Content strategy is hot. But companies are loathe to embrace the next big thing, particularly because it’s so hard to pin return on investment on social media, the last big thing. So why should you, if you are contemplating a redesign, migration, re-do of a section, mobile or email campaign, hire a content strategist?

First, a story: Last year I decided to take up running. Always an avid “walker”, I wanted to up my fitness regimen. Plus, everyone talked about the “high” you get, and I was intrigued by the challenge.

As I often do when trying something new, I asked my friends who run for their advice. This is what they told me: Start slow and work your way up. Make sure you have fast tunes on your iPod. Stretch before. Stretch after. Jump up and down 10 times everyday to protect your knees.

So, I listened. I ran at 60 second intervals and walked for 120 second intervals. I made new playlists. I stretched before and after. I jumped. And you know what? I couldn’t get past more than five straight minutes of running.

So what was the problem? What did my running friends forget to tell me? “Is it just me?” I asked myself. Can I never learn to run? But, here I am, six months later, and I’m running more than half of a sixty minute route. So what changed?

It was actually a very simple fix. So simple that none of my running friends even thought to mention it.

It was the shoes.

I was running in cross trainers. Then, while shopping with my husband for new sneakers for him, it occurred to me to buy new ones for me. Sneakers that were designed by a person who actually thought about what runners need in a shoe. “Maybe these will help”, I thought. And boy, did they boost my running, because they gave me the foundational support I needed to move ahead faster.

Consider the following scenarios:

  • You spend hundreds of thousands on a redesign, and the first time someone wants to post a picture, you realize you never designed any templates that would showcase photos. Or slideshows. Or videos.  And your users depend on that kind of content to make purchasing decisions. (Oh yes, this is a true story–as are the next two.)
  • Your company has merged with a competitor, and thousands of product specs need to be rewritten. Your boss insists on a redesign to rebrand the company, and you migrate all the old product specs with your competitors. Now your customers can’t tell what’s what.
  • Your email marketing campaign is failing and no one knows why. You look at the analytics and see that the landing pages aren’t converting. It occurs to you that there’s no call to action and when customers do try to buy, the buying process in convoluted.

What went wrong in all these scenarios? The same thing that went wrong with my running friends—everyone forgot about the basic basics. Everyone forgot to point out that I needed TO BUY THE RIGHT SHOES.

Why Hire a Content Strategist?

It’s the same with content strategy. If you don’t have a professional with the foundational knowledge necessary to look at your content from the ground up and consider what all the changes you’re making might do to the content, you’ll never be successful.

Planning for your content without a content strategist is like running in high heels.  Can it be done? Yes. It is painful? Yes. Uneccessary? Yes. Stupid? Ok, I don’t want to get insulting — you surely get my point.

A content strategist is not a “clever Internet marketer.”  Nor are they an “excellent Web copywriter.”  Or any of the other bizarre labels we seem to be getting.

There are, on my last count, 4 types of content strategists:

  • Technical documentation specialists who can help you with an enterprise content strategy that makes use of a content documentation tool.  They like things like meta data, workflow guidelines and governance issues.
  • Content marketing geniuses can help you in your planning and creation of content. They also will help you think of ways to deliver and publish your content, and can give you advice about governance and archiving. But they are focused on creating relationships with customers through the content itself–the words, pictures, videos, etc. They are former journalists, copywriters, digital communication specialists and marketing experts.
  • Editorial experts who will help you think through a news desk, editorial team and guidelines for how, when, what and who to publish to and for. They usually have backgrounds in journalism, writing, communications and the like.
  • Marketers who don’t necessarily create content strategies, but implement them and follow them, adding to the particulars of their own team. They probably bring in content marketers so they can round out an excellent content team.

Content Strategies are Repeatable Cycles

Content strategies are supposed to be repeatable cycles for planning, creating, publishing and governing your content. That means they function like a washing machine; for each content type you run through the strategy, you should be able to follow the same steps and framework that work to get you to your goals.

Content strategists will help you:

  • Organize your thinking around your content
  • Inventory and analyze your content—both online, print and social media
  • Align your content to your business objectives
  • Manage your content
  • Repurpose your content
  • Create a methodology for creating your content

So, if you’re in the market for someone to help you with your content, hire a content strategist. And, don’t run in high heels.  It’s bad for you.

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