How to future-proof your content strategy in 12 surefooted steps

by Frank Delmelle - March 11, 2016

The atomic designers who draw today’s most performant UXs “start from the most fundamental components.” Here’s why that ought to seriously tickle your content strategic curiosity.

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Google ‘content strategy’ and you’ll be delighted to find an SERP featuring a Content Strategy Burger, a content marketing chalupa and – excusez le mot – a diarrhea of mostly pluricircular ‘strategic’ diagrams. Content strategy – mea culpa – seems to be caught thinking in circles. See also: ‘content strategy’, very probably Wikipedia’s most wicked wiki.

At the CMI, content strategists in spe get tangled up in toolkits, templates and trellos these days. settles with serving “inconvenient truths”, while thought leading events such as the Digiday Content Marketing Summit are summarized in terms of biggest challenges rather than finest solutions.

And if that’s bad, this is worse: your customer doesn’t give a flying bleep about your content strategy… and neither do your content strategy’s indispensable partners for (paid) discovery, (paid) search, (paid) social etc.

It wouldn’t be entirely fair, of course, to have content strategists take all the blame for today’s ubiquitous disorientation. Their task has turned rather sysyphean lately, with content shocks, algorithm anxieties, broken journeys e.a. offering all too many valid excuses. Still, claiming that content strategy could do with some decluttering would be a flagrant understatement.

Solution? A Copernican Revolution! Here’s how to kickstart a clean, agile and future-proof content strategy in 12 decisive steps.

Step 1. Nuke the ‘diagram diarrhea’

Tabula rasa. Let’s get back to the basics and rebuild from the bottom up.

Step 2. Focus on the very top of your (future) customer’s FAQ list

The one thing your customers – and your strategy’s indispensable middle men – are guaranteed to care about are answers to their questions. That’s why FAQ is the f-word that will future-proof your next content strategy, c.q. why your Frequently Asked Questions section is the place to start.

Imagine content strategists concentrating all their cleverness on their strategy’s most fundamental component: the answers to the questions at the top of their (future) customers’ FAQ. Wouldn’t that be a solid first step to secure content relevance? (Content relevance, by the way, is probably the one thing that will never entirely be delivered by the bots.)

Focusing on your audience’s FAQ will make sure your strategy steers clear of both commoditized content and ‘last year’s’ shallow content snacks, to offer relevant ‘content atoms’ instead. No FAQ yet? Crowdsource it! Make sure to spice with ‘analistening’ and some old-school empathy. And keep one eye on Quora’s ‘No Answers Yet’: chances are you’ll hit a ‘content jackpot’.

Step 3. Answer one question a time (FAQ #1, FAQ #2, FAQ #3 etc.)

Answering FAQs, i.e. focusing on your ‘smallest relevant element’ will not only make sure you get discovered, found, considered, trusted, revisited and recommended. It’s also what’ll offer you the ‘natural’ window of opportunity you need to pitch your product or service… and reap subsequent conversions.

Step 4. Fill out your answers’ strategic profiles

The most interesting thing about these ‘content atoms’ or answers to FAQs, however, is probably that they will enable you to get agile on all seven content strategic levels:

Give each ‘content atom’ a strategic passport,  i.e. a content profile with these 7 tags – #WHO #WHAT, #WHY, #WHERETO, #WHEN, #HOW and #WHERE – and you’ll find the fragmentation that used to be your worst headache, will at once become your best friend.

Once tagged, your content atoms will make up the agile core of a content strategy that’s scalable, targetable, fine-tunable and even IoT-ready: your headlines will be so ultra-relevant they’ll even seamlessly increase notification CTRs.

Step 5. Tag your answer(s) with target audience segment(s) #WHO

This first tag level will enable you to pull content clusters relevant for specific segments from your content archives, making segmentation ‘a piece of cake’.

Step 6. Tag your answer with the customer need/desire you’re satisfying  #WHAT

Tag level number two consists of the keywords, categories or themes that reflect the specific customer questions (wonderings/needs/desires) you’re answering. Expect a return in terms of SEO, obviously, but equally so in terms of, for example, ‘sharp as a knife’ subject lines.

