This guide is for marketing executives (CMOs, VPs, directors, etc.) who care about the success of their organization and want to implement the best possible content strategy.
It is equally relevant for marketing team members in large organizations who want to implement best and emerging practices in content design, production and deployment.
The methodology presented in this guide is intended for medium and large organizations, but can equally inspire small businesses to plan and execute their content strategy.
Whether your organization operates in B2B or B2C, the methodology presented is applicable to both of these major business sectors. In addition, all industries and verticals we've been in contact with over the years at Toast (and there are many!) can benefit from this methodology.
The content strategy canvas
Over the past few years, by working with a large number of clients, brands and advertisers on the design, production and deployment of their content strategy, we have been able to put in place a framework that defines the different elements of a successful content strategy and the different steps to tie them together.
We call it the content strategy framework.
This canvas is strongly inspired by the work of Alexander Osterwalder who developed the elements that constitute a working business model (if you are interested, here is a video that describes the "
The 9 building blocks of this model are the following:
The audience segments
The distribution channels
External resources and tools
The cost structure
Results and performance
These blocks are all interrelated and allow you to see a complete content strategy at a glance:
Thus, the 4 main axes on this illustration allow one to understand how they are interrelated:
At the root of any content strategy and any content program that comes out of it is the audience. The people you want to reach. Those with whom you want to create a relationship, build trust or influence future behavior.
Intimate knowledge of this audience (or these audiences in some cases) is essential. Who are they? What are their aspirations? Where can we reach them? What tone should we take to create the ideal connection?
These are all questions that help define this first major axis of your content strategy. This axis is made up of the following blocks:
Audience segmentation: Defining your segments, your targets, knowing them well and thus being able to adapt your content according to these insights is the basis of any good content strategy.
Angle: Depending on the content that will be produced and the target audience, a tone and manner must be documented and defined. Will we take a humorous angle? Are we the "serious" and the "experts" of the industry? The way we communicate with the audience can be a source of success, but also a source of failure if the thinking process was not done properly beforehand. In addition, not everyone has the same content needs as they move through the buying process. You also need to know the steps each of your customers goes through before and after making a transaction with you.
Distribution channels: Where will our brand be present? The platforms chosen and used must be in line with the audience to be reached. And once present on these platforms, how will our brand ensure that it reaches the coveted pairs of eyes? Will it be through an organic distribution strategy? Through amplification and media buying? Will we base our traffic and results on an inbound approach?
The offered value
Every content program is about building a relationship between the audience and the brand. To do this, the brand must have a value proposition. It must offer value to the people who will consume its content offering. This value is specifically in the content that will be produced and distributed.
It is this value proposition that is defined in the content strategy.
Content library: This block defines the parameters for building the library of content that the brand produces. It is based on the capacity of the resources available to design, create and produce the content, but also on the expectations and needs of the audience (the content pillars). It also places special emphasis on the platforms that will be used for distribution, in order to adapt the content in terms of format and type.
Governance and infrastructure
Management activities, internal and external resources and tools are the driving force behind what makes it possible to execute a content program based on a sound strategy. These elements represent governance (including the roles and responsibilities of each stakeholder in the equation).
Management activities: This block defines the various activities that enable you to reach your audience. It includes content production management, editorial calendars, approval and quality assurance processes, etc.
Internal resources: This block highlights the internal capabilities, expertise and skills within the organization. It includes the operations team (usually part of the marketing team), but also internal experts on different content themes, thought leaders in the company, etc.
External resources and tools: Not everything can be done in-house. The production of a complex video often requires the use of an external production partner. Some analytics or content management tools are part of the external suppliers needed to make the execution work. It is in this block that we define what will have to be done externally, and which also allows us to question what could be internalized (or not), for example.
Any operation in an organization is governed by the investment in a given activity, and the analysis of what comes out of it as value to the organization (as distinct from the value brought to the audience mentioned above).
This axis highlights the fact that budgets are invested in the content program, and that it is the analysis of the performance of this content, of the results that come from it, that will dictate the level of success of the operation.
Cost structure: Both external resources (licenses, fees, mandates) and internal resources (salaries, benefits, etc.) are part of the cost structure of a content program. It is this financial management that can potentially be optimized over time, valuing the work done and the internal-vs-external approach that has been decided upfront.
Objectives, results and performance: Although this is the last block defined here, it is one of the most important and one of the first to be addressed when it comes to building and documenting the content strategy. It defines the objectives and performance indicators that will be tracked throughout the execution of the various initiatives, allowing on a constant basis to evaluate the success rate of the tactics, allowing to optimize, adjust, but also to deliver the necessary reports to the stakeholders and decision makers of the organization.
