Be Strategic About Content, Even Without a Strategist

There’s no question, content marketing is hot. Over the past 20 years, digital has moved content well beyond its traditional print boundaries. Content is far more cost effective and targeted than traditional advertising and offers a greater ability to control your message than media relations.

Often a strategist is leading the content charge within a marketing department. Based on business goals and user needs, the content strategist plans, develops, and delivers clear, relevant content that brings goals and needs together. Content governance is also part of this role.

Creating content is the least of the strategist’s responsibilities. A content strategist ensures that content across all channels reflects consistent messaging and tone of voice, is audience relevant and on brand. The strategist collaborates with the UX team to map out the user journey. He or she also identifies the appropriate KPIs to track, analyzes metrics, and contributes to SEO and SEM strategy.

The content strategist is a busy person who often doesn’t exist in an insurance marketing department, particularly those where team members wear multiple hats. But not having a dedicated content strategist doesn’t mean that your department should forgo content strategy.

In developing a content strategy, it’s important to understand what content can—and cannot—do.

Strengths and weaknesses

“Content marketing is excellent for building reputation and trust, as well as brand awareness, understanding and appreciation—usually over a longperiod of time,” says IMCA board member Peter van Aartrijk, who runs an eponymous content marketing firm.

Content is only as valuable as your customers and prospects perceive it. IMCA board member Clif Simmons, who is a UX strategist at Allstate, advises marketers to think about: “Who are you creating the content for? Really put yourself in their shoes. What are they worried about? What challenges do they face? What questions are they asking?”

Of course there are times when content just isn’t the answer. For example, in situations where you need quick results. And no matter how compelling your white paper or video is, visitors to your conference booth will inevitably be more interested in your giveaways.

“You can’t expect content to sell an account immediately, although it can create sales opportunities,” Peter says. “Content is a long-term approach, while sales is more short-term focused.”

Road map

Content creation is often confused with content strategy. This is an issue, though, since content created outside a strategy framework is rarely effective.

IMCA Board member Amy Hourigan, who is also director of marketing and communications at HAI Group, defines content strategy as “…a framework for prioritizing your content marketing efforts in a way that’s meaningful for your audience and your brand. It ensures that the content you create will resonate with the audience you’re targeting, that it will get seen.”

Many content blogs advise that one of the initial steps in developing a content strategy is to set goals and identify KPIs. Clif takes a different approach.

“When setting goals, the customer needs to come first,” Clif says. “You can’t achieve content marketing success if the customer doesn’t understand you. Content needs to make things clear for them.”

Amy seconds that approach.

“Storytelling is at the heart of great content, and telling a great story is impossible without empathy,” she says. “To have empathy for your audience, you have to have a really good idea of who they are and what keeps them up at night.”

Think and act like a strategist

As marketing department head at HAI Group, Amy also handles the content strategist’s role. To keep the focus on the customer, Amy and her team craft data-driven personas to better understand HAI Group’s target audience and what will drive them to take action. She also finds journey mapping to be a useful tool for filling in her department’s editorial calendar and identifying gaps.

A content audit can also be a useful strategic exercise. As an example, Amy reports that her team’s recent audit revealed that they had a lot of top-of-the funnel pieces but were missing sales-enablement tools for certain products at the decision and purchasing stages.

A content audit should also look at your content from an audience perspective.

“You want to be sure you understand your identified target audiences and what makes them tick,” says Peter. “It’s important to know how they get their information and what they genuinely think of your company and its products.”

The two U’s

When you’re juggling multiple responsibilities, it’s easy to forget about the role of UX in supporting content.

“We understand that great design not only means creating a pleasant visual experience, but also an enjoyable interactive one,” says Amy. “If you want to delight your audience, remember that content, UX, and graphic design all play a role in creating the ultimate user experience.”

In addition to UX, Clif sees content strategy touching on UI as well. He believes that button labeling should give the user a sense of what they’ll see next. Rather than the ubiquitous “click here” and “learn more,” he prefers more specific labels such as “Sign up now” or “Let’s build your policy.”

Get organized

Website taxonomy—content organization—is another critical area that may get short shift without a content strategist. Amy advises insurance marketers to pay attention to the way they name and categorize content. The goal is to make it easier for your audience—and your team—to find what they’re looking for. As an additional benefit, good content organization makes it easier to find and update stale content.

At Allstate, Clif keeps a content matrix in an Excel document that he updates on a weekly basis. It allows his team to quickly see what’s been previously said along with what can no longer be used and why.

Learn more

Staying on top of content marketing best practices and trends is tough if content isn’t your full-time job. As Clif points out, the web is a great source of free information, pointing specifically to HubSpot, Udemy, Skillshare, and YouTube. He also finds Rosenfeld Media to be a good educational resource.

Amy says the Content Market Institute is her “go-to” resource. She also sets aside time in her schedule every day to read up on the latest trends and case studies on content marketing and related topics, such as SEO.

In addition to these resources, the IMCA website has several content-related presentations from our 2019 annual conference.