Content marketing strategy

Once upon a time it was enough to have a video on your homepage or careers page and all the world would marvel and wonder at your company’s brilliance. Alas, those days are long gone. Your audience are more distracted and time poor than they have ever been. Producing work which catches their eye and affect them enough to make them take a given action is hard. This is why all projects should have some time put into thinking about exactly what you are trying to achieve, who your audience are, and what the right way to get the video in front of them is. This is content marketing strategy. The brief writing and preproduction stage of all our projects include a bit of this but if you need something a little more developed – content marketing campaign research and planning, then we have a team who will be able to work with you to make this a success.

Audience research

Understanding who your audience are and what makes them tick is the first step to creating content which will engage them and drive them to take action. There are a number of different ways that we can help you to carry out audience research, from focus groups to online form creation. Get in touch and we will be happy to help you define and approach your audience, whoever they are.

Making content specifically for your target audience is so important that Nick almost called his book – ‘it’s all about the audience’ – 'The New Fire' is admittedly a little more dynamic. It is very easy to think that you are doing this but far too many communicators produce communications that tailor to themselves, to their own needs, interests and motivations. Take the time to understand exactly who they are, demographically and psychographically.

What do we mean by that?

Demographics

Demographics cover a range of facts that illustrate who the audience member is. There are huge amounts of data available online, which is one of the main reasons that the major social networks and e-commerce sites have been able to make such vast amounts of money.

Data is hugely valuable, and yet most web users are happy to give theirs away in return for the ‘free’ usage of the service – an online map for example. This huge amount of data means that these companies can charge large amounts for marketing, because the information they have means that marketing messages can be extremely targeted.

Examples of demographic information:

  • Age
  • Sex
  • Income
  • Occupation
  • Education
  • Marital status
  • Religion
  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Generation

Geographics

Geographics are similar to demographics in that they are also facts. You can just spread your net to include a smaller or wider grouping of them. Do be aware that you may find that these are impacted by visits by bots Geographics include the following:

  • House
  • Street
  • Village
  • Town
  • City
  • Region
  • Nation
  • Continent
  • Hemisphere
  • Global

The problem with Demographics, an example...

The major issue is that information is just data. It doesn’t tell you enough about the underlying motivations of the target persona. This can lead to challenges. For example, we may be looking to target this person:

  • Male
  • Over 60 years old
  • High net worth
  • Divorced
  • Has children
  • Drives expensive cars
  • Lives in a large house
  • Has pets

That could be either The Prince of Wales, or Ozzy Osbourne - The Prince of Darkness.

This unlikely pairing both fall into the aforementioned data pool.* Because of this, it is useful to consider other factors that are more instructive of the type of content they may engage with.

* Thanks to Richard Purvis from Crunch Simply Digital for this example.

Psychographics

psychographics

sʌɪkə(ʊ)ˈɡrafɪks

plural noun

“The study and classification of people according to their attitudes, aspirations and other psychological criteria, especially in market research.”

 

Where demographics are a collection of objective data, psychographics are subjective information. This makes them extremely useful for marketers, because they allows us to understand the audience’s motivations. Once we understand these, we can start to communicate with them in a way that will engage and drive them to action.

Psychographics are also known as IAO variables: interests, activities and opinions. I find it more helpful to think of them in this way, as it makes it easier to think about, and the word ‘psychographics’ sounds pretty much like jargon. IAO information is, by its nature, fuzzier than the solid, black- and-white facts of demographics. In reality, it is far more useful.

On top of interests, activities and opinions, psychographic information includes personality, values and lifestyle. These give us a far clearer way of thinking about what will engage the audience member. As we can see here:

Demographic view:

  • Male
  • Mid-thirties
  • Lives in Brooklyn, NY
  • Married
  • Born in the UK

Psychographic view:

  • Plays guitar in a band
  • Likes travel, festivals & gigs
  • Loves fish and chips
  • Subscribes to Rolling Stone
  • Follows Radiohead on Instagram

By looking at the demographic information, we can see just how valuable the additional psychographic information is to someone looking to create content for this man. The demographic information could point us towards anyone from a banker working on Wall Street to a youth-group worker or a dustman – this makes targeting them challenging. You could take out a billboard in Manhattan, for example, but that’s not exactly cost-effective/efficient.

