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Five words that bring depth to any project, campaign or strategy – "Why are we doing this?". Our content strategist Martin Bewick looks at the question's importance in an increasingly complex and results-driven world
(This orginally appeared on the CMA website)
There is a certain type of eureka moment that content marketers will instantly recognise. It’s a moment of revelation that brings conflicting feelings of elation and fear. It often occurs during a long team or client meeting and, once experienced, it’s hard to forget.
In that moment, a solution presents itself to a problem you’re facing, but to share it with colleagues won’t just mean rocking the boat – it will also mean asking why you were in a boat in the first place.
It could be that, while everyone is engrossed in the detail of exciting new creative work, you suddenly realise that your print content is somehow steering the agenda for a social media campaign, simply because it existed first, or has seen the biggest investment of time and money. Social should roll off the back of it, naturally, everyone seems to think. But why?
Or it could be that you’ve applied the same creative considerations to an upcoming campaign as you did for a previous one, simply because it seemed to work. This one, you now realise, is a different beast altogether. Or maybe you have fallen into a familiar set of working habits with a new client, because you have previous experience with another in the same sector. You should backtrack and propose something completely different – but how do you turn it around?
Of course, there are reasons these things happen. Success is hard won so – if you have achieved it – you don’t want to set it aside. Major innovation isn’t always required, so if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And then there’s consistency. Everyone likes consistency. It means we can better understand the nature of things, and predict outcomes, and make plans. Novelty, on the other hand, might disrupt this and complicate matters, so why encourage it? Novelty drains resources.
Content in a complex world
Once upon a time, in the days before the term ‘content marketing’ even existed, the majority of what agencies like CPL did was more rustically known as ‘contract publishing’. Back then, consistency was easier to regulate. An annual publishing schedule was agreed, and agencies, clients, printers, advertisers and customers alike would know when and how content would be created and distributed. Meanwhile, finance departments would know when money was going out, and when it might come back in.
That world is receding into the distant past, but it has left a legacy in how we approach content strategy. Too often, despite kind words and best intentions, marketers still plan content in rather old-world ways, spacing it around a calendar, for example, as if the goal was only to create an equally distributed pattern.
But is that actually best for the organisation that your efforts are trying to support? Is that how the target audience really wants to be engaged? We know that the world is complex and uneven, but too often our plans don’t reflect it. And this is where the eureka moment comes in.
For content marketers, it’s when they realise they’re not doing content strategy. Yes, they’re planning, creating and measuring work across different channels – but that is really just tactical marketing, aimed at delivering short to mid-term results.
Is that not enough? It might be, but it’s not the complete picture. When marketing spend is spread ever thinner across an increasing number of channels, and when changing consumer demand brings new opportunities – from voice search to virtual reality – it may not be adequate to say ‘we can create amazing content’.
The greater challenge is to understand why you are creating it in the first place. Clients are increasingly asking this question, and the answer, increasingly, can’t be one size fits all. Content strategy doesn’t begin with a channel or a calendar. It begins with understanding the specific needs of a business and its audience. Free your mind to understand this, and the rest, as they say, will follow.