I must have heard the following plea 20+ times in the past year. “We want to do more content, but we’re not really sure where to start”.
Between blog articles, Instagram stories, tweets, Fleets, TikToks, virtual events and YouTube videos - it’s easy to get overwhelmed. And it’s even easier to fall into a rhythm where you’re producing a bunch of random content, without a clear understanding of why, or what business outcome you’re trying to achieve.
Getting clarity on the what, why, and how of running a well-oiled content machine doesn’t mean you have to strategise yourself into a black hole. Published is always better than perfect. Testing and learning should be your M.O.
That being said - there are a few fundamental principles and frameworks that’ll help you in your journey to doing *more* content. I’ll try to keep it simple. This is a guide most suited to B2C and e-commerce brands who don’t have £100,000 to throw at content but want to build an impactful evergreen engine. There are universal insights to be had, but I won’t cover the hardcore lead-gen/automation/nurture sequences most helpful for B2B businesses, or omni-channel best practice most suited for go-big campaigns.
WHAT CONTENT IS AND WHY IT’S HARD
Firstly: What is content?
Content is anything that expresses something for or about your company. The obvious formats include social media, blog articles, events, podcasts, videos and campaign emails. The less obvious but equally important formats include sales and customer service scripts, external interviews and copy on your website.
What does ‘doing more content’ actually mean?
In most cases, “do more content” usually means “do more content marketing”. And this is a bit more involved than just writing more words. The Content Marketing Institute describes content marketing as
… a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
And they’re spot on. The key being that you start writing valuable and relevant content designed for a clearly defined audience before you get to any sort of ‘profitable customer action’. (Read: a conversion, i.e. downloading a pdf, signing up to your newsletter, buying your product).
Before we get onto what content and content marketing looks like in practice for smaller, resource-constrained startups, I have a wakeup call for B2C brands.
It’s never been harder for brands to build trust.
You might have heard commentators and media use the phrase “attention economy” to describe the notification-laden, downright overwhelming state of the internet. Every website, app and platform in our online worlds is competing for a sliver of our attention. (Fleets, anyone?)
As a result, the internet is structured not to prioritise the truth but rather what is most compelling. Enter click-bait and fake news. More engagement → More ad clicks → More money. So between doomscrolling through Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok, watching Netflix and Youtube, people don’t have much attention left for your branded content.
The growing awareness of this - that we, the mindless swiping humans, are the product - has led to more scepticism about corporations/brands at-large, especially when it comes to their marketing efforts. The phrase ‘tough crowd’ comes to mind. Amidst Netflix exposés and vapid brand activism, it’s harder for businesses to please and gain real trust.
Especially when you’re competing with creators. Consumer-creators *tend to* have deeper, more direct relationships with their audiences than brands. It’s hard to compete with someone who feels like a friend. This counts for classic influencers but also individual operators with paid newsletters. (CC: passion/creator economy) You’re not just up against other brands, but with individual creators at-large.
So in short, getting people to engage with your content is more difficult than ever, and building authentic relationships with your desired audience is also harder than ever.
But with some creativity and a focused strategy, I think it’s still possible.
There are 5 steps.
Define your brand
Define your audience, set objectives and determine success.
Pick your channels and your tactics.
Produce fantastic content
Distribute, measure, and repeat.
1. DEFINE YOUR BRAND
Defining your brand is important foundational work you want to have completed before starting or scaling up your content operations. Having clarity on your brand answers important questions like “What do you stand for? What do you believe in? What is unique about you? What conversation are you trying to push forward? Whose attention are you trying to capture?”
Without doing this work, any content you produce is unlikely to be consistent or sufficiently differentiated.
You won’t have any guidelines when it comes to determining what kind of content you should be creating. And anything you do produce a) won’t feel like you and b) won’t help you develop long-term brand equity (read: the value premium your brand has in the market because it’s your brand. It’s the reason Supreme can charge £500 for a hoodie.)
