Organizations don’t realize full value from their content when they don’t consider their strategic positioning. This article will introduce how strategic positioning can be used to increase the value of your content.
Michael AndrewsJun 10, 2021
Organizations can be in two minds about their content. On the one hand, they rely on content extensively in many areas. Yet, on the other hand, they don’t necessarily consider their content as strategic. Consider how much content is valued in your organization:
- Does your organization say that content is valuable?
- Does it prioritize its content as a valuable resource?
- Does your organization’s content produce results that everyone can see as valuable?
These questions can elicit a mix of responses. Not everyone shares a common understanding of content’s contributions. They have different expectations about the value of content.
The truth is content can be valuable, but it isn’t automatically valuable. Content needs to be made valuable.
The goal of content strategy is to make all content more valuable. Before we explore how to do that, let’s look at why content needs to be treated as a valuable resource.
Content’s not a commodity
Content keeps growing in volume, but it hasn’t necessarily become better. For many consumers, the more content they encounter, the more that content looks the same. Numerous enterprises produce volumes of content that consumers rarely or never access. And when it is viewed, consumers may react by thinking, “So what?”
Given the large volume of content, it’s easy for both enterprises and audiences to consider content as a commodity, seeing it as widely available and interchangeable. When that’s the expectation, the content won’t achieve much.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Firms can overcome the “sea of sameness” that dominates so much content if they are guided by a focused content strategy. A strategy should be led by a vision of what impact the content will have on consumers and the business.
The content strategist Colleen Jones writes in her book The Content Advantage that a “content vision is your future destination.” She identifies six elements that contribute to a compelling guiding content vision:
- Out of the Ordinary
- A North Star
The vision articulates the qualities all content ideally should have. It enables the content to escape the doldrums of sameness. The vision articulates what your content aspires to be. But you need a strategy to make that vision concrete and actionable.
Content is at the forefront of customer interaction. It influences whether customers perceive the options presented as valuable to them and whether they take actions that are valuable to the business.
To make their content more valuable, organizations need the right strategy that matches their goals and the needs of their customers.
A strategy translates a vision for content into a coordinated approach that directs the focus of enterprise content operations. The vision communicates why the content is being created. The strategy expresses choices about how the organization’s content is different and offers unique value.
|Why: your mission and vision for all content||Content’s role supporting the goals of the organization|
|How: your high-level strategy for content||Deciding how content can offer unique value to customers and the organization|
|What: your execution tactics||Operational activities to deliver on measurable objectives|
The vision supplies top-level goals tailored to the business, the sector within which it operates, and the customer segments it serves (the “why”). The strategy evaluates and chooses among various options to achieve those goals (the “how”) while answering how it will help the organization realize its goals for content.
Making strategy customer-centric
Traditionally, strategy focused on outflanking business competitors, while marketing focused on swaying customers with messages about product features and pricing. Listening to customers wasn’t a priority. Customers were expected to respond to what companies offered.
Over time, however, both these disciplines have become more customer-driven. Companies no longer respond to only actions of other companies. They need to respond to customers ahead of their competitors. All companies need to constantly update their products and services to respond to what customers want.
Professor Roger Martin, one of the world’s leading business thinkers, recently wrote: “It’s time to accept that marketing and strategy are one discipline.”
Martin argues that “strategy is the act of making an integrated set of choices, which positions the organization to win.” He breaks out two critical dimensions in strategy:
- “Where to Play” (WTP)
- “How to Win” (HTW)
“At their best, both marketers and strategists seek to determine WTP/HTW and use similar tools to evaluate customers, competitors, and the company to make that decision. They now have the same job—just with different titles.”
While marketing has always focused on customers, corporate strategy did not until recently. Now corporate strategy is also being shaped by the needs of customers: “A company had to deeply understand customers to provide unique value to them. Later, elements of design, including the deep, ethnographically driven understanding of users and rapid, iterative prototyping with them, were incorporated into strategy.”
When “done correctly, the core job of marketers and strategists have become the same.” He stresses the importance of alignment: “The worst possible outcome is to have a marketing plan and a strategic plan that are inconsistent.”
It’s equally important that content is aligned with corporate strategy and marketing. That’s where content strategy comes in.
Any strategy is about choices—which options to emphasize. Content strategy is about making the right choices regarding how to provide content to customers.
Content generally is the first point of contact with customers. If content doesn’t speak to customers on their terms, it won’t be successful. As with corporate strategy, content strategy should be led by user needs. This is true for all kinds of content, not only content customarily considered as marketing content.
