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Learn What Makes a Content Plan Successful by Taking One Apart

cluttered workbench-parts of equipmentMy workbench is covered in junk. It’s usually tidy, but today it’s strewn with screws, clamps, wires, and knobs from an old guitar amp. You’d love it.

In my life, taking things apart is a time-honored tradition. These days, when things break, we just buy a new one. But at one time, we had no choice but to fix things that broke — two-day-free-shipping-with-your-Amazon-Prime-account just wasn’t an option. Often there was just you, a box of tools, and a workbench.

Wondering how this relates to content marketing? Don’t worry, I’m getting there. 

Recently my guitar amp stopped working, and despite repeated attempts to fix it, I ended up giving it to my daughter. At the workbench (still tidy), I asked her what she might find inside the amp. She had no idea, since today’s products are shipped to us tightly sealed with special tamper-free screws.

So I told her to do what my father used to tell me to do. I handed her a toolbox and told her, “Take it apart.” Screw by screw, she deconstructed this completely familiar object. But now, it took on new dimensions.

Deconstructing it, we found a speaker with a large magnet. Plus, lots of little wires and a small circuit board. The insides looked nothing like the finished product.

As a kid, my father used to give me myriads of appliances, electronics, and engines, and I enthusiastically deconstructed them. One day, instead of giving me something to disassemble, he asked me to reassemble something: a small toaster oven. It was then that I suddenly realized that rebuilding something is much harder than tearing it apart.

And that’s where this story leads back to you and your ability to create a successful content plan.

Specifically, it’s very easy to admire a neatly packaged case study or a beautiful digital ecosystem and feel like it’s something you could have done just as well. But building that content plan from scratch? That’s where the true challenges lie.

How to deconstruct content marketing 

Those of you who attended Content Marketing World 2013 were exposed to world class marketing campaigns. These were beautifully packaged, visually polished content campaigns that left many of us slack-jawed with envy.

But, just as I learned at the workbench, everything can be broken down into its component parts — even content — and doing so is the first step to understanding how to build your own content success. And it’s not even all that difficult. The trick is to have the right tools at your disposal, and a lot of patience.

To deconstruct a campaign and find out what “makes it tick,” start by analyzing the company’s website. If there’s a site map, it’s easier, but you can backwards-engineer the site map if you need to. Take screenshots of the primary branded website and save them in PowerPoint. Make notes that detail what you see on the surface. Do this for every single navigable section of the site. Map everything visually, since later this will provide you with a greater appreciation of how the complete campaign was fitted together.

Check out how the site uses images, and check out its meta-tags. Click through its links to try to identify patterns in the brand’s linking strategy. Register for its newsletter, or other offerings on the site, and immerse yourself in the full complement of marketing techniques used on the site. Basically, just deconstruct everything that’s there.

Next, follow every link, and document every site that’s tied to the brand campaign. Then zoom out and create a map that shows how all the points in the brand footprint interconnect. Some brands have only a few links that radiate out from the “” website hub; others link to social resources, apps, videos, and podcasts. Try them all.

Pretty soon, you’ll come to understand the inner workings of this otherwise mysterious machine. Only by stripping away the smoke and mirrors can you learn what’s really going on behind the magician’s tricks.

Document and save your “screws”

After you’ve broken down the content hub, you’ll want to turn your focus to the spokes radiating from it — i.e., how the brand’s content travels across its external distribution channels, as well as what those channels are and why they were chosen by the brand as the right tool for the job.

The best content marketers are those that guide their audience from discovery to conversion to evangelism, so make sure to pay particular attention to how these channels fit into the brand’s marketing strategy.

In your deconstruction efforts, you will also need to try to figure out how the campaign’s content and distribution fit together and play into the buyer’s journey — a concept that we, as content marketers, talk about a lot. The best branded content is very clear on what the brand wants its users to do, and how it plans to move them from point to point along that marketing continuum. While this information should be apparent, often it just isn’t. Either way, you can, and should, map this.

For example, all content should be created and maintained for a purpose. And let’s be clear about purpose, since we’re creating content that should be helpful to the user. If it’s not helpful to the user, you may need to remove the content.

Conversely, the worst brands have haphazard, almost chaotic ecosystems that fail to propel the user forward on his or her journey. Content is thrown at the user with a check-box mentality: “Did we get pictures on Pinterest? No? Okay, slap the product photos up there. Check.”

As you deconstruct, you’ll see what works and what fails. You’ll understand how you can use these insights for your own brand. Marketing through content channels is more complex than it seems on the surface. That’s because you’re looking at the facade of the campaign, not how the gears turn the machine.

Checklist for site review

Here’s a handy checklist that will help you get started deconstructing content marketing campaigns:

  • Map the site (check for a site map first).
  • Create a brand footprint for all branded and unbranded digital resources (see attached sample, below).
  • Read/watch/consume all available media.
  • Align all content assets against a user’s journey. 

brand footprint graphic

Your screwdriver and you

The next time something breaks in your house, unplug it, and take it apart. You can learn a lot from the process of disassembly. Plus, you get a bit of revenge on that petulant coffee maker. (Did I mention that you need to unplug stuff before tinkering with it, and tell you to wear safety glasses? You should.)

Believe it or not, the confidence you get from tearing down small appliances will give you the endurance you need to deconstruct a complex content marketing ecosystem.

The best part of deconstructing (real or virtual) is that you are free. Free to reconstruct and free to bang it with a hammer. Either way, the act of turning a screwdriver (real or symbolic) is going to teach you things you can use in your next project.

So, yeah, my workbench is a mess. The guitar amp was my daughter’s first disassembly and she liked that it was already broken. There was nothing that would get her in trouble. (Now she’s working on an old VCR.)

Right now, it’s all for fun, but I’m exposing her to a method of analyzing finished products. They don’t teach this in most schools. Sure it’s mostly screwdrivers and safety goggles, but every once in awhile she’s allowed to bash things with a hammer.

One day, without any fair warning, I’ll tell her to reassemble what she’s deconstructed. It’ll be a panic-inducing moment (trust me, I know), but she’ll be well-prepared to tackle the challenge of figuring it out. Then, future disassemblies will be more methodical — with less hammering, and better final results.

You can do this yourself, since there’s probably something broken in your house. Pull out a screwdriver and start to take it apart. Then, take what you’ve learned in the process to do a virtual deconstruction on a content marketing campaign. It won’t seem as mystifying once you know the inner workings.

Oh, and don’t leave anything sitting unused for too long in my house. It usually gets disassembled.

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