The psychographic information, on the other hand, allows us to understand exactly how to communicate on a level that will engage him. For example, we could share trailers for a video series on a road trip to a festival in South Africa. You could enhance the offer with a competition to win tickets and travel to the same festival next year. We are only able to offer this because we understand what makes our target audience tick.

Once you know what the audience likes/wants/needs to watch, then you can look at what you do as a company and see what you can create and share for them. There is naturally a fine balance to creating the content that people want to watch and plugging your company/products.

The content that you produce should lie at the intersection between what will be of value to your identified audience and your purpose as a business.

Creating target-audience personas

A target-audience persona is a fictional person who exhibits the characteristics of your target audience.

This helps you to think more clearly about them.

This is where the whole audience-targeting process gets creative. Rather than thinking about target-audience groupings as an amorphous mass of people – which is where it’s easy to go wrong (targeting millennials is an archetypal example of this*) – it helps to create a stereotype individual.

* Although it is often put forwards as a target grouping, a millennial is anyone born between 1982 and 2000. This is far too broad a category to engage effectively, certainly with a single output. You need to be far more specific by adding in more criteria with which to differentiate them.

Or, better still – to reflect the wider group – five stereotyped individuals. Each character should be (as much as possible) a living, breathing character with a backstory. This will help you think about the different ways that you can engage them.

Start by giving them a memorable name, for example:

  • Tracy the Techie
  • Simon the Scientist
  • Grace the Graduate
  • Tim the Trainee

This helps to kickstart your creative thinking for the next stage.

Paint a picture of their character by asking questions about them and the things they do. This is best done with a few members of the team, so you can bounce suggestions off each other.

Questions might include the following:

  • Where do they live?
  • Where do they get their news?
  • What do they do at the weekend?
  • What music do they listen to?
  • What blogs do they read?
  • What are their hopes/dreams/goals?
  • What’s the first thing they think about in the morning?

Pain points

One of the most important things to know about any audience is what their ‘pain points’ are. These are their concerns or fears: the things that keep them up at night. The main reason for their high value to us, as communicators, is that the fear of loss is a far greater motivator for action than the promise of gain. People obviously have a very wide range of these, from the minor (e.g. finding a parking space) to the existential fear of illness and death. As you can tell from this last – maybe crass – example, you want to be very careful how you use these. You want your content to assist, not fear monger among your audience. You should know their fears, so that you can know how to remedy or soften them.

Pain-point questions might include these:

  • What keeps them up at night?
  • What are they worried about at work?
  • What is the hardest thing they have to deal with day to day?
  • What is their greatest fear/insecurity?
  • What annoys them about something that they do regularly?

For example, a new parent will be very interested in content that helps them live the life they led before they had their baby.

 Gathering data

Once you have a clear idea of the questions that you want to answer, you should fill in as many of them as possible that you know. You may already have much of the information you need. Try to build up as much of a picture of the different personas as possible. There are a few different ways that you can gather the data you need to do this:

  • Share a survey with existing customers
  • Interview clients
  • Use social media tracking/monitoring tools; e.g. Facebook Dashboard
  • Research websites/forums/blogs
  • Evaluate your website / use Google Analytics
  • Look at Quora/Reddit

Bear in mind that some of the online data may be generated by bots. Because of this, you need to make a sharp assessment as to how much you can trust. Be thorough, and discount information that is false. If you are unsure, look at ways that you know are secure – interviews, blogs from known sources, and focus groups.

Sharing content for your target group

Once you have clear personas agreed, you can start to think about the type of content that they will respond to. This should feed into your briefing document.

