Why is a content strategy really necessary?

network-star-crop-527Because it is the foundation of your marketing program and by creating quality branded content and posting that across your applicable media outlets you can deliver a consistent message which provides your customers and potential customers with engaging material and value added information. This is not only valuable for your target but also for your company. Advantages are many including a positive brand image, the opportunity to build trust, increases sales and the ability to save money and time in the creation of marketing materials.

How do I build a content strategy?

Here is a step by step approach.

1. Outline objectives
First, conduct an audit of your current content strategy program. Is the graphic identity as well as message consistent? Is it the image you want to portray? Does it communicate your unique selling proposition? Is is geared to your target audience? When you have a clear picture of what you are currently doing you can start to evaluate weak areas and needs. Start by defining the over reaching content strategy objectives and then take each media outlet you are using and define the specific objective for each medium.

2. Define your audience(s)
Do you have a good idea of who your target audience is? What do they want to hear? What does this audience need or want from your company? What content would benefit the target as well as your company? This is a time to set objectives that will provide a focus as well as positive results. Include how you are going to measure the success of each program. Research what other communications your customers receive from you and your competitors. Where does your target audience get information about the category that you are involved in?

3. Consider targeting opportunities
Targeting different types of customer through segmented content can make the process much more efficient and cost-effective, so consider producing different versions of your publication and digital content. But if you want to segment, you will need a database or list that offers that segmented information. If you don’t have one, consider what you need and start building the database that allows for segmentation. This can be as simple as utilizing a spreadsheet to begin this process. Once you have finalized what data and criteria you need then you can look for a more sophisticated, productive method of handling your customer database.

4. Establish your distribution strategy
How will your content reach your customers? What combination of media channels best fit your target audience? From print to online, digital to video, there are a huge range of channels to choose from. If you don’t trust the accuracy of your customer database (or you don’t have one), consider buying a list that matches the profile of your customers.

5. Establish measurements
Having regular, high-quality content can be a significant investment of time and money for your company, so establish benchmarks for success based on your objectives. Your objective should include measurable results. If you can plan or estimate how this approach will benefit the bottom line or the brand image of your company. You then need establish a workable budget. Next, get internal buy-in from all relevant departments, especially if you are expecting them to contribute to the budget.

6. Consider contracting with a content marketing agency
Very few client companies have the resources or expertise to create effective content in-house, so you may need to hire an outside agency. Be specific with the agency on what you are looking for and include the items that are important to you and your company including project criteria and potential working budget. Choose wisely not every consulting content marketing agency will fit your needs. Invite several to meet with and learn about all their services and what they can offer your company. For more information on selecting and working with an outside agency read blog post.

7. Create content
Once an agency has been selected, as them to provide a full content plan for your approval before they start creating any content. At these initial meetings you should agree to a communication plan between you and the agency including working arrangements, deciding such issues as how you want the content to be presented and who will approve the content within your organization.

8. Agree to a launch strategy
Do you have a launch date in mind. Are you going to include any research or user feedback from a sample group of your trusted, loyal customers and get their opinion. Also be sure to include introducing the content program to your internal company audience.

9. Launch systematically
Take the time to launch systematically-just in case there is something that you did not anticipate.

10. Debrief/Evaluate
With the introduction of the launch and initial results gathered, you and your agency should now have a debrief meeting in which you go over all aspects of the content. With any new information and feedback, your agency can then start on the next phase of the campaign. Meanwhile, review your targeting strategy and ensure any internal results or opinions are communicated to your agency.

11. Move forward!!


Busy, overwhelmed, complicated

speak-bubble-960Clients want to be assured that their content and message is being found, heard, understood and acted upon.  I do too!

The challenge is to get customers attention at the right time, in the right place with an engaging message.  That is often a tall order.

As we look at the marketplace,  let’s start with the 3 basic points that all organizations need to understand and deal with when developing a content strategy.

1) There is an overwhelming wave of readily available information about anything and everything. With more technology advances, our access to information has become increasingly easier and almost limitless. Search “communication” and there are 290,000,000 results or “content strategy” with 563,000,000 or “spoon” 32,600,000 results. These numbers are only going to increase. I am sure we would all agree and recognize the depth of information and how that affects our content strategy.

2) Time is limited. All of us have only 24 hours a day or 1,440 minutes a day. And, all of us are prioritizing our time as best we can to include the basics of eating, sleeping, taking care of ourselves and keeping relationships with loved ones, colleagues and friends.   No one can add to their time.

3) The marketing environment is complicated. There are many communications vehicles and marketing messages are around us all the time.

So, we are all busy, inundated with information and overwhelmed by the complicated options and information available to us.

What does that mean and what can we do?

Start by developing a deeper understanding of your audience.  This is definitely not easy but worth the time and effort.  In the past, companies have relied on demographics (age, race, gender, annual income) and geographic (where they live) to segment their audience sometimes psychographic elements were added but since psychographics is more difficult to define it has been a smaller part of the mix.  However, psychographics is really important to a more thorough and in-depth knowledge of the audience.  Psychographics is also more effective at getting to the real motivators–it includes a study of how your target audience thinks, feels, acts and what they believe.

