Essentialise your content strategy

At the ADMA Global Forum in August, Digiday Editor-in-Chief Brian Morrissey gave five habits of successful modern publishers. The first of these: “be essentialist”. We agree.

In this arcade-game marketing landscape, it can be easy to get distracted. We scamper about the ever-expanding aisles of new tools – automation software, artificial intelligence, bots, mobile marketing, virtual reality, augmented reality, new platforms, new platform tools, new content types for these new platforms. Our eyes are prone to pop.

If we see podcasts are trending (and if the ABC’s recent $1m funding to them is anything to go by, they are) we think, “Oh boy – we should be doing podcasts!”. Because Amazon is soon to hit Australia and every third content marketing article seems to mention Alexa, we start stressing we have to create voice-activated content to fill people’s homes. Looking at our competition, we start to feel overwhelmed by all the things we’re not doing.

And perhaps some of these technologies and capabilities do suit your business goals. Hey – they may be the best investment your company will ever make. If you’re a tech company, for instance, using cutting-edge tech to deliver your content may help you convey the reputation your brand’s been chasing. Far be it for us to say experimenting with new content types is a thing to avoid.

The point is that marketers must think long and hard about whether their new content pivot, step change, innovation or foray makes business sense. Is it a short-term tactic, that’ll burst into oblivion six months down the track? Is it truly aligned to your overall strategy and goals?

There is a higher risk than ever of doing too much. As Morrissey advises, worshipping at the altar of diverse offerings will do publishers no long-term good. Instead, in the high stakes, disruptive, fast-changing world, the better path is often “to do less, better”.

Here, we talk further on the pitfalls of over-complicating your strategy and give tips on how marketers can convince their bosses why a pared down approach may work best. We also give an example using the award-winning HBF content hub, Direct Advice for Dads – which unlocked its user-centric potential by opting for essentialisation.

The dangers of overdoing it

Long ago, a lecturer told me something that has stuck with me. It was this: “If it’s not adding to your argument, it’s subtracting from it”. Here, she was referring to one of my essays, in which I had waffled, digressed and included fascinating details which were irrelevant to my thesis. I hadn’t taken the time to edit ruthlessly, and the penalty was a weakened case, an injured mark and my own wasted time.

When this same advice is applied to your content or marketing strategy, then the penalties are far greater.

The first is a weakened brand position. If you’re chasing VR because it’s cool, without thinking about what you want to achieve, it’s a zero sum game – for your audience and for you. In other words, while your blog may not get tech futurists excited, it may be the superior at providing value to your audiences in a way they will actually consume it, and generating business returns.

If you are sinking time and money into too many different content types, and don’t have enough left over to make sure you’re excelling at whatever you do, then even if your content is performing well, you can’t prove it.

I have clients to answer to, but it’s a rare marketer or content marketer that doesn’t answer to someone.

A case study: HBF’s DAD

(Full disclosure: HBF is a Mahlab client.)

On Father’s Day 2016, Mahlab and HBF launched Direct Advice for Dads (DAD). The content hub was the product of months of testing and research, built around a niche Australian audience that was crying out for information that was tailored to them: new and soon-to-be dads, watching their partners read What to Expect When You’re Expecting and wondering – our research told us – where the hell is my stuff? Positioning itself as ‘bloke-to-bloke’ space for new, expecting and planning dads, the content hub was filled with tales of dad-hood, which were distributed across Facebook and Twitter.

Not too long after DAD came into the world however, we noticed something. Facebook engagement was outperforming Twitter – and then some. But the attention we were devoting to the two platforms was virtually the same. We hunkered down, put our heads together and took stock. If we called it quits on Twitter, we mused, we could devote a whole lot more time and resources developing this Facebook audience. It’d give us the opportunity to respond to comments too – we’d move past just a moderator role and start building a community.

So that’s what we did. We devoted resources to where we could serve our audience best.

Today, we’ve grown that Facebook audience from a group of people who like our content to a thriving community. When people message us (and people message us all the time!), they don’t just say, “Oh hey, we love your articles”. They say, “I love being part of this group”. They come to us with a huge range of parenting issues they’re grappling with and, although we don’t position ourselves as experts, we have the time to do the research to help them and send them to the people who can provide real-world help. Overall, our readers view themselves, and us, as a group of Aussie parents who share knowledge, stories (often hilarious, sometimes sad, but always affecting) and have each other’s backs.

In our minds, there’s no question about it. If we had kept slogging away at Twitter, we simply wouldn’t have been able to build this audience as we have. We didn’t need three Content Marketing Institute awards (ahem, just sayin’) to tell us we were doing something special – we see it in the direct mails every day.

We took a punt and narrowed our scope. We shifted our resources to where they could be most effective. We don’t know what might have been – we’re pretty sure we would have a decent audience either way. But this way, we have an active community of more than 50,000 people, and we’re not looking back.

Convincing the c-suite

In a fast-moving landscape, where getting left behind is the terror on everyone’s backs, proposing to “do less” can feel like advising your organisation to move backwards instead of, dare I use the I-word, innovating.

But if you’re seeing ‘fun’, ‘exciting’ content projects turn into dead horses being senselessly (and expensively) flogged, it is your responsibility to address this with your executive team. If you believe that simpler is better, your task is to win their faith.

A good case to put forward is this: a pared-back strategy is not less complex to develop than its opposite. Simple doesn’t mean crappy, half-arsed work. It doesn’t mean less labour or less thought. It doesn’t always mean less resources. It just means a narrower and more targeted approach. It means deploying resources effectively – using them in a way that will get the best return.

Prove to your leadership that you know your audience and their habits inside out. Dish up a few key stats to show where they’re responding and where they’re not. Prove how your revised strategy will deepen that relationship and generate better content marketing returns. And, rather than framing your new tack as “this is the best we can do right now”, frame it as simply “the best way with what we have”. Unless you have an unlimited budget, this is the reality all businesses face. Besides – your exec will probably appreciate you’re working within your budget and doing the best possible work with it.

Finally, in whatever you’re proposing, identify some quick wins. Ones you are fully comfortable in predicting will come true. This means that early in the campaign, you can pop your head around your boss’s office door, flash a grin and say, “Hey! That goal we wanted to achieve – we’ve got there already. The method works”.

Kate Prendergast contributed to the writing of this article.

Articles you may also be interested in:
Top 6 takeaways from the 2017 ADMA Global Forum
Experimenting with new content: take risks, carefully
How HBF built an engaged audience with niche content

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About Hallie Donkin: Hallie Donkin is Mahlab's Managing Editor – Brand. In nine years with the company, she's planned and created content about dogs, mortgages, project management, retirement, marketing automation and CRM, financial services, cybersecurity, and more. There's a story floating around that she got the job because she said she loved dogs. Reader, she did not in fact love dogs; she just loved words. But things have changed – her life goal now is to live with a pack of Golden retrievers.

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