You should also think about where that content should be distributed to get the best engagement from your target group. One of the great things about sharing content online is that it allows you to target your audience with remarkable accuracy. It also allows you to see how the audience grouping responds to different types of content, which, in turn, allows you to tailor the message/content to get the best response. This could be as simple as changing the title or thumbnail image, right through to full reshoots/re-edits.

Brief writing

Having an effective brief is essential to getting your production off on the right foot, with arguably two of the most important elements in the entire process: the brief and the audience. These are the cornerstones to every single successful project. This matters to you, because, whether you a commissioning a branded feature film or a coffee morning, knowing what you are trying to achieve and with whom is essential.

 

“Begin with the end in mind.”

– Steven Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People

 

The first question you need to answer before starting any project is this: what are you hoping to achieve? That is, what is the specific, measurable action that you are hoping to generate as a result of completing and sharing your project? If you start the process with a very clear idea of the desired end position, you stand a far better chance of actually achieving it. This may seem obvious, but I have worked on numerous projects where we get very close to the end of the process, and a senior client representative says, “Hang on a second, why are we doing this?”

You need to be completely clear on your reasoning. Clarity of focus and purpose is what defines effective corporate content. It is too easy to start before taking the time to agree among the stakeholders what the video / video project will be used for. Resist the temptation here to seek consensus among stakeholders by including too many disparate goals. Many people will use the fact that you are creating a video to include other messaging. Bear in mind that everything included in the final output that doesn’t specifically work to achieve the goal you set out will detract from its effectiveness. This may sound overly severe – of course films can be about more than one thing.

You need to stop your film’s effectiveness from being watered down by including too many messages.

This is why the briefing stage is so important. It takes time, skill and discipline to agree on and write a really good, clear brief. This can be an extremely valuable experience, as it requires an alignment among the different stakeholders in the process. Having agreed on the content, you should write a brief that is clear and concise, but that is readable and engaging. You should try to bring what you are after to life, as the more effectively you can do this, the more likely you are to capture the imagination of someone who might know a potential subject. So many of the briefs that we receive as a company are dull, verbose and complicated. This makes sense, as they are very specific business documents, but they tend to elicit better responses if they are clear and have a little life to them.

 

The Briefing Document

Once you have all of the goals for the project ironed out, you can fill in a briefing document. The briefing document is the bible for the project. It should include all the objectives for the production: the audience, desired action (what success looks like), budget, timeframe, delivery channels and key stakeholders. You should take the time to do one of these for every project you do, even if you’re a little lighter on the information on the basic ones. The time taken to make sure that you have thought a bit about it will save you far more time, money and annoyance in the long run. Almost every project that doesn’t end up as desired can be traced back to an incomplete or poorly thought out brief. It doesn’t need to be super complicated, but it will help you make more-effective films.

 

“If I had only one hour to save the world, I would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem, and only five minutes finding the solution.”

 

This quotation is often attributed to Albert Einstein. Whether or not he did ever say it, the central concept is key for us here. Time spent understanding the problem is time very well spent indeed. Writing a decent brief is a good way of doing this. If it’s worth making a video about, it’s worth writing a brief for.

Different producers will use slightly different documents. While there will naturally be differences in layout, the information included will be the same.

 

Writing the brief

Have a think about what you want from the project. What needs to be included? When do you want it by? What have you seen online / on TV that you think could provide a guide creatively? Get some of the project stakeholders together and discuss your thoughts. We want to get alignment at this stage, as it’s a lot cheaper and easier to make changes now than when the crew have shot the video and delivered the edit.

As you fill in the brief, it’s important to try to be disciplined about what you include. If you’re worried about clarity or ambiguity, it might help to include examples. The clearer and more accurate you can be, the easier the production/creative team will find it to come up with something that will fulfil your requirements.

It might seem like there is a bit of crossover between some of the sections, but we have found that, by coming at the same topic from slightly different angles, we can reach a more thorough understanding of what our clients are after.

