By Kathy Hanbury published February 7, 2011

5 Steps to Creating an Effective Content Mix

If you’re putting together a new content marketing strategy, you know how much work there is to do. With your attention pulled in so many directions, it’s surprisingly easy to forget about defining specific content requirements.

Too many companies just set their employees loose to create articles or blog posts. While this isn’t necessarily the worst idea, it doesn’t support a clear focus for the content. You want your content to strike the right balance between being informative and entertaining while also making sure it supports a larger company strategy. When working with my clients, I take them through a series of exercises to help define the right content mix for their business.

Clarify business considerations

Identify the business considerations that will inform your content mix. These may include:

  • Industry expertise. This may sound obvious, but it’s surprising how far companies can wander from their area of expertise. I’ve seen technical communication companies write about the fear of flying, and electrical supply companies share their favorite recipes. Your business content should focus on what your business does best.
  • Brand focus. Has your company built its reputation by providing guidance? Or does it entertain? Inspire? Surprise? Are you a fun company? A serious company? Traditional? Every piece of content that you create needs to reinforce your brand in some way.
  • Audience goals. Why will your audience spend time reading your articles? Do they want to learn something? Do they want a distraction from their busy lives? Do they want to find something worth sharing? Your audience’s goals will help to define the purpose of your content.
  • Audience interests. If you sell pet food, your audience is probably interested in learning about pet health and nutrition. And if you make running shoes, you can assume your audience is interested in running and fitness. You have a great opportunity to happily surprise your readers by finding the sweet spot that intersects your industry expertise and their interests. Your audience’s interests will help define content topics.
  • Available resources. You need to know what resources are available. How many content contributors do you have? What are their skill sets? How much time do they have? Resources are a key consideration when defining the method of presentation and editorial schedule.

Define the purpose of your content

Refer to your brand focus and your audience’s goals to identify the right mix of content purposes. Each piece of content should have one clearly defined purpose—no more, no less. Sure, you may argue that you want to both entertain AND inform, but unless you clarify which purpose trumps the other in this particular piece of content, you’re likely to fail in both. Some common purposes include:

  • To inform (conceptual knowledge)
  • To teach (how to)
  • To inspire
  • To entertain
  • To persuade
  • To start a conversation
  • To spark a controversy
  • To express an opinion
  • To share industry knowledge or resources

Identify typical content presentation methods

Your brand focus and available resources are the key drivers behind presentation methods, but certainly your audience’s goals and interests play a role as well. Some common presentation methods include:

  • Articles or blog posts
  • Infographics
  • Videos
  • Cartoon drawings
  • Animations
  • Tutorials
  • Podcasts
  • Presentations

For 42 content ideas, check out the Content Marketing Playbook.

Decide on the most effective content mix and schedule

Finding the best content mix is all about proportions. Although the foundation of your content marketing efforts may be based on educating your audience through informative articles, you may also want to entertain them through infographics and cartoons so that they have something fun to share. Remember, all content should fall within your area of expertise and reinforce your brand.

Once you’ve identified your ideal content mix, include it with your editorial calendar and present it in a way that’s easy to communicate. For example:

Content Purposes

Or, Content Presentation Methods

Your content creation team (or person) will find this a great resource to help focus the content on strategic objectives.

Continually test and evaluate

Like everything else  you do with content, your first guess can usually be improved.  Always look for opportunities to gain insight into how your audience responds to your content and then make adjustments.

Have you ever created a content mix that has or hasn’t worked for your company? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

Author: Kathy Hanbury

Kathy Hanbury is Founder and Principal at E3 Content Strategy, a consulting firm that integrates content strategy with customer experience. Kathy helps companies identify the opportunities that arise by providing truly great content. Then, she shapes their content and content processes to help them get there. You can find Kathy on Twitter @KathyHanbury.

