A visionary strategy is hard work but it is only the beginning. Don’t waste your efforts and move past intent to execution.
A content strategy is a documented blueprint for what you want to achieve. It should include the challenge you hope to address with content, the steps you will take to get there and the measurable goals that define your success.
Content strategy finds the spot between what you want to say as a brand or organisation, what your audience wants to hear, what you have the authority to talk about and, ideally, gaps in the conversation that your organisation can own.
Still, a content strategy remains a simple idea until it is executed. And the implementation process is where most organisations will spend their most time and effort. A strategy does not implement itself, after all.
Here, we provide our practical guide to bridging the distance between content strategy and execution.
Planning the doing bit
Good implementation requires a whole lot of planning. Often this planning goes beyond what you may have included in your content strategy, to the finer details. While strategy outlines the pathway to the future, the implementation is everyday work it takes to get there. It needs to consider how activities will be carried out, who will perform them, how and when activities will be performed and a timeline for when these activities should be done.
The basic activities in strategy implementation can involve:
- Establishing what success will look like
- Determining key metrics to track progress
- Allocation of resources
- Content governance and determining the processes involved in producing content (ie: who needs to approve content before it is published, how are teams structured etc)
- Actual performance of tasks and activities
- Managing content creation
Each of these basic activities should be documented and contained in your strategy and content governance documents. These content governance documents can include content pillars, messaging framework, editorial guidelines, distribution and measurement frameworks and content calendars. These document each have slightly different aims but provide a organisation-wide touchpoint and a common source of knowledge for the implementation of a content program. For example, a content calendar will be your guide for the day-to-day work of content creation, mapping content back to audience, objective and stage of funnel. Editorial guidelines will cover how you speak, tone of voice and what you want to say.
Organisations will have to make a few big decision when establishing or re-establishing their content program. First, whether or not you will work with an in-house team, an external team or a combination of internal and agency. Each option has its pros and cons, but the decision ultimately boils down to what best serves your organisation’s vision, size, resources and objectives. The option you choose influences the skills you hire for – smaller in-house teams may look for a ‘jack-of-all-trades’ type marketer while bigger teams that outsource part or all of their content have the luxury of specialists in certain roles.
Second, marketers need to consider whether your content program will operate as a centralised model or a decentralised model. That is, whether you have all your content produced by one person or department (centralised) or whether it is produced across the organisation and involve many different teams (decentralised). The model will determine key questions around content governance. If you have an internal content team that’s responsible for all your content it’s easier to ensure alignment than with a decentralised model. You may need different resources. Editorial guidelines are far more important in a decentralised model than if you have one internal content team of a few people.
Third, resourcing, in terms of finance and time allocated, needs to be clear from the beginning of implementation for a content program to have the best chance of success. The resources should cover not only the process of content creation but also time to review whether you’re on the right track or need make some tweaks.
Selling the dream
Implementation demands the participation of more people than those who created the strategy. Because of this you need buy-in from people across the organisation.
Make sure that everyone who needs to touch content has access to the documented content strategy, along with other governance documents. But getting true buy-in goes past documents and also requires involved dialogue with key individuals. Governance documents often only get a short glance over unless the person is sold on the idea.
Think of the implementation a content program as a change project, particularly if there was no program beforehand. Part of the work we do with clients is ensuring everyone involved with content understands why it is important and feels like part of the project – owning the content’s results and understanding what is expected of them. Remember, seniority isn’t the only factor that determines a person’s influence on the success of a project. Plan communications across all levels of the team. At its most basic level it is about making sure people are informed and understand the strategy. If people don’t understand the strategy, they are unable to connect with it.
A living, breathing document
While a content strategy may guide your content marketing efforts, it should not be set in stone. The business might change, the market might change and you need to be flexible enough to pivot if things aren’t going to plan or you aren’t meeting KPIs. For this reason, your content strategy should evolve over time.
There are parts that you will likely have to update more frequently and others that you don’t want to update as frequently to avoid confusion, like your messaging hierarchy and content pillars. At Mahlab we include milestones and markers that we look at on a daily basis, on a quarterly basis, on a monthly basis and annually. We use those markers and reporting to determine if tactics need to be changed. For example:
- Daily markers: this is the really tactical optimisation that is led by the content team including A/B testing headlines and images, and targeting distribution at different audience segments on Facebook.
- Monthly markers: web traffic and engagement shift slightly month-on-month. While no content program should wholly rely on these metrics traffic and engagement metrics are useful in determining whether you are heading in the right direction.
- Quarterly or bi-annual markers: these are strategic reviews to check how well your strategy has been implemented, if the strategy is still aligned with the organisation’s current business goals and audience’s needs, or whether it needs further refinement. For some of our clients, this will include marketing pipeline and actual contract value, for others it’s more about audience metrics.
Programs should have short-term objectives to get internal support for content and establish credibility for the content strategy. But there are some results that you can’t expect to see immediately and investment needs to be ongoing. The key is remaining close enough to the results of your strategy implementation to react quickly and make necessary changes while continually fine-tuning your execution in ways you couldn’t have foreseen at the onset of your content quest.
Hannah Dixon contributed to the writing of this piece.