There isn’t a marketer alive who doesn’t care about strategy. At least not one that I’ve met. And everyone values good content. So why is content strategy often so overlooked? So underutilized? So…bad?

At its best, true content strategy (the long-term planning, development, and distribution of content) has the power to take hold of the narrative that already exists in the marketplace for your brand. It can pull that narrative closer to your strategic objectives, and ultimately spark behavior change. In short, a good content strategy can be transformational.

The reasons why a content strategy may not be working are usually pretty basic. It doesn’t take long to go from dud to diamond here, and it’s well worth the effort. Here are the most common offenses and how to get back on track.

1. You Don’t Have a Content Strategy

You have to walk before you can run. If your content strategy is a regurgitation of your strategic imperatives for the year, it’s time to dig a little deeper. Remember: The story of your brand already exists in the marketplace, both because of your efforts and despite them. If that story is not driving your business goals, it’s time to wrangle it in. To do that, you need to have a clear sense of what the customer’s story of your brand is (queue your most recent market research). From there, define the handful of essential conversations—the storylines—that must surround your key customers in order for them to revise their story of your brand.

These storylines are the pillars of your content strategy. The channel mix for each storyline may change, maybe the spend will too. But the essential conversations should be defined early on in your annual planning and stuck to if you’re intent on changing behavior and showing ROI.

2. You’re Too Focused on Your Label

This is an opportunity for you to be bold. Far too often content strategy plays it safe. A little efficacy, a little safety…what’s not to love? If your content strategy lives within the four corners of your label, what you have is just a mix of tactics tied up with a fancier name. Reject this impulse! Well-designed content strategy provides the contextual framework necessary for your brand’s value to be recognized. That often means everything but the data in your label.

With an oncology client, we used content marketing to quantify the impact of a non-lethal but devastating side effect where our profile was much better than our main competitor’s. We had a storyline entirely devoted to the prevalence and impact of that side effect. It’s these lesser-known pieces of your story—the micro-stories—that can set your brand apart. Let your brand.com play up the primary endpoints.

3. You Have Commitment Issues

I’m talking about your editorial calendar. Content strategy is a garden that needs ongoing attention. We have all visited the barren, abandoned blogs of well-meaning brands. Don’t be a brand with a barren blog! Commit to what you can—monthly, batched, even quarterly content releases—and stick with it. Set up an internal process with your brand team and your agency to ensure you’re ready to show the consistency that will drive credibility.

4. Your Content is Too Fluffy

Don’t you hate it when you read an entire article only to realize you learned absolutely zero in doing so? It’s the same feeling I get when I realize my child has only eaten cotton candy for dinner. An opportunity for nourishment has been missed. Serve your customers something valuable and they will come to rely on you for that. Invest in identifying a true KOL, interview them, and turn the transcript into several pieces of content. You’ll then realize another benefit of content strategy: Flexibility. The same story, packaged several ways and served in a few channels, can become contextual bedrock that elevates your brand profile.

5. Your Content Strategy Output is All Copy

Some of the best content strategy campaigns feature visual storytelling. Can your complex idea become an infographic, a short animation, maybe even a social experiment? Be open to those possibilities. Even if certain aspects of your strategy must be delivered through editorial content, devote some spend to data visualization. It can be the hook that brings your customers into the story. And if you end up with two versions of the same story—one visualized, one copy—even better! Spread them out during the year, and maximize the potential to reach new eyes.

Embrace the power of content strategy and watch the magic happen. All it takes is a little planning and a lot of commitment. Good luck!

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