In our world, where the fast pace of business means innovation is constantly being forced, the idea of foundation is very commonly overlooked. The building blocks for success, which are often found in common sense or best practices, are pushed aside for entrancing, new ideologies. And while these ideologies may improve the human condition, they are often over-hyped and also over-simplified from the beginning of their contraception. Need proof? Just spend some time observing the political media spectrum or the world of sports journalism.
As digital marketers, we suffer from the same “innovation bandwagoning” as any other vertical or practice. In fact, I’d say we’re more prone to it because the nature of our work requires us to be nimble, adaptive, cutting-edge and sensible to our surrounding peers and competitors. These attributes, beneficial as they may be, sometimes lead us to become more reactive than active when it comes to problem solving and strategy. Nowhere is this faddism (for lack of a better word) more prevalent today than in the volcanic eruption of content marketing.
Now, before you peg me as the next BJ Mendelson, listen. I’m not hating on the idea of content marketing or claiming it doesn’t work. I’m also not saying that it’s just the flavor of the week. I work in digital, which means that I work in content. And although I haven’t been employed very long, I’ve seen first-hand what content marketing can do for organizations large and small. That being said, I’ve also seen companies flood the web with garbage in order to establish “content marketing programs” as fast as humanly possible; all because of advice they read by “thought leaders” in our industry. Meanwhile, the foundation of their digital content strategy is broken or non-existent.
It’s odd to me that content strategy, which has existed outside of marketing for years, is just starting to gain steam within our space. A year ago, as a student studying this industry, the amount of information being published on content marketing was literally overwhelming. No RSS reader could even hope to keep me up to date. Meanwhile, structural content strategy saw very little action in the mainstream marketing media. Why is this odd? Because a well-defined content strategy that addresses technology, UX, IA, editorial, and content life-cycles is often the essential foundation for a successful content marketing program.
In other words, rolling out a content marketing program without addressing structural content strategy is like trying to build a beautiful new skyscraper on top of a landfill.
Many organizations, especially the mammoth ones, already have so many deep-rooted issues with their web content. Is it up to date? Is it properly organized? Is it achieving its purpose? What is its purpose? Who’s editing, writing and approving it? What are the user flows? How does it work with your CMS? All of these (and more) are questions that need to be addressed before an organization decides they want to write 80 blog posts or publish tons of e-books and infographics (not that I would recommend approaching content marketing in this manner).
Ideally, a content strategy focuses not only on the production and maintenance of content, but also on it’s formatting, placement, delivery and customization. That’s why it’s ideal for a content and user experience strategy to be developed side-by-side before a new website is designed. That way, the takeaways of those strategies can be factored directly into the new site’s IA. However, in my experience this is not usually not the case. And I imagine that’s why content strategy can be a somewhat difficult service for marketing agencies to package up and offer to clients. Content marketing, on the other hand, usually doesn’t require or recommend major structural changes to a website, outside of adding features or pages. And that’s probably why its easier to sell for digital agencies.
Yes, I realize that I’m ranting. But trust me this is not all for naught. Here are a couple key points I want to make clear before I sign off.
- Even when structural website changes aren’t an option for clients (because of technology or CMS considerations), agencies can still help clients build a content management plan before they start publishing for the sake of sales and lead-gen. If anything, it will ensure that a client’s future content marketing program runs as smoothly as possible.
- Agencies (us included) need to start working to educate prospective clients on the benefits of developing a content strategy during their website redesign or development. That way, we can more easily integrate our marketing services with our web development or engineering projects.
- If digital agencies are going to move towards selling content strategy (and I’ll bet a nice chunk of change they are), different variations of the service need to be developed for clients that are in specific stages of their life cycle. For example, a massive organization with concerns about their website’s navigation and simplicity needs to a content architecture audit much more than they need to know whether their content is on-brand or have an editorial governance process developed.
I hope this all makes sense. I’d love to hear other people’s thoughts on this issue so please leave your ideas, questions or angers in the comments!
‘Till next time.