This requires that we acquire a deeper (much deeper) knowledge of our audience and that the communications message not only be delivered when, how and where our audience is but also be compelling and engaging to get the little time and attention that is currently being filled with vast amounts of information.

12 ways to increase your creativity

Build on your creative ideas.

Build on your creative ideas.

Researchers recently confirmed the creative power of  “boredom” by subjecting one group of study participants to the mundane task of copying the telephone book for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, the study subjects were given a standard creativity test in which they were asked to list, as many as they could, uses for a plastic cup.  Their results were compared to those of a control group that hadn’t been subjected to copying from a phone book.  The telephone book copiers were more creative.  While perhaps not a conclusive study, it provides interesting fodder for today’s company managers.

A follow-up study concluded that boredom plus daydreaming may even provide a greater productivity boost.

It is important to note that this study did not refer to extended periods of boredom and daydreaming which in a company environment which requires other strategies and action.

What is the Takeaway for Employees and Managers?

The author of the telephone book study, Dr Sandi Mann, commented that “boredom at work has always been seen as something to be eliminated, but perhaps we should be embracing it in order to enhance our creativity.”

Therefore, managers or company personnel who demand or expect constant busyness may actually be stifling their team’s creativity.  It appears that some employers are working under the assumption that any downtime is a problem that needs to be eliminated through increased activities, tasks, shorter timelines and what feels like a hurried and stressful environment.

Getting more creative

Besides requiring boredom which is, of course, unrealistic here are some things your employees can do to enhance creativity.

1) Take breaks.
It’s great to be in the moment, engaged and productive but when you or your employees feel like they hit the wall a break is welcome and in the long run productive.

2) Get out in nature.
Take a walk. Depending on the weather and applicable areas, have a meeting outside.  Being outside can add energy and stimulate the imagination.

3) Write using pen and paper.
Try visually displaying the problem. Within the academic community, there is a debate on what it better, electronic devises or pen and paper writing. Electronic devices are efficient to collect and store information.  But with email, Facebook, Twitter and a growing assortment of social media and apps it is also an opportunity for distractions and multitasking.

In the academic arena, recent studies show that students taking notes with laptops performed poorly on conceptual questions than if the students took notes by longhand.

How does this relate to creativity, the practice of writing ideas, problems and solution ideas by hand could help us better understand the information and therefore generate more applicable ideas and solutions.

4) Meditate.
Meditation practice is a step to being more creative.  With meditation benefits of increased focus, increased concentration, calmness, clarity, insight and in the moment thinking, creativity is enhanced with meditation practice.

5) Mind mapping.
What Are Mind Maps? A mind map is a diagram that connects information around a central subject.  The center encompasses the main idea and the branches are subtopics or ideas.

Mind mapping is one of the best ways to capture your thoughts and bring them to life in visual form. Beyond just note-taking, mind maps can help you become more creative, remember more, and solve problems more effectively.

I use the mind mapping technique allot and have discovered Coggle which is a Google tool that is a simple mind mapping application. Sign in with a Google account and you are ready to access Coggle.

6) Write freely.
Ask team members to take 10 minutes to jot down anything and everything that comes to mind without judgment, a technique called “free-writing” or “free association”. Then go back over the notes and see which ideas are worth keeping.

7) Encourage openness and acceptance of new and different ideas.
Encourage employees to build on their ideas and those of other team members.

8) Engage and encourage social interaction.
When we spend time with people we work with and get to know them it leads to a more trusting relationship and the potential of a more, relaxed, sharing environment.

9) Exercise.
This is my particular favorite.  I find taking time on the treadmill and in the weight room helps me relax and come up with some of my best ideas.   It has been noted that regular exercisers performed better on creative tasks than their less active peers did.

10) Try something new.
Doing things out of habit tends to stop our creative thoughts.  We get in the habit and just do the task without thinking or experiencing.

I recently took a creativity class and one of the assignments was to eat something different.  A simple yet creative exercise to get participants open to new experiences and tastes.  Opening and searching for new, novel experiences is associated with increased creativity.

11) Yoga is another of my personal favorites.
Poses like child’s pose, corpse pose and downward facing dog among others facilitate creativity. Even just physically stretching can offer a big boost.

12) Get enough sleep.
If you’re trying to solve a problem, think about it before you go to bed and keep a recording device by your bed so in the morning you can write down the idea or solution before you forget it.  This might not always work but sleep does restructure new memory representations and can help us think about experiences and problems in a new way.

Or, at work, find a safe, private and quiet place and take a short power nap, which also stimulates and regenerates brain activity.

This list is a start and I am sure as you and your team explore ways to enhance creativity you will add your own unique ideas.

Using Instagram (part 1)

Starting with Instagram

Instagram-popular visual social medium

If you haven’t started using Instagram as a marketing tool for your business, look into the benefits of this tool. If your business can benefit then set up your Business Instagram page and try it. 

Befor you jump right in, a little planning will help you avoid mistakes and get off on the right track.

