Effectively Using Data in your Content Strategy

Communications, Content Strategy, Marketing

Content Marketing has been an important part of the overall communications and marketing mix for more than a decade, but it continues to evolve and mature.  Content plays a significant role in attracting prospects and delivering the information they need to advance in their journey from consideration to decision.

However, a content strategy which is not based on clear business goals and driven by data will simply fall short of those goals. There are a ton of great educational resources and models out there but one thing that is lacking in many of the tips and articles is the use of data to offer additional insights in your content planning.

Before developing the content strategy, we need to outline the fundamentals:       

What are your business goals?

What are successful outcomes that you want to achieve?

How are you defining the core messages that differentiate you in the marketplace?

What does customer research tell you about where your targets spend time?

What channels make sense for content to reach your specific audience?      

If you are not clear on these elements, stop here. Without these answers, you are likely to waste time and money hoping for results. A great friend/mentor of mine, Bob Aronson, often said “If communications is not your top priority, then all your other priorities are at risk.” This is spot on. If you cannot effectively answer the questions above with confidence, it’s important to pause in order to define those to ensure your strategies will truly align to drive your desired results.

Assuming the fundamentals are in place, organizations typically dive in with creating content they think will hit the mark.Yet, data driven insights allow so much more than just taking a smart, educated guess as to how to deliver valuable content to meet the needs of the market. It’s an ongoing challenge that has been exacerbated in the last couple of years with more focus on the credibility of online results with Google continually looking to help users understand why they get the results they see.

With several great tools available, there is more that can be done to create an effective content plan. So, what should be considered?

Search Behavior Research

This is an extension of basic keyword research where you try to understand search intent. Of course, taking keywords into consideration should still be a part of the process but it also must be done in context. This is of critical importance. We want to deliver the right information to meet the needs of the person searching, not simply leveraging keywords and saying a prayer that somehow you wind up on page one of search results. Those days are long gone and never really worked all that well anyway.

Attention to the problem you’re trying to solve for a user should be the focus in all planning efforts. As a marketer, you must deliver the content that is meaningful to the audience. That’s the win-win for everyone. Readers want to find what actually addresses their needs, and you want to reach people who are seeking your content. Every page you are working on should have a specific purpose and advance the reader further into your marketing funnel by either addressing their questions or providing critical information. Thinking through the questions that will get a user to your site as well as every step through your content pathways once there, including effective calls to action, should be modeled as part of your plan. In the example to the right, the volume provides the obvious guide on if the topic is actively being searched online. Understanding the current interest in specific terms is the minimum to consider in capturing those readers and allowing you to begin to formulate ideas around topics.

Most Shared and Engaging Content

Another area that I believe is under-utilized is analyzing the content most shared for your industry or topic. This data is readily available and can provide extremely specific insights that help in understanding how your audience is engaging with content.

Conventional wisdom has said that shorter-form content is what most readers want. We’re busy right? You can hear it now- “There’s too much going on, I don’t have time to read lengthy articles” or even seeing how often people share articles and clearly have not read beyond the headline. But surprise, sometimes the most helpful content can be very heavy, lengthy pieces.

It varies of course, but if you don’t look you won’t know what is happening in real world scenarios. While personas and assumptions are better than nothing, you may be leaving opportunity on the table without doing this research.

In the table above, the data displays which articles are being shared most widely based on the initial research. To the left, I’ve included the column that corresponds to the length of that highly-shared content. You can see that longer articles are performing very well. Many of the top-shared articles are several thousand words. While many short content pieces do well for a lot of topics, you can see that some of the most highly shared articles feature deep, rich content. For new or potentially complex topics, many readers seem to appreciate the added detail versus quick-hit copy. This level of content planning simply allows smarter outcomes that are more likely to succeed.

Get Ready for Content Success in 2022

This time of year, many companies begin the process of planning for the year ahead and wouldn’t think of ignoring real-world customer or prospect data garnered from the sales team or industry voices but don’t fully leverage data available online. If you want to learn more about effective content planning, and ensure you’re turning over every stone to help meet your goals, please reach out for a discussion on opportunities to enhance your strategic content efforts in 2022.

PR Resolutions

Business Communications, Leadership, Public Relations

It’s that time of year when we all make resolutions and promises…many of which fall by the wayside by the end of January.  However, I think as PR practitioners we need to do better.  As we enter into 2010 our profession is still not give the respect I believe it truly deserves.  Too often PR is still viewed as “spinning” bad news to make it acceptable to the masses.  There are too many outstanding communicators out there to allow this misperception to continue.

How do we kill off this old stereotype? We collectively step-up to make sure that we don’t allow our profession to be viewed as window dressing but a critical function to every company we serve. How?  Here’s a few starters.

  • Know Your Business and Your Customer
                                                                                                                                    Before you start throwing out ideas about how to obtain more coverage or the greatest new promotional idea, make sure the efforts line up well with the overall strategic plan for the company.  Take the time to think about your work from the customer perspective– ask yourself why would a customer care and how would your ideas improve their experience.  Also be sure that you’ll be able to measure how your work will have an impact.  Even if you fail, you want to learn from the effort rather than have no idea if you made a difference.     

  • Use New Tools to Improve Your Work       
                                                                                                                                           Don’t recycle the plan your boss used when you started.  That’s a sure-fire way to maintain a very average program that becomes irrelevant…and doesn’t exactly position you as a great strategic mind.  Take advantage of the new technology out there and think critically about how social media may fit in your mix.  Look at if there is a fit in your company for Skype to cut down on some costs and encourage better collaboration. 

