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The truth about developing a content strategy for your clients

Julie Ewald content strategy, marketing strategy Leave a Comment

When it comes to developing a content strategy for their clients, many marketers and business consultants are biting off more than they can chew. Why is that?

Content strategy is trending

Hand drawing on table that hash hashmarks on it to represent content strategy

Clients have gotten savvier about smart marketing. They are no longer wowed by a list of deliverables and a flurry of activity, but instead, they’re now asking to see measurable results and real ROI from the consultants, contractors, freelancers, and agencies they collaborate with. Clients are starting to understand that vanity metrics, like a bunch of Facebook likes or a ton of web traffic, aren’t worth anything without some kind of conversion. Their eyes have been opened to the need to have a plan that breaks down marketing silos to move the needle in a cohesive, goal-focused effort.

Sure, they may not be able to tell you all that, but the general vibe that strategy is “in” is pervasive. And more folks are picking up on this trend, consciously or not.

As a consultant or marketer, you need to ride this wave if you want to earn new business, but the hard truth is that many of our marketing and business development peers are out their depth.

There are few true strategists, but there are a lot of folks who “know enough to be dangerous.” Many of these people are generalists who are trying to punch up to the next weight class or specialists who are trying to branch out to this highly needed service to provide a more holistic offering. And the results are generally not great.

So many potential clients I speak with are afraid to engage holistically for content strategy and marketing because of previous poor experiences.

The SEO, sales coach, social media manager, brand consultant, or whomever they had retained for something unrelated to content marketing had at one point said to them “oh yeah, I can do that too,” and took their money and created a totally useless, super generic, “content strategy.” Of course, this usually was just a not-at-all-customized list of recommendations or a checklist of actions or some ideation or something else that isn’t actually strategy. So this “strategy” is never acted on, yields no ROI, and is seen as a sunk cost by these clients.

It’s a bad scene.

But as a business owner, I understand the pressure to stay competitive, and sometimes that pressure pushes you out of your comfort zone. However, when you’re out of your comfort zone, you may be wading into uncharted territory where you’re charging professional-level fees for amateurish performance, where you are learning on your clients’ dime. The whole time you are keeping your fingers crossed and hoping everything works, no one catches on, and everyone is happy at the end. This is a problem, and it’s one I see often when it comes to marketing strategy, in general and with content.

Does it sound familiar to you? Really familiar?

If so, you don’t need to stop offering content strategy for your clients. But you do need to make some changes so that you are doing right by them.

Learn content strategy & do it right

Illustrated man walking up boxes held up by other men; custom illustration

Developing a proper, thought-out content strategy or holistic marketing strategy isn’t easy. But, hey, if I can do it, you probably can too! But you need to know how to do it the right way.

There are several approaches one could take; different content strategists have different ideas on what the path to strategy nirvana is. You just need to pick a path, learn it, and stick to it. Or, if you are a more seasoned marketer, maybe you could even whip up your own.

For example, when it comes to a cohesive content strategy, there’s a formula we developed. Any strategy Team Impressa puts together is based on this formula which takes into account what will resonate with the target audience and what makes sense for the brand. This is in addition to making recommendations focused on driving business objectives in an achievable way with the real-world budget that we’re working with.

Of course, content marketing isn’t the only kind of marketing, so any strategy we develop for content needs to sync-up with our clients’ overall marketing strategy. The content needs to support other initiatives (such as SEO, social media, ad campaigns, and events) and vice versa. It accounts for only part of the overall marketing budget and only some of the overall effort.

Essentially, the content strategy we develop for clients can’t live in a vacuum. We need to bust it out of its silo and look at the big picture to do it right. Ideally, that extends beyond marketing and advertising, into sales strategies too.

Again, this all isn’t easy or quick, but it is doable!

Your role in content strategy 

Illustrated man standing with his arms crossed and glasses in-hand

I have an important question for you:

Do you even want to get bogged down in content strategy?

People want to work with specialists, especially when it comes to consultants and contractors who are charging premium rates. This means that stepping into the strategy realm may be a diversion from your specialty, dragging you into becoming more of a generalist—otherwise known as a “Jack of all trades,” who happens to be a master at none and is usually paid accordingly.

What I’m getting at is that by trying to tack the title of “content strategist” onto your CV, you’re diluting your brand. That waters down your actual expertise. Next thing you know, you’re not a specialist anymore, and the number of clients who still want to pay your specialist rates will start to decline unless you are a P.T. Barnum-level salesperson.

While I hate this phrase (and don’t like that I’m using it twice in one post), there are some things that we, as consultants, only need to “know enough to be dangerous” about.

That doesn’t mean we need to be dangerous, though.

What I mean is that an essential understanding of content strategy needs to be there. This is the same way that, regardless of your actual specialty, you need to understand the various things that influence your clients’ business objectives and outcomes to make appropriate suggestions and provide effective services.

You don’t necessarily need to know how to build a content strategy, but you should know enough to see when a client needs to put one together or to be able to identify that their current course of action no longer fits their objectives. And you also should know enough to be able to see if a potential strategy partner for your client is the real deal or a B.S. artist about to do your client dirty and screw up some good things your client had going.

This knowledge lets you be an even more trusted advisor, helping you to be more integral to your clients’ organizations. This means more revenue through more extensive, long-lasting engagements. In this way, being able to make some smart recommendations or trustworthy introductions or offering some further oversight allows you to profit off of marketing or content strategy… and you don’t even need to be involved in producing those plans.

By not trying to expand into content strategy, but by still getting smarter about it, you’re able to protect your role as a specialist. You’re able to protect those specialist rates as well. But you allow yourself to bring more value to the table, which should end up translating to longer, deeper client collaborations and more money in your pocket. Sounds like a good plan, right?

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