Content strategy came into fashion in Marketing circles nearly a decade ago, driven mainly by a need to ‘fill the pipes’ created by the multitude of new digital and social platforms. Agencies and consultancies soon began to pitch it as a complex, expensive and essential gap to fill, and they were happy to oblige. To me, ‘content strategy’ initially was just a modern euphemism for ‘editorial plan’ – but it has since transformed into something else.
An editorial plan or calendar lays out which content we must develop, for whom, and in which channels it must be delivered (by when) in order to achieve the communications goals for that time period. When I started my career in Marketing, that worked pretty well as an efficient way to systematically plan, develop and place our content throughout the year to tell our story, perhaps as a story arc that lasted for months or even a full year. Resources were finite, as was our audience’s attention to receive and digest content from a few trusted sources, and the communication flow was usually one way.
Quantity over Quality
The overarching goal of today’s content strategy, it seems for many Marketers, is to stuff content into any and all channels where a potential prospect or customer may be. That doesn’t seem very strategic to me. Particularly in large companies, content has been standardized, digitized, industrialized, globalized – often with an emphasis on quantity over quality to reduce content creation costs. Adding organic or paid user-generated content (UCG) to the mix adds even more to the endless stream of sponsored content flooding newsfeeds, inboxes, events and articles. Creating content has become an end in itself, adding to Marketing budgets without much to show for it.
I think some agencies and their clients have gone too far. They’ve created a runaway hamster wheel in which every company – no matter what they sell – is in the content business. Many companies have even set up expensive internal newsrooms, content centers or social command posts to keep the digital presses running all the time. The pressure to continually crank out new content creates a lot of noise – low quality content that diminishes and muddies brands’ positioning and messaging to the point where they are “topical” but don’t really stand for anything unique or valuable. And all of this content confuses customers.
This high volume of low-quality content creates too many choices in the minds of prospects and customers.
The Paradox of Choice
This high volume of low-quality content creates too many choices in the minds of prospects and customers. In The Paradox of Choice, first published in 2004, author Barry Schwartz explains why too much of a good thing has proven detrimental to our psychological and emotional well-being, both as humans and as consumers. His research uncovered evidence that companies that reduced and simplified choices for their customers became the winners, and not just in their products and services but through their communications as well.
Just think about how many choices you have in the ‘milk’ section of the average US grocery store, often staring at the shelves for several minutes to identify the one item you came for (30-calorie, vanilla almond milk). Yet content strategy as it is executed by many companies today often creates too many content chunks to see, read, watch and engage. And in the pursuit of authenticity, a unified brand voice can get watered down while venturing into areas irrelevant to the company’s products and the needs of its customers. Do customers really want to see an in-depth interview with the person at your company who sends out the invoices and also happens to be into rock climbing? Probably not. They simply want high-quality information about the thing that they are buying from you, and a sense that you are a credible source of this information.
We help them ruthlessly focus, dramatically simplify and quickly strip things down to their essentials.
A Focused Framework
At Health Accelerators we do our best to help clients develop a framework and communications system that enables them to respond to competitive moves or other external events (the Os and Ts in a SWOT analysis), while remaining true to their core branding, positioning and mission. We help them ruthlessly focus, dramatically simplify and quickly strip things down to their essentials. We develop editorial calendars and content strategies too, however, it’s most important for clients to understand who their company (or product brands) really are, what position they aspire to in the market, and in what position their customers have already put them in their minds and hearts. Our experts then pull that through consistently across audiences and channels, so when clients invest in new content it’s the right content – it’s on message, emanates their brand essence and positioning, and aligns with what is currently happening in the real world.
With content, less can be more.
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Author: Joe Shields
Image credit: 123RF.com