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If You Want To Create Exceptional Content, Limit Your Options

Many content marketers are asked to do more without getting more resources. With audience attention harder to capture than ever, how can a creative content team cope?

Go to Raising Cane’s and study the menu.

If you don’t have time to go or aren’t near one of the chain’s 500 restaurants in 27 states and five countries, I’ll explain. The restaurants sell:

  • Chicken fingers
  • Crinkle fries
  • Coleslaw
  • Texas toast
  • Cane’s sauce

Five things. That’s it.

Why such a limited menu? Raising Cane’s says the model lets it deliver exceptional quality food quickly without cutting corners. And the model seems to work for customers – the company surpassed $1.5 billion in annual sales in 2020, with the average unit (i.e., restaurant) earning 25% more than the average McDonald’s store.

What does this have to do with content marketing operations? It’s a reminder that you don’t need to be the McDonald’s of content marketing. You can deliver a big return by carefully curating your content strategy like Raising Cane’s does its menu.

1. Identify your core content items

A do-more-without-more content marketing approach starts with determining your content menu. To do this successfully, you need two things:

  1. Buy-in from your internal content stakeholders
  2. Analytics that show what content has worked best

Get stakeholder buy-in

To get stakeholders on board, bring together everyone involved in the content – those who create it, use it, share it, and approve the budget for it. If that’s not feasible, bring together the key stakeholders in each of those categories and email a short survey to everybody else so they can have input, too. Everyone involved needs to have a voice in this process, or it won’t work.

Give the stakeholders a list of topics that you already cover or think might be valuable, and include a write-in option. Ask them to rank the top three topics – labeling them as 1, 2, or 3 (with one being the most important).

Record their responses on a spreadsheet. Start with two columns – topic and topic ranking.

Let me illustrate a simple example for a financial services company. In this situation, three stakeholders ranked options from a list of seven topics: commercial real estate, community development, investing, leadership, market and economy, taxes, and wealth planning.

Add two more columns to the spreadsheet:

  • Rank value, which translates the responses into a point value to make the math easier.
  • Total topic value, which shows the cumulative score for each topic.

In this example, every first-place ranking equals 10 points, second place is eight points, and third place is six points. (In this visual, I show only those topics that received a ranking.)

Using this method, internal stakeholders at the financial services company rated these content topics as the most important to cover:

  • Investing. One stakeholder rated it most important (10 points), and one ranked it second (8 points) for a total topic value of 18.
  • Wealth planning. One stakeholder rated it most important (10 points), and one ranked it second (8 points) for a total topic value of 18.
  • Taxes. One stakeholder rated it most important (10 points), and one ranked it third most important (16 points).

TIP: Consider adding a column to track the respondent’s role. It may be helpful to weight the rankings if one role affects your goals more than another. For example, if your goals are tied to sales, you might weigh responses from the sales team over those from a writer.

Study audience data

Now it’s time to see what topics your audience prioritizes by studying data that measures progress toward the goals detailed in your content marketing strategy.

Let’s keep it simple and use three website-related metrics for topical content hub pages: total impressions, total conversions, and conversion rate for the financial services example.

Combining both sets of information reveals the qualitative (i.e., people) and quantitative (i.e., data-based) topic priorities for the financial services company:

  • Stakeholder topic priorities: investing (tie for first), wealth planning (tie for first), taxes (third)
  • Data-based rankings: investing (first), wealth planning (second), leadership (third)

Given these results, investing and wealth planning definitely go on the content menu. But the third topic requires a closer look. Leadership received no votes from internal stakeholders, yet it earned the third-highest conversion rate. The taxes topic came in third for internal stakeholders and fourth for conversion rate, losing to leadership by just 0.22%.

My conclusion? Taxes will be the third topic on the content menu.

2. Offer content combos

Now that you know the topics, you can package them into convenient options that serve your audience.

Looking at your content menu ingredients (i.e., topics), identify which formats resonate best with your audience based on the same metrics you used earlier.

For the financial services example, let’s say the team creates content in four formats: blogs, e-books, podcasts, and videos. How does format affect the conversion rates?

To discover this, I create a new spreadsheet that breaks down the content hub into individual assets, identifying the format, total impressions, conversions, and conversion rate.

With this data, I can see the top formats for our three topics are: e-books (~56% conversion rate), videos (~8% conversion rate), and blogs (~5%). Podcasts (< 2%) don’t make the cut.

Now the team can develop the content combos based on three topics (taxes, investing, and wealth planning) and three formats (e-books, videos, and blogs).

3. Make your limited menu an ingredient in your content mission

Raising Cane’s incorporates its limited product offerings into its brand narrative. Here’s how the company explains its menu concept:

Our concept is simple and unique… we only have ONE LOVE – quality chicken finger meals! At Raising Cane’s you get an exceptionally high-quality product served quickly and conveniently. We can do this because we offer a limited menu. The specialized systems developed by Raising Cane’s allow us to maintain a level of quality unmatched in the industry. Our commitment to this concept will not allow us to compromise our quality, cut corners or clutter our menu with new products that do not fit our core menu offering.

While your selective content menu may not make it into your brand story, it should be part of your content mission statement.

As Jodi Harris explains: “A content mission statement is a centering principle of your brand’s content, and it can govern your content team’s creative and strategic decision-making.”

Most mission statements center on three components: who you aim to help with your content, what kind of information you provide, and how that information delivers a positive outcome or benefit to your audience.

Consider including a fourth component – why a limited content menu better serves your audience and brand. For example: “At ABC Financial, we believe in delivering our audience only the highest quality, most timely, most relevant content. To do that, we don’t create content about everything in every format on every platform. We focus on investing, wealth management, and taxes in video, e-book, and blog formats because that’s what our audience prefers.”

4. Don’t take special orders that require new ingredients

When you implement a limited model for your content operations, expect special-order requests, especially initially.

These inquiries (which may sound like demands) will likely take one of two forms:

  1. A new combination. This kind of request only requires repackaging. If you have the resources to fulfill it, do so.
  2. An off-menu request. In the financial services example, an off-menu request might be a blog post about commercial real estate. Explain that you can’t order a burger at Raising Cane’s – in other words, that the content team isn’t set up to do special orders. In declining the request, reiterate why your brand has decided to limit its content offerings. (You can even share the content mission statement if you think it would be helpful to the conversation.)

Don’t delete special-order requests you can’t fulfill. Add them to a research-and-development spreadsheet, noting the “what and who” of the request along with the expected outcome. Review the R&D tracker quarterly to see if any of those ideas are worth a pilot project.

If an off-menu request tests well, consider whether it’s worthy of placement on your content menu.

5. Check content ‘sales’ frequently

Even the best-researched menu may have items that don’t sell well. After implementing this limited content model, frequently review the relevant metrics to see what’s “selling” better (i.e., helping you achieve your goals).

But don’t let that frequent monitoring lead you to make kneejerk changes. If one content combo isn’t doing well, consider amping up its promotion to ensure your target audience knows it exists. If it still doesn’t do well, you can consider changing it. Similarly, if you find a combo sells particularly well, repackage it to see if you can amplify that success.

Host a content “sales” meeting every six months or year (depending on your content cycle). Revisit the menu from quantitative (i.e., metrics) and qualitative (select stakeholders) perspectives. Then, decide if you need to change your content menu items.

Enjoy this delectable content model

The Raising Cane’s approach to content can serve your brand well. When you consciously curate a limited set of content products and offerings, your content marketing team’s productivity should rise. Content creators won’t don’t have to jump between many topics and formats. Instead, they can hone and perfect quality content your brand and your audience will appreciate.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute