Content Strategy: Become the stuff people are interested in

Content Strategy: Become the stuff people are interested in

3 minute read

Content Strategy: Become the stuff people are interested in

3 minute read

Content Strategy: Become the stuff people are interested in

Erin Feldman

Founder, Write Right

Content strategy can quickly devolve into a conversation about how many posts to publish per week, how many banner ads to run in a month, how many e-letters to send, or what sort of video might best capture attention. The problem with starting with those points as a premise is that they fail to address the most important consideration: are any of those points interesting? Do they provide value to someone? Would someone want to read or view any of those things without being prompted to do so? A true content strategy, then, doesn’t begin with tactics. It begins with the idea of creating interesting “stuff.”*

Just what is interesting “Stuff”?

It’s a good question. Interesting “stuff” depends on the audience - an audience comprising of Harley Davidson motorcyclists, for instance, won’t be enthralled with the latest and greatest Yamaha or Ducati - but some generalisations can be made. One such generalisation is borrowed from R/GA, an ad agency. The agency has a couple of house rules, one of which asks, “Is what I’m creating adding something to someone’s life? Is it useful, entertaining, or beautiful?” Again, the question of value arises. Questions of artistry also surface. While not all content will meet the three criteria, it should aim in that direction and hit at least two of the three adjectives.

Okay. Now what?

Once it’s been determined what might be a useful, entertaining, or beautiful content, it’s time to give that content some form. The form should follow the content rather than the content be forced into a form. That is, new content requires new forms. It shouldn’t be pushed into outdated ones. Examples of this include direct mailers being translated into email newsletters and banner ads being viewed as the equivalent of billboards. It’s using a form for which the content isn’t meant. It’s not paying heed to how different content and forms work as well as not paying attention to today’s audience which often requires different content and forms than it did even five or ten years ago.

Form and content, while separate pieces, are supposed to be indivisible once brought together.

It’s the union that fascinates. It’s the knowledge that one is so submerged in the other that a viewer can’t help but stop to take note and say, “This is it. There’s something here. I can’t put my finger on it, but I want to look at this content. I want to see it multiple times. I want to share it with my friends.” The underlying content strategy no longer is evident to the eye, but it’s there.

It’s providing direction. It’s capturing attention.

Not just people but your people

A content strategy may capture attention and may be found beautiful and useful and entertaining, but it isn’t going to be found so if its general intent is to reach the masses. A content strategy becomes useful, beautiful, or entertaining when it’s addressed to a segment of people. It’s why content strategists spend time developing and understanding buyer personas. It’s why copywriters and art directors do the same. They know that the message has to strike the right chord. They also know that that right chord is found by considering the people who are interested in the product or service and what that brand’s product or service stands for.

That isn’t to say a content strategy is unable to attract attention from outside its niche; far from it. It’s simply that focusing on humanity as a whole will never bring about the creativity required to create an ad or a strategy that hums and sings to its audience. It’s in narrowing the focus - in adding constraints of some sort - that creativity begins to display its power. It’s in that narrowing that the content gains the ability to attract people outside the purview of the buyer persona. Why? The content has gone from merely a professional thing to a thing that is also artful, creative.

A content strategy sounds like work

So it does. So it should. A good content strategy is work. It takes time. It takes mistakes. It takes a willingness to experiment. It takes working with others and valuing other people’s insights in order to come up with a strategy that not only works but becomes the stuff people are interested in.

A content strategy doesn’t work without buy-in from everyone

A great content strategy goes nowhere if buy-in doesn’t come from everyone. Trying to implement the strategy while butting heads with the CEO or board members only means frustration on the part of the strategists and more than likely a stalled strategy; the strategy can’t be implemented if people nitpick it to death or say funds no longer are available. A content strategy has to be a collaborative effort. It’s not merely a matter of the people tasked with working on the strategy who must collaborate. It’s a business-wide collaboration. Everybody must work toward the same goal even if they sometimes disagree on the methods of reaching that goal. Without that sense of unity, nothing happens. The strategy withers and dies and is swept into the rubbish pile.

Where do I start?

When beginning to develop a content strategy, the world is open and without limits, and strategists are allowed to play in it. They may find some treasures while playing; they’re equally likely to find a mushy banana or stinky diaper, too. It’s the nature of the beginning. Nothing is critiqued or judged yet. Everything is an option. It’s only after the initial phase of “everything is interesting and possible” that strategists and any other people tasked with working on the content strategy begin to focus. They look for quality ideas. They take those and riff on them. The quality ideas have potential, but they still require refinement. The goal has become one of quantity and quality rather than quantity alone. “Everything” no longer is interesting. Only a few things are, and those are the things that become the “interesting stuff,” the content that woos and mesmerises its readers and viewers.

*Luke Sullivan, in his book Hey Whipple, Squeeze This, says to become the stuff people are interested in.

