By Chris Moritz published June 1, 2010

How to Start Your Content Strategy: The Discovery Phase

You want to get your content marketing initiative off to a great start. No, a fantastic start! A ground-breaking, revolutionary, epic launch. Something that will bring in the leads like the Pied Piper and bring on the tears of your competitors like the end of Beaches (or maybe that’s just me…)

Hold up! Don’t kick-off that white paper/slideshow/custom magazine brainstorming session just yet. You want to maximize the chances of success, minimize the drawbacks, eliminate surprises, determine what success looks like, and not end up forking over more money and resources than you’re planning on now, right?

Want to cover off those checkboxes? Start with a content strategy.

How Do I Come Up With a Content Strategy?!

The easiest way to make this happen is to hire a content strategist (natch). The population numbers of this (fairly) new species of professional are skyrocketing.

Barring that, here’s a few pointers for crafting your own strategy. First off, you’ll need to dive into the Discovery phase (I’ll cover more topics in the coming weeks, so stay tuned!)

Discovery – A.K.A. Due Diligence

Step One: What Have You Got? (Inventory/Audit)

What content do you have? For that matter, is it any good? Is something you tabled and filed away 3 years ago useful in an e-book or newsletter? You should open up that folder deep in your hard drive, that filing cabinet your put some materials in that one time. You might be surprised what your find there.

Putting the answers to these questions into a spreadsheet with the following columns:

  • Unique ID (1.0, 1.1, 2.0, etc. – every document/images/video should have a unique identifier)
  • Page Title (or the name of the document)
  • URL (or location if it’s not digital)
  • Document type (web page, PDF, Word doc, etc.)
  • R.O.T. Score (Redundant, Outdated, or Tired?)
  • Notes (anything you might want anyone else reading the document to know)

This is your content inventory. It’s key to know what you’ve got already, what investments you’ve made that you can leverage. It’ll save you money and time.

Maadmob (Donna Spencer) has a great downloadable template of a content inventory.

If you have more material than you can conceivably review in the timeframe you have, you should choose a representative sampling of your content; this is called a content audit.

Step Two: Who Are You Trying To Reach? (Audience Definition/Personas)

Commit this phrase to memory: I Am Not The Target. What you or your team find personally motivating/interesting/persuasive is not likely to be the same as what drives your customers and prospects. You have a unique, rich, second-nature, short-hand grasp of your industry, services, and benefits – your customers don’t.

The wonderful thing about marketing these days is the wealth of information about opinion, intention, and desire people and service providers are giving away for free.

Google has a bevy of tools you can use to figure out what keywords and phrases your potential customers are using to find information when searching. Free , near-free , and not-free-but-amazing social media monitoring tools scour the gazillion conversations happening in the major (and minor) social outlets for topics of conversation and the sentiment about issues, brands, and news.

You may already have a customer and prospect segmentation strategy in place; if so, you’re farther along than you think. Demographics, psychographics, technographics – there’s a ton of ways of slicing and dicing your customers. Use this information – couple it with what you can find from search trends and social sentiment.

If you want to get really crazy, you can hold a persona development workshop (it’s not as scary as it sounds) where you sketch out the distinct groups of people you’re trying to reach, bucketing them by their distinct wants/needs/circumstances, and assigning a value to each one. You can get into focus groups, ethnographic research, and online surveys, but I’ve found that this ad hoc method gets you pretty close to where you need to go quickly and cheaply. Give each group a memorable and rich label (Suzanne the Satisficer, Dan the Dis-satisfied) and flesh them out with your segmentation data.

Each persona should have specific things that will form an outline for the content that you’ll need to succeed in helping them:

  • Content needs: comparative information, testimonials, video, infographics, etc.
  • Barriers to overcome: previous bad experience, over-reliance on trade publication reviews, lack of technical know-how, etc.

If you’re looking for another great technique for creating personas, you should check out Keith Wiegold’s How to Build Personas to Bring Your Targets (Back) to Life.

The difference between the content you have and the content your audience needs is your gap analysis. Armed with this information, you’re ready to construct a strategy for the acquisition/creation, production, maintenance, and governance for your content marketing initiative.

Stayed tuned for the next installment, where I’ll outline how to take the mind-numbing inventory work and hair-pulling audience definition efforts and combine them into strategic pillars for your content marketing initiative.

Author: Chris Moritz

Chris Moritz is an independent content strategist and user experience architect in Metro Detroit. Over 15+ years in the digital marketing industry with start-up shops and a large advertising agency, he's helped companies like OnStar, USAA, Kaiser Permanente, Michelin, Owens Corning, General Motors and Alltel create compelling content marketing programs and usable, useful web interfaces. You can follow him on Twitter @chrismoritz.

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