Trust the Process – Building and Maintaining Your Content Strategy


Looking to cut-down on content cycle times? How about boosting content marketing ROI? Then these marketing cheat codes are for you. Current Director of Content at the agency eCity Interactive and past producer for NBC Olympics, Aaron Stern, shares all. Read on for his top digital content strategy tactics, from getting to know your customers well, to sourcing talent, and using AI as a writing tool. Yep, that?s right ? there?s a chat on ChatGPT.

15:08 – Cheat Code #1 – Dive into research and data

Get to know your customers well. For Aaron, that looks like: Interviews, user surveys that gather both qualitative and quantitative data, web analytics, SEO research, and third-party info. 

I work at an agency that takes research seriously. It’s focal to everything we do. We go out and interview stakeholders on the client side for every major project. We interview actual users of the website, prospective students, or whoever it is.

We do surveys of visitors, so we get lots of qualitative data and quantitative data. We know what matters to people because they tell us. We know what the pain points are with whatever they’re doing right now that’s not working because they tell us, and so, you don’t have to guess at it.

We can also go out and do our due diligence as far as web analytics, SEO research, and third party information, to find out, ?What are these things that matter to audiences?? Those findings can supplement all the data and research.

16:44 – Cheat Code #2 – Test, optimize & iterate 

How can you tell if your content is delivering real value? Using proven templates and best practices is a start, but to prove your content matters, you?ll need to test, optimize, and iterate. 

The best thing you can do is create, put it out there, and see how people react. There are any number of templates and best practices for how to create content that people can scan and digest quickly, for different formats. Just create, test, and then optimize it. 

That is the truest way to know. What?s really nice is when we can go from creating a content strategy to then getting to create that content in the real world and see what works and what doesn’t ? then improve and take it forward.

18:24 – Cheat Code #3 – Establish trust

If you want to speed-up cycle times, be sure to build trust with your client. Once they?re comfortable, you can consolidate approvals by assigning one single approver.

Working in an agency, one of the inevitable things you run into is approvals and changing priorities on the client side. It helps to establish trust so you can move quickly and consolidate the approval process. Hopefully, you?ll get to a place where they don’t need to review every post in the social content calendar, for example. 

Get into a cycle where there’s a single approver who is empowered from within the organization. You all understand the strategy, goals, and how each piece of content ladders up to those messaging pillars. You can get into a good working relationship and production model.

It?s really important for people to understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and that you have the right intentions, especially when it means pushing the brand toward a place that is new for them. Building that transparency, getting to know them as people, and them getting to know you as a person can really help. 

24:25 – Cheat Code #4 – Source the right talent

Your content is only as good as the people creating it. Look for those with passion and granular knowledge around what they do, who are not afraid to push back, or try new things. 

The best way to create quality content is to have people who like what they’re doing, are good at it, and bring a level of creativity, perspective, and experience, to be able to do it. Passion and granular knowledge around what they do is important ? both speak to dedication. 

I got into a debate when I was hiring someone; they were adamant about the Oxford comma. She told me about how she approaches ghostwriting, studies their sentence pattern and is able to replicate their voice. I came out of the interview knowing that this person was going to take what they did seriously and push back if needed.

Best idea wins. Best willingness to want to try new things. The head of our agency, Kevin Renton, has this thing where you can gauge people on the kind of passion they’ll bring to work based on what they do outside of work. Look for a demonstrated track record of establishing a passion, pursuing it, and becoming really good at it. 

31:06 – Cheat Code #5 – Use AI as a starting point

Everyone has an opinion on AI, Aaron included. He is all for using tools like ChatGPT as a starting point for writing, but believes you still need to inject your own POV into the work.

AI is going to change how we write and how we think about writing. It’s going to change how we think about the value we place on knowledge and people, based on the knowledge they possess and do not possess. 

It’s not going to be this thing that creates all of your content for you. It is going to be a tool for creating content, for sure. It’s going to generate ideas for you, like create potential outlines for something that you want to write. Need ten taglines quickly? Great.

I think you have to take them and build your own perspective into them. That’s the thing it can’t do right now: Speak for you. You can direct it to speak for you, but it can’t provide the individual perspective of companies or brands. They can’t share their emotions. It doesn’t know you personally. 

40:27 – Cheat Code #6 – Focus on inbound content

Your best bet for boosting content marketing ROI? Aaron recommends focusing on inbound content that allows you to be part of a community, while elevating the voices of others.

One of the most fundamental strategies resides in the value of inbound traffic and inbound marketing. Being able to build a baseline of traffic that you wouldn?t have if you relied on paid media all the time, is invaluable. 

Having content that can work for you in social conversations and help you build and be a part of communities is hugely valuable. We publish a digital magazine called Volt for higher ed marketers, leaders, and decision makers. Creating that content gives us entry into that space and those conversations. 

There?s broad value to being a content creator, demonstrating your expertise and welcoming people into that space. It?s not just about pushing out what we know; we also want to hear what others think. You build more business value when you interact in a non-transactional way and establish trust, then they may want to create the transaction.

The return on investment models speak for themselves. The value of baseline content creation pays for itself within a matter of 12 to 16 months. After that, the value just grows and grows with you. 

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