Brains, academic pedigree, brilliant tech and business model, slick video, quirky logo, funding, plus bright teeth and polished shoes STILL might not get you traction in the online marketplace. Unless you’re willing to get your digital hands dirty.
But here, “dirt” is good. Dirt is the stuff you dig in, play in, and shape like clay into something beautiful and compelling: Your brand content. If built and released correctly, your content will inspire conversation, take on a life of its own, and pollenate new fields while you sleep (or mingle at industry happy hours).
Obviously no cookie-cutter content strategy exists. But as a startup, you have some unique challenges beyond the fact that your couch (no matter how nice the leather) doubles as your boardroom.
Let’s boil it down:
1. Get Your Story (Pyramid) Straight
You don’t have the luxury of an established brand with a knowledgeable user base, existing product reviews for SEO draw, or evolved digital presence for consumers and press to reference. So you need a strong, consistent message that you can tap into on command. Here are the basic bricks in your Story Pyramid, starting at the tip and working down to the base:
• Tagline: There are whole studies on the art of the tagline; make sure to spend some time on this.
• Mission statement: The higher aim of your venture. What gets you – and your audience – excited about what you’re doing.
• Short brand paragraph: Can be inspiring like the mission statement, but more of an explanation of the brand offering, for your company’s collateral.
• Long brand paragraph: For complex business with multiple markets and operations, this allows more depth.
• About Us / Social Profile: For a consistent, concise summary for all of your social media accounts.
• Press Release Boilerplate: The traditional addendum to press releases, it summarizes your business in a straightforward, journalistic style.
• Brand parable/origin story: This is helpful in relating a compelling emotional side to your brand, and can permeate all of the above.
• Logo: Create in various orientations if necessary, and consistent avatar/icon for social media.
• Explainer Video: About 90 seconds or less, incorporating many of the story elements in a broad, light-hearted, informative way.
• Elevator Pitch: Short version (15-seconds), and skyscraper version (one minute). Imagine you step into an elevator with Elon Musk, who says: “I just heard mention of CoolNewTechCorp and I’m curious. What’s the deal?” You respond with a natural smile and smooth delivery that does not sound overly rehearsed – precisely because you HAVE rehearsed it many times. Tell how it will change a slice of the world, backed up by what it does and what separates it from the rest.
2. Teamwork: Insource Strategy, Outsource Execution
Your brainpower is the core of your business and you already have plenty of that to get where you are. That’s free. Don’t be afraid to tap it! With the right guidance, a few focused sessions are all you need to pound out your initial content campaign goals. Leave the tactical concepts and execution to your content experts. Speaking of, whatever your budget (within reason), you can build a no-frills but effective content team of contractors to start, and ramp up to small employee army once you’re truly up and running. Initially, just two people – a seasoned content strategist plus a mid-level social media engagement lead – can outperform a large, bureaucratic, old-school marketing division of 12 if they’re motivated, intelligent, and have good chemistry.
So fail hard and quickly with your content experimentation, and iterate from there with the useful audience feedback you will generate online. (Analyze the comments resulting from your posts – how much intent to purchase/sharing/critiques/trolling material do you see? Or none – feedback in itself.) Just don’t hesitate to originate: No one knows your brand and vision better than your leadership team, so don’t cut corners and leave all the broad strategy to outside sources – they’ll be busy enough executing on your vision. Once you and your content team have gotten dirty, establishing your vision and goals, they can build out a plan and really dig for gold.
3. Feel the Rhythm
When it comes to publishing content regularly, you must determine what “regular” means to you. Find a cadence that balances quality and quantity – sustainably. Blogging once every other month with a hard-hitting, often-shared piece is far preferable to weekly inbox-fillers of fluff. Be realistic with what you can afford, not only in fees, but in time and effort. Concepting, researching, and writing a white paper alone can be a 20-60 hour effort, not including promoting it through owned and paid media. Well researched and finely written blog posts are not churned out like donuts-in-coffee-room alert emails, and can take anywhere from 5 to 20+ hours to complete. A standout Facebook post with a unique link or three and decent curated image or treated graphic can take a couple hours before you know it.
If you’re just about getting “good enough” content out there to meet your arbitrary editorial calendar, don’t bother. Either it’s meaningful with a concrete impact (now or later), or it’s just another piece of noise. Yes, you must be patient in building an audience; but your audience will only be so patient with you if you only feed them drivel.
4. Learn to Cope
NPR’s COPE model (Create Once, Publish Everywhere) is a useful technical CMS approach to publishing, but also serves a broader theme of building and doling out modular content. If you’re taking the time to create something meaningful like a blog post, white paper, or live presentation, add a little more effort to chunk out additional sub-content: 5 Facebook posts, LinkedIn articles, 8 Tumblr infographics, 15 tweets released over a period of one to eight weeks depending on your publishing cadence. Build a good clean Editorial Calendar and then follow religiously. And then revisit over time to create mashup content together with other posts you’ve done.
5. It Ain’t About You
Yes, you have a story to tell. Yes, you want to the world to love your brand. But unless and until you internalize your audience’s goals in learning about your brand, you’ll get caught in the artful telling of the story. And not the fruitful listening. Conventional audience segmenting, demographics, shopping patterns, etc. are all useful in positioning your offering. But let’s cut to the chase for great content: Find out what your potential audience is afraid of; is raving about; keeps them up at night with worry; or makes them leap out of bed with anticipation; and create content that feeds that. (Example: If you have an established brand competitor with an active Twitter feed, monitor the account or any customer service hashtags and see what occupies most of their complaint responses.) Tap into that stream and you’ll never have a lull in your content interactions.
How to find this out in a non-scientific but very useful way: Actually talk with your audience in informal settings (bars, dog parks, grocery stores, smoothie stands) and test out your short and long stories (from your Story Pyramid above). You’ll learn quickly what resonates and what doesn’t; both glazed eyes and eager questions are useful guides.
This is playing in the dirt at its finest – both fun and productive!
Photo: Alicia Jo McMahan