 

The facts

The first part of the briefing document includes the key facts that those working on the production need to know. These are self-explanatory and include which company it is for, who the project lead is going to be and the deadline.

 

Background

This section allows you, the commissioner, to put in as much relevant information as possible to help the production team to understand the backdrop to the production. This might include information on your company, any branding/marketing campaigns that the video might play a part of, and, potentially, information on what your competitors are doing. There is no wrong information here, per se. It just needs to be relevant and laid out as bullet points, so that it is easily intelligible to the team.

 

Main purpose

What is the film for? Are you recruiting technology-savvy graduates or trying to show older people how to use their new mobile phone?

 

Estimated length

How long do you need the film to be? This will naturally depend on where it is going to be shared – as we’ll look at in more depth in Chapter 9. Don’t worry if you’re not sure about this. The production/distribution team you are working with will be able to advise.

 

Key messages

What is the most important message you want the audience to take from the video? Generally, less is more; try to be really focused on one statement. Having more than one is possible, but that does risk diluting them in the audience’s minds.

 

Tone of voice

What is the tone of the video? Serious, exciting or humorous? This should fit with the rest of the content produced in the associated marketing campaign. This generally aligns with your broader brand tone, but you do have the opportunity to push it a little.

 

Positioning

What do you want the audience to think of when they reflect on this piece of content, and, beyond that, you and your brand? Are you looking to be seen as visionary, informed, ground-breaking, energetic and brave? You want to decide what your niche is, and then try to win that space in the minds of the audience.

 

Mandatory elements

Is there anything that has to make it into the project? Are there any company slogans, for example? Is there a new facility that you want to include? It may be an event that you want covered or even a jingle. Whatever it is, it’s best to know at the outset, so it can be worked in.

 

Company purpose/values

Do you have a company purpose or set of values? Even if these are not explicitly included in the video, it helps for the production team to know them, so that they know when the values are mentioned and can draw them out if necessary.

 

Visual style

What ideas do you have about what the output will look like? Do you have brand or campaign guidelines that you want it to adhere to? You may also choose to provide examples of films or images that you would like the production team to include in their thinking.

 

What the audience will think, feel and do

The most important aspect of any corporate production is the reaction that it will create in the audience. A useful way to consider this is by seeking to understand what you want the audience to think, feel and do as a result of seeing the project. As we have already seen, video is the most effective way to communicate emotion to an audience. Because of that, it’s useful to know what that desired emotion is from the outset. If we can be clear on this and the thought process that we’re aiming for, it gives a far better chance of driving that action – the thing that you want them to do.

 

Communication objectives

Is there any particular messaging the project needs to convey? How does it fit within your broader communications? What do you want the audience to know by the end of the video(s)? This depends on the type of output, of course; if it is a very emotive brand piece, there may be less material to convey, and for a learning-and-development film there may be quite a lot of information here. If you need to append additional information to the briefing sheet, that’s fine. Of course, it does help to be as clear and simple as you can be, though.

 

Target audience

How much do you know about the target audience? This is covered in far more depth in the next chapter. Any information you can include here will help the team to come up with an approach that will deliver on your goals for the project.

 

Film type

What format do you expect the video to take? This may be an animation, a live broadcast or a promotional documentary. Whatever it is, detail it here.

 

What video formats do you need?

There are a wide range of possible formats available. HD resolution is standard for all productions. You may need it at a higher resolution than that – 4k or even 8k. You might also choose to have it shot on an iPhone or delivered on DVD.

 

Distribution / where will the video be published?

How are people going to get to see the output? It’s best to think about this now, as you want the production to be optimised for the format or platform – even if it’s just your own company’s intranet.

 

What do you need from us?

What are you expecting in response to this document? Most productions start with three creative treatments, each with a budget and timeframe. You may decide that you want the team to present the ideas to your team or create a short video to pitch it to your own stakeholders. Again, it’s useful to know this, so that everyone in the process knows what to expect.