  • Don’t Just Use New Tools to Improve Your Work              
    On the flip side of that last point, please don’t chase after the new shiny toy so much that you forget about core fundamentals.  I don’t care how many followers you can get on Twitter if you can’t explain what the heck it is your company does and why anyone in their right mind would use your product or service.  Be sure to communicate all the methods you want to use in reaching your audience. Your discussions should never strictly focus on a technology but what the technology can do for you. 

  • Deliver What Reporters Need    
                                                                                                                                                                         One of the issues that hounds our field is the “smile and dial” approach where a PR person is asked, typically by a client, to just call your reporter friends and pitch this great new product.  Here’s the problem, if you have no idea what the product does or (even worse) the product is junk and you still pitch it then it’s your reputation that takes the hit.  We need to be smart enough and strong enough to push back to our companies and clients if there is no valid news angle. 

  • Be an advocate for communications 
                                                                                                                                                     This is especially aimed at my corporate readers more than agency but it applies to us all.  If you are being paid to be an expert communicator, you also need to help others in your organization understand the true importance of the role.  If you have a truly groundbreaking product that nobody knows about, then you have nothing.  If communications is always viewed as the least important part of a planning session then you know something is critically wrong culturally and you need to change it.  Take the time to explain (supported by examples of your results) the value of communications and be a leader in speaking up for the importance of our profession. 

So, in 2010 let’s all resolve to eliminate the missteps that plague our profession.  Let’s do a little PR work on PR this year.  What else belongs on this list?  What else can we do to improve our collective reputations?  Let’s think big this year and make some real change.

It’s More About GAAP Than Gap


You may have heard me say it before, and you’ll definitely hear me say it again (hint- great series of pros in future posts), but I believe that communications professionals do themselves a disservice by not having a good grasp on broader business principles and strategy.  If you’re offering your clients recommendations on one piece of the puzzle like media relations, social media, or internal communications but can’t make educated, informed comment on their business model and competition then you aren’t providing the full value they need. 

If you are working within an organization and want to have a role in the strategic direction of the company, it’s essential you can speak the same language as those you want to influence.  PR people cannot expect to walk into a C-level discussion and be viewed as an equal member of the team unless you can add real value to a discussion that stretches beyond how the company will capitalize on sales, but how you will drive sales. 

Fundamental to that level of discussion is viewing the business in the same manner that other leadership views the business.  Many communications/PR schools haven’t heavily integrated business programming into a PR track and many practitioners have come from a variety of backgrounds where they may not have been exposed to fundamentals of business strategy.  How can you pick up enough knowledge to put you on the right track?

Find a colleague who can serve as a mentor- This is a great way to learn more about specialties you may not initially understand well. In my experience, if you express an interest and willingness to learn, people are willing to help you along.  Many times they’re actually flattered.  This was especially true when I reached out to accountants who, I’m willing to bet, hadn’t really been approached often with people “wanting” to learn more about their jobs.

Expand that bookshelf- There are hundreds of great books out there that can provide an introduction to basic finance, accounting, sales theory, and business strategy.  A quick search on finance produced a great list of options to help you get started. 

Change your process- Before heading into any meeting, come up with a couple questions that you want to have addressed when you have time to do so without worrying about being on the spot in real-time.  If you’re looking to better understand the sales process, look at recent reports see what seems to be working and ask for more information on the “why” behind the success. Over time, you’ll learn a great deal and be able to better add value.

The Gap is great for a day of shopping, but better understanding GAAP can fund that shopping.

I Want it Now- The Veruca Salt Theory

Business Communications, Public Relations, Social Media

It’s human nature to want things, it really is.  I understand the desire to always have the latest and greatest ‘it’ as well as anyone.  However, while thinking about that concept in terms of communications, it’s an urge that professional communications pros need to restrain when it comes to identifying the right strategy for an organization.  We can’t allow ourselves to want for anything and everything like the wonderful Veruca Salt character, “Hey, Daddy, *I* want an Oompa Loompa! I want you to get me an Oompa Loompa right away!”

The Veruca parallel actually started in my mind when I was having a discussion focusing around social media (SM) and the opportunities that can be gained by playing an active roles in the SM space.  Now, let me be crystal clear here, I thoroughly enjoy and believe in the power of social media.  I’m not a huge naysayer that believes Twitter is a bunch of people posting where they went to lunch but I am saying that not everyone has to have a major Facebook or Twitter presence. 

The first step any organization should take is looking clearly and honestly at their overall goals.  At that point,  the organization and their agency/consultant/staff should look at how to create the optimal mix of social media, sales, marketing, advertising and PR come together to make a real difference to the organization.  In many cases, SM makes a great deal of sense especially for companies that have a strong consumer element.  If you’re customers and audience are there, then it’s a no-brainer that you should be too.  If you’re customers aren’t there…well, I’d figure out where they are.

As communications pros, we can’t just chase the latest shiny object we see.  If we are to provide good counsel and leadership, you have to remain focused first and foremost on the ultimate goals of any organization and that may include saying no to a Veruca Salt in your own group.  It’s hard sometimes (who wouldn’t want an Oompa Loompa of their very own) but it’s ultimately that smart, strategic counsel that will pay off for you and your organization or clients.