How content plans, core pillars, key topics and elevating your narrative all drive successful content Marketing

This outtake focused on content marketing strategy – plans, pillars and expanding the narrative to ensure greater success with content is taken from an hour of discussion recorded exclusively for our Pivotal Marketer Community on Facebook sees Geraint Holliman, marketing consultant, MSc in Digital Marketing trainer and published author and MMC’s Rene Power.

It’s the second part of a series of serialisations on content marketing strategy and implementation.

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Rene Power:

So we’re thinking about a process, we’re thinking about approaching this from the inside out.

So what are the things that is in my head and whenever I’m talking to particularly B2B clients, particularly in manufacturing, engineering, industrial, who are normally, I have to say, lagging behind some of the best practise, in these things?

I say, “Look, you’ve got to have an editorial plan. You’ve got to have a process for being very clear on what you’re producing, who you’re producing it for, what you want it to affect, what do you want it to do. And within that, have some pillars and themes”.

So maybe if we talk a little bit around some of these things. I know you’re a big exponent of the editorial plan as well.

Editorial plans and content creation

Geraint Holliman:

Absolutely, yeah. The editorial plan is about literally how you kind of schedule your content creation and execution over a period of time, six to about 12, 24 months.

So the editorial part is, I always say if you think of yourself, doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, think of yourself as the editor of the magazine for well, whatever industry you’re in.

You’re a sock manufacturer, you’re the sock manufacturer weekly editor, what would be interesting to people who buy sock manufacturing machines?

And if you think about it in those terms, I mean, if you can’t think [inaudible 00:18:08], think about something you’re interested in. I’m interested in gardening.

If I was the head of BBC Gardening Magazine, what would people be interested in this time of year? They’re interested in those things, this kind of advice, those kinds of tips, that kind of help, blah, blah, blah.

So we write about that. So you’re thinking of yourself as a publisher, right? And I think you said this at the beginning of the call.

Rene Power:

Yeah, 100%. I think all companies that are serious about attracting a certain type of customer, you need to be thinking like a publisher. You need to be putting yourself out there in the best possible light, that is going to be relatable and have resonance to the people that you’re looking to attract, yeah.

Geraint Holliman:

Now, on that very point, and a lot of people buy into that, well, in my experience, they do kind of, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, absolutely. We should be publishers of Sock Machine Manufacturer Monthly.” And I say, yeah, but if you’re thinking about that, what kind of content, therefore, would be interesting to those customers? Is it always going to be about you and your machines? If I’ve filled sock.

Oh God, I hope this isn’t a real magazine. If I filled-

Rene Power:

Great machines and we can do loads of different socks in different materials.

Geraint Holliman:

Absolutely, brilliant, excellent. But what are the other interesting things that happen in the sock manufacturing world?

Changes in consumer behaviour, new materials, renewables, how much waste your manufacturing process creates.

These are other interesting things that the sock machine buyer is interested in. And if you have a point of view on that kind of stuff, yeah, these are the kind of the pillars of your content architecture.

Content pillars

So I would say, have three or four things that you are interested in and are interested about, that are relevant to the customer.

Yeah, okay, one of them is about machines because you make machines. But there are things like, as I said, materials, consumer behaviour, environmental aspirations. So those are your pillars.

And within these sort of pillars you would have topics, which would effectively be the titles of pieces of content.

So you build yourself this nice framework of the kinds of things that we create content on. That’s not to say you would never create content about something that didn’t fit your pillars and topics.

But it just gives you a lot more focus. And it also means that, over time, you become known for consumer behaviour, understanding materials, yeah and you build up your reputation.

Rene Power:

Yeah, if you find those topics, we’re going to call them pillars. So you think of a piece of paper, you’ve got four columns, if you like, at the top of those columns, you’ve got the big overriding themes that you want to be associated with. And then underneath that is all the stuff related to those themes that you want to be, either talking about or being associated with.

And I think the” association with bit” is particularly important, isn’t it? Because I’m doing it at the minute with manufacturing, particularly on LinkedIn.

So I can post all day about manufacturing and I’ll get a level of engagement with that.

But if I go and if I do a search for manufacturing, UK manufacturing, reshoring, some of these phrases and go and find people who are talking about it, and there’s loads of people chatting on their content about it, I could probably get more engagement with me if I go and comment where the discussions are happening.

