Which comes first, your brand or your content strategy?
Many companies are struggling to align their content marketing to their brand. It’s easy to understand why: most companies don’t have a content strategy. Without strategic direction, their content will become messy and off-brand. You should start to think of your content as the strategic tool that will develop your brand.
What is a brand?
It might be useful to remind ourselves what we mean when we talk about a brand.
“A brand is a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller's good or service as distinct from those of other sellers. Brands are used in business, marketing, and advertising for recognition and, importantly, to create and store value as brand equity for the object identified, to the benefit of the brand's customers, its owners and shareholders.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brand
In simpler terms, a brand helps consumers recognise and remember a business. In this context it’s difficult to understand how ‘brand’ can influence your content strategy. You might include your logo or your tagline, but other than that, how can your ‘brand’ influence your content marketing?
According to Kotler et al. (2009), a brand's identity may deliver four levels of meaning:
- Attributes: a set of labels with which the business wishes to be associated.
- Benefits: these are more emotional translations.
- Values: If a company is seen to symbolise specific values, it will, in turn, attract customers who also believe in these values.
- Personality: brands can be imbued with human-like characteristics which resonate with potential consumers.
In this context we can see that a brand is more than a logo. Tesla’s brand is not the ‘T’ or the fact they are selling electric cars. Their brand is that they are changing how we think about transportation. By changing to an electric car we are becoming more environmentally friendly. As a consumer, we are buying into the ethos that Tesla is looking out for the planet. Eventually, a Tesla will provide an automated driving experience. We will no longer drive ourselves. We will be driven. A Tesla is not just a car, it is a lifestyle change.
How can you transform your brand?
Marketers are always banging on about the benefits of storytelling. They’re desperate for your business to have a hero. They say this hero solves a problem using your solution (your product or service). This hero is of course your customer.
Content marketing produces content that focuses on your customer. It’s not a new concept. Nike have been ‘just doing it’ and BMW have been ‘driving pleasure’. So why is content strategy still such an afterthought?
Businesses of all shapes and sizes consider their brand to be their most important asset. Which is funny when you consider their customers don’t care about their brand. Customers only care about one thing: how that brand is going to benefit them. Tesla owners will argue that a Tesla provides a better driving experience than a BMW. The lifetime ownership of a Tesla will also be cheaper. A better driving experience for less money. And you can say you are driving a ‘green’ car. No wonder Tesla drivers are smug.
Organisations think a brand strategy is the same thing as a communications strategy and a content strategy is the same thing as a communications strategy.
What is a brand strategy?
A brand strategy is the long-term vision you have for your brand. The strategy will determine how you use your brand to build identity. A brand strategy (like any strategy) will have goals and objectives.
It takes into account the following elements:
Brand positioning: What makes your brand different? Why should your customers care?
Brand story: Here’s the storytelling part. Customers love a good story. What’s yours?
Brand values: What beliefs drive your company? Why should customers trust you?
Brand messaging: Take your position, your story and your values and make them relevant to your customer. Present your value proposition in such a way that makes them care about you.
Brand personality: Tesla has Elon Musk. Microsoft had Bill Gates. Amazon has Jeff Bezos. Big brands are not just businesses. They are people too. Your brand needs a human face. Influencer marketing fills this void for many businesses.
Brand promise: This is your commitment to providing an excellent customer experience. Content marketing will prove your worth to the customer, but your brand promise ensures a consistent experience wherever your brand is found.
Brand guidelines: Take everything above and make them into a set of ‘brand guidelines’. Not only will this provide consistency, but it will make them enforceable.
Is a brand strategy going to win you customers?
Possibly, but the better bet is with a content strategy. Building your brand is more difficult than it sounds. Having a brand and a brand strategy does not guarantee results. Is a brand without customers really a brand?
Your content marketing isn’t effective.
How do you think your customer is making their buying decision in 2021?
With more and more purchasing decisions moving online, consumers are actively researching their purchase ahead of time. While consumers find it easy to click and buy, surely B2B sales aren’t going to change?
According to Walker, 60-70% of buying decisions are likely to take place before your sales team enters the conversation. While your sales team might close the deal, it’s your content marketing that has generated the leads and nurtured the prospect along your sales funnel.The buying process has changed. Customers, whether they are shopping for headphones or a CRM are doing their homework. They are searching for answers to their questions. They are using social networks. They are building a knowledge base before they even consider your brand. Your job is to ensure your brand is in the mix. Is your content marketing effective?
Brands don’t understand their audience.
According to HubSpot's ‘Not Another State of Marketing Report’, almost 70% of businesses are actively investing in content marketing in 2020. However, according to IBM, 59% of consumers feel most brands’ communication is irrelevant. More alarmingly is that 81% of brands sold across Europe could disappear and consumers would not care (Meaningful Brands 2019 report).
