StrategyContentIt’s not about you: A content planning framework to avoid self-obsession

It's not about you: A content planning framework to avoid self-obsession

In life, as much as on LinkedIn (or Facebook, Twitter, etc.) people and brands who blabber on about themselves become annoying and best avoided, sooner rather than later.

30-second summary:

  • Companies need to move from making statements about themselves if they want to stand a chance of getting audiences to engage with their content
  • Impactful content is one that adds value to the audience’s experience, linked up to the business’ capabilities
  • PAVE is a framework for content planning that aims to achieve that impact and keep the focus on the right efforts. Consider using it before commissioning any pieces
  • The four elements of PAVE are Purpose (What is the company getting out of this piece?), Audience (Who is this for?), Value (What is the audience getting out of this piece) and Execution (How are you going to make it work?)

Yolanda Valery shares a framework for content creationIt’s common for brands, as it is for people, to want to talk about themselves. We have all come across some fascinating people in our lives, but we’ve all also have encountered the type of person who doesn’t know where to draw a line and keeps going on taking no heed of your eyes glazing over!

In life, as much as on LinkedIn (or Facebook, Twitter, etc.) people and brands who blabber on about themselves become annoying and best avoided, sooner rather than later. These brands need to shift their approach to stop talking about themselves and start focusing on content planning that is impactful and provides value to the customer.

I can’t tell you what content you should be creating. It’s your audience. However, I can provide a simple framework that you should follow before creating content to ensure it purposeful and value-adding for your audience. PAVE (Purpose, Value, Audience, Execution) is a planning exercise to ensure your content is moving the needle with your audience.

A tool to stay focused

I don’t proclaim to know everything there is to know about content strategies. It would be foolish to ignore that different businesses offering different products and solving different problems will have their own mix of content, fitting within their unique strategy.

I do, however, stand by the principle of staying well clear of your own belly buttons. Instead, invest in whatever areas add value to your audience’s experience and connect them to your own capabilities.

This is the essence of meaningful, impactful content. Content that moves the needle. But how can we as Digital Marketing leaders make sure we don’t stray away and keep focus? How can we avoid sliding into a world of statements and self-congratulation?

PAVE before you make

Before commissioning any story, video, infographic or even social media post, marketing leaders responsible for content planning need to address the four elements of PAVE, in this order:

Purpose

What are you going to get out of the piece as a business? Why is it worth investing time and money in it? What do you want the person at the other end of your story to know, think, feel about you?

To answer these questions, you need to place your desired outcome at the beginning of the process and always keep it in frame. In some cases, you may be after a ‘halo effect,’ where you aim to leave a positive impression on the consumer’s general perception of your brand or purpose. Ask yourself, what “halo” do we want to leave behind with the person who has consumed the content? In others, you may be looking at moving them down the funnel. In this case, ask yourself, what point in the journey do we want the consumer to end at? These questions keep your content anchored to business goals – rather than letting you stray down a path of randomness. Or even vanity: remember, never curate content for its own sake (or your own).

Audience

Who are you talking to? Who are you aiming to engage with?

The importance of researching, understanding, and characterising this group of people, by any means at your disposal, cannot be understated. Though it can be a costly exercise if you are starting from zero, the value of personas is significant. Building them is a worthy exercise in preparing the ground for your content planning.

You can do this large scale or small scale, depending on the nature of your challenge and your resources. There are countless techniques you can use to build personas, using everything from  surveys on your website to field work and focus groups.

My personal recommendation is to use whatever you can. Even just talking to a few people in your key audience is better than navigating blind (but obviously be aware of the limitations). Your audience are people. They don’t bite. Mostly.

Value

This is where the focus shifts to the person at the other end. What value is getting that audience from that content?

Wheel of Needs Model to Create Valuable ContentWhen considering how to add value to your audience, a fantastic example is the BBC. The now well-known Wheel of Needs talks about six potential ways in which you can approach a piece: inspire, amuse, educate, give perspective, update or keep on trend.

It’s a perfect example of challenging the storyteller to think beyond the fact that they want to communicate. It requires figuring out not just what you want to say, but how to shed a light on the subject that makes it distinctive and, crucially, gives a reason to the ‘consumer’ to engage.

Why will this audience care? This is the key question to answer before even starting your story-gathering operation.

If you don’t, your piece is destined for the dumpster of content that looks cute, nice, polished, professional, expensive, cool and any other number of vanity adjectives, but that no one read/watched. It might win awards, but it won’t win customers.

Execution

Only when you have decided on the above, can you consider how to deploy it in an actual piece of content.

There is a lot to unpack here, so let’s break it into three categories:

  • What is inside? You need to understand your top line is going to be, the rough structure, and potential sources.
  • What is it going to look like? You need to have a clear idea of the format and visual elements of your content and how this will serve the value you are attempting to add.
  • How is it going to travel? You need to know what platforms you are going to be using for your content and what your SEO strategy will be. This has a direct impact on formats. Put a rollout plan in place including timings, deadlines, and approvals.

You know how the saying goes: if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. There are so many stories of pieces with bad timing, failing to read the room, or choosing the wrong platforms to fill dozens of pages of Google results.

But it also means taking care of every aspect of your piece, from having a top line that will hold your online piece together to a careful pre-production of your videos. I often tell my teams not to go out in the field without a clear idea of what they are going to come back with. Don’t fall at the last hurdle!

Time to abandon self-centred content planning

You might think this framework is common sense. Of course, it’s not inventing the wheel. Books have been written, lessons have been taught, courses have been structured around the importance of considering all these elements. However, whilst you might thing brands (and people) would avoid talking about themselves non-stop, unfortunately, that’s far from the truth. One example where this crops up frequently is when discussing strategies to attract candidates to jobs, specifically in tech areas. ‘Our audience doesn’t like corporate content,’ I am told time and again.

This baffled me at first, but I am now convinced we are talking about two different things. Of course, job candidates, in technology or otherwise, don’t connect with corporations making statements about themselves. However, they do connect with content about the industry they sit within. Kantega provide a fantastic example of how to do the latter in their job advert to attract developers.

This isn’t just true for job candidates. Neither do other audiences, including hard-core, fact-oriented investors. You can state what your brand values are or what your organization is about. But is it truthful and authentic? And more importantly, why should anyone care?

Put these (often self-aggrandizing) statements to one side. Once you’ve done this, everything you create from this starting point is a world of possibilities merely guided by the nature, objectives and circumstances of the company and only limited by its own imagination.

Using PAVE to rationalize

In a nutshell, PAVE is an in-depth planning exercise. To begin with, like all new frameworks, it may feel like a chore. But be patient and stick with it. It gives you discipline; helps you focus, and is instrumental in weeding out ideas that will not move the needle.

It is a way to rationalize the decision-making process around content planning, and the allocation of resources, with a view of getting maximum impact out of a tight team. It’s the act of applying customer centricity to your content. You’re seeking to understand your customers and the journey they will go on. Isn’t that all business is about?


Yolanda Valery is Head of Digital Engagement at Ocado Group and has previously worked as Head of Social Media at BBC World Service. Yolanda can be found on Twitter @yolandavalery

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