Content Strong: How to Strategically Showcase Your Content to Build Your Brand
After many years working with speakers, I’ve noticed a curious trend related to their content: They often don’t think they have much. Of course, after a bit of prodding, inevitably they are able to inventory an impressive range of material ranging from presentations to video and accumulated stories they’ve tucked away for possible use down the road. Some ideas aren’t really big enough for a book but might make an interesting blog post or magazine article. Other ideas are too much for one book and need to be broken down into clearer, more confined subject areas. Suddenly, they have the opposite problem from the one they originally thought they had…lots of different content and no idea how to strategically put it to work to build a message, an audience, and a brand. Fear not, dear speakers – we have a process for evaluating these different ideas and content assets to determine their best, most effective use.
DETERMINE YOUR DESIRED OUTCOME
The first step in nailing down a content strategy is to determine your goals, both in terms of an outcome and in what you want to communicate. When considering outcomes, is gaining credibility your top priority? Building visibility and a stronger brand? Making money? List building? Rebranding from a personal to a corporate brand? Teaching and helping others? You may be tempted to say “all of these,” but force yourself to choose the top one or two outcomes that would best serve your current needs.
WHAT DO YOU WANT TO COMMUNICATE?
Knowing your desired outcome, what do you want to communicate? Warning: Getting this right requires more than thinking about what you want to say. Consider your audience and focus on what they want to hear, as aligned with your desired outcomes. It could be that you deliver results, not fluff; that you are funny; that you are experienced; or that your material or system is better than the competition’s. You may instinctively have these answers from your years in the field, or you may have to do some keyword research and social media polling to find the strongest need. (A little experimentation with various keywords via Google AdWords will provide a wealth of intelligence around your audience’s pain points.) Again, be disciplined and prioritize a clear communication goal. Try to capture this in one sentence (e.g., “I help working women to reconcile work/life balance issues and feel content inside and outside the home.”)
INVENTORY YOUR CONTENT
With outcomes and a communications goal under your belt, the next step is to inventory your content. Turn over every rock and make a list of all content assets, including blog posts, stories/anecdotes, newsletters, white papers, presentations, books, workbooks, audio recordings, videos, tests and quizzes, handouts, articles, and so on. This may take some time, but stay the course. Some people find a simple Excel matrix beneficial for categorizing numerous content assets, but do whatever works for you.
RECONCILE YOUR CONTENT AGAINST YOUR GOALS
Once your content is inventoried, turn back to your desired outcome and communication goals. Look at each piece of content and make a ruling on whether it supports both of those goals. That should narrow the field a bit. From there, objectively examine the content assets that made the cut to make sure they are still current, and of course, good. Don’t immediately write them off if that’s not the case; a little reworking can usually take a so-so piece to good, or bring an outdated piece up-to-date. Quite often, a creator is too close to his or her own ideas to do this sort of objective evaluation. If you find yourself giving every piece of content the green light, consider bringing in an outside eye to bring more unbiased feedback to this process.
ORGANIZE BY LENGTH
Now that you’ve whittled your content down to the good, current material that supports your goals, loosely organize it by length. As a basic guideline, consider anything under 1,000 words (or two minutes for audio/video) as short form content; 1,000 to 40,000 words (under 10 minutes for audio/video) as medium form content; and 40,000+ words (over 10 minutes for audio/video) as long form content. These length guidelines are really “time required to consume” guidelines that will help you determine the best outlets for each content piece. Blog readers expect quick, succinct pieces (the short form category), whereas a book reader is prepared to give you hours of his of her time.
Short form content like social media activity, blog posts and short videos provide a great opportunity to test ideas, particularly if you aren’t completely clear on what your audience wants to hear. As you blog and interact with your community, take note of which topics or hooks are most commented on, shared, and liked. Over time, you will see a trend that will help guide your overall messaging. This category is also where a lot of the ongoing engagement so critical to building a community occurs. Short form content keeps you on the radar in between the release of medium and long format pieces.
Medium form content like shorter ebooks, articles, video tutorials, white papers, and so on often make up the bulk of your assets. While audiences generally expect short form content to be free and long form content to be paid, the medium form group is a gray area ripe with opportunity and ready for creativity. If your goal is to drive brand awareness or build a list, these medium form assets are great tools to leverage for promotions and newsletter sign-ups. Greenleaf Book Group author Melissa Rodriguez did a great job of this with the release of her book on hearing loss, Hear Your Life. Rodriguez uses inspirational stories to help the hearing impaired and their families deal with the devastating effects of hearing loss. The book directs readers to her website for additional resources, where exclusive content downloads are available to three strategically targeted audiences: individuals with hearing loss, loved ones of those with hearing loss, and physicians and healthcare providers. Rodriguez was more interested in helping people and spreading brand awareness, so she chose to make these available without a sign-up wall. If list building was more important to her, readers would have to sign up for a newsletter before being able to access this high-value content specific to their own lives and situations. Medium form content is also great for promotional purposes, or to bundle and sell as a combined product. For example, a business author with multiple articles, a short ebook, and a video on improving sales performance can bundle these together and use them as a giveaway to drive signups, a bonus for audience members at a speaking engagement, as an incentive to pre-order an upcoming book release, or as a standalone product. Resist the temptation to put the entire pile of content not aligned with your goals or message into this category. Everything you put out into the world leaves a permanent record, and it all contributes to your brand and how your audience perceives you.
The most obvious long form format is a book (video can fall into this group, too). It’s essential to work with a good editor to ensure your book content can indeed carry the 40,000+ word length required for a general trade release. If you’re throwing filler into the manuscript to beef it up, it may be time to take a step back and consider whether that topic might be more appropriate in medium form length, perhaps as an article, a white paper, or a Kindle Single (Amazon’s dedicated storefront for shorter works). On the other end of that spectrum, if you have to cut material from the book for the sake of length, consider whether that material might have another home somewhere else in your content strategy.
For example, a case study that was removed for length could be the basis of a white paper supporting your services. The rules around a book’s length largely exist for books intended for retail bookstore distribution, due to merchandising concerns (your book needs to be long enough to have some presence on the shelf when it’s positioned spine-out) and sales modeling systems. If you choose to forego that publishing model and opt for a print on-demand or other digital release, the rules around length ease up. One caveat about all types and all lengths of content … whether we’re talking about content in the form of a print book, an ebook, a whitepaper, a blog, the platform, Twitter, Facebook, or anything else, content provides tools for conversation and engagement, not a substitute. The best brands build conversation (and thus create influence) around great content. Once you’ve clarified and your goals and messaging, you’ll find it much easier to create strategic, impactful content that consistently supports your brand moving forward.