Why does this matter?
With countless reports of consumers losing interest in ‘branded content’ it is more important than ever for your content to be relevant to your audience. Brands need to invest more time into learning what their audience wants. When considering what content to develop, brands should consider:
- What problems can they solve for their customers?
- What pain points do their customers have?
- What questions do they need answered?
Consistency is key
According to the ‘Impact of Brand Consistency Benchmark Report’
- Almost 90 percent of study participants agree that it is important to present their brands consistently in all the places people might encounter them, but less than half are doing so.
- Almost all organizations have branding guidelines (95 percent), but only one fourth have formal guidelines that are consistently enforced.
- Less than 10 percent of the study’s participants report that their brand presentation is very consistent.
Consistency is key to brand recognition.
Not thinking long term.
You’ve got a business and you’ve developed your brand. Congratulations! But your journey has only started.
Which comes first, your brand or your content strategy?
Of course this is a trick question. I’m trying to keep you on your toes. There’s no question in my mind that your brand comes first. But, you need to get your brand out there. We’ve established that your brand is pretty simplistic. It’s an idea of what your company represents. In day to day terms, you’re not going to be spending lots of time working on your brand. You can’t afford to do that. What you are going to be doing is working hard to promote your products or services.
The great brands have grown over many years. In some ways, brand recognition is the lagging indicator of your success. Great brands have scale and lasting endurance.
How do they accomplish this?
Great brands build trust.
The hard truth is that you can’t build trust with a brand strategy. Brand awareness campaigns rarely succeed in generating significant revenue. You have to remember that your brand is important to you, but not your customers. And what’s important to your customers? The value your product or service delivers.
This is why you need a content strategy.
So, you start with your brand. Your assets, your values, your attributes, your value proposition and you use them to inform your content strategy.
Your content strategy should aim to develop trust in your brand. It will achieve this through content marketing which should aim to build and develop your brand. Ultimately you are doing this to drive down your acquisitions costs.
If your content efforts are not supporting your business objectives, your brand is going to suffer. If your brand strategy does not factor in content marketing, your business is going to suffer. A content strategy ensures your content marketing supports your brand strategy.
What is content marketing?
Before I talk about content strategy, I want to skip ahead to content marketing.
Think about how you interact with a business. Are you more likely to engage with them online or in person? More and more customer interaction is happening through digital channels with less human contact. This new reality will impact both your brand and your content strategy.
The purpose of content marketing is to maintain your brand identity in the eyes of your audience. You’ll start your brand journey with a set of ideals. Content marketing will be the tool you use to convey your brand to your customers. With storytelling, your content marketing efforts will relay why and how your company is different and how your products or services can solve your customers' problems. Content marketing solves problems and describes benefits - it does not sell features. Because of this you will create value for your brand. Content marketing is what you do to communicate your value proposition to your customer.
Content marketing takes on many forms, including:
- Blog posts / articles
- Social Media posts
- Email Newsletters
- and many more…
You need to understand that your content marketing efforts can quickly get out of control. You need a content strategy and you need a content plan to stay on track.
- Content marketing demonstrates your knowledge and proves your skills and expertise. Advertising tells the customer what you want them to believe and content marketing proves you know what you are talking about.
- Content marketing will make your brand more memorable. And it should help you reach your target audience.
- Content marketing is agile. It can respond quickly to your business needs. If you are facing competition and need to refocus you can change your approach quickly.
- Content marketing can help reduce the impact of any negative PR. You can respond directly to any negative feedback. You can get out in front of any negative press. With content marketing you can better manage the situation.
- Use content marketing to reinforce your brand proposition. If you offer more value than your competitors, tell people. Keep telling them what makes you special.
- Content marketing is a long term approach. Investing in it demonstrates to your customers that they can take you seriously.
By now you’ll have an understanding that a content strategy does not work in isolation. Take a step back and think about how this is going to work for your business.
Why does your business exist?
What does having a brand strategy mean for you?
Why are you using social media?
What resources do you have to support your content marketing plans?
What are your goals and objectives?
These big picture questions are important for your content strategy. Why?
- A content strategist needs to understand the business goals.
- There’s no point creating content that isn’t driving results.
- A content calendar doesn’t contribute to your bottom line.
- Content governance is important, but how does it generate results?
- What does a content audit tell you?
These are all valid tools in your content locker, but you need to understand why you are doing them.
What is Content Strategy?
“Content strategy guides the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content” - Kristina Halvorson (a renowned content strategist).
Content strategy is what helps brands prioritise content ideas that actually support their business goals and objectives — whether it’s brand awareness, engagement, lead generation, or driving another type of action.
