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Is Content a Strategic Product for Your Business? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 319)

Is Content A Strategic Product: Two Business Professionals Reviewing Their Company's Content

It’s cliche among digital marketers to say, "Content is King" for a reason: Because it’s true. But what does that mean for your business? More importantly, how can you put that to work for your business? Can you make content a strategic product for your business?

In this episode of Thinks Out Loud, we take a look at why you must think about content as a strategic product, the benefits of developing content as a strategic product for your business, roles that matter for a strategic content operation, and the ways that your marketing team can adapt to produce strategic content that drive business results.

Want to learn more? Here are the show notes for you.

Thinks Out Loud Episode 319: Is Content a Strategic Product For Your Business? Headlines and Show Notes

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Running time: 22m 30s

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Transcript: Is Content a Strategic Product for Your Business? (Thinks Out Loud Episode 319)

Well, hello again, everyone. Welcome back to Thinks Out Loud, your source for all the digital marketing expertise your business needs. My name is Tim Peter. This is episode 319 of the big show, and I think we got just a humdinger for you. I think we’ve got a barn burner.

By the way, I’m from Newark, New Jersey — born and raised — and I think that might be the first time in my life I’ve ever called anything a humdinger.

What Does "Content is a Strategic Product" Mean?

So anyway, this is going to be an interesting one because there is a really… I’ve been playing with this idea for a while, and this is the first time I’m taking it out for a spin and I can’t wait to hear what you think about it.

Now, some of what I’m about to talk about you’ve heard me say before, some of what I’m about to talk about you’ve heard variations of before, and some of this is stuff that I’ve talked about for a long time. There are other elements that are more recent, and this is the first time I’ve put all of this together in one way. Now, so what is the this I’m talking about? It’s this idea that content is a strategic product for your company. In fact, it might be the most strategic product for your company, apart from whatever your other main offering is. Because content gives you an opportunity to be a real differentiator, to truly differentiate yourself from others who are in the marketplace. I’m going to work my way back around to this, about why this is so and what you do about it, but first I want to get some of the obvious challenges out of the way.

Why Is Developing Content as a Strategic Product Difficult?

First and foremost, doing content well. Making content a strategic product is hard to do.

Rapidly Shifting Formats

For starters, when we talk about content, what do we mean? I mean, there’s text content, the kinds of things that show up in organic search and paid search, there’s images, photography or line art, there’s video, whether they’re webinars or things you put up on Vimeo or YouTube, there’s events, community and round tables and councils and conferences. There’s email newsletters, there’s podcasts. Now there’s alternative audio like Clubhouse or Twitter Spaces. There’s presentations, there are white papers, there are all kinds of content that in theory, you — and I’m going to do air quotes around this — you "should" be creating and curating and promoting on behalf of your brand and your business.

Creating Content Requires Diverse Skill Sets

But to think about all of the skills necessary to do this, it’s tough. It’s not realistic to assume you can be, or want to be, or should be, or can get the return on spend to make it worthwhile for you to have on staff a writer, a photographer, a graphics designer, a slide presenter, a podcaster, a recording engineer, a videographer, a video editor, a social media expert, an SEO expert, an events coordinator, a community manager, all of these different skills, all of these different tasks.

Most Marketing Teams Can’t Cover All Those Skills

If you’re a mid-sized business, you’re $20 million in revenue and you spend maybe let’s call it 8% of revenues on sales and marketing, you might have a marketing team that consists of only four or five people. With the rest of your budget going to sales professionals, working media, travel when and if we get to do that again, agencies, et cetera, and I named like 11 or 12 different roles just a moment ago. It’s not terribly likely that your four or five-person marketing team can cover all those roles themselves. If you’re a smaller team, obviously you’re just going to have a much tougher time around it. And even if you’re a billion-dollar company with a much larger team, you might not want to fund a full team in each of these areas. It may not make sense for you to fund a full team in each of these areas. I’ve worked with companies ranging from we’ll say $10 million in revenue up to $10 billion in revenue, truly, and I can tell you, I’ve never once run into a team, I’ve never once run into a company that said they had all the people that they needed and all the time that they needed and all the resources they needed to do all of the things that were important to their business. So it’s unlikely it’s going to be easy for you to do this.

Now, don’t get discouraged. I’m going to come up with some solutions. I’m going to provide some concepts for solutions before we’re done here, but you have to start with prioritization. You have to start with what is it that is important to do.

Why is Content a Strategic Product?

And of course the first question that comes from that is, well, is my general thesis correct, that content is a strategic product? And I would argue yes for a whole host of reasons.

