Content Strategy 3.0, A New Winning Formula
Gone are the days where content could be an afterthought. It’s now a key pillar of any marketing strategy. Here’s how to get the most out of it.
By Iryna Papalamava, Growth Architect Director, and Kat Garcia (Kathleen Garcia-Manjarres), Growth Architect, BCG Digital Ventures
In 1996, Bill Gates coined the phrase “content is king”, heralding the expansion of content strategy into a world beyond channel marketing. 25 years later, content is responsible for more corporate and startup growth, billionaire dollar fortunes, and even prominent political victories than anyone could have imagined.The truth today is that content isn’t king; it’s the kingdom.
From Kylie Jenner’s Snaps helping her to become the youngest self-made billionaire to the influential power of her tweets impacting Snap’s stock price (SNAP), the realities of user growth have changed. In 2018, the stock sank 6.1% after the social mogul said she was no longer using the app, wiping about $1.3 billion off the company’s market value.
Late this year, Emily Weiss transformed her blog Into the Gloss intounicorn-status beauty brand Glossier, while social platform TikTok reached over 1 billion users, dominating the App Store. Whether it’s influencer marketing, the relationship between community-building and product, or the emergence of content platforms, the content monarchy is seeing aggressive shifts. Brands without a concrete content strategy risk being left behind.
When considered from a business sustainability perspective, investment in content is also strategic. As the duopoly of Google and Facebook continue to increase their share in corporate user acquisition budgets, organic traffic driven by content becomes an increasingly strategic priority. First of all, users acquired through content are (up to a point) free. Secondly, increased organic traffic allows companies to escape dependency on advertising rate changes by Facebook and Google.
In light of content’s increased importance in today’s growth landscape, we recently hosted content experts from leading technology companies including TikTok, Quora, and Pinterest to our New York Center, where we discussed the future of content strategy. Here’s some of what was covered.
Content Strategy 3.0: A Growth Methodology
As brands continue to evolve and new platforms rise and fall, content has become a living, breathing ecosystem with subcomponents attributed to growth: Creation, distribution and optimization of content.
What was previously believed to be an art has today been distilled into specific levers and techniques that collectively make up the science of driving business growth through content — encompassing both traffic and conversion growth. Main areas of focus here, in order of execution, include:
- Content creation strategy
- Content distribution strategy
- Measurement strategy
- Performance optimization strategy
The key link between the four key blocks of content is the test-and-learn iterative feedback loop. This requires orchestration from one single control center. Orchestration allows the alignment of all four work areas towards a coordinated, synchronized effort that drives maximum traffic while at the same time maximizing conversion rate. Below is an example of a content acceleration plan.
Now let’s take a detailed look into each of the four areas.
The first step is rooted in content scans. These can take many forms. Understanding where your market is, in terms of existing content and competitor pieces, will help inform any investments. At DV, Growth Architects audit a brand’s content focused on SEO and Google rank performance, while looking at social media and channel strategy for product-market fit.
Scan the market’s content by searching for top keywords apace with with rigorous prioritization (search volume, cost, competitive score, and more). Understanding which competitors are ranking first on Google, can help determine what their content looks like and identify common winning themes within the bands of existing content. Analyzing your right to win in the space is crucial for your brand to know whether or not it is comfortable competing in the first place.
Scan the market’s content by searching for competitors’ social media channels. What do their ads look like? What do their organic social channels look like (i.e. types of leveraged channels, engagement per post, number of posts, number of followers, etc.)? Understanding the breadth of channel usage and creation sophistication can help inform a brand on what level of rigor it will need to compete in the space prior to executing on a list of items to create.
A brand may create content for a variety of reasons. Content may either be the company’s main source of business (i.e. article-based or video-based blog), or it can provide a new source of revenue by being an extension of its core product. In a world where content is at the forefront of user growth, the Pelotons of today win by revolutionizing a stationary bike with the help of content. The product lens might work well to you if your goal is to leverage content by designing an innovative solution rooted in a community-based experience.
Setting realistic content creation goals based on your initial scan will help you design highly relevant, differentiated, innovative, and financially successful content. A meticulous scan will help decide what type of format your prioritized content will take for distribution. For instance, a fraction of it may be in the form of written articles, while the rest may be in the form of video tailored towards different platforms outside your own, such as YouTube, TikTok, Twitch, or IGTV.
Traditional distribution has always been a matter of channel strategy. As Laura Chau, Venture Capitalist at Canaan Partners explains: “As social networks hit their peaks and growth begins to slow, they must acquire new companies to stay relevant, and for many their original value proposition morphs — now in favor of revenue, margin, or user growth”.
From this perspective, the distribution strategy of tomorrow is mastering the game of status. The elements that make a platform social help inform brands as to how they should approach their content in the hopes of building community, highly engaged audiences, and successful returns.
Select the appropriate channels for distribution according to your content goals. Assess what characteristics you look to leverage in channels, such as, entertainment, community, utility, and more. With the help of your content scan, you will be equipped to make an informed decision on your brand’s right to win.
“Content is evolving at a rapid pace. It’s important to put your user or customer first and think about how the content can be additive to them and their daily life.”
