Content development is researching, producing, and publishing information to meet a strategic goal. That goal will either be to build a connection with an audience or to encourage some kind of marketing or sales outcome.
Content development is therefore a vital part of a content marketing strategy.
Accepted wisdom in the marketing world is that successful content marketing is 20 per cent production and 80 per cent promotion. This is rubbish.
If you spend 80 per cent of your time or budget on promotion, what exactly is it you’re going to promote? The fact that you exist? Unless you invest in content development and production, all your other efforts are wasted.
Content development is different from publishing
The reason journalists aren’t content developers is because the end result of their efforts is publication. If there is a strategy behind it, that strategy is only broadly linked to that unique piece of content the journalist has produced. Instead, the content is a vehicle for other people’s ads. That’s a good thing. It’s what we call independent journalism.
It’s also what you’d call, in marketing terms, a spray-and-pray approach. You hope that a large volume of material will create a large volume of connections. Then let someone else piggyback on that to find their own, smaller audience.
Content development is different because it is driven by a cycle of theory, execution, analysis and iteration. The keyword here is ‘development’. It implies a process. It means using content to lead to a defined outcome. That outcome might be joining a lead list or buying a product. The more sophisticated your understanding of your sales process is, the smarter your content development will be.
Marketing funnels don’t exist
I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to talking about marketing funnels. We all do it. It’s a handy way to explain a customer’s process of finding you, researching your products, and buying them. But marketing funnels don’t actually work like a funnel. That’s something I explain in more detail in an article I wrote here called Why your branded content is failing.
In short, real funnels work with top-down pressure. You put lots of stuff in the top and it forces the stuff in the middle down, till it drops out the bottom. As you know, you can have a million people at the top of your funnel forever. It doesn’t automatically follow that they will start moving through it. Often, you need to help them using some kind of inbound marketing strategy.
How to do content development properly
If you want to just produce an article, all you need to start with is a story. If you want to develop content, you need to start with a content strategy, target personas, and keywords.
You need these three elements even if you’re not planning on publishing online. Of course, if you don’t want to publish online, I’d like to take this opportunity to ask: why the hell not? What century do you live in?
But each to their own.
Find out who you’re targeting (your personas) and what they want to know (your keywords). Then develop a strategy to move them from researching their problem to finding your solution. You know you can’t just scream your solution at them because they don’t yet know if it’s worthwhile. And you know you can’t just scream your solution to the world in the hope that you’ll find an audience, because that’s just dopey.
The iterative process
Once you have identified who you’re talking to, what they want to know, and the process of leading them to your solution, you are ready to start developing content. If you don’t track and record how people are responding to that content, you can’t adjust it to make it more effective. Which brings us back around to publishing online. You will find no more effective way of getting useful data than the kind of information you can get from online publishing.
It’s tempting to see the data as an end in itself. Proof of your popularity. It’s far more interesting to use it to see which content is resonating, which isn’t, and adjust. If something is popular, bake some internal links into other content to boost the popular one further.
If something isn’t, start updating it with small adjustments, then observe the differences those adjustments make. Don’t just ditch unpopular articles. You thought it was worth publishing in the first place, so if no-one wants to read it, you’re getting a message. Either your strategy is wrong, or some element in your execution is. Both can be fixed.
Content development is not just about creating content, but measuring, adjusting and recreating it. It is a step beyond publishing because content has a defined goal which is part of a strategic process.
If your approach to content development is spray-and-pray, you’re not doing content marketing. You’re just making noise.