What are the benefits of marketing on Instagram?

Increase awareness

The primary benefit is increasing the awareness of your products and services easily.  All you have to do is post photos and/or videos of what you offer.   The best way to attract your audience and get them to connect with you is showing how your product directly benefits them and how they can use your products/services.  You can do this within a well prepared, thought out photo as well using a brief description to capture attention.

Brand Recognition

Today, brands are recognized more readily and beneficially by the good works they do.  So, if your organization does volunteer work for a local charity, post photos and videos of that so that users can see what your organization does outside of simply selling products and services and how you are giving back to the community.   If your organization has not included a goal of involvement in local charity or non-profit organization support, this is a good time to plan to do so and then post about it on your Instagram business page as well as encouraging employees to post on their individual pages.

Viral opportunities

There are viral marketing opportunities, but this is not easy to access so test your content and try to find that sweet-spot piece of content that really resonates with your target audience.  Content that is relevant to your brand and might make them laugh or surprises them, so they are more likely to re-share that content, like it and tell their friends.

What’s next?

It’s really important to feature applicable photos of your products and services on Instagram.  Think about your core business and how you can increase revenue by letting users know what your business does best.  

Post photos and videos and briefly explain how users can benefit from your products and services.

Give me something! Contests and Giveaways

With contest or giveaways, my favorite way is to pick a product or service, reach out to your users on all of your social media accounts and ask them to post Instagram pictures of the most creative way that they are using your product.   As you probably have noticed, this is a pretty common request at this time.  So, try to go one step further and tell them to do it using a particular hashtag.

Since this is a contest or a giveaway, the incentive you choose has got to be important and worth the time to your users to post those pictures.  You could give the winner a gift card to buy some more or your products and services or get “free” product or win something that is related to your product or service maybe not directly but an indirect approach.  

What you want is to allow your customers to do marketing for you. They’re going to post photos and videos of your products, your services, how they’re using them and then all of their friends are going to see those photos. So now you’re reaching an audience that’s bigger than just the people that follow you on Instagram. You’re reaching an audience of the people that follow all of your customers. You’re basically getting free marketing and your customers are happy to do it because they have an opportunity to win a gift card or a free product, or whatever you offer.

Communicate who you are.

You can also communicate with your customers and potential customers on Instagram just like you can on Facebook or Twitter. Remember social media is your chance to give your organization a personality and let people know you’re your made of real people who really care about your customers.

I encourage you to think outside of the box and be creative as well. When you do something different, people notice and they’re going to be more likely to remember it. So, you can use all of this information as a baseline but don’t forget to practice your creative freedom. It will differentiate you from your competition.

Starting your Business Profile

Keep in mind that in order to get the most out of using Instagram as a business, it’s a good idea to switch your Instagram profile to a business profile. That way you have access to Instagram Insights, as well as other business-related features.

To have an Instagram business profile, you have to have a Facebook business page.  If you don’t already have a Facebook business page, go to Facebook.com/business, and create a basic business page before moving forward.

Once you’ve downloaded Instagram to your device, go ahead and open up the app. If you already have a basic Instagram profile that you’d like to use for your business, go ahead and log in. If you don’t, you can create a new one.

Instragram 101

When you first log in to Instagram, you will be on the Instagram homepage and this is where we can see any photos and videos posted by those users you follow Instagram.  If you are new to Instagram, take the time to follow a few of your business contacts to get the idea of what you will be seeing.  At that same time, add a photo or if you already have an Instagram account your also see your own photos in this section.   

As you already know, platforms sometimes make changes/revisions but at this point on the home page, you will see (at the bottom of your screen, you’ll see house icon shaded in a darker color. The next icon on our screen, the magnifying glass, is the Instagram search page.

When you tap on this button, you can search Instagram, in a later blog post I will go in depth regarding search and hashtags, for now, you could search for hashtags related to your business, or your competitors, so you can see what others are doing on Instagram. The next button down in the navigation section is the upload button. This is where you can upload photos and videos and post them to your profile on Instagram.

The next button is the heart icon. The heart icon takes you to the activity section of your Instagram. This is where you can see all of the activity related to your account, so you can see when people follow you, when they comment on your photos or videos. Anything that’s happening that’s related to you and your business on Instagram will appear in this section.

The next area in the bottom of the screen is the profile link. When you tap on this section, you go right to your Instagram profile, and this is where you see all the photos and videos that you have uploaded to Instagram.  You can also upload a photo to your profile page and add a description so that people know who we are and what we do when they come to our profile page.

In a later post, I will describe how to add photos and customize your description. If at any time you want to access Insights, your activity, etc., they can be accessed from this page by tapping the three lines at the top right of the screen.

The point right now is to setup your Instagram business profile page and take advantage of the ease that Instagram provides to promote your brand message through visual representation including photos and videos.  Capture your audiences’ attention and communicate your unique personality.