- Kendalle Bennett, Manager of New Business Partnerships (East Coast), Pinterest
Promoting addictive content builds trust and marries channel strategy and creative material, ultimately enhancing user experience. Creating interactive campaigns tailored to specific channels provides innovative ways for you to communicate your brand stories, and higher probability of going viral.
Lauren Birnbaum, Associate Director of Revenue Brand Partnerships at TikTok, highlighted Chipotle’s successful user-generated content during our DV Talks event. The food chain created a trending video submission challenge on TikTok called the #GuacDance Challenge. The campaign smashed records on the platform with over 250,000 video submissions and 430 million video starts over a 6-day period.
The Influencer Economy
Whether or not your brand has a large following and engaged users, influencer marketing is imperative. Outsourcing content creation and distribution strategies to influencers is key, offering brands the means to leverage readily engaged audiences they may not know how to speak or relate to. Influencers can bridge that gap.
Although there have recently been negative connotations to the title “influencer”, there is also the potential for deep-rooted success for brands who have understood how to leverage social moguls and their audiences. The Business of Fashion refers to influencer marketing driving sales success as The Arielle Charnas Effect after the influencer turned her 1 million Instagram followers into a partnership with Nordstrom that drove over $4 million in sales in a single day.
As far as the future of the influencer economy goes, many believe a peak has been reached, despite the data suggesting otherwise. According to a survey by Morning Consult, approximately 86% of Gen Z and Millennials aged between 13 and 28 are willing to try out influencing, while about 12% currently consider themselves to be influencers already. The supply for influencer marketing is there — and there is much room for growth in the coming years. Understanding the trajectory of social media platforms and highly successful influencers can help a brand to determine whether or not social media plays a role in their ability to play and win.
As brands look to understand how to navigate influencer marketing, aligning with prospective content strategists on the following is key:
For many brands, content is becoming the bread and butter of user acquisition. No longer is it a nice-to-have in addition to highly-optimized paid channels. This is due to the increasing dependency of all paid efforts on just two platforms — Facebook and Google. Due to the strategic importance of organically bringing users from engaging content, measuring not only incremental traffic but also incremental conversions has become part of the weekly dashboards and reporting mechanisms of anyone who is serious about content.
Here are the suggested fields for a weekly content dashboard:
- Weekly impressions and change week-on-week
- Weekly conversions at the top of the funnel (sign-ups, registrations, account creation, email capture)
- Weekly conversions of the full funnel (bookings, purchases, enrollments, other revenue-generating events)
- Conversion rate from visit to sign-up and purchase, including changes week-on-week
- Total social activity that week (such as shares, comments) and how its effect on driving traffic and conversions — also week-on-week
Attribution is typically setup through utm-parameters and then aggregated in Google Analytics or another data visualization tool used by the company. Analytics of social engagements can be downloaded either directly from the platforms, or using analytics services like Captiv8.com.
The outcome of accurately measuring the performance of content and changes over time is that content data informs areas for potential optimization to increase ROI on each article, video and infographic.
Optimization represents an ongoing test-and-learn process and is of a similar nature to how paid campaign should be optimized. Content optimization requires frequent analysis and ongoing comparison with best-in-class counterparts in the market. Here is what we know converts very well and we see across high-performing content:
Snackable and share-worthy content
Often a user will have seconds to scan the article, as they are searching for the most relevant information and will read only the first sentences of each paragraph. To help users get the most out of the given piece of content, structure written articles in short paragraphs with specific subtitles that are easy to digest by quickly glancing at the text. This will increase changes that the reader will spend more time diving into the details and stay on the site for more research and, ultimately, convert.
The volume of “how to” search queries is rapidly growing on Google, as everyone turns to google for more and more questions throughout their day. No matter what industry your service or product are in, creating instructional content that will answer “how do I…” questions will increase the likelihood that this content will be discovered by a high number of users. Providing real answers and helping your customers solve real problems goes a long way in building a loyal and engaged audience.
Choose keywords and title that match queries
80% of site visitors will read your headline but only 20% will read the rest of the article, so aligning titles with high-priority keywords can help get user attention at scale. People will decide whether they will read your article or not based on the headline. The title also will help the search engine or platform recommend your piece of content to users. For example, Quora recommends content to users based on their past behavior and intent.
Include SEO foundations in your video content strategy. Below are the main areas to focus on:
Prepare for the new trends in content and be ready to adjust optimization strategy
- Acknowledge voice/visual search, vertical video with attention shifting to stories on IG/Snap/TikTok
- Consider new trends in content discoverability. See the figure below for some recommendations: Product screenshots, GIFs, realistic stock photography, illustrations, accurate content images and stories
- Think about zero click queries: Google keeping people within their ecosystem for booking flights or cinema tickets rather than putting them through to the booking website, with 14% going to Google-owned properties
- Find new ways to make your content discoverable outside of SEO
It’s no longer acceptable to rely on direct approaches for your acquisition needs. Marketers need to consider the possibilities offered by content as they seek to achieve independence outside the Google and Facebook ecosystems and bolster the brand identities of their companies and products. The approaches above can give you a flavor of what might work — but you should also experiment with your own approaches to see what works. Good luck!