Making a case for the discovery phase

Making a case for the discovery phase

Your company is getting serious about creating content to help drive marketing strategy. Great news! You’re probably champing at the bit now, full of ideas for fabulous blog posts, white papers, social media campaigns, video series, and on and on.

Take a deep breath and slow down. Before you do anything else, there are many questions to ask, and few of them have quick and easy answers. This so-called “discovery” phase is critical to your ongoing success and will help ensure your plans aren’t derailed by unanticipated needs later on. Activities during the discovery phase may include:

  • Content audit and analysis: Do you know what content already exists throughout your organization? Determine if groups in other parts of the business are creating and publishing their own content. Analyze the content; all of it must meet the same criteria for quality and relevance and fit with your overall marketing and branding strategies.
  • Content ecosystem mapping: Have you thought about the best ways to share, repurpose and publish content on all platforms? Think beyond your website to all of the other channels, online and off, where your content can and should live.
  • Audience research: Do you understand your users’ motivations, interests, needs, and challenges? Research how and where they consume content as well as the types of content that resonate most strongly with them. Once you know how users want to interact with your company, you’ll have a solid foundation for building relevant content.
  • Competitive research: How do comparable successful companies present themselves via content? If other businesses in your space are pushing out similar messages, develop your own unique talking points to help your content stand out from the pack and engage your audience.
  • Stakeholder interviews: What do various players inside your organization, such as product owners, envision when it comes to marketing and content? If individuals have conflicting goals, expectations and demands, you’ll need to bring everyone onto the same page. You may even want to involve them at key points in your content creation workflow. (Get some tips how to conduct stakeholder interviews and what questions to ask.)
  • Messaging strategy: Do you know the best ways to communicate your company’s messaging pillars and how messages should be prioritized? It’s critical to speak in your audience’s language and tailor your messages to be relevant and appropriate to where, how and when audiences encounter them.
  • Resource and workflow planning: How often will you publish new content and where? Identify the people who will create this stuff as well as any stakeholders who’ll need to review and approve it.
  • Maintenance and governance planning: How will you ensure that your content engine keeps running smoothly? Plan for the long haul by assigning a content owner to manage upkeep of your content ecosystem and be on the lookout for needed updates.

You’ll thank yourself later

You may think you already have enough background and will be tempted to skip some or even all of these tasks in your quest to trim budget and meet an aggressive deadline. Don’t give into temptation.

Rushing through the discovery phase is tantamount to building a house without a blueprint. You’d never simply assume a new house is in a suitable neighborhood without exploring the whole city. You wouldn’t plan a one-bedroom house without asking the future residents whether they have or plan to have kids. You’d never use paint colors based on personal taste and tell the homeowner he can repaint later if his family hates it. And you certainly wouldn’t presume that, just because a house is attractive, it must also be structurally sound.

If you don’t take the time to understand your business and content landscape up front, you’re bound to miss important considerations. Here are just a few potential missteps:

  • You realize too late your content system or website won’t scale when your company launches new products or enters a new market.
  • After an initial burst of enthusiasm, your content pipe goes dry, your people are busy on other projects and there’s nothing in place to keep productivity going.
  • Your content mirrors your organization’s internal processes and structure and doesn’t feel relevant to your target audience, leading to frustration and missed opportunities.
  • Your company’s branding and messaging are inconsistent across channels, leaving users confused about just who you are and what you stand for.
  • Stakeholders weren’t in the communication loop, and just as you’re ready to launch, they decide the content isn’t right and the whole marketing plan needs to be revisited.

So, if you’re looking to execute a content-driven marketing plan or need to pitch your plan to others up the food chain, treat the discovery phase as an equal component rather than a prelude to the real thing. There will always be unexpected developments along the way, but it will be easier to mitigate them if you’ve done your homework.

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