Strategic content is planned so that it achieves an established goal and maximizes odds of a desirable result. Problems arise when communicators lack an adequate understanding of the pillars of strategic content, each one ensuring a clear purpose, audience orientation, credible content, strategic argument, engagement, critiquing and audience buy-in. Notice that these items relate to the planning and thinking aspect of communication, as opposed to the actual technical component. When you grasp the thought and discipline of creating a quality message, you are approaching success. Take the time to plan your communication, determine the best message to present, and choose the best means to present it for maximum results.
Infographic source: Pillars of Content Strategy
Pillars of Strategic Content
By focusing on the pillars of strategic content, you can develop messages that will be received favorably and, ultimately, more positive responses.
1. Clear Purpose
Whenever we create strategic content, we have a purpose: to inform, to persuade or to collaborate with the audience. The nature of our purpose prescribes the strategy to take to collect, organize and present information. As a part of our strategy, we should define the general purpose, what we seek to accomplish and how we want the audience to respond. For example, should our general purpose be to bring the audience up-to-date on a matter, or do we want the audience to respond in an immediate and predictable way? Writers should strive for precision when stating their purpose by defining who, what, where, when, why and so what.
If nothing changes your audience’s minds once the message is transmitted, then the effort spent creating it is wasted.
Once you define a clear purpose, go back and make sure that what you plan to accomplish with your strategic content is realistic, that is, compatible with your budget, time and other allotted resources. For a purpose to be realistic, it should make an impact. If nothing changes once the message is transmitted, then the effort spent creating it is wasted. A realistic purpose should also be timed appropriately with other events. Creating strategic content for an audience distracted by outside events might be as ineffective as increasing prices during a deep recession or promoting a community fundraiser on the opening weekend of the state fair. Finally, your purpose must be compatible with the goals of your organization, the laws that apply to your business and the cultural expectations of your audience.
2. Audience Orientation
Before trying to communicate with an audience, learn about their needs, wants and desires. Aside from considering your audience’s needs, think about other aspects of the audience that might shape your message. What information does your audience expect to receive from the information you provide? What information does the audience already have?
Here are a few more considerations to ensure you correctly align your strategic content goals to the needs, wants and desires of your audience.
Addressing an audience of 100,000 people will require a different strategy from addressing an audience of 100 people. Make your choice of place and method appropriate for the group you will face.
Is your audience homogeneous or diverse? Audiences may differ on social criteria, including age, gender, race, culture, health, education, and income. A largely ethnic audience may require information to be translated into different languages.
Your subject matter and the presentation of your information may influence a favorable, neutral or unfavorable reaction. Audiences may be skeptical, unmotivated, repelled or supportive. Based on how an audience is likely to react, you can limit the information you provide, add additional details, adjust your appeals or tweak your message to maximize the potential for a positive reaction.
If your audience shares your knowledge about the topic, they probably won’t require much support material or education to understand your message. However, if the material contains unfamiliar concepts, then you may need to provide illustrations and spend time explaining concepts to ensure they understand your message. Additionally, different audiences will expect different levels of detail. Senior management will likely be more interested in key bullets, summary statements or immediate implications.
The level of expertise that your audience has about your topic should dictate how much time you spend providing background information and details about the subject. Try to determine whether people in the audience have different levels of familiarity, expertise and decision-making authority, and then develop a strategy. You may decide to exercise caution in using specialized jargon and complex concepts that only industry insiders know.
3. Credible Content
Audiences expect you to substantiate your claims with solid data from reputable sources. Take time to identify quality sources to prevent damaging your reputation and reliability. Be leery of content from social media, personal blogs and unfamiliar sites that may not have adequate editorial review boards and fact checkers. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that any information you find on the Internet is objective, correct and up-to-date.
Here are a few questions to filter the credibility of sources.
Is the source an established provider of credible and reliable information?
How long has the source been considered a reputable provider of accurate and unbiased information? Is it a relevant and recognized expert in the field? If it is unknown, new or obscure, then it’s probably better to seek a better source or expert who can validate your claims.
Could the source be biased or perceived as biased by members of the audience?
To judge the value of information, you need to identify whether the author or publisher may have ulterior motivates. For example, research findings of the dangers of tobacco can be presented quite differently by a cigarette manufacturer, a public health organization that warns about tobacco’s links to cancer, and a group of parents and educators trying to teach children about the dangers of addiction.
Information published by a source with an opinion isn’t always bad, but recognizing that alternative or extrinsic reasons may exist for their conclusions is useful in deeming how to use the information.
What was the intention of the publisher?