But you need to have those pillars so that you can go and do that. And you also then bring the insight back that makes your content, that you create, even more informed.

So you’re right, those pillars, they act in a number of ways, don’t they? Because they can inspire you and also help drive you to make better content because you’re actually listening. You’re using these as well as this.

Geraint Holliman:

The other thing about that, Rene, is if you can organise your content planning around pillars and topics, and you, therefore, use that as your roadmap for your editorial process, you kind of say, when you sit down every month or every quarter to say;

“Well, what content are we creating in the next one, two, three, six months?”

“Well, it should be content that fits within these pillars”.

“Oh, we haven’t done a lot about this one recently.”

“Well, okay, is there something happening in the marketplace in July, which is relevant to this?”

And so you’re starting to kind of use your pillars and your topics, your editorial calendar, the things that are happening in the marketplace, what we call macro moments, the marketing macro moments that are relevant to customers. You’re starting then to start planning your content actions based on a real process and a method.

The perils of thought leadership as a content objective

Now, your thing about the pillars and topics is that, which is really, really worth thinking about is, and I have to say this steams my buns more than almost anything else, is thought leadership, right?

If I had a pound for every company that said, “We want to be thought leaders in our marketplace.” Frankly, I would be talking to you from the deck of my 100 foot yacht] off Monaco, because I would be rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

But actually, most thought leadership activity that I see, or hear, or see attempted is nothing of the kind. It is usually quite lame, kind of following the pack, often introverted, inward-looking kind of commentary.

If you want to be a thought leader, I’m sorry, you got to have some thoughts worth following. That’s the whole point of thought leadership. And sometimes those thoughts, those ideas, those opinions are challenging, maybe a tiny bit spiky-

Rene Power:

Yeah, they’re normally provocative and again-

Geraint Holliman:

Could be provocative.

Rene Power:

… it’s status quo, aren’t they, to start with?

Geraint Holliman:

Yeah, exactly.

Rene Power:

Because that’s how these things start, yeah. It starts out-

Geraint Holliman:

Yeah, but don’t just sit there and write a white paper about your product and say, “Well, that’s thought leadership.” That is nothing of the kind, it is not leading any thoughts. I’m not saying it’s not interesting for the right audience at the right point in the buying journey.

But if you want to be a thought leader, have some thoughts that are worth following. And that, therefore, sits over the top of your pillars and topics, yeah? Feeds the topics, feeds the themes.

And suddenly, you’ve got a framework.

You’ve got a framework that drives your content engine. So when we came into this conversation, we were talking about having plans, and processes, and putting some kind of diligent framework behind your activity.

That is what this is all about, is putting those frameworks in place, so that you are not just kind of panicking and say, “Oh, I said I would write a Facebook post every bloody day.” Or product manager comes to me and said, “Well, I’ve got a new product coming out next month, I want stuff, give me stuff.” And you said, “Well, how does that fit in?”

Elevating your level of narrative

Rene Power:

Yeah, you’re right. You’ve got to anchor what you’re doing into a narrative that your audience can resonate with. I mean, taking your sock machine manufacturer.-

Geraint Holliman:

Yeah, I wish I hadn’t said that now, but anyway…

Rene Power:

No, but I’m just using it, I have, so I’m just going to roll with it. But you think, okay, so the challenges and the issues around that, there’s obviously green manufacturing, lean, there’s all of that sort of stuff.

But actually, customers, what do they care about? They care about, like you say, materials, eco. They care about not having socks and feet that smell. You look at foot health, you look at athletes, you look at people that wear shoes all day at work.

And all of a sudden, you’re going into a completely, but not a completely different space, but you’re elevating the conversation. You’re not just-

Geraint Holliman:


Rene Power:

… your machinery, your process and all of these things, which might conceivably be a USP for you. But talk about things, the application of that from a position of being more relevant to actually, what your customers want and what they care about.

So I think it was an interesting example. I’ve just been sat here thinking, how can we kind of take that to a level where-

Geraint Holliman:

Well, let’s talk offline, Rene, because there’s obviously a little thing we can take to the sock machine manufacturing world.

Rene Power:

I think there is. Well, it’s interesting, in preparing for this today, we were kicking about B2B, and B2C, and okay, there are some nuances in the techniques and the tactics. But actually, the process is the same. If you’re Nike, selling trainers to people for 90 quid each or you’re selling 500 pound printers into offices, this is still relevant. It’s still relevant.

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