Content Strategy is more than producing the right content. It’s about creating a better customer experience. This could be through better product information or through a better customer journey.
A good content strategy will include these key elements:
Brand, Brand Identity, Brand Story
- Start with your brand. Your assets, your values, your attributes, your value proposition and you use these to inform your content strategy.
- What is your USP?
- What makes your brand special and different from your competitors?
- What are your key themes and messages?
- Define your audience.
- What do they want?
- What can you learn from your existing content?
- What can you learn from your existing digital marketing channels?
- What can you learn from your social media?
- What can you learn from existing or previous customers?
- Do you have a customer support team? What can they tell you?
- What can your sales team tell you?
Determine what content you will need to create.
This is not a content plan. This is big picture stuff. What content do we need to create to meet our business goals?
What topics should you cover?
This is why you conduct audience research before establishing your ideas for content. Focus on your niche and create content that reinforces your value proposition.
What’s the purpose of your content?
How does it relate to your business objectives? This is where you state how your audience needs, wants and desires can be satisfied by your business solution. Establish KPIs for each piece of content.
Conduct a content audit and gap analysis.
Do you have existing content?
Does it serve your brand?
Does it meet your business objectives?
Can it be improved?
Should it be removed?
Your audience research will inform your gap analysis.
Search engine optimisation (SEO)
Good, useful content is your ultimate goal. But you also need to get the basics right. Check that your content is ‘SEO friendly’. You should consider creating a metadata framework as part of your governance procedures.
Define goals and objectives
Never create content without a specific purpose. Remember, your content needs to support your business objectives. Therefore, logic would determine that your content also needs an objective. A measurable one.
Depending on the purpose of the content, you will be creating content for different stages of the customer journey. These stages include awareness; engagement; consideration; conversion; and advocate.
These are examples of goals:
- Increase brand awareness (more people visit your website)
- Generate leads (more people sign up to your newsletter or follow you on social media)
- Attract new customers (Increase sales)
- Build brand loyalty (customer reviews, testimonials etc)
Once you establish your goals and objectives, ask yourself if a content strategy is the right approach to achieve them.
Remember: this strategy is big picture stuff. You need to be honest with yourself. Content marketing is not cheap and takes a long time to realise results. If your business is suitable for content marketing (and most are), you’ll develop a better brand in the long run.
How are you going to measure results?
Measuring the results of your content marketing efforts is one of the most important aspects of developing an effective content strategy. Measure routinely and report regularly.
There are many data sets that you can measure. Here are just a few to get you started:
- Start with the basics like pageviews.
- What do people do after they have read your article?
- Are you tracking goals? Is your content converting? Is it the right content for that stage of the customer journey?
- Are you generating leads/sales?
- Where is the traffic coming from? Is your content raising brand awareness?
Your goal is to understand how your content is contributing to your bottom line.
What is the operational impact of the content strategy to your business?
This is an age old problem within organisations. Resources are stretched and budgets are tight. Content strategy does not exist independently from other business areas. Depending on the size and nature of your organisation you could seek input from the following areas:
- Subject matter experts (stakeholders)
- Product Manager
- User Experience
- Design / Content Designer
- Information Architecture / Information Governance
- Marketing / Communications / PR / Brand Manager
This content strategy must align with your broader business strategies. Larger organisations will need a clearly defined and documented content strategy which is known throughout your organisation. Ad hoc approaches for content never work for your business.
Refer back to the definition of a content strategy:
“...guides the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content”.
You should now understand how a content strategy will impact other parts of your business.
You need to create an editorial calendar and guidelines for the content you plan to create.
- Who will create the content?
- How will they create the content?
- What types of content will you create?
- Who needs to input into the content creation process?
- What does the workflow look like?
- Who approves the content?
- Who reviews the content?
Remember: you are creating content with a specific purpose for your business. It must be connected to your business goals.: you are creating content with a specific purpose for your business. It must be connected to your business goals.
- Where should you distribute your content?
- Where are you customers hanging out online?
- Which social media channels are appropriate for your brand?
- Should you pay to promote your content?
Investing in content marketing ensures you are producing enough content for all of your channels.
Once you have a content strategy drafted, can you answer these questions?
Why: Why are you creating content?
What: What message do you want your customers to know?
Who: Who is your ideal audience?
Where: Where will you publish and distribute your content?
How: How will the content be designed? Remember to be consistent with your brand presentation.
When: When are you going to create and publish your content? You need to allow yourself plenty of time to create great content that meets a need.
If you can, your content strategy is on the right track.
You need a content strategy to grow your brand
Content isn’t a buzzword. It’s not a trend. Content is what your customers are demanding. Do yourself a favour and create a content strategy today.