Was the information intended as marketing collateral, promotion of a political cause or solicitation for funding a project? Try to distinguish between marketing, political advocacy, and non-biased reporting. Try to look deep and not submit to misleading organizational names that may be fronts for marketing firms.
Does the information you plan to use come from someone with the knowledge, background, and credentials to speak credibly about the subject and provide an opinion that will be respected by others?
How reliable is the research?
Try to determine how the data used to produce the findings was collected. Did the researchers use scientific methods to capture the information, ensure reliability and eliminate error? Was a recognized expert used to interpret the data and draw conclusions? Can the results be verified by independent sources?
Is the research current?
Trends, preferences, situations, and conditions change over time and thus may invalidate old research findings. Even research findings produced just a few months earlier may no longer be relevant. Evaluate your source information carefully to avoid making mistakes that can destroy your credibility.
4. Strategic Argument
In such communication, you are trying to persuade your audience to think differently or act in a certain way. The key to developing strategic content that has a strong argument is understanding your audience. Unless your message is very insignificant and inconsequential, start by profiling your audience to identify what they regard as important, what information they require to think differently or act, and which arguments they will accept as credible. Try to identify what keeps your audience up at night, their biggest concerns and what they most often think about? When you understand the needs and concerns of your audience, you can more easily develop compelling messages. If you analyze your audience before you develop your message, you will be in a better position to know how to ask for what you want. When preparing your content, consider your audience’s priorities, pressures, fears, and frustrations, and try to determine the factors that drive their decisions. Further, knowing your audience in depth allows you to anticipate the information they need and their objections so that you can develop highly effective, persuasive arguments and responses.
Seldom can communicators capture an audience’s full attention? While they slowly build a powerful, methodical, compelling conclusion to inspire the audience to spring into action, often the audience lacks the attention span, interest or time to engage. Other factors, such as your own perceived credibility, interest level among audience members, clarity of the message, quality of support material and your ability to practice active listening skills can also influence the likelihood of the audience turning off or tuning in to your message.
Differences in beliefs, communication and decision-making styles, interaction patterns, and expectations between a communicator and the audience can present additional challenges. Cultural, demographic, psychographic, and generational differences can also produce unique challenges that interfere with communication.
To be effective, a message must be clearly understood by the audience. Whenever possible and appropriate, avoid using slang, jargon, special terminology and phrases and concepts that are unfamiliar to your audience. Never make the audience guess what you mean. Ambiguity forces the audience either to imagine, probably wrongly, what they don’t understand or completely ignore it. Focus on providing clear context and meaningful visuals that connect the points in your message.
The opening should instantly hook your readers. The most effective method is to connect directly to the interests and concerns of the audience within the scope of your purpose. One of the most common approaches is to hook readers by stating up front your findings, conclusion or recommended strategy. Try to determine what will engage your readers by determining what’s in it for them. Sometimes this takes brainstorming to come up with good ideas. Essentially, your strategic content needs to present an idea that answers the question, why should the audience care? Your statement shouldn’t just be worthy, it should be captivating.
Here are a few strategies to capture and retain the audience’s attention.
Stories can be very effective in capturing audience attention. Good stories support the purpose or the values of the organization. Sometimes finding the right story and telling it right takes creative thinking and brainstorming with others.
Provide examples of specific applications and solutions that were achieved because of what you are recommending. Provide credible case studies with testimonials. Give clear step-by-step instructions and descriptions of what was done, how it was done and what benefits resulted.
Numerous studies confirm that visuals are highly effective at attracting and maintaining the attention of audiences. Use attractive visuals, including charts, graphs, pictures, illustrations and videos that support your purpose and communicate your message. If the format of your communication is a written message, make use of headlines, subheads, bullets, typeface variations, white space, and call-outs or sidebars.
Your audience wants to see what the future offers to those who follow your advice. Provide a big-picture perspective of how the future will be better. Keep the outlook realistic or else you will lose audience credibility. Providing an outlook adds to the usefulness of the message and makes it more memorable.
Having members of your audience or people who understand your intended audience critique and evaluate your written or spoken communication should be required. However, even when people take the time to critique communications, they often do it ineffectively. They make the mistake of rushing through the process, skipping sections and overlooking key components. This is particularly true when people have their spoken presentations evaluated by others. If you hurry through the presentation, with little regard to posture, eye contact, vocal quality, graphics, charts, headings, and subheads, you completely miss out on the benefits of critiquing. Without feedback, you miss opportunities to catch problems that can become catastrophes and opportunities that can bring success. When you are giving a presentation, follow these recommendations from 24 Hour Translation.
7. Audience Buy-in
The ultimate measure of success for any communication is how your intended audience responds.