Those content pillars your association leans on appear to be holding your association up, but they may be holding it back. Here’s a case for tying content to your brand’s ambitions.
By Eric Goodstadt
Whether you base your current content model on content buckets or pillars, at some point you may find that the organizing strategy for the content your association creates is no longer serving its purpose.
Maybe it’s lackluster metrics, or maybe your conversions have dropped. Whatever the signs, they all point in the same direction: You need to be mapping your content using a new approach.
The utility of pillars, long considered a mainstay in the content marketing world, can become diluted over time, as those pillars morph into topic areas that gradually stray ever further from the original intent. Eventually, the principles guiding your content strategy no longer connect with the strategic goals of your organization.
At the same time, everyone in your organization is clamoring for a spot on the homepage. So although only a few things will truly break through with your readers, you comply because you think you have to, not because it makes the most sense for your association or audience.
The process starts to feel very watered down, which might explain why Zazzle Media’s State of Content Marketing Survey found that 60 percent of organizations struggle to produce content consistently.
Is It Time to Abandon Content Pillars?
Your content strategy shouldn’t be disconnected from the impact you want to make as an organization and a brand, but often it is.
Connecting your content to brand ambitions—what your brand wants to become known for and what drives your economic engine—will empower you to invest in the content your audience needs and say no to the special interests that solicit you daily.
My team has thought long and hard about what it takes to maximize the impact of content from a strategic standpoint, and we’ve created an approach called the Content Value Model, which puts the focus on aspirations instead of tactics. It uses a multistep process, starting with a brand study, to tie desired audience impact to an organization’s brand goals.
Here’s a look at the four overarching components of the Content Value Model:
Identify where your audience and brand overlap.
This breaks down into two parts. First, you will want to conduct a thorough analysis of your organization to suss out the distinct point of view of your brand, particularly what it does well, how it is unique in the marketplace, and what its objectives are. Second, you will dive into audience information to define an in-depth profile of your audience that zeroes in on the people you most want to reach. Then you identify where these two overlap on a Venn diagram.
Flesh out your content value proposition.
During this phase, you focus on the center of that Venn diagram to determine the value that your content can give your audience and to craft the guiding principle upon which you’ll build your content program.
Syncing your brand positioning with your audience’s wants and needs will help boost your impact. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 90 percent of business-to-business content marketers find success when they put their audience’s informational needs ahead of their own pitches.
Set your brand ambitions.
These ambitions will replace your traditional content pillars. Think of them less as themes and more as strategic goals, and take a data-driven approach directed toward specific outcomes.
If your organization is focused on technology, for example, one ambition might be to become an information technology authority or a voice for technology executives on Topic X. How your content delivers on that ambition becomes a main metric.
Establish an execution and distribution strategy.
It’s one thing to strategically build content based on this model; it’s another to execute on all cylinders creatively. I suggest you create a mix of content that educates, activates, and captivates your audience. This method works for content big and small, no matter where the pieces are distributed.
The fact is, your association is not trying to be all things to all people. And neither should your content. Take advantage of what you know about your audience to craft and distribute content in the most effective way possible.
What say you? Is it time to rip out those dusty old content pillars and start anew?
Eric Goodstadt, president of Manifest, has more than two decades of experience in the agency world, serving clients in diverse sectors—including associations, nonprofits, and Fortune 500 companies.