effectiveness. My hat rack is full.

Every time I’m asked “what do you do”, my precise answer is different. I don’t have my monologue down pat just yet, but I have noticed that when talking about content strategy,  I often use comparisons. I’ve been having a verbal game of Content Strategy Top Trumps.

A quick digression. Top Trumps is a card game where 

“each card contains a list of numerical data, and the aim of the game is to compare these values to try to trump and win an opponent’s card.” 

To trump, therefore, means to beat.

Back to content. Here are the comparisons I often make to help define and explain my content role and content strategy as a practice.

“Understanding” Trumps “Knowing”

This comparison is specifically related to audience. Having worked at BBC Wales in audience research, I have witnessed (on more occasions than I’d have liked) content creators across all platforms (radio, television, online) who know about their audience, but lack an understanding of them. Hence my job as one of the audience research team was to educate them so they could make informed, and therefore better, editorial, content and production decisions.

Understanding Trumps KnowingUnderstanding Trumps KnowingUnderstanding Trumps Knowing
“Understanding” Trumps “Knowing”

This comes down to data versus data plus-insight. Knowing who your audience is might include some or all of the following:

  • number of visitors to your website
  • number of social media followers/likes/shares/views
  • number of downloads of your guides/whitepapers/eBooks
  • number of listeners to your podcast
  • open rate of emails
  • demographic information such as gender, age, socioeconomic status
  • location(s) of your audience
  • how and where they access your content on a basic level
  • number of sign-ups to your trial/product

That’s all very useful information to know, but it’s fairly top level and easy to retrieve. To begin understanding your audience, you need to look beyond the data.

It is helpful to know how many people viewed your site, but did they do what you wanted them to in relation to signups and conversions? Did they get the information they wanted or needed? What are their pain-points and how can you offer a benefit to soothe those pains? What is their user/buyer journey and how can you get them to their destination efficiently and effectively?

Understanding takes our knowledge base and builds upon it so we start to identify and consider motivations, behaviours, expectations, personalisation of content and where their story ended. Great, you had 100,000 unique visitors to your site this month. But how many of those visitors started a trial of your service, or bought your product, or converted to a customer?

This is where we start the next round of the game.

“Quality” Trumps “Quantity”

This is tricky because arguably it could also work the other way around. Let’s dig deeper. 200,000 visitors are better than 100,000 visitors, which are better than 50,000 visitors. The more people that view your site/product/content, the more likely you are to get results based on whatever your business goals and KPIs are, right? Possibly.

Quality Trumps QuantityQuality Trumps QuantityQuality Trumps Quantity
“Quality” Trumps “Quantity”

The catch-all approach might work, but it leaves you open to failure more readily than strategising your content, targeting your audience and informing your decisions.

There again, if you convert 50% of 100,000 visitors who you targeted effectively based on your audience understanding, that’s better than converting 20% of 200,000 visitors who visited your site on a whim, or as a result of content without a strategy behind it.

If your measurement of performance is the most views, or the highest amount of shares, then quantity may well be the trump card. That said, to achieve that quantity you still need to find out where those people most likely to become a number on your analytics report are.

In those cases, research and groundwork can help again, because rather than guessing where your audience may be and who they are, you can aim straight for the bullseye.

“Insight” Trumps “Assumption”

This round validates the first. Assumptions about your users, your competitors, your marketplace and your prospective customers can all be made based on your experience in a certain sector and what you have learnt previously.

Insight Trumps AssumptionInsight Trumps AssumptionInsight Trumps Assumption
“Insight” Trumps “Assumption”

Unless you regularly assess your knowledge, what you think is insight may well be an assumption. And that assessment needn’t drain your budget and resource either. A little time and effort can turn those assumptions back into insights which will allow you to make the all-important informed decisions so you can understand your audience. This means the audience you do have will be of a high quality rather than a vast quantity.

Phew. Example assumptions can include:

  • our audience don’t want to read long form copy
  • we must have Twitter/Facebook/a blog/an app
  • none of our users are tech-savvy
  • our audience comprises mainly people under twenty years of age
  • our audience won’t view our site on a desktop
  • our audience won’t view our site on a mobile
  • potential customers are sat waiting for us to get in touch with our solution
  • nobody buys expensive things via their mobile
  • we must sound like Innocent Smoothies!

And many more.

In some cases your assumptions might be absolutely correct. But why risk not finding out and then living in the confidence you have good insights. There are many ways you can assess these assumptions. Talking to your customers is always a good start. If they tell you what you think they will, great. Chances are they won’t though, or they will tell you other stuff that you can act upon. You can also carry out competitor analysis and content audits at regular intervals. Don’t check your available data once, act on it and then assume things will never change. They do change. And fast.

If you have personas, regularly validate them to ensure they are still an accurate representation of your audience segments.

Whilst carrying out some audience insight work at GatherContent recently, I spoke to plenty of customers and yes, many did confirm what we suspected in relation to use cases, but the information they provided beyond that was invaluable and couldn’t have been obtained from any other means. They also gave us a vocabulary to use. By listening to how customers describe their experiences and processes of working with content, we identified common terms such as messy, chaotic, stressful and painful.

On our new marketing site we included those terms because it’s how our audience (and potential audience) talk about content. If we use that language given to us, we can be confident it will resonate with people when they view the site. The key thing for us now is to ensure we are authentic and consistent with our content and language.