 

Internal approvals process

Who needs to see the production to sign it off? Does the main contact have the ultimate power to sign it off, or are there other sponsors who will need to see it to OK it? It might be necessary to get the video to the point where the first contact is happy with it, before showing the senior contact. This can increase the time and cost of the project. Whatever happens, it makes the process a lot smoother to have one person who is able to collate feedback and then deliver it in one go.

 

Budget range

What budget do you have available for the production? It can feel like you will get a better deal if you hold this information back, and if you’re not sure, of course you can do that. The budget is another of the constraints that the production team needs to work with. The process is extremely malleable, so you can make a film for the same brief for all different budget levels. What changes is the amount of time the team is able to spend developing an idea and then finessing the delivery.

 

Useful resources or existing assets

There is so much content being produced at the minute that the chances are that you will have some material that can be included. This could be B-roll (supplementary footage used to cut away from the main subject of the film), past videos/commercials or music. Whatever it is, let the producers know, so that they can incorporate it if it fits.

 

How to Manage Multiple Stakeholders in the Creative Process

Once you have the central idea for the film, it is important that you don’t allow it to be diluted/spoilt. You will find that everyone involved in the process wants to have some input into the final piece. This is a perfectly natural desire; after all, what’s the point in being involved in a process if you don’t OK a part. As a very established director friend of mine says (a little disgustingly): “Everyone wants to do a tiny bit of pee on it before they sign it off.” The danger of this is that it can lead to the video evolving away from the clear, central idea it had when it was first conceived.

As a filmmaker, I used to find this tendency quite challenging. When I first started down the path of making corporate films, I would put my heart and soul into the work that I did. This led to challenges when the people paying wanted to make changes, which I felt compromised the impact of the final output. What I learned was the importance of identifying the central concept for the video and then safeguarding that at all costs. Everything else can be tweaked or amended. The central idea is the one thing that you can’t really change, because it is the foundation for everything else that you do. If you change this, you’re making a different film.

 

Pick a point person for your project

It’s important to remember that what goes in the brief ends up in the film. We were producing a series of films for a global cosmetics company. The department we were working with created a brief that they were happy with. They then sent it to the US business, who looked at it and said that it had to include some key elements that they had been working on. The same thing happened when it was shared with the Asia Pacific and South American marketing departments. These additional elements were added on rather than being worked into the initial concept.

The production team tried to explain that this would lead to the film taking on a slightly Frankenstein quality, but the client had lost control of the process internally; the other teams had become involved in the process and so they stayed involved – adding feedback and elements all the way through the project. The problem with this was that the film became confused and no longer achieved the initial concrete goal.

One way to overcome this is to always have a single leader for the project. Films become lightning rods for opinion, and highlight differences of opinion in an organisation. The production goes ahead to solve the challenge that the initial sponsor had. One way to avoid ‘too many cooks’ becoming involved is to understand what the new stakeholders are feeding back on. Is it the brand? Is it the way the project delivers against the initial brief? Or is it something else?

No matter what you are trying to deliver, there should be someone who is given the power to make the final call on the project. He/she is usually the person responsible for solving the challenge in the brief. This ties into the point on clarity – too many voices competing with one another risk creating a muddled message and unnecessary, costly reworkings. Choose a point person, and invest in them to deliver what is required. The results are always better.

 

Writing a voiceover script

Once you’re happy with your idea, you can start to write a script. There are a few rules of thumb to work with here:

»  Don’t write anything that you can show in the picture.

»  People read aloud at three words per second, so a minute of unbroken voiceover is 180 words.

»  Allow about 10% of the time for the video to breathe, transition, etc. Because of this, we tend to keep a minute of video to about 165 words.

»  Keep sentences short and punchy. They should each be 10 to 12 words maximum.

»  Keep sentences simple. Avoid using sub-clauses wherever possible.

»  Try to keep the language in the active rather than the passive voice, as this is more dynamic. This means the subject of each sentence performs the action. For example, saying, “The dressing drowned the cucumber,” rather than saying, “The cucumber was drowned by the dressing”; or saying, “We offer great packages,” rather than saying, “The packages we offer are great”. This gives your sentences more energy.