Gauging customer satisfaction with emojis

Measuring customer satisfaction, one customer at a time, easily and quickly


At my local drug store, there is what looks almost like a Fisher-Price toy. It is free standing battery powered terminal with four big push buttons-dark green and smiley, light green and less smiley, light red and sort of frowny, and dark red and very frowny.  The sign says to rate your pharmacy experience by pressing one of the buttons.

I did not think too much about it until I read an article in the February 8, 2018, The New Yorker magazine— “The Happiness Button” by David Owen.  In the article, David refers to a European gas-station chain that hired a small startup, HappyOrNot, to measure customer satisfaction at its hundred and fifty-plus outlets using what sounds like this similar emoji kiosk.

The results were that one gas station quickly came out as the leader and another was at the other end of the spectrum.  Knowing that customer satisfaction can be influenced by factors unrelated to customer service, the experiment went on with the managers at the best and worst performing locations swapping places and within a short time the store at the top of the list was at the bottom of the customer satisfaction list and the store that ranked previously at the bottom was now the top performer.  One manager praised and another, I assume, on their way out.

This might be considered by many as crude data collection.  After all there were no comment cards, customer surveys, focus groups or reports from “mystery shoppers.”  Just basic data, compiled by a toy appearing kiosk with emojis to represent the customer experience.

Of course, part of the appeal is the immediacy of the response, the ease at which the consumer and the company can collect the response, no lengthy questionnaires and no real interruption in the customer’s daily journey.

One of the major issues in polling is gathering responses from enough people to make valid conclusions.  Recently and perhaps because I am more aware, I have noticed more requests to fill out online questionnaires and questionnaires are sent after every medical doctor’s appointment.  These are often lengthy, involved and difficult to get to completion.

I don’t have the time to fill out these pages and pages of questions and only do if I have had a particularly negative experience.   Even now I have stopped that because without any feedback from the company I believe that survey has either gone into a black hole or been compiled into analytics and boils my response to “negative” but not necessary capturing why or what changes can and should be made.

Whereas the toy-looking kiosk, (we should probably give it a name like Edgar).  Edgar can capture thousands of impressions in a day, from people who buy and people who don’t.  The terminals are easy to understand, no interpretation, no language barriers, provide immediate gratification and customers can answer without losing a step or disruption to their visit.

And, although the responses are anonymous, they are time stamped.  So valuable information can be gathered about the best and worst times of the day, who was working the counter that day, is additional training needed or changes of some kind within the companies control to get a better customer experience.

HappyOrNot is the startup with the great idea of manufacturing and providing this type of kiosk.  In David Owen’s article, he states that HappyOrNot terminals have already been installed in more than a hundred countries and have registered more than six hundred million responses.  The company’s ultimate goal is to change not the way people think about customer satisfaction but also the way they think about happiness itself.

As a content/brand strategist, I want to help companies learn as much about their customers as they can, the kiosk is a limited channel yet powerful channel in the application it was intended for.  It is a tool to help brick and mortar locations evaluate customer service and make changes to enhance the customers happiness rate.  I think it is a good idea.

Next time, I go by one of these kiosks I will be sure to click the applicable button and know my response is measurable and helpful to the company willing to analyze and make changes based on the data.

11 steps to selecting and hiring a consultant

Selecting a Consultant

Putting the pieces together to hire the best fitting consultant or freelancer.

Best Practices to selecting a consultant or freelancer

I select, hire and work with outside consultants and freelancers for my own company as well as my clients. And have, for the most part, positive and workable experiences leading to successful project outcomes.

In my experience, I learned and continue to learn best practices to selecting and hiring an outside consultants or vendors so we all (my clients, freelancers and me) feel that rush of successful project completion with objectives met with “no surprises.”

In the past, I have also worked with clients who have been unhappy with earlier consultants and/or project outcomes because of the rush to hire someone or team that turned out to be the wrong fit. At that point, they have brought me in to either redo the project, start all over again or hire the right resources depending on what is needed. That costs time, money and can be avoided.

Here are 11 tips for helping you select and hire the right outside resource.

1.Start by analyzing, articulating and writing down what you need with regards to projects, skills or pain points or issues you need resolved.

Are you looking for a website developer or a website designer or an art director or do you know? If titles are not familiar to you take a really basic approach and define what you need, where are your pain points and what skills do you think are needed to fix the pain points. For example, visitors to our site are only staying a few minutes how do we get them to stay longer or our blog is getting very few readers-what do we need to do to increase our readership? Or we have a team that is not meeting deadlines or working together.

I am assuming you will get a list that you can rank by what you need most. Then prioritize that list by what is most valuable and most profitable to your company.

2. Define the project, the scope, budget limits and rough schedule.

Once this information is defined and established, internally in your organization, then you can have clear, complete information for your selected consultant. These actions will also help you get more specific information from them. This includes how their skills, experience and working style matches your needs.

Knowing and defining what you need and are looking for is critical to do before talking to any outside consultant. But don’t get too rigid, flexibility will help you accept feedback from the consultant you select as well as those you don’t. If you are truly hiring an expert, they will be able to further define the scope of the project and perhaps even steer you to a more suitable project type or other solution that might be better or help you define the more basic issues.