Other posts by Kathy Hanbury

  • http://twitter.com/brodydorland Brody Dorland

    Great post Kathy! This process you’ve outlined is almost exactly how we’ve structured our content strategy system that we call “The Publisher Method”. We’ve taken the “content purpose” section you discuss above and flush it out into “publisher paths” that include:

    * The Thought Leader
    * The Educator
    * The Promoter
    * The Curator
    * The Community Builder
    * The Entertainer

    Through strategic buyer profiling and content strategy exercises, clients learn which paths would resonate most with their buyers, which formats to use, and then we help them map real content ideas to their editorial calendars.

    Like you said, it’s a lot of work, but a “system” helps organize and simplify the process!

    http://www.thepublishermethod.com

    • http://www.e3contentstrategy.com KathyHanbury

      Hi Brody,

      Glad you liked the article. I love the “publisher paths” that you list above–that’s a great idea. It would really help content contributors take on a defined role and help them to stay focused on the purpose of their article. Thanks for the tip!

      - Kathy

      • Shark

        nice

  • Deb

    The graphic approach really helps… I’ve been toying with making an editorial calendar for a little while and just couldn’t get started. This is useful info. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Patricia-Redsicker/1153901224 Patricia Redsicker

    Kathy,

    Thanks for a very useful article. I like the section about Content Mix and schedule. I recently downloaded a copy of the Content Marketing Playbook and was able to identify 7 types of content that I might use to engage my audience. The one thing I that keeps holding me back though is the time it takes to get it all done – consistently. Your infographic on Content Purposes helps to put things in perspective. Your process is very clearly illustrated and I appreciate that!

  • http://twitter.com/acSellerant Bob Leonard

    I love this. It’s a fresh approach. I especially like the Maslow’s pyramid graphics. I’d add podcasting to the presentation methods, and I’d add another pyramid along the lines of level of detail/sophistication/placement in the buy cycle… something like that. I haven’t thought it through. I reiterate. So much of the info around content today is rehashed. This is something new.

  • http://twitter.com/KathyHanbury Kathy Hanbury

    Thanks for the comments! Deb & Patricia — I’m really glad you found this useful. Bob — I like the idea of including level of detail and placement in buy cycle. I wonder how many “pyramids” you could have before things get unruly? Maybe part of defining your content mix includes identifying which key considerations (or pyramids) are most important to you, and then focusing on two or three of the most relevant ones. I did include podcasts as a presentation method in the list above, but the graphics only represent one possible content mix and, to this imaginary client, podcasts are not part of their mix.

  • http://twitter.com/JanHenkB JanHenk Bouman

    Kathy. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. My own methodology, I refine with your input.

  • http://www.writespark.com Janice King

    I’m glad to see your mention of infographics, because they are often underused in content. However, they are not just an entertainment element. For technology and other complex products, they can be tremendously helpful for a reader’s understanding.

    You can see my recommendations for learning about infographics in this blog post: http://writinghightech.typepad.com/blog/2008/06/infographics-en.html

    • http://twitter.com/KathyHanbury Kathy Hanbury

      Hi Janice,

      You’re absolutely right. Infographics, when done well, are one of the best ways to simplify complex information. They also tend to be shared more widely. They have a lot of strengths when it comes to effective communication… The only drawback is they’re time-intensive, and require creative and graphic talent that isn’t always readily available to businesses. So they tend to be higher up on the pyramid than other methods of presentation, if they appear at all. And while it’s a format that is better at multi-tasking than some others, I think it’s still beneficial to assign one primary purpose–to either inform, entertain, persuade, etc.

  • http://bcox.me Brandon Cox

    You have no idea just how helpful this post has been to me today. I’m right in the midst of planning an editorial calendar for a 100k+ online community of leaders and I’ve felt a bit… scattered. Even your diagrams alone have helped clarify a lot of things in my mind. Thanks so much – passing along to my communication team!

    • http://twitter.com/KathyHanbury Kathy Hanbury

      Fantastic! Your comment has made my day — so happy you found the article useful. I’d love to hear more about how your team uses and adapts it.

