Making a Content Strategy Work (Hint: You Have to Actually Do the Work)

I have to make a confession: this blog post was due last week.

I noodled around with a couple of ideas, but inspiration fled. I scanned Twitter, checked recent exhortations from the marketing punditry. Got depressed over the new IPCC report (we’re doomed). Pondered Dan Ariely’s recent post, “The 3 Costs of Multitasking.” (Yep, that’s me.)

One thing led to another and in no time I was far, far away from my original task: to write about content strategy. A couple of days later, fueled by strong coffee, I snapped back to reality. I had become Exhibit A for the fact that the best content strategy in the world does you no good if you don’t execute it per plan.

Without consistent execution, a content strategy will lose momentum, you won’t meet your goals, and the whole system backs up. It’s easy to get distracted, though, and other priorities sometimes take over. Here are a few tips for overcoming the ADD tendencies most of us share and sticking to your schedule.

Don’t try to do too much. A main challenge, particularly with so many channels and media, is staying focused. Make sure you have the time and resources to deliver on your strategy. One of our mantras: It’s better to do a few things well than a lot of things badly. If you’re lagging, adjust your execution plan rather than constantly struggling to keep up.

Give yourself room to act on inspiration. Build flexibility into your plan that allows you to tackle off-schedule topics without sacrificing scheduled content. Want to blog about that new IPCC report? Do it when inspiration strikes—but make sure your planned post gets done, too.

Don’t let perfection be the enemy. Often, “good” is good enough. You don’t always have to hit it out of the ballpark—just get to first base. Have a limited video budget? Do one well and leverage the heck out of it. Don’t have enough meaty content for your newsletter? Go with what you do have (maybe toss in an old favorite from the archive) and make sure your next issue has more substance.

Keep the larger goal in mind. Content marketing is about sharing your knowledge in ways that engage others with your company so they’ll work with you or buy from you when the time is right. Keep that conversation going, and you’ll be fine.

Now, I’m going to read Ariely’s newest post. It’s about procrastination…

For more on this topic, check out our guide, Content Marketing: Myth vs. Reality.

How Can Your Communications Be More Powerful?

Say you’ve got the basics down—your communications are clear, meaningful, and on message. What else can you do to be heard amid the cloud of babble?

We have some ideas—nine favorites, to be precise, detailed in our freshly updated 9 Ways to Make a Powerful Impression Strategy>Shift guide. We put these methods to work every day for our clients, and the guide includes examples of successes from our portfolio and beyond.

The guide—it’s a quick read, we promise—provides a concise description of each approach, along with why you should try it and tips for doing it well. Check it out and consider whether it might be time for you to take a stand, hit a nerve, sell your dream or try some other profile-boosting strategy.

Not all these approaches are appropriate for every occasion or enterprise, but we hope you’ll try something out of your comfort zone. Strategies that challenge you to think differently often have the greatest potential for making your communications more powerful.

Download it now. Then let us know what you think, and if you have any tips of your own or results to share.

Get Messaging Out of the Marketing Ghetto

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but people often focus too much on the creative side of new messaging projects. By too much, I mean exclusively.

Yes, the messaging has to be compelling, flexible, and spot-on for the target audience. But all that development work is wasted if you don’t have a plan for making your messaging live beyond the first website revisions and a carefully crafted guidebook that no one reads. For messaging to succeed, everyone (not just the marketing team) needs to use it—in conversation, emails, presentations, wherever. Based on our experience working with a variety of clients on messaging projects, these are the keys to successful implementation:

Enthusiastic leadership. Driving adoption is not as simple as having the grand pooh-bah say “do it.” Leadership needs to embrace it, use it, model it—internally as well as to external audiences. Otherwise, messaging will be seen as optional.

Communicating the benefits. Good messaging solves problems. It provides easily grasped explanations of difficult concepts, clarifies key goals and values throughout the organization, and provides ready answers (even cut-and-paste options) to common questions. Let people know how the new messaging will help them talk about their work more comfortably, effectively, and consistently.