But this isn’t an article about brand strategy. If you’re at ground zero, read this HBR article about building a minimum viable brand, my article about getting from 0 to 1 with your brand messaging, everything in Ana Anjdelic’s newsletter ‘The Sociology of Business’ and Jasmine Bina’s Medium.
2. SET OBJECTIVES, DEFINE YOUR AUDIENCE, AND DETERMINE SUCCESS
Three things to think about here.
Who you’re trying to capture (Audience)
Why you want to do more content (Objectives)
How you’ll measure success (KPI’s / success metrics)
Defining your audience
The O.G. marketing man Seth Godin, writes “When you tell a story to someone who wants and needs to hear that story, eyes light up, pulses quicken, trust is built and action is taken.”
So your first order of priority should be understanding who exactly you are trying to reach with your content. Ideally, you’ll have built some personas as part of your brand development (or earlier customer development).
If not, here’s a quick steer (read this for a longer one):
Speak to some people who you think are your target audience, and get to know them and their problems. Scroll through their social media feeds. Ask what makes them tick.
Define your audience’s psychographic traits (personality, beliefs). They tend to be a lot more insightful than their demographic traits (age, gender, location)
Outline their goals (what they want to do), interests (what they like), and pain points (what they no longer want to do), and where they hang out.
An emerging idea I find interesting is taste communities. The idea acknowledges that humans are inherently social creatures, so focusing on them as individuals - as personas tend to do - is redundant. Rather, you should focus on the communities they belong to - read this article for more detail. The logic suggests that the relationships people hold and the recommendation networks they’re a part of say x10 more about how they’ll buy than what they believe.
Now, onto the why. Your content efforts should be rooted in a high-level business objective, otherwise you’ll lack a decent business case for doing *more* content, and it’ll be hard to unlock spend (if you’re on a marketing team) or justify spend (if you’re the founder!). For an e-commerce business this could be:
Increase new orders
Increase repeat orders
Improve search visibility (SEO)
Grow an engaged community
When it comes to measuring whether you’ve successfully achieved your desired objectives, make sure to choose the right metrics. Measuring standard content metrics that aren't clearly linked to your objectives (e.g. page views) is an easy trap to fall into. If you’re measuring and reporting on page views, then you may be incentivised to produce a high volume of click-bait content, which isn’t going to contribute to your objective of growing an engaged community (for instance).
There may be some supporting metrics that are useful to track. However as the Yes Optimist team points out, “the key metrics, or KPIs, should be directly related to your ultimate desired outcome.” Here’s an example.
Objective: Grow an engaged community
Conversion rate from blog to mailing list
Email click-through rate
Number of organic mentions (or specific #hashtag use) on social media
Number of attendees at virtual events
Number of engagements on social media
Time spent on blog pages
3. PICK YOUR CHANNELS AND TACTICS
Congrats! At this stage, you’ve got a differentiated brand that’ll help shape all content decisions, and clear objectives and success metrics that’ll guide your efforts to reach a very specific target audience.
Now it’s time to get to the actual content activities. Specifically:
Where you’ll reach your target audience (Channels)
What you’ll do to achieve your stated objective. (Tactics)
To start this discussion, I’d like to introduce you to the hero-hub-hygiene framework.
A quick interlude - the hero, hub, hygiene framework.
The hero-hub-hygiene framework is one I lean on heavily, because it forces me take a holistic approach to content, and as a result, get the most out of it.
Originally, hero-hub-hygiene was a video strategy designed and recommended by Google for YouTube publishers. It laid out an approach that wasn’t indexed around chasing short-lived viral moments, but rather focused on building long-term loyalty.
Its principles apply to all forms of content, and I’ve found it wildly helpful for structuring my content activities.
Hygiene ‘pull’ content
Hygiene content is designed to pull users in based on their searches or interests. Well-performing hygiene content drives discoverability.
Examples include: FAQ’s, ‘how-to’ videos, educational guides, testimonials.
What are your users searching for? What are some questions that most of your users tend to ask? What do they need help with?