 

In Summary: Writing a Winning Brief

It’s important that you’re clear on what you are trying to achieve from the outset. To do this, it is essential to fill in a briefing document. Having all of the stipulations agreed in black and white irons out differences at a stage when it’s still really easy to deal with them. The further through the project you get, the more expensive fixes tend to be.

The briefing document should play a couple of different roles. On the one hand, it should be a consolidation of all the relevant information that everyone working on the project needs to know. The clearer and more comprehensive the brief, the better the thinking that it inspires. On the other hand, it is an anchor point for the whole project. It allows the team to refer back to what they are trying to achieve. It keeps them on the right track to achieving it.

 

Once you’ve completed the brief, it helps to appoint a single person to be responsible for running the project on your company’s behalf. As much as possible, he/she should consolidate feedback and communications with the producers. This will help to avoid the risk of too many cooks becoming involved and the messaging getting muddled.

Hero, hub, hygiene content structuring

In the same way that traditional broadcast channels have schedules and different types of programming for different audiences/time of day, so can your business. You don’t necessarily need the same breadth of programmes that they have. But it is worth thinking considering how your audience interacts with the different content that you create or curate.

A few years ago now the helpful people at YouTube published their guide for content planning. This defined three different types of video which reflect the different ways audiences access content online. They called this structure: Hero, Hub and Hygiene.

 

The hero, hub and hygiene/help content structure

YouTube realised that the user is drawn into an online video channel in one of two separate ways – they either see something that catches their eye, which gets them to click on it and watch it, or they type in a search term to find out about something that they are specifically looking for. Once on the channel, they should be encouraged to subscribe. From then on, they are sent notifications when the channel is updated with new material; this leads to the necessity of regular magazine-type content. These different types of content give rise to what they have termed hero, hub and hygiene/help.

 

Hero

This is the really eye-catching, click-bait stuff. It is more akin to traditional TV advertising as a type. This is where you ‘go big’ to raise awareness of your brand and the other content you are sharing. It is often ‘chunked’ or divided into shorter clips or images, and used as a promotion for the channel itself in banners on other sites. Because of this, its purpose is to catch the audience’s eye with the concept, image or title as they browse elsewhere. They then click on the link and are drawn into watching the video, before being served the other content hosted on the channel.

Deutsche Bank: Agile Minds.

Hero content is not necessarily about spending lots of money

 

Hub

This is the ongoing magazine-type material. This should be updated regularly with the goal of getting the audience to check back in to see what the latest show is. This is designed to be ‘pushed’ out to existing subscribers; this means that they will receive a notification when there is some new material for them to have a look at. They then click on this and revisit your channel.

The Marriott Wandernaut Show

This animated series was shared internally to allow staff to hear from key leaders and keep up to date with what was going on across the business. These films gave staff members a reason to check back in and be involved in the company channel.

 

Hygiene/Help 

Classic help content: How to Light a Room for Tesco

This is the content that people actually search for – how-tos, guides and instructions. This type of content is designed to pull users into your channel through search results. Initially, YouTube called this ‘hygiene’ because it is about things that people need to do. They since changed this to ‘help’, because that better reflects what it is/does.

 

How they work together

By using the three different types to complement one another, it is possible to draw an ever-increasing number of subscribers into your channel – an initial goal of any channel operator. How this works can be seen in the following diagram:

How it works: building an audience with the hero, hub and hygiene/help content structure

Your audience find Help content by searching for keywords or phrases. This leads to a gradually increasing number of subscribers. Having subscribed they continue to be able to access the Hub or magazine style content you share. Additionally, tentpole Hero content is pushed out drawing larger numbers of viewers back onto the channel. These videos cause the viewer numbers to spike, with subscriber numbers increasing proportionately. You then continue to build trust with your subscribers by sharing content which they genuinely like and value. We'll look at that in more depth next time.