Be realistic about budget and schedule requirements—you may have to compromise on the deliverable date to get the best provider for the job. And, you should be open to budget negotiation to get the best consultant for your needs.

And, again you want this consultant to share their thoughts, ability and recommendations with you too. You are hiring someone who has the ability you and your company do not, so you want to listen and learn from this trusted source.

3. Interview the consultant.

Now that you are closer to knowing what you need and want, you will want to interview various consultant/freelancers.

Ask questions—lots of questions. You are hiring a partner for the duration of the project and you want people who not only have the experience and background but also the “soft” skills that include communication skills and interpersonal skills and ability to work with you and communicate effectively with you.

If you are working with a remote consultant/vendor, communication criteria and accountability become even more critical. These are always important but especially with someone you might never meet face to face.

Check their references and ask for feedback from other clients who have used their services. If you have any concerns about a vendor’s specific capabilities, voice your concerns to them now. And, remember the vendor is putting their best foot forward with their best people.

Be aware that if you are hiring someone new to the consulting gig or just out of school, they may not have clients you can talk to or they may have reservations because of confidentiality issues. That is okay. If you take time to start them on a basic, simple project, it will allow you to see how this person or team fits within your group.

Make sure you know who your day-to-day contact will be and interview them too. Then ask that unless there is an unforeseen emergency that consistent interfacing contact is with you through the duration of the project and the vendor is not changing contact people periodically during the process. Getting a new person up to speed and understanding you and your business can slow or halt the project progress.

4. Look for specific experience fit

Ideally, the vendor that you select has the specific experience with the type of project that you defined and in the area that you need.

Don’t be your vendor’s “guinea pig.”

5. Review the vendor’s work

Review their “portfolio” (if they have one), their website, their online presence and reviews. Make sure that your expectations about style, quality and, if copy and design, that tone and way are applicable to what you want and need.

6. Confirm who will be doing the work

Some vendors outsource various parts of projects to other vendors, if you are comfortable with that then that is okay. But ask the vendor beforehand if all aspects of the project are done with them or what outside vendors might be involved. Having your selected vendor outsource some of the project isn’t necessarily an issue such as a designer working with a website developer. But you should be aware and be comfortable with which aspects of your project might be outsourced. If it is the crux of the project that is outsourced then you may want to consider another vendor.

7. Test

I do this allot particularly if the consultant/freelancers I think is best doesn’t have the exact experience that I would like. I start with a small project. That way I can see the vendor in action and when it is crucial will know if this vendor is trustworthy and can handle what I need. And, you can do the same.

Some companies ask for a “mockup” or sample project but I think it is better to use a real project. This allows the vendor to get paid for their work and you to really see what the provider’s capabilities are in action.

8. An agreed to schedule

By this point, you have defined with your provider a budget and working plan. This plan should include defined, concrete goals. This will allow you to know the scheduled checkpoints and review the status and direction of the project at those check in points. Also, be sure, to find the project scope and budget parameters, you do not want to be surprised with “change” fee notices when you thought that the second-round copy was included.

Stay involved in the project and define what you mean by updates and when those updates are need. If any course corrections need to be made allow adequate time to make those and don’t allow yourself to be in the dark until you get a finished product, which by then is too late. My motto is “No surprises” and this is a way to avoid as much as possible project or vendor surprises.

9. Final product ownership

For any type of outsourced project, make sure that you are clear about who owns the work product and any important components of that product or project. Make sure the service provider understands how you intend to use the deliverables that they are providing. This is particularly true of photography, illustrations or other artwork, this vendor created. And, be fair, you might need to pay usage fees or pay more money if you want outright sole ownership.

10. Define what you expect as far as any ongoing support

During the planning phase, negotiate with your vendor what happens when the work is complete. Is there ongoing support or options to make changes? If artwork, what do you need and in what format. Don’t be greedy but try specifying some amount of free support or negotiating discounted prices for future modifications. That seemingly small detail can save you time and money later.

11. Get everything in writing

Include the scope of the project, what the deliverables are, the agreed to budget, schedule, and criteria that may change the scope and cost of the project.

Keep a record of all interactions as well as changes to the agreement. Save email, text or any other exchanges.

Hiring top-notch expertise, as outside vendors and freelancers, is a great way to meet your business needs without hiring a full-time staff member. There are numerous, excellent vendors available and by being upfront with honest and open communication you can have a successful outcome and even better a successful, ongoing relationship.

10 steps to a strong content program

Is a documented content marketing strategy REALLY necessary? Yes!

A content marketing strategy is the basic building block of an effective and solid marketing program. By planning and then creating good quality, branded content with a consistent message and then posting that content on media outlets that reach your audience, you deliver content that gives your current and potential customers ongoing, consistent, engaging material and value added information.

So what?
The advantages are numerous—a positive brand image, the opportunity to build trust, increases in sales and the ability to save money and time creating marketing materials.

How do I start?

1. Investigation
Take a step back and look at your program with a critical eye. This is a good time to either hire or enlist an individual(s), who represent your target audience and are not associated with your company, to candidly give feedback on your communication materials and program.