Content strategy can quickly devolve into a conversation about how many posts to publish per week, how many banner ads to run in a month, how many e-letters to send, or what sort of video might best capture attention. The problem with starting with those points as a premise is that they fail to address the most important consideration: are any of those points interesting? Do they provide value to someone? Would someone want to read or view any of those things without being prompted to do so? A true content strategy, then, doesn’t begin with tactics. It begins with the idea of creating interesting “stuff.”*

Just what is interesting “Stuff”?

It’s a good question. Interesting “stuff” depends on the audience - an audience comprising of Harley Davidson motorcyclists, for instance, won’t be enthralled with the latest and greatest Yamaha or Ducati - but some generalisations can be made. One such generalisation is borrowed from R/GA, an ad agency. The agency has a couple of house rules, one of which asks, “Is what I’m creating adding something to someone’s life? Is it useful, entertaining, or beautiful?” Again, the question of value arises. Questions of artistry also surface. While not all content will meet the three criteria, it should aim in that direction and hit at least two of the three adjectives.

Okay. Now what?

Once it’s been determined what might be a useful, entertaining, or beautiful content, it’s time to give that content some form. The form should follow the content rather than the content be forced into a form. That is, new content requires new forms. It shouldn’t be pushed into outdated ones. Examples of this include direct mailers being translated into email newsletters and banner ads being viewed as the equivalent of billboards. It’s using a form for which the content isn’t meant. It’s not paying heed to how different content and forms work as well as not paying attention to today’s audience which often requires different content and forms than it did even five or ten years ago.

Form and content, while separate pieces, are supposed to be indivisible once brought together.

It’s the union that fascinates. It’s the knowledge that one is so submerged in the other that a viewer can’t help but stop to take note and say, “This is it. There’s something here. I can’t put my finger on it, but I want to look at this content. I want to see it multiple times. I want to share it with my friends.” The underlying content strategy no longer is evident to the eye, but it’s there.

It’s providing direction. It’s capturing attention.

Not just people but your people

A content strategy may capture attention and may be found beautiful and useful and entertaining, but it isn’t going to be found so if its general intent is to reach the masses. A content strategy becomes useful, beautiful, or entertaining when it’s addressed to a segment of people. It’s why content strategists spend time developing and understanding buyer personas. It’s why copywriters and art directors do the same. They know that the message has to strike the right chord. They also know that that right chord is found by considering the people who are interested in the product or service and what that brand’s product or service stands for.

That isn’t to say a content strategy is unable to attract attention from outside its niche; far from it. It’s simply that focusing on humanity as a whole will never bring about the creativity required to create an ad or a strategy that hums and sings to its audience. It’s in narrowing the focus - in adding constraints of some sort - that creativity begins to display its power. It’s in that narrowing that the content gains the ability to attract people outside the purview of the buyer persona. Why? The content has gone from merely a professional thing to a thing that is also artful, creative.

A content strategy sounds like work

So it does. So it should. A good content strategy is work. It takes time. It takes mistakes. It takes a willingness to experiment. It takes working with others and valuing other people’s insights in order to come up with a strategy that not only works but becomes the stuff people are interested in.

A content strategy doesn’t work without buy-in from everyone

A great content strategy goes nowhere if buy-in doesn’t come from everyone. Trying to implement the strategy while butting heads with the CEO or board members only means frustration on the part of the strategists and more than likely a stalled strategy; the strategy can’t be implemented if people nitpick it to death or say funds no longer are available. A content strategy has to be a collaborative effort. It’s not merely a matter of the people tasked with working on the strategy who must collaborate. It’s a business-wide collaboration. Everybody must work toward the same goal even if they sometimes disagree on the methods of reaching that goal. Without that sense of unity, nothing happens. The strategy withers and dies and is swept into the rubbish pile.

Where do I start?

When beginning to develop a content strategy, the world is open and without limits, and strategists are allowed to play in it. They may find some treasures while playing; they’re equally likely to find a mushy banana or stinky diaper, too. It’s the nature of the beginning. Nothing is critiqued or judged yet. Everything is an option. It’s only after the initial phase of “everything is interesting and possible” that strategists and any other people tasked with working on the content strategy begin to focus. They look for quality ideas. They take those and riff on them. The quality ideas have potential, but they still require refinement. The goal has become one of quantity and quality rather than quantity alone. “Everything” no longer is interesting. Only a few things are, and those are the things that become the “interesting stuff,” the content that woos and mesmerises its readers and viewers.

*Luke Sullivan, in his book Hey Whipple, Squeeze This, says to become the stuff people are interested in.

Worksheet

Content Strategy Roadmap

A free step-by-step path, template, and checklist towards creating a content strategy.

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About the author

Erin Feldman

Erin is the founder of Write Right. She is a copywriter, editor, poet, and artist. She helps people and brands tell their stories. She has worked as a writer and editor for over seven years and has her MFA in creative writing and her BA in English and graphic design.

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