Step 7. Tag your answer with the ROMI* it’ll realize #WHY

*ROMI being the Return On Marketing Objectives each individual piece of content is supposed to generate. In this third level of tags – ranging from awareness to advocacy – your specific KPIs are listed. How will this particular piece of content pull peeps through your funnel? Top-funnel impact? Mid-funnel? Bottom-funnel? Will it increase traffic, sign-ups, qualified leads, … ?

Major advantage: KPIs are fixed before any content is created. You’ll be able to strategically motivate editorial choices and even visualize their strategic return on the level of each individual piece of content, before anything is written.

Step 8. Tag your answer with the CTA(s) to be featured underneath #WHERETO

The fourth level of tags will indicate what each piece of content is pointing to / where you want people to go ‘post content consumption’. ‘See more’, ‘subscribe’, ‘discover product abc’, ‘join us at event xyz’: here you tag your ‘content atom’ with the call to action (CTA) inviting content consumers to proceed to their ‘next best action’: the natural next place in your funnel.

These tags will also contribute to an information architecture that (feels like it) makes perfect sense.

Step 9. Tag your answer with the MOTs indicating #WHEN it’ll be (most) relevant

In tag level number five you indicate the familiar incident, the moment of truth (MOT) or the ‘life event’ during which your answer will be especially relevant. This will enable you to grab appropriate clusters of content from your archives when targeting segments at a specific moment of truth (while getting rid of old-school campaign thinking in favour of an ‘always on’ ‘content service’ towards consumers who are in charge.)

Step 10. Tag your answer with the places #WHERE it will thrive

More good news: the relevance of answers to top FAQs will only very rarely be limited to your ‘owned web’. Hence this sixth level of tags listing all the touchpoints where your ‘content atom’ could/should thrive.

The interesting thing here is that the keys to a sensible ‘channel mix’ can - largely - be found in the combo of the nature of your customers’ questions and the quality of your answers. For some answers (paid) search will obviously be the natural habitat besides your ‘owned web’, while for others (paid) discovery, (paid) social and/or email will be the logical place to be.

Tag level #6, in short, will empower integrated media planning and enable content economies of scale (beyond the usual silos). This is where you’ll make content marketing catchphrases such as ‘create once publish many’, ‘maximize return on interview’ e.a. (finally and) actually happen.

Step 11. Tag your answer with the genre/format that’ll make sure it’ll get read/watched #HOW

In a seventh level of tags, finally, you indicate the (editorial) genre – opinion, testimonial, expert advice etc. – and/or the content format – video tutorial, infographic, listicle, longread, … – that will improve the likelihood of your content atom to be read and/or watched. This will enable you to, in a holistic way, pick formats taking into account platform requirements, media preferences/behavior, editorial resources (budget) etc.

Step 12. Answer FAQs #2, #3 etc and scrum from there

With your answers to your (future) customers’ FAQs as a solid foundation, your content strategy ‘as a service’ can now not only be built ‘atomically’ or organically, from the bottom up - Q1 + Q2 + Q3 etc. – but also improved continuously, in a fashion agile developers and atomic designers a.o. know as ‘iterative’:

“Atomic design gives you the ability to traverse from abstract to concrete. (…) Implementing atomic design principles whilst building web and mobile wireframes will allow you to improve UX, starting with the most fundamental components of a website or app, and from the very early stages of the design process.”

If designers can build user experiences from the bottom up, content strategists should seriously consider to follow suit, in sum. The key to untie the content strategic knot is to be found in its most fundamental component: your brand’s answers to the top of your (future) customer’s FAQ list.

An ‘atomic’ content strategy will answer FAQ #1 first, proceed to answer one question at a time, tag each answer with its why, who, whereto, how, when and where… and scrum from there. That’s how to cure the ‘diagram itch’ that got so many a content strategist stuck in the elevator pitch.

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Frank Delmelle

Content Strategist