After collecting their responses extrapolate the information and review what you learned.
network-gray-dots-960network-gray-dots-960Is the graphic identity and message consistent?
What does the design and message say to your audience?
Is that what you want to or intend to portray?
Does it communicate your unique selling proposition?
Is the message directed to your target audience? Do they understand what you wanted to communicate?

When you have identified and evaluated your current program then you can start to look at what is working and what areas need strengthening, omitting and changing.

2. Decide and focus on your primary objectives
Now that you know what you are doing and how it looks to those people you want to define your content strategy goals.

If your goal is sales, what specifically do you want or need to do to move your audience from lookers to buyers?
Then identity each media outlet you are using or want to start using and define specific content goals for each medium.
As you are defining these goals keep in mind your competitors and where they are and what content strategies they are using.

3. Defining specific audiences.
There could be multiple audiences involved. Define each audience.

What does your audience need or want from your company?
What do they expect from your company/products?
What content would benefit your audience as well as your company?
How you are going to measure the success of each program? How and where does your audience get information about the group that you represent in?
Research what other communications your customers receive from you and your competitors.

Targeting different types of customers through segmented content makes the this process more efficient and cost-effective. Depending on what you find, consider producing different versions of your publication and digital content for each audience. If you want to segment, you will need a database or list that offers that segmented information. If you don’t have one, consider what you need and start building the database that allows for segmentation. This is as simple as a spreadsheet to begin this process. Once you have finalized what data and criteria you need then you can look for a more advanced, productive method of handling your customer database.

4. Develop your media strategy
What specific media outlets (i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) reach your current and potential customers? What combination of media channels best fit your target audience? From print to online, digital to video, there is a huge range of channels to choose from. With the large amount of online resources/channels available, this process can be overwhelming. Consider adding one media channel at a time. unless you have more resources available.
this will help to manage the process of your online strategy and implementation.

5. Plan measurement
Developing regular, high-quality content is an investment of time and money for your company and developing measurement criteria for a successful program is important. What results do you want and what will you use as a measurement tool to track those results? What will define a successful program? How will what you are doing benefit the bottom line, brand image or awareness of your company? This work will need a budget and an internal commitment from applicable departments and/or your team.

6. Consider using an outside consultant for content development
It is difficult to have either the resources or ability to effectively develop creative, high quality content in-house consistently. When hiring an agency or consultant be very specific about what you need, what is important to you, project limits and a target budget. Not every agency or consultant will fit your needs or work best with you and your company. Look around, ask colleagues for referrals network and then have those select few meet with you and present their services and what they offer.

7. Implement development of content.
Use a planning calendar. Start by adding important events such as product launches, public relations announcements etc. Then look at what content and channels you will use to build up to those events or build on those events.
Do you have a launch date in mind? Are you going to include any research or user feedback from a sample group of your trusted, loyal customers and get their opinion? Also be sure to include introducing the content program to your internal company audience first.

8. Start slowly
Take the time to launch systematically in case there is something that you did not expect. With limited resources and time, starting slowly allows you to access what is working, give you and your team time to learn how to use various media channels and learn what is most effective for you and your organization.

9. Implement organization tools
One of the most effective ways for a business to gather more organic traffic to their website is through effective management of a social media campaign.

Hoot suite does this by allowing a user to manage several different profiles, schedule posts, and track brand recognition through one easy-to-use platform. Other resources include Buffer, Social Oomph, SocialFlow, SproutSocial and CrowdBooster. All of these resources have their own features and benefits. Determine what would be of help to you and your team and research the various options. Many are free or offer free trials. The best way to know what works for you is to research, try and test.

10. Ongoing Planning, Analyzing and Debriefing
With implementation the content strategy plan becomes real and measurable. With a regular review of the analytics collected you can make necessary course corrections.
There is no need to have “paralysis by analysis.” This is a time to see where there were spikes in your readership, where and with what content the audience positively connected. Based on your goals, was the strategy effective at moving you towards or meeting those goals?

Evaluating your current program, defining content goals, incorporating measurable goals, verifying that the planning and implementation is on track and meeting your goals gives you the tools you need to make intelligent changes, if needed.

No strategy or plan should ever be set in stone. There is too much that changes. Business climates change, technology changes, competition changes and with changes come the need to reevaluate your strategy and plan to make sure it is still effectively working for you and your organization.

Are you learning to be creative?

Creative thinking is not a talent, it is a skill that can be learnt. It empowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities which improves teamwork, productivity and where appropriate, profits."--- Edward de Bon

Creative thinking is not a talent, it is a skill that can be learnt. It empowers people by adding strength to their natural abilities which improves teamwork, productivity and where appropriate, profits.”— Edward de Bon

Critical thinking has long been touted as the essential skill for success but in our new rapidly changing business environments– it is not enough. Creativity moves beyond synthesizing and evaluating by adding a higher level of thinking skill. This is not a new idea. In 2010, an IBM survey of 1,500 key executives spanning 33 industries rated “creativity” as the factor most crucial for success.

