What if I told you that all your content efforts will amount to absolutely nothing?
They’re all heat and no light. No one cares about or notices what you’re putting out there.
You’d be disappointed, of course. I was disappointed when that happened to me.
A few years ago, I was on a good run. My results were great, my rates were rising. Everything seemed to be going right. It briefly occurred to me that I might be a bit awesome.
You probably recognize this state of affairs from the start of any film, just before something bad happens. And something bad did happen. I took on a freelance gig at a small software business thinking that - because things were going well - this would go well too. I never really thought too much about why things go well, because as long as they are, who cares!?
At that moment I fell headfirst into a content vacuum.
By content vacuum, I don’t mean what happens to our parents’ brains when they click-hole 12-minute prank videos on Facebook. I do mean an environment where the content you’re putting out makes absolutely no difference to your objectives.
It was awkward, and although my client was nice about me making no impact whatsoever, I scrambled to figure out what the heck was going on. Why was nothing working? After some hair-pulling, I peeled back the layers: content strategy, marketing strategy, commercial strategy. Something important was missing. Some things.
I looked back at what went right with previous clients. There was a group of immovable foundations, like a chemical compound, which gave the content the right conditions to grow.
Let’s call it AMI, or MAI, I don’t know. Anyway, it means Audience, Message, Intent. Three things we already know pre-date any successful content strategy.
- Audience: I didn’t really know the conditions in which the target audience would buy. None of the customer calls I did showed that the problem the software solved was a priority. Instead, they would only buy with a very strong referral, which is tough to scale.
- Message: Because the audience wasn’t motivated to solve the problem, there was no clear message to put in front of them that would inspire them to act.
- Intent: I wasn’t convinced that the problem would eventually float to the top of their priority list long enough for them to then get out their wallet and say, “Go on then, what’s the damage?”
Perhaps the software would develop into something the audience would want in a couple of years, or the market would warm up to solving that particular problem. But right now, if you don’t know the link between your audience, their intent to buy, and the message you need to put in front of them, you shouldn’t invest in creating content.
I spent hours scraping prospects’ phone numbers from Linkedin and trying to cold call them. Not to sell, but just to fill in the blanks. It was a mess
Content nihilism rules the day
There’s good and bad news. The success of your content strategy is mostly out of your hands. The content plan you spent ages on sits at the back of a six-legged pantomime horse that begins with commercial strategy, then leads on to marketing strategy.
That’s why you need to choose a really good pantomime horse. Not necessarily an established business, but one that’s clear on who they’re targeting, why, and when those folk buy. Of course, this decision is totally in your hands. But to make the right one you need to consider much more than just content.
Hello… Is this a Content Vacuum?
Now then, how can we spot a content vacuum early on? It’s tough because many don’t feel much like content vacuums to begin with. Your team may have perfectly logical responses to your questions about audience, message, and intent. But these responses need a good prodding. Here are a few questions you can ask to make sure you’re on track.
- Do you have a subject matter expert? ‘No’ here suggests that you might not know enough about what your audience really thinks. It definitely means you’ll struggle to produce content for them.
- Do you have someone in biz dev doing outreach? ‘No’ here suggests you’re not having ongoing commercial conversations with prospects. That means you might be out of touch with how the market expects you to solve their problem.
- Do all clients come through as referrals? You’d want to see some other channels - not just referrals! - have worked before. Referrals come in when you have a good product, but they do not prove that you’re able to market your product effectively.
- Have either ads or emails worked? If bottom-of-funnel Google ads and cold email campaigns have found folk that are prepared to buy, content can probably do the same.
- Bonus: Do you have access to a network? An existing (relevant) audience doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be able to market your product. Though it does make it a lot easier to win early traction.
Consider these questions before hiring a content marketer or taking on a new content gig. Or it could be painful and awkward when things go pear-shaped.
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