Training. Walking people through practical exercises for using the messaging in real-life situations is essential. This is especially true for sales teams and customer-facing staff: they’re primary message carriers and they need to feel comfortable with their approach. Facilitated role-playing sessions are ideal. It’s also a good idea to provide a refresher a few months down road.

Using new messaging will feel uncomfortable at first—even if it hits the authenticity mark and rings true to everyone throughout the organization—simply because it’s unfamiliar. Without ample reinforcement, people will revert to the words they’ve always used, even if those words inspire reactions like “Huh?” or “Excuse me, I have to go get another drink now.” Then your messaging platform breaks down—and I hate to see good creative go to waste.

Problem? What Problem? How Not to Handle Crisis Communications

We always advise clients to communicate immediately and honestly with customers when problems arise, and a recent experience provides a textbook example of what not to do in crisis communications.

Late one evening last week our cloud file-sharing service, Dropbox, stopped working or was very slow. Files wouldn’t sync across computers, documents wouldn’t upload. I rushed to the website, only to learn that Dropbox has no system status page or help forum thread for system updates. There was nothing in the help forum except posts by angry and worried users wondering what was happening. Nothing on the Twitter feed either.

The next morning, we weren’t much the wiser—a couple of posts merely acknowledged there was a problem and said they were working on it. The last message: “We’re very sorry for the inconvenience and will provide updates as we learn more.” Eventually they fixed the problem but we had to find out for ourselves. No updates as promised.

Users got no substantive information about this crisis—and it was a crisis, lasting more than a day for many users. It caused such a furor TechCrunch reported on it. There still has been no official communication that I can tell. No blog post and no email of explanation or apology, much less an offer to compensate users for their trouble.

I only lost a few hours of work, and it didn’t affect Thinkshift projects, but it cost many Dropbox users much more. This incident destroyed a lot of goodwill and Dropbox probably lost not a few customers. They could have prevented most of the outrage by sending out a few simple tweets and responding quickly and honestly in the user forum. They should also implement a system status page pronto—it’s unconscionable that a technical service doesn’t have a place for users to get that information.

The upshot: if there’s a problem, be honest and direct. Let people know about it right away, across all appropriate channels; keep them informed of your progress; and assuage their fears as much as possible. The worst thing you can do is say nothing.

Email: Still Here, Still Works—Just Keep It Fresh

Remember the time before Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest?

There was email.

There still is. For many companies—especially B2B firms—email rightfully remains a primary way to communicate with customers, prospects, partners, and other interested parties. But with the bright, shiny object of social media dangling before our eyes, it’s easy to lose focus on what makes boring old email effective. (Tip #1: don’t be boring.)

Much of getting email right involves getting the basics right, and it’s worth reviewing the following aspects of your email program on a regular basis to be sure you’re hitting the mark.

Sometimes clichés are true:  content really is king

If you don’t consistently give people something they find useful, funny or provocative, and that speaks to the reason they wanted to hear from you in the first place, they will tune out. In a heartbeat. And it has to be engagingly presented, in language your audience understands.

Nobody loves you that much: send selectively

Not even your mother wants to hear about everything you’re doing. (And do you want to tell her?) Segmentation is key to an active, effective email program. We’ve heard the argument that “people want to keep up with what we’re doing,” but it won’t wash. People want to keep up with what you’re doing only if it’s what they’re into. Chances are you’re into a number of things, and they appeal to different audiences. Send too many segment-specific messages to your entire list, and you’ll see people check out.

Garbage in, garbage out: manage your mailing list

It’s a drag. But if you don’t keep your list up-to-date and accurately segmented by target audience, your results will suffer, and it will be hard to figure out why. You won’t be reaching everyone who wants to hear from you, and the percentage of unresponsive addresses will increase. In these circumstances, a clickthrough rate may not tell you much about how effective your content is—a low rate could mean that no one’s interested in your latest missive, or that there’s so much deadwood on your list it only looks like no one’s interested, or that the people who are interested aren’t on your list.

Take a hard, honest look at your email program at regular intervals. This affordable workhorse can continue to serve you well, but only if you keep it fresh.