Creativity is our most precious resource and our most inexhaustible one. Developing the creative skill is like building muscle. You lose muscle if you don’t use it and you build muscle by lifting weights and continuing to use the skill. Practicing and continuing working on your creative abilities will strengthen your creativity skill.

What exactly is creativity? Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality. It is an idea turned into action. It is seeing a problem in a new way and finding hidden patterns, making connections between what may appear on the surface to be unrelated phenomenal and to generate solutions. This puts two processes to work: thinking and producing. If you have ideas and can’t or don’t act on them you are not implementing the practical and usefulness of your creativity skill.

Viewing creativity as a practical, learnable skill is a big change from thinking that creativity requires a bit of magic, waiting time or a creative title.

What is a good framework to practice developing your creative skills..

1) Identify the problem or challenge.

During the first step of creative problem solving, it is important to get an initial working definition of the problem. Although it may need to be adapted at a later stage, a good working definition makes it possible to describe the problem to others who may become involved in the process.

Begin by finding simplicity in complexity. Start by clearly identifying the specific problem or challenge than study the problem and get to the key, base root of what is causing the problem or challenge.

Looking at the problem in terms of challenges and barriers can offer an effective way of defining many problems and splitting bigger problems into more manageable sub-problems. Sometimes it will become apparent that what appeared to be one, single problem, is more accurately a series of smaller problems.

If you misstated or don’t perceive the accurate problem at this stage than it is difficult to come up with a creative breakthrough.

2) Gather data.

If this problem has been around a long time then analyze ways that others have tried solving the problem. How and when did the problem surface? Why did the solution not work or was not ideal? Why was the idea not accepted or acted upon? Was the idea disregarded too soon?

Also try to understand everyone’s interests in solving this problem or challenge. Interests are the needs that you want satisfied by any given solution. We often ignore our true interests as we become attached to one particular solution. The best solution is the one that satisfies everyone’s interests particularly if this solution affects your team. This is the time for active listening.

3) Generate ideas.

This part of the process should be uninhibited, spontaneous, top of mind idea generating.

Begin by capturing all ideas. No critical analysis at this point. Have fun and let your imagination as well as team members generate as many ideas for alleviating the problem as possible.

If you are working in a group outline group criteria for idea generating. These criteria include leaving critiquing any idea out of the picture, there are no”bad” ideas capture them all and no naysayers. This is a time for building on the ideas no matter how ridiculous or if it has been tried before.

Sometimes people wonder where the “so called” creative population find their good ideas. The answer is usually buried in all the bad ideas that we don’t see or hear. The creative process is like finding a gem among many worthless rocks. Much of the rock has to be discarded to find the real gem. It takes time, perseverance, and the ability to cast your self critical side away and just list any and all ideas.

In a later phase, much of what what you generate is thrown away, but that does not make the digging a waste of time. If you ‘cannot think of anything’ and having difficulty with this inspiration phase, perhaps you or your team are too critical, or expect good ideas to come too quickly. Don’t allow yourself to stop at the first good idea instead allow time to fully explore.

This step will become easier as you practice it.

4) Now take a break.

Let the ideas incubate. In this step, leave your ideas alone, your subconscious will still ponder the ideas in the background.

If you are working on several projects, it does help to let yourself switch between the projects but only if this doesn’t cause a break in concentration. The break helps when you have “hit the wall” and feel that you can’t go further. It also gives your subconscious time to work on any problems encountered, it will also distance you somewhat from your ideas so that you are better able to evaluate them.

Many good ideas have occurred while outside taking a walk, exercising, in the shower or stuck in traffic. I keep a writing pad and pen with me at all times.

Other ways to increase creativity..

Get moving. Studies prove that cognition and creativity improve with just 30 minutes of aerobic exercise. The type of movement doesn’t seem to matter just so it is has a cardio benefit and enough movement to get the blood moving. The boost of a 30 minute cardio workout lasts for 2 plus hours after exertion. For those who are just starting a “get moving” program” it is best to start slowly and work up to a 30 minute goal. Even starting with 5 minutes and then increasing in 5 minute increments over a series of weeks is a great way to get started.

Sleep on it. Whenever Sir Isaac Newton had a particularly thorny problem he always worked on it just before he went to sleep. He said “I invariably woke up with the solution”. There are no guaranteed but keep that notebook and pen close in case you wake up with a solution and don’t want to forget it.

5) Distillation

Here your ideas are sifted through and evaluated. The best ideas are selected or are combined with others for stronger, better ideas.

At this point, invite your self-critical nature slowly back into the process. This phase allows for cool analysis and judgement. However it should not be so critical as to inhibit productivity entirely. Remember, the ideas you have are only ideas, not complete solutions – you should not expect too much of them. It is where the ideas can take you that counts, not just the ideas themselves.

Try to stay away from ideas which are familiar instead keep open-minded to explore those ideas that will best achieve the objective of solving the key problem.

If you are working in a team there is a balance between critiquing team members ideas but not demoralizing team members by being overly critical. Give feedback that enhances further creativity and does not crush it. This applies to all team members.