Customers Need Content

First, we know that customers need content to answer their questions. That’s a fact. But let’s talk about how you can use that fact as a differentiator, as something that is genuinely useful to your business in the long term. You have heard me say many times, I’ve just talked about it on an episode last week and then an episode a week before that, that there are two ways to win. One is you can get big. You can become the dominant player. The other is you can go for a niche, a differentiated offering approach. And as I discussed a few weeks back, even becoming the dominant player is a point of differentiation, it’s just that in that case scale itself is the differentiating factor.

Content Can Differentiate Your Business

But here’s why I think content is so important in this context, it’s because high quality content can set you apart from your competition. It can make you a trusted resource for your customers, both actual and potential. It can, of course, improve your placement in search, demonstrating that you’re a better answer for your customer’s questions. It can give your friends and family and fans and followers on social media something to share, and it can make you over time — and this is the key — a destination unto yourself. You can be a place that people start when they need to answer a question, when they have a problem that fits into your sweet spot, into the thing that you do better than anyone else.

Because when customers need to answer their questions, they want to go to a trusted source for this. If you are the best product, why doesn’t your content help people recognize that you are the best source for that answer again and again and again?

Companies That Demonstrate Content as a Strategic Product

There are lots of examples across lots of industries of people who do this:

  • HubSpot and Adobe with marketing technology
  • Marriott and Airbnb with travel
  • Orbit Media in the marketing industry
  • REI for outdoor goods
  • GoPro for adventure sports and adventure video.

I might go out on a limb and even say my own site, we’ve actually generated an enormous number of leads and an enormous number of sales from our content.

Using Content to Compete with Digital Giants

I’ve talked before about how you can compete with Amazon and Google and booking.com or any of the other big players that are out there in your specific industry, and trying to get big in the way that they do is probably not a winning strategy. It’s a little like playing chicken with a mountain, expecting them to swerve. Not necessarily the best idea. But your ability to come at this from a different angle altogether to set yourself apart and use content about a thing that you are the most expert in, that you are built in authority about, that you are a built-in trustworthy source, and yes, I did steal that for Google’s EAT concept. But those help you show that you are a good answer to your customer’s questions and help you become a trusted resource. It’s way better than trying to game the system. It’s not saying, "How do we get to show up in search?" It’s saying, "How do we get people to want to connect with us in the first place?"

By the way, search might be one of the ways they do that, but you become the place they want to go. And when we talk about the fact that content is king, this is what I’m talking about. It helps you set yourself apart. That’s why it’s so important. That’s why it’s so critical to what you do. It doesn’t change the fact that it can be challenging to produce.

The Key Questions Around Content as a Strategic Product

So you want to start with a couple of key questions. The first is who are your customers? Now, you might have multiple customers or multiple customer types. You might be a B2B play, you might be a B2B to C play, you might be a B2C play where you are talking to different customer segments, but you basically have two types of customers you want to think about. The first is your actual customers, the people who you sell to, the people who generate revenue for your company. So that’s the obvious one. And I would love all those different customer segments into customers, you might need to prioritize and say that some of those customers are more important than others, but for now we’re just going to lump them all together. The other consumer of your content, of course, is Google. I mean, that’s pretty obvious. So both of those are important.

Is Social a Consumer of Your Company’s Content?

Now, you might ask, why not social? Well, social is incredibly important. In fact, I think it’s massively important, and I’m going to talk more about that in just a moment. But it’s not a consumer in the same sense as an actual human being or a search engine. Social doesn’t consume content on its own. Social happens as a consequence of your customers’ interactions with either your products, your services, or your content — which again, as a strategic product is just a product. They either create content based on the interactions that they’ve had with your products and services — and those interactions can be organic or they can be encouraged — or they share content that you’ve created for some other purpose… again, either organically or with encouragement.

Now, you may structure your content, you may format your content based on what works particularly well in a given social channel, but Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or TikTok isn’t the consumer of the media. Your customer on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or TikTok is. So that’s why I make that distinction. It doesn’t mean social is not important. It simply means that it’s not a consumer in and of itself. If you focus on the consumer, the customer, the likelihood you will get social play from it goes up.

Two Big Questions You Must Answer to Use Content as a Strategic Product

  1. So the first question is, who is your customer?
  2. And the second question is what formats matter to those customers? What channels matter to those customers?

Now, format Google will show you. Just do a search for terms that you want to be available for and you’re going to see if it’s showing videos, well, then that’s probably the type of format that’s going to work best. If it’s showing text or PDFs, that tells you something. If it’s showing audio, which today it’s not so great at so keep that one in your back pocket, but it’s going to give you insight into the kinds of formats that are going to work for the customers because Google is basically giving you that data for free.