Any content that answers these questions is hygiene content. This is where SEO-driven content lives. Jumping into a keyword search tool and mining for high-volume, low competition queries will be brilliant for ideation. Hubspot does this well, with their classic hub-and-spoke approach.
Hygiene content is also table-stakes content that exists to explain. Well-performing hygiene content also sets the right expectations.
Examples include: website copy, customer service emails, product pages.
This is an addition to Google’s framework, but I think website copy, cart abandonment emails and similar types of ‘table-stakes’ content are brilliant opportunities to pull customers further into your brand world. You want to ensure these spaces are ‘branded’ and set the tone for the customer-brand relationship that will follow. Communicate who you are, and what you believe in in an authentic differentiated way. This stuff isn’t so much content marketing, as it is just content. But it’s still important.
It’s easy to ignore hygiene content. Try not to. At some point in the user journey, a user will interact with it. And if they land on something sub-par after interacting with a beautiful, well-thought piece of hub content (see hub below), you could lose them.
Patch has great SEO-driven educational hygiene content. Above you can see their article on indoor plants is linked in the footer of the homepage, and ranks #1 for ‘best indoor plants’ on Google. They also have a library of educational YouTube videos.
Hub ‘push’ content
Hub content is engaging content that is pushed to your audience, based on what they want and need. Well-performing hub content drives engagement, and shareability.
Examples include: Blog posts, product-led demo’s, regular newsletters, interviews with influencers, always-on social media.
The bulk of your ongoing content efforts will be dedicated to hub content. This is the content that has a consistent cadence (daily, weekly, monthly - whatever your time/resource allows for without compromising on quality) and is aggressively targeted to your primary audience. This content should keep your audience coming back, and incentivise them to engage (subscribe, follow, like).
Glossier has an entire publication - Into The Gloss - dedicated to hub content. It’s a one-stop-shop for the glossier customer to get tips, tricks, and celebrity insights on all things beauty and skincare.
Hero ‘pow’ content
Hero content is your less frequent, multi-channel, go-big-or-go-home content. It’s your authoritative, stake in the ground moment. It should be seen by the masses, and will probably cost something. Well-performing hero content drives differentiation, and brand awareness.
Examples include: Conferences, reports, documentaries, books, product launches,
Hero content is the bigger budget, brand activations that should happen annually - quarterly - again depending on resource. They are high risk, high reward efforts, and should engage the full spectrum of marketing channels - owned, earned and paid media. Make sure to understand what the ‘hook’ is, and how you’re going to cut through. Ideally, you should also use it as a means to funnel people towards your existing hub content (or create some new hub content) in order to sustain/capture the uplift.
For the launch of a new product - the exercise dress - Outdoor Voices launched a multi-channel campaign that included a in-real life dance party in the middle of New York, a Facebook Live, a hero video, social videos, lots of great press.
OK, back to channels and tactics.
So, picking your channels and tactics. Table-stakes hygiene content (i.e. website copy, transactional emails) is key for every business. But how much hero, hub and hygiene content you do on top of that depends on your objectives. For now, let’s assume we’ve only got 1 objective:
To grow an engaged community.
To achieve this, we’ll need to primarily focus on hub content, on channels where our audience tend to hang out, using tactics that are highly engaging and involve our customers. For example:
A mini docuseries on a topic that is highly emotional/inspirational and tangential to your product. I.e. as a hair growth brand, you could give a voice to those with alopecia. As a sportswear brand you could explore the challenges of being a woman in sports. Supported by paid media + partnerships.
Host weekly conversations with a specific hashtag (tactic) on twitter (channel)
Host monthly fireside chats with your most stylish customers (tactic) on instagram (channel)
Craft an always-on social media calendar that focuses on styling tips, sharing UGC, and funny memes (tactic) on instagram (channel)
Hold giveaways (tactic) that’s exclusive for your newsletter subscribers (channel).
Branded website copy, and transactional emails.
I chose to explain this framework as I think it’s the most universal, regardless of objectives. That being said, there are other frameworks, especially some that are more suited for objectives oriented around search visibility/SEO. Read about them here.
