How to use your content as your compass

How to use your content as your compass
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Way back in my early days of high school – and definitely way before Google Maps and iPhones – my class had to learn how to use a compass. Orienteering was the task at hand, and the lesson to learn was how to navigate through unfamiliar territory using this age-old method.

But unfamiliar terrain has risks and obstacles that you need to pay attention to. You need to have your wits about you, otherwise you might end up lost in the bush, or falling off a cliff.

The technique was simple enough. You picked landmarks that you could see, matched their location on the map and off you’d go. Keeping one eye on the needle, and one eye on the terrain, you’d use the compass to make sure that, regardless of whatever twists and turns the terrain threw at you, you knew which way to go, and when you reached those milestones you knew exactly where you were.

 It’s common sense when you’re attempting to make your way through the unknown to have a plan, broken down into stages, and a trusted tool that can show you the way, regardless of the terrain.

Yet all too often in our brave new digital world we see many courageous brands trying to tackle new media landscapes and unfamiliar territory without much of a plan or a tool for navigation.

Research done earlier this year by the Content Marketing Institute showed that, while 93% of all Australian B2B marketers say they are playing in the Content Marketing field, the very same research found that only 33% of those thought they were actually being effective!

While you have to respect the valour of the remaining 60% having a go, you also have to wonder whether, in spite of their efforts and courage, a lot of them are simply getting ‘lost in the bush’, or worse, falling off a cliff.

You need more than good intentions, and some budget by your side to navigate today’s increasingly fragmented multichannel world. Even the most experienced players still get some scratches on their way down the trail. But for those wanting to be effective, all you need to do is keep one eye on your content, one eye on the path ahead, and learn to use your content as a compass.

You see, (before it became an app on your phone), the compass would draw its reference from the poles of the earth, using these broad magnetic fields to keep the needle pointed north.

Like a compass, your content should always be pointing at your target audience. Let your audience show you the way to reach them, because your content can truly be your guide.

Today’s brands have caught on to the fact that you can no longer rely on trying to attach yourself to other people’s content. At least in some capacity, you need to be the story and you need to be the publisher or the broadcaster.  The failing 60% of brands are those not yet to truly thinking like a broadcaster or publisher.

Start by producing an array of content based on your strategic plans. This is the process of drawing your own map, with clearly defined macro and micro topic areas that will help shape the journey of your brand. Don’t be afraid to vary your content types, and take the opportunity in the early stages to experiment a little, so the message and vehicle is tailored to each specific channel and environment. Practise the art of advertising natively. And because all our budgets are finite, do this with lower cost content first, such as sponsored articles.

Then publish, measure and track, and have faith your audience will act as a pole. The data around the performance of your content will show you the way forward. You no longer need to try and pretend you know exactly what your audience wants, when, where, and how they want it. If you look at the digital needle across a wide range of content, your data will tell you where your audience is, and what it is that they like about you.

We’ve all heard a lot about the power of data, and it's true you can get quite deep with the subject. But if you're one of the 60% of marketers who are playing in this field but don't think you're being effective, then just keep it simple at first. Start by publishing a wide range of low-cost content and measuring how it performs against your intended audience. Use this information to help narrow your vision and find the way forward.

Once you know what topics and aspects of your brand story are gaining traction, and which types of content are working in each different channel, you don't need to be Bear Grylls to make it home from there.

* Stu Stevens is Content Marketing Director for Cirrus Media.

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