How to Build Engagement into a Content Strategy, Part 1

There are few topics as hot as content marketing in the digital marketing world right now, and for good reason—great content sells. But it can also be a trap. Too often, we see businesses creating content simply because they’ve been told they should do it. Without a strategic plan, businesses can spend huge amounts of time and resources on content that never resonates and never makes an impact on the bottom line. That’s a tough call to answer when marketing budgets come up for discussion.

Our solution (and opportunity) is to build engagement into content strategy right from the beginning. You want content that has a goal for the business, a purpose for the consumer and a clear roadmap to get there. With that, here are five ways to ensure your content strategy has engagement built in.

1. Content's top job is to be useful

Let’s start with the obvious but most important point: Your content should help solve a problem, spark an idea, ease a burden… anything that your audience will find imminently useful in their lives or business. Of course, we all want to be helpful. But it’s not just an altruistic goal — consumers who read a brand’s educational content, for example, are 131% more likely to purchase from that brand.

The key is to understand your audience and their needs and desires. Do research, ask them questions and produce varied, targeted content, then look at the analytics or just plain ask them if they found it useful. Pretty soon you’ll find a few sweet spots. And when you do, you’ll reach the point that makes content soar — sharing and word of mouth. 

2. Great content is unpredictable

This might sound counterintuitive. After all, you should always meet the expectations of your audience, right? Yes, and no. 

It’s true that your content should be useful (as noted above) to the specific needs of your audience. But it’s also true that people crave variety in their content. It’s best if they can satisfy some of that variety with your content, rather than finding it somewhere else. It’s also a great opportunity to show your audience that your brand is a living, breathing, multi-dimensional being — just like them. Besides, how many times have you visited a store with a list in mind, only to see something new on the shelf that you just had to have? Content is no different — it’s why Netflix works so hard on their “suggestions” algorithms.

Seek to find the balance between the content that your audience wants and expects, and what kind of useful distractions they enjoy, and that adds depth to your brand.

3. Take the "red thread" approach to content

If we understand that content needs to be useful, meet expectations and also be unpredictable at times, how do we maintain consistency? 

Think of a great tapestry on a wall woven together with various shades of blues and greys. Now picture one red thread running through it, end-to-end. Even with just a quick glance, you'd notice it. The same goes when producing multiple types and themes of content — something throughout each piece of content should be recognizable. Commonly, this is the main value proposition of the brand itself. For example, Disney produces a ton of varied content and storylines, but one thread runs through all of it: “magic.” For that reason, it’s impossible to watch anything Disney without feeling an underlying sense of magic unfolding before your eyes and ears.

4. Content needs to “feel” good

People make decisions with their gut, most of the time. Daniel Kahneman’s work, "Thinking, Fast and Slow," goes into great detail about the psychology of how people make decisions. One of the biggest takeaways? People react to how something makes them feel when making a decision, it happens fast, and we don’t put nearly as much thought into our decisions as you might think. (It’s a fascinating read.) 

Your content should "feel" good. That’s not to be confused with “feel-good” content. After all, there are plenty of serious issues in this world and your brand might have something important to say about them. But your content should always make people feel like it’s coming from a place of authenticity and trustworthiness — from the narrative to the way it’s designed.

5. Simple content sells 

We all suffer from information overload and it’s only getting worse. Oftentimes, that results in businesses feeling like they need to cram as much messaging (and as many selling points as possible) into every piece of content. It can be tempting to do, especially because content can take time and a significant budget to get right. But resist the urge — saying everything all at once in every piece of content is a great way to get users clicking and scrolling away to something else. 

One of the great things about the endless advance of technology is that you can produce, edit, and publish a lot of strategic content quickly and consistently. That means you can target very specific messages to specific audiences. Avoid giving audiences “paralysis of analysis” and give them one clear, solid idea to take with them — it goes back to the previous point about people making decisions with their gut.

Coming up in Part 2 of Building Engagement Into Your Content Strategy, we’ll explore how your business can use content to account for every part of the customer journey — getting them what they want and need at the right time to lead them down the path of discovery and, ultimately, purchase.