4. PRODUCE FANTASTIC CONTENT
The number 1 filter for deciding whether or not to produce something, is asking the question “Is this something my audience would want to share?”. Or “Is this something that is going to make them want to come back for more?” If it’s not - don’t do it.
Here are a few other tips to guide your production.
Build a content calendar - on a monthly cycle to begin with, and once you’ve got a well-oiled machine, it should be quarterly - that is dictated by the amount of resource you have. Quality > quantity. I’d recommend using Notion or Asana for this.
Think outside of the box
It’s impossible to give blanket advice when it comes to what exactly you should produce, but as a general rule of thumb, try to think outside of the box. Can you offer a new perspective? Can you take standard information and put it into a new, interesting format? Can you use your industry insight to curate existing information? Try to get creative.
I have a working theory that there is a diminishing amount of space for middle-of-the-road hub content. It’s easier to get cut through with snackable, short, on-the-nose content (cc: twitter, TikTok, meme culture) or at the other end, longer form, rich, nuanced content (cc: The Skin Deep, Vogue 73 questions, podcasts, New York Times exposés.) Most content that goes viral, or garners a lot of organic conversation, lives in one of these two camps.
In a similar vein, you should try to work with multiple mediums. Social media algorithms favour image/video/audio over the written word.
Creative is just as important as the words
Think of blog banners, meta images, and social images as a form of marketing for your content. Commissioning illustrators, turning your podcast into a visual social snippet, or creating infographics is a great tactic to increase engagement.
Keep your finger on the pulse
The more you know about the space you’re operating in, and the customers you’re trying to reach, the more relevant and valuable content you’ll be able to produce. Follow the tastemakers and futurists in your sector and see what they are talking about. Spend 30 minutes scrolling through Twitter each day. Subscribe to good cultural digests and medium publications. Keep up with your competitors' comms. Watch your customers youtube videos.
5. DISTRIBUTE, MEASURE AND REPEAT
Conventional content wisdom says that you should spend the same amount of time distributing content, as you do producing it. I’ve never successfully implemented the 50/50 rule (I’m a slow writer) but it is the benchmark.
For each piece of content, you should have a short ‘distribution checklist’, e.g.
Post the content in online communities (Reddit, Quora, LinkedIn groups, Facebook and Slack groups)
Broker content sharing agreements with other brands
Embed it into your social/email calendar (and promote it at least 2-3 times)
Encourage your team to engage with social media posts to boost visibility
Turn it into a tweet thread
And then monitor the response, and see whether it’s positively contributing to your KPI’s or not. Sometimes, content needs time to marinate. So, I’d recommend doing monthly retrospectives where you review the metrics (and qualitative feedback) to determine what’s working/not working, and what needs to change for next month.
Content marketing is valuable and relevant content designed for a specific audience that ultimately drives a profitable customer action.
Remember, you’re fighting against an overwhelming and saturated internet environment. It’s harder than ever to build trust.
Jumping into content production without having a decent idea of what your brand is will lead to undifferentiated, random and forgettable content.
Your content marketing must be rooted in high-level business objectives, and you should choose your success metrics on this basis. And make sure to define your audience - if you don’t speak to someone, you won’t speak to anyone.
The channels and tactics you use should be defined by your audience and your objectives. Hero-hub-hygiene is a brilliant framework for structuring the channels/tactics you ultimately decide on. Here are some others.
The number 1 filter for deciding whether or not to produce something, is asking the question “Is this something my audience would want to share?”. This is a way of measuring whether your content actually solves a problem for them. If it’s not, or it doesn’t - don’t do it.
Monthly retros are important for course correcting or doubling down.
Topic Clusters by Hub Spot
Creating Customer Personas by The Path Forward
Content marketing strategy by Yes Optimist
Content marketing frameworks by Yes Optimist
Who is it for by Seth Godin
Getting From 0 to 1 With Your Brand Messaging by Shope Delano (me!)