The biggest barriers to creating a strong content strategy (+ how to break them)
Last updated: January 9, 2024
We’re a few years removed from the “content is king” era, but content remains a key way to connect with and ultimately convert your audience. To show, rather than tell, your audience what you have to offer.
Back when companies could just write a blog and put it on Twitter, this was a simple recipe for success. But now, publishers need to reach their audiences on more channels than ever and make sense of all the data it creates. And from there, they need to translate that into a content strategy that gets views and revenue.
So how can you stand out? How can you attract the audience that’s going to drive business for you — and keep them invested long term? And what’s getting in your way?
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In this post, we’re presenting the biggest barriers to creating a good content strategy — and showing you how to break them.
Your audience data is siloed
Think about all the companies that have fallen behind the competition. Nobody plans to lose touch with their audience. Nobody wants to lose sight of everything that makes them special.
But if you don’t have an easy way to track your audience, and do it across every channel, it’s easy to default to doing the same old dance, year over year, even as your audience moves on.
First, figure out what’s stopping you from getting accurate audience data.
Is your data siloed across your different marketing tools? Does it take too long to get audience data from one team to the next? Does it take too long to standardize, clean and store your data? Or assemble it all in one place – so you can see how someone’s interacting with you across email, website, and social? Can you get your audience data quickly enough to create content or campaigns in real time?
If not, consider using a customer data platform. These tools take in audience data from every place — from website and email to print, website and ads – and consolidate in one central database.
Every time someone clicks an email or visits your website, the interaction is added to the person’s pre-existing profile via automated workflows. The data’s also standardized and deduped as it enters the platform, so it’s in a usable, workable format right away.
This gives you and your team the most current, complete view of each person in your audience. So you can see exactly what’s resonating with your audience in real time — and replicate your successes over time.
You’re not getting the right data
Maybe you understand the power of first-party data. But you’re struggling to collect this data without spamming your audience with pop-ups (or breaking privacy laws).
How can you strike a balance between getting necessary information and protecting the user experience? Here’s where to start:
Gamify data collection
Rather than always using a static form, collect data through interactive quizzes and surveys.
Compared to standard lead forms, interactive quizzes and surveys provide more payoff to the user while still giving you the data you need. For example, you might create a 5-question quiz evaluating the user’s content marketing strategy, then providing actionable ways to improve their current offering. Since the topic’s so focused, your desired audience will self-select into the quiz. And from there, the quiz keeps your users more actively engaged — and gets them thinking about their own strategy. And if you finish by giving them some useful advice, odds are that they’ll keep reading and eventually subscribe.
Writing a quiz requires more of a lift than just duplicating your lead form again. But if you’re using your audience data to target and create questions, it’s not that difficult. And the effort will pay off in the form of more actively engaged subscribers over time.
Build up your audience profiles through your newsletter signup process
Allow new email subscribers to sign up for different email types and sending frequencies via a preference page, so you can get a clearer view of their interests and communication preferences without needing as many pop-ups, surveys and other forms.
The more niched your newsletters are, the more effective this strategy will be. For example, The Hollywood Reporter gives new subscribers the option of joining 20+ different newsletters related to different sub-topics related to show business.
With that information alone, the THR team can tell what articles each subscriber will be most interested in — and what kind of content will move them closer to a paid subscription. They can also choose between a daily or weekly general newsletter, which tells the THR team how frequently each person wants to hear from them as well.
You’re not personalizing enough
Knowing your audience is necessary, but not sufficient, for creating a strong content strategy. Once you’ve got that audience data, you need to use it to match each individual in your audience to the content, offers and experiences they’re most likely to enjoy. Just as important, that process needs to scale alongside your audience and organization.
Not personalizing enough? Some places to start:
- Combine demographic, behavioral and purchase-based filters so you can target narrower subsets of your audience with a more specific message. For example, you might target “readers in Los Angeles who have downloaded an eBook about getting into screenwriting” with an invitation to an LA-based seminar about screenwriting, then promote a webinar or eBook to the non-local audience, rather than giving everyone the same generic eBook about screenwriting. (Omeda makes this easy: With our Audience Search database, you can mix and match 100+ different filters to create precise marketing segments, then immediately use them in your automated campaigns.)
- Use dynamic content in emails. Creating an automated marketing campaign takes enough work. Segmenting your audience is an even bigger lift. Without the right tech, personalizing content to each individual within those segments will be cost-prohibitive. But with dynamic content, you can easily serve each individual email recipient with articles, podcasts and videos that they’re most likely to enjoy, based on their engagement and purchase history — without creating separate campaigns for each. (Learn more about using dynamic content in your emails on Omeda here.). This is one of the easiest, most cost-effective ways to personalize your content at scale — without sacrificing quality.