Repurposing Video Content

Now, I’m actually a big fan of video. I’m becoming a big fan of video. I need to do more of video for myself because it’s got huge benefits on its own. It’s much more reusable, you can extract audio for podcasts, you can transcribe it for blog posts, you can use images in your presentations or as imagery itself. And of course you can work in the other direction where a text piece becomes, for instance, a script for a video.

But the idea here is look in to see the formats that matter to your customers. Look and see the channels that matter to your customers.

How Do You Get Content Done?

Once you’re clear on who the customers are of your content, and that starts to tell you what to prioritize and what not to. And of course, as you figure out what you need to get done, then you can start to look at it how do you get it done? Obviously you focus your spend, you focus your time, you focus your attention on your highest priority items, first and foremost. What are the content formats that matter for the customers that matter and what are the various ways we can look at accomplishing those?

Partner for Content Production

How can you partner with others? Now, this will vary by industry, of course, what works for a small regional hotel company and what works for a manufacturer and what works for a services provider are going to be very different things. But you can look to things like local or regional chambers of commerce. You can look to Convention and Visitors’ Bureaus. You can look to regional state and city business development organizations. Look at editorial partners like industry publications or publications related to your market, whether they’re magazines or blogs or things like that. Think about the thing I’ve always called "your secret salesforce," your customers who are already fans of yours and produce user generated content. Encourage them to be advocates for your brand and your products. Look at engaged employees and how they can produce content that works to tell us positive brand story on your behalf.

Outsource Content Production

Also, then look at what can you outsource to skilled professionals at a reasonable cost? Now, that might be agencies, it might be freelancers, it might be consultants. Obviously, there’s a lot of options there. But one huge upside from the current work from home reality is that you can source talent for these solutions from anywhere in the country or potentially anywhere in the world. A group that I work with has found a great team in a lower cost state than where they’re headquartered, and we call it off shoring to Alabama, and it works out really well.

And then, and only then, do you think about what you need in-house.

Editors and Producers: The Content Product Manager

Now, the one thing you do need in-house for sure is you need editorial oversight. You need your editor in chief or your executive producer role, you need the product manager for the strategic product. And you can hire these skills or you can get training for your team of how to do it better or more effectively, how to create an editorial calendar, how to create an editorial voice. The point is that this is well within your capabilities and has immense strategic benefit to building your company to be the place your customers want to go. Because at the end of the day, that’s how you compete with the biggest players in the world, you become a place your customers actively seek out. Obviously your products and your services are one of the things they will seek out, but they have to start somewhere. That is why content is a strategic product for your business and why this is so critical.

What do you think? Am I completely nuts here or is this something that you can see being important to your business? Tell me about it. I would love to hear from you. Send me an email to podcast@timpeter.com. Again, podcast@timpeter.com. Reference episode 319. I want to share your comments and your questions with other folks as we go forward. I would love to hear from you. And if you think I’m nuts, tell me that too. Tell me where you think I’m off base because this is how we get better is when we work together to do this.

Show Closing and Credits

Now, all that said, we are really out of time for this week. I told you it was going to be a humdinger. I want to remind you that you can find the show notes for today’s episode, as well as an archive of all past episodes by going to timpeter.com/podcast. Again, that is timpeter.com/podcast. Just look for episode 319. And please don’t forget while you’re there that you can click on the subscribe link in any of the episodes you see to get Thinks Out Loud delivered to your favorite podcatcher every single week.

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Sponsor Message: SoloSegment

As I do each week, I’d like to thank our sponsor. Thinks Out Loud is brought to you by SoloSegment. SoloSegment uses machine learning natural language processing and some really cool AI technology to help understand customer behavior and personalize the experience that customers have. SoloSegment does this using anonymous behavioral data to connect website visitors with the content that matters to them to help them accomplish their goals and to drive conversions for your business. They do all of this while protecting customer privacy. You can learn more about SoloSegment and all of the wonderful things they do by going to solosegment.com.

Show Outro

With all of that said, I want to say once more how much I appreciate you tuning in for every single show. It means so much to me. This has been a crazy year, we’re coming up on a year of the pandemic, and I know it’s been filled with ups and downs. Who are we kidding? Sometimes more downs than ups. It means so much to me that you take time out of your busy life to listen to the show every single week. And I know I say this every week but I mean this so sincerely, I hope you have a great rest of the week, I hope you have a great weekend ahead, and I look forward to catching up with here on Thinks Out Loud next time. Until then, please be well, be safe and as ever, take care everybody.

Tim Peter

Tim Peter is the founder and president of Tim Peter & Associates. You can learn more about our company's strategy and digital marketing consulting services here or about Tim here.

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