Hannah Smith Discloses the Pillars of a Solid Content Strategy
Following the SEMDays conference which was held in Bucharest between 24th -25th of September, we sat down with Hannah Smith to discuss the elements of a solid content strategy as well as the difference between content written for B2B and content written for B2C.
Beaglecat: I know that content strategy incorporates quite a few elements. If you had to choose 3 key pillars that a solid content strategy couldn’t exist without, which would they be and why?
Hannah Smith: It’s not a bad idea to kick off with a definition of content strategy. Here’s how I define it:
“A content strategy is the high-level vision that guides future content development to deliver against a specific business objective.”
As such, you need to know what your objective is before you do anything else 🙂
Once that’s been agreed you can embark on the strategy. I always start with research – broken out into the following 3 areas:
- Company research
- Customer research
- Competitor research
This is all about uncovering the company’s values and core strengths. The sorts of questions I’ll look to answer are:
What does the company stand for?
How are they different from their competitors?
Besides making money, why are they in business?
I’ll also audit the content they already have to see how it’s delivering versus their objectives and assess the quality.
In this phase my goal is to understand the wants, needs, and purchasing journey of the company’s customers. I’ll also want to understand more about how, where and when they consume content.
Competitor research comes in two flavours – commercial competitors and content competitors.
Here my goal is to understand the company’s commercial competitors’ brand values, unique selling proposition, and how they are communicating them to their customers. I’ll also do some research into the company’s content competitors to see what they’re producing and what seems to be working for them.
With these research components in hand, I then need to find a place for the company to play. Often this is about identifying a suitable gap, I ask questions like:
- What do your customers say they want and need?
- Are your competitors (both commercial and content) already giving this to them?
- If not, is this an opportunity for your brand to shine? And does seizing it match what your brand stands for?
It’s really important to circle back and ask: “will doing this deliver against my business objective?” If it won’t, it isn’t the right thing to do. For those that are interested I wrote more about this here.
BC: A good content strategist needs to be one step ahead of the game. How can we achieve this? What do you do when you need to take a step back in order to see the whole picture? What’s your inspiration?
H.S.: There are a bunch of brands I really admire, so I like to keep an eye on what they’re up to, and try to deconstruct what they’re doing and whether or not it appears to be working for them. You can learn a lot by deconstructing the success of others, plus you can then take those learnings and apply them to your own work. I wrote more about this here.
BC: There are so many blogs and so much content spread all over the internet. Are there still some hidden tips left that can make your content stand out from that of other similar sources?
H.S.: I think if you’re creating content that looks and sounds like content that’s already out there, inevitably you’re going to blend in, not stand out. Do something different. When we’re creating content for clients one of the things we ask ourselves is: ‘How is this different from what’s already out there?’
If the answer is “It isn’t…” we either try to find a way to make it different or we drop the idea. There’s not much point in doing something that’s already been done.
BC: In what ways is B2B content different from B2C? What aspects should we take into account when creating content for either of them?
H.S: It really depends on the purpose of the content. If you’re creating content to drive conversion in the B2B space you may need to take into account the wants and needs of multiple stakeholders – all of whom are in some involved in the purchasing decision; whereas B2B purchasing decisions are often just made by one or two people.
However, broadly speaking I don’t subscribe to the theory that there are vast differences between B2B and B2C – you are still creating content for humans 🙂
BC: Finally, content strategy requires constant reading and documentation. Could you share with us the names of some of your favourite authors or influencers?
H.S.: I’d strongly recommend you read (or watch) the following:
- This piece from Ben Barone-Nugent on Defining Content Strategy
- The Economist’s Style Guide (it will change the way you write)
- Jonathon Colman’s Wicked Ambiguity talk from Confab
- Death Redesigned (a fascinating peek inside Ideo)
- Frank Chimero’s The Web’s Grain (designing for the web)
Also, Jonathon Colman’s list of content strategy resources is fantastic.
Hannah Smith is Content Strategist at Distilled and Associate at Moz.com. As a Content Strategist for Distilled she spends a lot of time persuading companies to create things online. Things which will blow people’s minds (for a precious heartbeat or two), things that are useful, that they’ll engage with and want to share. She’s spoken at various conferences, both in the UK and abroad including MozCon, SMX, SearchLove, Brighton SEO, The Content Marketing Show & Think Visibility. She also writes on Moz, Distilled, State of Digital & SEO Chicks.