By the end of this step, you and your team will have a top list of ideas or a combination of several ideas.

6) Evaluation

In the evaluation phase you examine your remaining ideas/solutions for strengths and weaknesses. Consider how the idea could be improved.

Hardly anyone gets things perfect the first time.

At first, Many people may dislike the evaluation phase. Actually, the evaluation phase can be very rewarding, and no work of real merit will be produced without it.

7) Implement

Create an action plan and test-drive your innovation or idea.

Implementing solutions generally requires convincing others that your idea has value and incorporating your solution effectively. And, having your team buy into the solution so that as revisions or changes are needed they will help and not hinder the process.

You and your team need to be positive and persistent, deeply committed and engaged, and ready to respond positively to any shortcomings.

8) Agree on contingencies, monitoring, and evaluation.

Conditions may change. Make contingency agreements to account for unforeseeable future circumstances (If-then!). How will you monitor compliance and follow-through?

Create ways to evaluate the ideas and their implementation. (“Let’s try it this way for three months and then look at it.”)

Effective problem solving does take some time and lots of attention. A problem is like a curve in the road. Take it right and you’ll find yourself in good shape for the straightaway that follows. Take it too fast and you may not be in as good a shape.

The creative process is hard work and yet can be fun and definitely rewarding. There are also many benefits of practicing the creative skill including greater achievement, career advancement, more earning potential, recognize and solve problems more easily and quickly, and making a difference.

10 Ways to a powerful press release


1) Understand the purpose of the press release.

A press release is a short, compelling newsworthy storyline that is sent to appropriate, targeted members of the media. The goal of a press release is to get the attention and the interest of the journalist, editor and/or publisher.

2) Send timely news.

A press release is about something current. Something that is happening now or in the near future.

3) Target the right audience.

The goal is to ask for the interest of a journalist or publication with news that is significant to their audience.

4) Make the journalist’s job easier.

Provide your contact information and be available. Give the writer the materials and contacts they ask for quickly. Take some of the work off their plate.

5) Provide a message that is of interest to the targeted publications and that media’s readers.

Don’t just blanket your release to all media outlets relevant or not.

6) Get creative with the headline.

Capture the attention of the journalist with a good headline and brief article summary. Don’t make the journalist dig.

7) Attach photos or links to videos that expand your message.

Sent electronically, links are the best option. Test links before distributing your release to make sure the links are not broken and work.

8) Add quotes to your release from key executives and/or customers.

Include contact information for more sources that the journalist can call upon to enhance the story and get quotes.

9) Humanize your press release.

Don’t use industry jargon or acronyms. Write clearly, simply and concisely. Touch on the emotional element.

10) Use press release formatting rules.

Larger media outlets sometimes use their own formatting rules. Check out their website or press information and send the format they prefer.

Competition is fierce. Be aware that just because you send a press release it may or may not get noticed or read. Therefore, don’t expect your news release to do all the work. Contacting the press contact, pitching your story and letting them know you are available to help is a good move.

Sharing your business story

heads-speak-bubble-960Once you have written your story then share your story with your audience.

Don’t keep your business story hidden within your company but share it in the places that your audience frequents.

Here are some ways to share your business story with your audience.

Utilize video
In addition, to sharing your stories in text format add video. Your video could feature your employees talking about why they work for your company and/or talking about why and how your company’s products or services benefit your audience. Or, your customers sharing their experiences with your company and how your company solved an issue, challenge or problem for them. Make it personal and make your message targeted and focused on what is important to your customers. Post your video on your website as well as other social media outlets that your audience frequents.

Use photos.
One of the easiest ways to tell your story is by sharing images on your site and throughout your social media outlets. Remember to think like your customer and rather than be inward focused be outward focused. If you can secure and use photos of customers using your products that is a plus. Be sure to always get permission from customers to post their pictures. In addition, use your company employees/team to highlight the people behind your brand’s success.

Use Case studies

Case studies are very effective. Case studies are a good way to demonstrate in a concrete fashion what problems, issues or challenges your company and product solve.

Steps to writing a case study include..
Clearly communicate the issue, challenge or problem.
Identify the solution or approach taken.
Outline the results.

Invite your customers/community to share their stories
Ask your customers how they use your product/service/advice and get tips? Their story is an important part of your story. Use your website and/or Facebook to capture their thoughts and encourage engagement and discussion.

Add quotes
Add testimonials or quotes from customers that reiterate your story and the value and benefits you bring to them. Customer quotes are strongest but you can also get quotes from your executive team and business partners that help tell your story.

Communicate your story on the home page of your site.

Use this prime real estate to tell people something that encourages them to learn more about you. Your home page is a great place to capture the attention of your target audience and enhance the stickiness of your site.

Write a company blog or newsletter.

Use your blog or newsletter to focus on the needs of the customer and think creatively how to tell your story effectively.

As Marketers and Content Strategists, we need to developed focused company stories that communicate the benefits to our audience of what we selling.

With so many products and noise in the marketplace, it really is your story that differentiates you from your competition.