  • http://twitter.com/SeanPlatt Sean Platt

    Content requires a ton of planning and attention, and because content marketing has so many moving parts, it’s easy to miss some of the essentials.

    Though many writers do a great job of getting their blog posts published, they don’t necessarily have a clear understanding of how that content fits into a much larger and always shifting picture.

    Great job laying it all out!

  • http://www.yinkaolaito.com Yinka olaito

    fantastic and well laid out precipe for a good content

  • http://www.bizacademy.co.il edith

    love your posts. They r informative, interesting, inspiring and motivational. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/T_Penney Tom Penney

    So now you need 6 more comments to be on the ‘most popular’ list.

    • http://twitter.com/KathyHanbury Kathy Hanbury

      Tom, that’s cheating… But thanks just the same!. ;-)

      Thanks Yinka and Sean for the nice words. Glad you enjoyed the article!

  • Greg Hoff

    It’s easy to fall into content “silos” (e.g., the article program; the Twitter feed; the Facebook page). I really like your integrated approach–not just by channels, but by types of content.

    • http://twitter.com/KathyHanbury Kathy Hanbury

      Hi Greg – it seems like there’s an endless combination of content silos: departmental, channels, media, audience…. in order to be most effective, we have to keep finding ways to break down the silos and work towards the big picture. Thanks for your comment!

  • Anonymous

    We were falling apart in terms of content planning and being out of the storyline. This post is enlightening and really useful as a guide. Thanks for describing it so clearly and aligning it for us at the right time!

    • http://twitter.com/KathyHanbury Kathy Hanbury

      I’m so happy this was useful to you — thanks for letting me know. And I love it when I find the right article at the right time too!

  • Ahava

    Typical brilliance from my good friend Kathy. What do you do with user segmentation? Define a content mix for each one?

    • http://twitter.com/KathyHanbury Kathy Hanbury

      Good question! I think it’s easiest to consider all of your user segments together when you’re developing your content mix. In the same way you don’t (usually) develop separate web pages for separate user segments, yet you take each segment into account in the design and scenario-testing process. I like to use personas to do this. Use personas to help define the purpose and the presentation methods for your articles. Make sure that each persona is suitably represented through your content mix. Depending on business needs and how distinctive each customer segment is, you may decide that each segment needs it’s own platform and content mix but that’s not usually the case.

      Do you have any other thoughts about this?

      • Ahava

        I think that makes a lot of sense. I think it might also be helpful to list under your content types which personas they work for. Particularly if your site is age stratified, it might make sense to have under the 18-34 year olds “Likes slideshows/videos/interactive content”, and for the 54-65 year olds, “Likes slideshows and written content, but not interactive content.” That way you can create a sliding ruler for determing content effectiveness across different parts of the site.

        • http://twitter.com/KathyHanbury Kathy Hanbury

          Awesome idea! I love the clarity that this gives for making initial decisions… then they can be revised and updated through testing and user engagement metrics.

  • http://twitter.com/KathyHanbury Kathy Hanbury

    I just thought of another thing to consider when deciding on your content mix: Customer buying stages and roles. Are you providing content that’s relevant to people at each different stage of interest in your company? If you’re B2B, do you have content that’s relevant to the different roles that interact with your company? I would include these when clarifying business considerations.

  • http://twitter.com/QrArts Patrick Donnelly

    great balance of strategy and media channel use. Much appreciated.

    Patrick, QrArts.com

    • http://twitter.com/KathyHanbury Kathy Hanbury

      Thanks, Patrick. Glad it was useful to you. Looking at your site got me very excited about the possibilities of QRcodes in content strategy and content marketing. DM me on Twitter if you’d like to chat more about that.

  • Susanna Sanroman

    Kathy,

    How does the marketing content works for the profesinal services works? Is it good? Do you have some good examples?