“Consistency and Authenticity” Trumps “Inconsistency and Pretence”

When you have defined your own brand identity, voice and tone and visual style, it needs to be authentic to your values, personality and culture. It also needs to be consistent wherever and whenever people come into contact with your content.

Consistency and Authenticity Trumps Inconsistency and PretenceConsistency and Authenticity Trumps Inconsistency and PretenceConsistency and Authenticity Trumps Inconsistency and Pretence
“Consistency and Authenticity” Trumps “Inconsistency and Pretence”

The British Council include the following statement in their brand guidelines:

“Our tone of voice is simply the way we talk to people - Face to face, in speech, in print, or in film.”

Everywhere the same.

If you’re an agency that is fun, chatty and informal on your website, emails, and social accounts, but then when someone comes for a meeting you are all dressed in suits, that’s not authentic or consistent. Which are you?

Too many times I have heard people want to be like Innocent Smoothies, the UK drinks manufacturer famed for their friendly, fun and amusing tone of voice and content. They excel at this because whether you read their website, a label on one of their products or their tweets, they are quintessentially Innocent. Other notable brands known for their voice and tone include Ben and Jerry’s, Virgin and MailChimp.

What works for them won’t necessarily work for you, or your clients, though. If I’m taking out a mortgage or arranging a funeral, please don’t chat to me in your content like I’m an old friend you used to get drunk with. Instil professionalism and trust.

This is an article in itself, but to play your trump card and to win the round, have a clear understanding of your company. What values do you hold, what is your personality and your culture? When you have that locked down, ensure everyone in the company is aware of it. From side to side and top to bottom, all must know. If necessary, support this with guidelines.

Those guidelines will allow you to achieve the consistency. As well as being consistent in tone, voice and style, your content serves a greater purpose. To help/inform/educate your audience.

“Usefulness” Trumps “Engagement”

This is a closely fought round with strong stats on both cards but usefulness will prevail.

Usefulness Trumps EngagementUsefulness Trumps EngagementUsefulness Trumps Engagement
“Usefulness” Trumps “Engagement”

“Engaging content” and “engagement” have become as “storytelling” has: something valid that is used so regularly with carelessness that it falls into the trap of being a buzzword, losing the original value.

If we look at one definition of “engaging” we’ll find the adjective: “charming and attractive”.

When have you ever wanted your content to be charming and attractive? Yet you may have talked about creating engaging content.

Useful content that encourages engagement is better. Useful content that serves a purpose for your audience better still. If they happen to engage with it beyond your key metric, that’s a bonus.

In his article, why content strategy is everyone’s business, Ben Grose says:

“Most people don’t come to a website and go — ‘wow look at this design’, or ‘wow look at this information architecture’, or ‘wow look at this UX!’ Users come to a site for the content. They come for information.”

Further to that, people will come to your site with a goal in mind. Perhaps they want to:

  • buy something
  • find information about a specific topic
  • download something
  • research
  • start a trial
  • upgrade their account
  • take five mins out of the day to watch a video or gif or a cat being stupid (guilty!)
  • read
  • compare something/shop around
  • quickly get an answer - opening times, weather, sport results etc

First and foremost, your content needs to be useful in order to achieve any and all of the above. If it is considered engaging thereafter, either through the way it is presented, the voice and tone, the number of times it was shared (because it was so useful?) then let’s be pleased with that. More shares will arguably result in greater awareness of who you are and what you do. But it still doesn’t mean those people now aware of you will be a customer anytime soon.

Engagement is tricky to measure, effectively anyway. Unless you consider number of retweets to be a measure of engagement, but then how do you know your audience were engaged with that content when a retweet can be a flippant response to something? What relationship with your content/brand/product did that person have beyond the solitary retweet? You’ll likely never know.

Measurement can be challenging at the best of times.

“Measurement” Trumps “Guesswork”

Yet measurement is essential in order to evaluate if the implementation of your content strategy has been successful.

Measurement Trumps GuessworkMeasurement Trumps GuessworkMeasurement Trumps Guesswork
“Measurement” Trumps “Guesswork”

Here are some common measures of success, based on my past experience of working with clients on website redesign projects:

  • increase in numbers – unique visitors, followers etc (understandable why this would be considered, but be cautious giving this one too much kudos, based on what we have already discussed in this article)
  • decrease in bounce rate
  • more sign ups, downloads, sales (essentially, increased revenue through the website)
  • improved conversion rates

Without measuring the performance of your content, how can you determine what methods/content/channels work for you? Thinking that publishing the content is the last step will undo all of the work that precedes this.

The learnings you gain from the measurement will then allow you to continue doing what’s working for you (continually measuring and assessing this to ensure it continues to be effective) and will also help you refine your strategy where needed.

In his article, Performance driven content: the key to successful content, Kevin P. Nichols gets into the nitty gritty of performance driven content.

Game Over!

All the cards are down. If you’ve done the research, gained an understanding of your audience, targeted then effectively by creating useful content that is authentic and consistent, and then measured the performance of that content to continue evaluating, informing and evaluating your content strategy, well you win. And deservedly so.

None of this is easy. Audiences are savvy, they can be demanding, your marketplace may be fiercely competitive and things change quickly. It’s hard to keep up, but adopting and implementing the trump cards can help you get on track and stay there.

The cards have been shuffled. You can control what hand you get dealt.

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