How to Advance from Licensed and Curated Content to an Original Content Strategy

December 21, 2016 Kyle Harper

Licensed and curated content are good starting points for some, but they offer nowhere near the long-term ROI that an original content strategy does.

Many marketers today find themselves stuck in a cycle that relies on licensed and curated content. Some might work for a small division of a larger company that doesn’t believe it has the manpower to keep up with a rigorous content schedule. Some might be in an enterprise environment where the perception of switching to an original content strategy is that it is too expensive and time-consuming. In these cases, it’s understandable why a third-party content strategy would appeal to marketers.

But here’s the thing. For what it saves your team in time, curated and licensed content ultimately cost your brand some of the longest-term benefits that are fundamental to a successful content marketing strategy: growing traffic that your brand owns—not rents—an SEO strategy that compounds in value over time, a brand voice that audiences can recognize and identify with, and much more. With licensed and curated content at the helm, your brand might find itself spending increasingly more money to advertise content while your competitors’ reach seems to grow naturally. That’s not sustainable, and you know it. Time to graduate to an owned audience.

1. Focus on One Content Medium to Start

Presumably by this point, you’ve gotten enough buy-in from your brand’s executives to start shaping an original content strategy (if not, there are great ways to get the green light from leadership). But now, your team is susceptible to one of the biggest content marketing obstacles: lack of focus.

Content marketing is inherently varied and creative. There are ton of brands using a wide range of mediums and formats to tell their story, and on the front end this can cause a lot of difference of opinion as to where to start. Does your company need a blog or its own branded content site? Is written material good, or do you want to sprint toward video content? Is your current social media okay, or do you want to expand to other platforms to boost visibility when sharing content?

Each of these ideas has merit in their own time, but trying to do all of them first thing is going to result in a stagnant content engine. To get off the ground, your brand needs to define its direction, hone in on a specific vision, and then pursue that goal while reviewing and optimizing along the way.

It might seem involved, but with the right mind-set and tools, it’s actually not all that difficult to accomplish.

Camera sitting on a stack of books

2. Create for a Specific Persona

One of Kurt Vonnegut’s essential rules for good writing was, “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” An essential factor of a great story is that it be focused on the desires, interests, concerns, and knowledge of a single reader—with the understanding that if your story can perfectly please one person, it’s likely to be able to please many more like them. In other words, strive for specificity over generality in content creation.

The first step in any content marketing venture is to evaluate your audience personas. Who does your brand specifically want to speak to, and why? This is the perfect time to talk about what you want your publication to accomplish, and then make sure it lines up with specific segments that make up your audience. After all, you can’t decide how to create stories for someone until you know who that someone is.

Picture of Kurt Vonnegut

3. Define Your Content’s Voice through an Editorial Mission Statement

Most often, you should begin with written content. It’s the fastest and easiest to create out of the pantheon of available content forms, and it will give you a powerful foundation to test which topics are of interest to your audience. But before you can dive into written content (or any type of content after that), you’ll need to have a clear idea of how you want to present your brand. This is where style and brand voice come into play.

Take the time to sit down with your team and write up a reference document that outlines your brand’s general voice (the personality and tone by which you speak) and the specific style of your voice (the grammar and style guide that will govern your content). In practice, this is likely going to be a living document that evolves and grows as you better understand what resonates with your audience.

Doing this step will put you ahead of the 65 percent of B2B marketers who don’t have a clearly documented editorial mission statement, despite such documentation leading to improved long-term results.

Does your organization have an editorial mission statement for the primary audience you target?

4. Audit and Build

You now know who you are speaking to and how you want to speak to them. This is the stage of the game where your team will want to evaluate the efficacy of any previous content you’ve published using a content audit. This is a powerful way to discover initial topics of interest that will help your team hit the ground running.

This is also an important logistical stage for your team. This is where you’ll define your editorial workflow, how you receive and review pitches, and the schedule with which you’ll push out your material (just to name a few concerns). There is no one-size-fits-all mix for teams looking to do this, but there are a few key guiding principles.

  • Regardless of whether you’re producing content entirely in-house or in partnership with a third party like Skyword, make sure that your team has the last say in editorial and input during pitches. This is the only way for your brand to keep control of your long-term narrative.
  • Publish regularly and stay ahead of your schedule as much as possible (one month ahead is always a good goal). If you are creating content week-by-week, you will inevitably hit a jam in production at some point when something unexpected happens in the office. Building up a month’s backlog before launch is a great way to avoid this.
  • Make sure that you have a singular style guide that is communicated to all of your content creators (remember that guide you made in step 2?).

The beauty of owning your content and publishing to a destination is that you can regularly audit your stories, analyze performance metrics, and improve next month’s editorial. Which stories are driving the most pageviews? Which are converting the most newsletter subscribers? Is there a theme to the stories that keep people on the page for longer? With licensed and curated material, analyzing this data, making strategic, goal-based decisions, and informing your content creators on changes in approach becomes much more difficult, if not impossible.

5. Amplify and Audit Again

The last step of the content marketing cycle is to push your content out to the world and get that engagement and traffic you’re looking for. Many brands at this stage will start to throw their material into every newsletter and social media platform they can find. This only spreads your ability to communicate meaningfully with your audience and will likely result in some missed opportunities for just a handful of views in return.

Rather, take the time to identify a concentrated mix of platforms that where your audience personas are active, and focus on keeping those communities live with conversation and new material daily. Focus on a small set of platforms to simplify your analytics and reporting and ensure that you’re focusing on the metrics that matter.

First Steps on a Long Journey

Perhaps the most difficult part of moving to an original content strategy is the wait. With all of this setup done, your brand will still have to wait a few months to see traffic and results that are particularly exciting. During this time, it’s best to focus on change, rate, and growth metrics rather than the raw numbers. The story you’re telling internally should be centered around growth and how this growth is trending.

In a similar way, your external facing story should also grow. Even though you may eventually build a large, robust content hub that serves multiple audience segments in a wide variety of ways, your brand ultimately has one story to tell. A good content marketing strategy builds your brand toward this, consolidating and concentrating along the way, until you have garnered an engaged crowd that is coming to your site for one, simple reason: to speak to you and your brand.

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