By Steven Van Belleghem published February 22, 2012

How 3 Content Levels Can Make for Better Content Planning

Content is, without a doubt, a hot topic in the modern world of marketing. Of course most companies realize that the classic communication model needs to be adapted; but to many, the notion of content marketing is still difficult to grasp.

In the past few months, we’ve conducted numerous interviews with marketers in order to understand their vision of content marketing. We also studied the expectations of consumers to get their points of view. Based on what we found, we wanted to share some of our ideas for making better content planning a more understandable and achievable goal.

Content marketing’s objectives

To get started, focus on your content strategy’s objectives. We’ve found four main objectives for using a content strategy to create value for your company:

  • Make yourself known as an expert in your sector. Relevant and strong content reinforces your company’s positioning. Show that you follow the trends, read interesting articles, and launch innovative campaigns. Content marketing is not just about content creation but also well-executed curation. By sharing useful articles on topics that are relevant to your industry, you show the world that you are up to speed on the latest insight, and by commenting on blogs of other experts, you can further extend the reach of your own expertise. Get your name out there, and others will begin to view you as an expert. As a result, your company’s general renown will increase.
  • Maintain a positive relationship with your customers. Sharing your content regularly will keep your clients and consumers in continuous touch with your brand. It’s best not to bother them with offers or discounts, but rather to offer them something that will add value. For example, if you work in the research business, offer your audience research results they can use in their business plans instead of promoting your newest methodology. Once you are known for the value you provide, you can launch more promotion-driven efforts once in awhile without turning your audience off. (We recommend a 95 percent/5 percent split, as discussed in Matthijs van den Broek’s blog post on the content curation sweet spot.)
  • Get new customers. If the content you share with existing customers and fans is strong enough, they will share it with their friends and business contacts. In turn, this helps your company get in touch with new leads. The relevant content you provide can generate interest and encourage them to get to know your company better.
  • Increase your reach on social media platforms. Just as in the point above, good content will also help you extend your reach across social media sites. A wider reach makes it easier for you to realize the other three objectives, as well.

How do you get started?

The world is swamped with information, so it is extremely important to make the content you offer relevant to your intended audience. Furthermore, the choice of the topics you focus on can largely determine how successful your content will be. In order to make good decisions, you will need to conduct an internal analysis of your company’s strengths (what is your company good at, and what makes it different than other companies), as well as an external analysis to determine what subjects interest your audience.

To start, think about what topics your company can offer unique content in. This content needs to be in line with the company culture and vision, obviously. It is sensible to think about your top areas of expertise and where you are unique in your market.

For example, Coca-Cola claimed happiness as a theme. Without content marketing behind it, it feels a little strange that a soft drink can provide happiness. In the last few years, Coca-Cola began executing acts — like The Happiness Machine — to make happiness tangible. By creating content about what happiness means, Coca-Cola claimed the theme, and made it relevant to its target market.

Secondly, investigate the market’s needs. Find out what topics your target group is looking for more information on. There are different ways to do this. For example, you can monitor online conversations and see what people are talking about. You can also organize research to measure all current conversations and see what information is missing to determine potential opportunities. Finally, Google offers tools that help you see which search terms score high for your industry. By making these analyses, you can get a clearer view of what the market desires.

Once you have combined the internal (level of uniqueness) and external (what people are looking for) dimensions for your content efforts, you will find that most of your ideas fall into four categories:

  • Focus topics: These are topics on which the market is looking for information, but competitors are not offering satisfactory solutions for or sufficient information on. Content in this area will work best to help your company make a difference. Sixty percent of your content should be dedicated to coverage in this category.
  • Competitive topics: Once in awhile, it is necessary to create content that the market is asking for, but that is not unique to your company’s experience. Take into account that competitors will also write about these topics, so limit your efforts in these areas to 25 percent of your total content.
  • Niche topics: These are topics that may interest fewer people, but that your company has a unique perspective on. Even if some of your content is only relevant to a smaller group of customers, if you have a unique story to tell it’s worthwhile to cover these topics to help foster trust and build more loyal interest from an often-overlooked part of your clientele. For example, for a company in food service, there might be a small part of the audience that is interested in the origins of the foods they sell. Content on the production process or on the geographic location where the food originated would be considered a niche topic in this market. Invest 15 percent of your content efforts toward addressing information in this category.
  • Topics to avoid: Don’t waste time and money creating content on topics that your company doesn’t have a unique perspective on or that aren’t likely to generate much interest in your business. Naturally, none of your content should fall into this category.