You’re not optimizing for time on site
Ever check out one article on The Hollywood Reporter for “just five minutes,” then get sucked into a wormhole of content about how bad Jo Koy’s monologue at the Golden Globes was, how awesome Margot Robbie looked on the red carpet, and did Ryan Gosling get snubbed for Best Supporting Actor? (Just me? OK.)
For the person who really was just trying to read one article before bed, it’s a little annoying. But as an audience manager, this is the best-case scenario. By putting the right personalization modals in place, you can keep introducing your readers the content they like most — and keep them coming back for more.
One easy way to do this: Use on-page content recommendations to match each visitor to the articles they’re most likely to read. On Omeda, each visitor’s recommendations are generated by an algorithm that accounts for their previous browsing and purchasing history, so they become stronger and stronger the more someone engages.
You’re not creating a community around your content
As an early- to mid-career professional, one of my go-to professional development resources is Ask a Manager, a long-running advice column by nonprofit chief of staff and author Alison Green, with posts ranging from conventional job search topics to situations straight out of a workplace comedy (recent example: “men are hitting on my scheduling bot because it has a female name”).
Alison’s advice is great. But many times, I get just as much value from the comments, where longtime readers weigh in and debate the topic respectfully (and sometimes even network amongst themselves).
This has a few important benefits:
- Advice seekers and readers can take advantage of the network effect to get a wider range of tips from professionals with different backgrounds, experiences and seniority levels.
- It also has the intangible benefit of reminding stressed-out readers that they’re not alone in their professional struggles.
Tapping into the power of your community allows you to create a content strategy that’s stronger than the sum of its parts — and become truly indispensable to your audience.
But it takes a lot of time (and content moderation!) to create a community that strong. If you want to keep your readers engaged long term, consider ways to connect your audience with you and with one another. Some good places to start:
- Consider creating a Slack community where readers and subscribers can discuss brand-relevant topics and network amongst themselves (but only do this if you can commit resources to community building and content moderation). To fund this, reserve access to your community (or add-ons like AMAs) to paid subscribers.
- Encourage readers to add their perspective in the comments of articles or incorporate relevant polls and surveys within the articles themselves.
- Consider hosting webinars or Q&As with your editors and other company leaders.
- If you’re in B2B, add a job board to your site.
- Host smaller in-person industry roundtables or dinners for VIP subscribers.
- If you can’t throw your own event, host meetups before or after programming larger professional conferences.
You’re not using educational content the right way
Everyone wants to teach their audience something – otherwise, why even bother?
Often, the problem is in the execution: For a lot of companies, “educational content” meant writing a post about “How to do X,” jamming it with keywords, then optimizing to rank high in the search algorithms.
For a while, it worked. But anyone with halfway decent Google skills can find a few “trends” or “starter advice,” wordsmith it into 1500 words, and present it as thought leadership, even if they’ve never spent a day in the industry.
Short term, that’ll get you some nice SEO rankings from some stray readers. But it’ll hurt your credibility among the people who really care — readers who have already solved tangible challenges in the industry will see through the fluff and go somewhere else. And that leaves without the audience base you need to succeed long term.
So instead of relying on basic educational resources, rely on your experts. Beam Content, a B2B content agency, explains it better than us, so we’ll let them take it from here. From one of their recent LinkedIn posts:
“Educational content looks like:
- “How To Start XYZ: A Step by Step Guide”
- “10 Proven Strategies to Improve XYZ”
- “The Future of XYZ: 5 Top Trends”
Expert-driven content takes it to the next level:
- “X on X: How [Demand Gen Leader] Uses Analytics For Demand Generation”
- “Getting Your Metrics Straight To Succeed in XYZ w/ [Expert]”
- “How I Built XYZ from Scratch: Lessons from [CEO/SME]”
- “[Expert]: Insert Strong Stance Here”
The latter isn’t general, it’s specific. It’s driven by the unique insights of an expert who’s actually done the thing.”
So how can you build up your expert base?
- Encourage your senior leaders to participate in industry events. This can range from networking on the event floor to speaking at a panel or session. The key is to get them speaking about tangible experiences they’ve faced and overcome in their roles. Encourage them to move beyond buzzwords and share something their audience can replicate. This way, you’ll naturally attract new partners and co-creation opportunities without relying as heavily on cold outreach.
- If you’re just getting started, look in the top-voted comments of popular LinkedIn posts and comments for potential sources. This will help find people that have battle-tested industry experience, but are more accessible than top industry influencers.
- Co-host podcasts and interviews with industry leaders in your industry. Or consider sponsoring some of their newsletters, podcasts or event speaking engagements to sweeten the pot.
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