Bonus axis: Decision makers
We mentioned earlier that there were 4 axes in the framework, but there is a fifth one, a bonus axis: the decision makers.
Managers and executives: This block, located at the very bottom of the canvas, represents the different stakeholders who have life or death (!) rights on the content program in place. Because of their position in the canvas, they are only in contact with the budget invested on one side (the cost structure) and the results (based on the objectives). It is their own analysis, based on the reports produced and the amounts invested, that allows them to know if the initiative is worth the cost (or not). They have little contact with (and sometimes very little interest in) the content produced and ideally leave the governance of the project to the operations team. The decision makers should never be forgotten, even if we always mention that our audience and segments should be on our minds.
The framework clearly defines the different elements that need to be addressed when documenting your content strategy. But in what order should you tackle each block? Which blocks make it easier to define the next ones?
Over the past few years, by working with a large number of clients, brands and advertisers on the design, production and deployment of their content strategy, we have been able to put in place a process framework that defines the different stages of a successful content strategy.
This guide is designed to take you through each step, allowing you to develop and implement a successful content strategy that is closely aligned with your organization's vision and core business objectives.
Step 0: Audit and competition
Before taking the plunge, it is essential to examine all the existing content that has been created so far. It's also essential to have an overview of what similar brands are doing in terms of content strategy in order to have a clear picture of the environment you're in.
Step 1: Objectives, results and performance (KPIs)
Clear objectives are key to achieving successful results. They create clarity that can be shared throughout the organization ensuring that everyone is clear on their impact on the outcome.
Step 2: Audience segmentation
Knowing your target audience is essential. This exercise often requires you to make choices, to establish your different customer profiles. You need to discover and understand the expectations and needs of each segment. This understanding will feed the decisions made on the way the brand will address them, but also on the platforms that will be chosen to reach them.
Step 3: Angle
You know your objectives and your audience. Now it's time to figure out how you will address your different target audiences, how your message will be constructed, and how it will fit into the customer journey. Will you be a brand with a humorous tone? A brand with a strong personality or an informational brand? In addition, not everyone has the same content needs as they progress through the buying process. You also need to know the steps each of your customers goes through before and after making a transaction with you.
Step 4: Content library
What are the parameters that will be used to build your content library? The content pillars represent the expectations and needs of your audience. They define what will be of interest to your audience. By combining them with your organizational objectives defined in step 1 of your content strategy, you can ensure that all content produced will be relevant to both your audience and your organization. In addition, what formats (written, audio, video, etc.) and types (quiz, list, calculator, white paper, etc.) will be preferred? This step will answer these questions.
Step 5: Distribution channels
Where should your content go? What tactics will you implement? This step gets down to the nitty-gritty of executing your content strategy by defining the platforms where your brand will appear and the tactics you will use. It also defines how the content will be distributed. Will it be amplified? Is a combined inbound and SEO approach the right one? These are all questions that will be answered in this block.
Step 6: Management activities
In order to execute all of the elements, many processes and activities need to take place, and therefore ideally need to be documented and thought out first. How will the editorial calendar process be structured, what are the approval steps, who is responsible for which elements of the strategy? Various tools can be put in place to ensure the smoothest possible flow. From a RACI matrix to the precise documentation of the approval process, this step allows you to put in place a rigorous and solid working approach.
Step 7: Internal and external resources
Every organization has a capacity to think, to execute on your content program. Building your content studio requires upfront thinking. What will be handled internally? Is hiring or training necessary? What external partners do we need to build relationships with? What tools are needed to make our program work on a daily basis? This step ensures that your internal AND external resources know their role and that the work is well distributed among all stakeholders involved.
Step 8: Cost structure
How much does it cost? The big question. One thing is for sure, with all the steps previously mentioned, it is possible to establish a budget and costing approach that makes sense and is sustainable over the long term, while being flexible and adaptive. This is the icing on the cake, the final step in documenting a complete content strategy.
Let’s get to work
There you go, after reading the previous pages, you know the different steps that we consider essential in the design, development and implementation of a successful content strategy that can have a real impact on your organization's business objectives.
The ball is in your court. How will you attack it? What does your organization already have in place? What is missing?
If you want to go even further in the process, contact us to schedule support or a masterclass that will allow you to deepen the various concepts discussed in this guide.
To go even further, you have access at all times to articles and resources available online on our website.
You will find hundreds of articles and content on emerging practices, industry best practices and real-life case studies from around the world:
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