Planning your content around the three content levels

After determining your topics, the next step is to effectively plan the specific types of content you will create. When doing this, your ideas can be divided into three levels: content updates, content projects, and content campaigns.

  • Updates: Updates are short messages sent on a regularly scheduled basis. For updates, it’s best to use a combination of formal content (company data, news, hiring information, etc.) and informal content (company culture information, employee updates, etc.). These are small “pinpricks” of content that will keep employees informed about what’s happening at your company.

Updates are shared mainly via social media, and work well to keep your company at the top of your customers’ minds. For example, an update can consist of a daily blog post, a Facebook update, or several messages on Twitter. Frequent updates are more likely to drive up your audience numbers, so make sure the schedule you set for updating your content is manageable on a long-term basis.

  • Project outreach: Projects involve activities that will provide value over a longer period of time and are usually created around a given theme. An example of a project could be Christmas-themed outreach (if that time of year is relevant for your company), the ongoing activities of a new department you’ve launched, data from an important survey you’ve conducted, or details on a major customer event.

Typically, a project outreach cycle will last for a few weeks and will speak to one specific company objective (the type of content you choose to create will be determined by this objective). For example, white papers, webinars, or PowerPoint presentations are projects you can build content on.

Here, information is mainly shared via online channels and can be supported by other media. For example, during the project weeks, a company can publish a series of posts on its own blog, or distribute them through related industry blogs. Then, these posts can be further highlighted by posting brief daily updates (created, as well as curated) on your social media platforms.

  • Campaigns: Campaigns are similar to projects but are shorter in duration and more intense. Campaign content creates an awareness of the company or is used to spread information around important company news,, such as a product launch. A good campaign will also trigger conversations about the brand.

Campaigns are often supported by offline media, which can be used to drive a short-term result (usually renown and sales). But above and beyond your choice of media, it is important to make sure that the content you share through offline channels is also conversation worthy. Through your campaign content, you should see a strong growth in short-term reach. Remember, campaigns are the most labor-intensive of the three content levels, and are, therefore, the most expensive — use them meticulously, and at the right moment of your sales cycle!

This approach and the three levels we’ve defined as content streams don’t constitute an exact science — they are only guidelines. But they can be used as the foundation of your own content planning, depending on your objectives. Dividing your content creation efforts into these three content sections will help to ensure a gradual increase in reach and engagement.

If you are interested in learning more about the content marketing insight that we distilled from our studies, you can download the full paper through the SlideShare link below.

SLIDESHARE
http://www.slideshare.net/stevenvanbelleghem/a-six-step-content-marketing-model

Author: Steven Van Belleghem

Steven Van Belleghem is the author of The Conversation Manager and The Conversation Company. Next to that, he's a Professor at the Vlerick Management School and Managing Partner of InSites Consulting. His passion is helping clients in making strategic marketing decisions. Together with his team, he’s helping companies get a grip on the current consumers through branding, advertising and conversations. You can follow Steven on Twitter @StevenV Be.

Other posts by Steven Van Belleghem

  • Nikki Mcnary

    Really liked the discussion about researching internal competencies and what your target market is interested in. Too often social media strategy is developed and content is pushed out with little consideration of who is actually consuming the information.    

  • http://www.showyourexpertise.com Carl Friesen

    In curation of content and passing it along, it’s important for someone who wants to be seen as an “expert” to stay  with her/his topic of expertise, for which he/she wants to be known, and in which the market wants to know about. While just providing the content is a good way to show that the “expert” is a sharing, caring sort of person, I think it’s also important to add value through providing insights into the information being passed along. That’s easier in long-form content, but even in Twitter it’s better to go beyond jut a retweet, to provide some extra information, while also crediting the source.

  • http://www.wurlwind.co.uk Mark Stonham

    A really clear, structured approach Steven. A well thought-through approach along these lines should produce long-term results. This does take up-front investment though. Re-marketing articles, via email, social media etc. is a great way to increase the benefit from something written several months ago, as long as it is still topical. Evergreen content, created about topics that have a long term interest, and in a way that avoids them going out of date, is another great approach.

  • Rosie Sennett

    Wonderfully put.  I think this would make a wonderful InfoGram if you have the resource… 

  • Globe Moving and Storage Co

    Clearly structured slide show. Thank you for information, we are going to implement this content marketing strategy for our company