Positioning content to be more valuable and strategic
Content strategy defines how enterprise content will simultaneously support business goals and customer needs. Unless both those requirements are satisfied, the content won’t contribute to business outcomes. Both the organization producing the content and the consumer using the content need to benefit. Successful content expresses perspectives that the business and customer have in common.
Let’s review why having a customer focus for content is critical to the business. Customers rely on all kinds of content to understand what a business can offer to them. Their encounters with content will shape if they perceive a brand as helpful or not. The content they view influences their immediate and future actions. Content generates action—or inaction if the content isn’t right.
The content the enterprise offers needs to be positioned so that it is the right content for the right audience and available at the right time.
Like corporate strategy, content strategy should make decisions about positioning, specifically “where to play” and “how to win.” It should seek to take advantage of broader opportunities to improve how the content is used.
The right strategy can improve the reach of content and the engagement it delivers. It can make the content more valuable for customers and the business.
Strategy evaluates options and makes choices about how content can deliver more value. It seeks to locate areas of potential advantage by looking at two strategic dimensions: where to play and how to win. As we will see shortly, the dimension of where to play considers such aspects as what to create and promote. The dimension of how to win looks at what should be different so that it sparks interest and offers utility.
When content provides something that customers want but isn’t readily available elsewhere, it can deliver unique business value. But sometimes the objective is to avoid being at an obvious disadvantage: ensuring the business is not losing customers because their content is not positioned appropriately.
Where to Play
Where to play influences how content reaches customers. The wrong decision may mean they don’t find what they are looking for. Good decisions can enhance the visibility and discovery of important information.
The where-to-play decision considers two factors:
- Customer needs and expectations
- Competitors’ coverage
Think about “where” broadly in terms of the coverage of the content rather than narrowly as a delivery destination. This strategic dimension involves choices about areas to invest in, assessing opportunities that will appeal to customers, especially ones that aren’t oversaturated by competitors. When possible, look for opportunities to provide content in ways that are valuable to customers that are not well served.
Ask where you can most effectively reach customers, given where they spend time and what else is competing for their attention. You need to match or surpass what customers can get elsewhere.
Coverage decisions provide opportunities for differentiation. It’s also important to close any gaps where customers expect coverage that is missing.
Some areas where your organization might develop an advantage, in terms of being better or unique, include:
- Themes and topics (discussion of issues, capabilities, benefits, or customer goals)
- Audience segments (identity or affiliation in roles, communities, groups, and tribes)
- Availability in channels
- Content formats and media
- Positioning along message spectrum (perspective, outlook, or viewpoint)
- Scheduling or delivery moments (in life events, cultural events, and service or social interactions)
- Communications within event cycles (in customer journeys, product relationships, and life rituals)
Each of these areas should be evaluated in terms of customer interest and relevance.
How to Win
Once you have some ideas about how to differentiate your coverage, you need to consider how to connect with the hearts and minds of your audience. How to win is your engagement strategy, which needs to match or surpass customer expectations.
Customer expectations are increasingly being influenced by their interactions with content in other sectors. Compare your content’s engagement with a range of content that your customers encounter, not just the content from your direct competitors.
The how-to-win strategy is important for content to be noticed and generate action (and interaction). Many opportunities are available to demonstrate how your content is better and more valuable to customers:
- Brand differentiation (distinctiveness)
- Timeliness (proactiveness, topicality)
- Relevance of coverage (essentialness, depth of material, simplicity)
- Demonstrating empathy and understanding of customer needs
- The talent of content developers (staff skills and training, outside expertise)
- Partnerships (with content collaborators, producers, curators, or distributors)
- Learning about audiences through feedback (insights, improvements)
- Innovation and agility in content development
- Experience delivery (apps, service design, cross channel integration)
The how-to-win dimension guides choices about what to emphasize and exactly how to do that. Standing out is not about copying a widely used best practice. And no single factor will make content distinctive—it requires a coordinated mix of factors.
Enterprises can’t rely on gimmicks to boost content engagement if they expect to sustain customer interest. They need to be smarter when providing content. They must be able to:
- Identify gaps in how various customer segments engage with content on specific topics.
- Improve the utility and value of content relating to these dimensions.
Content’s strategic contribution
Content is strategic in two ways. First, it can be a strategic resource that influences outcomes and the realization of business goals. Second, it needs to be a strategic capability, able to support these outcomes.
By focusing on the positioning of their content in terms of where to play and how to win, organizations can bring more value to the content they provide to audiences.