How researchers get heard

The Strategic Content Checklist

Strategic content creates opportunity for your organization. It motivates the right people to reach out to you. Catalyzes them to work with you, hire you, publish you, hear more of your insights. It’s valuable stuff.

Content strategies? Well, they must be valuable too — because organizations routinely pay tens of thousands of dollars for them. And then at least a couple bucks a year to house them in a forgotten folder.

Why don’t content strategies translate into strategic content?

I’ve just finished the better part of two months drawing up and revising a fresh content marketing strategy with a client.

And it’s worthless, at least in its long-form iteration.

The problem is just that: It’s long. Comprehensive. It has a lot to cover — including:

  • A thorough understanding of my client’s audiences and their problems;
  • How we want to deepen my client’s positioning for those audiences;
  • How we’re going to use content in all her organization’s owned vehicles to convey her insights and solidify that positioning;
  • How this year she’s going to more forcefully and consistently recommend solutions to her audiences’ problems and how she can contribute to those solutions;
  • How all her organization’s systems will work together to support this positioning and conversation; and
  • How we’re measuring the content’s success.

That’s all vital work. If you run an organization, you need that kind of blueprint to consistently create and market content that generates value. Especially if you’re a research-driven organization that’s used to just throwing out one vaguely related research report after another and asking your audiences to connect the dots.

But then last week, my client sent me drafts of her first two emails of the year to her list. Are these hitting all the right notes? she wanted to know. Are they strategic? Are they doing what we talked about?

Reasonable questions. And they prompted me to realize: OK, our new strategy isn’t working in its current format to guide how she generates content.

To generate strategic content, she doesn’t need a blueprint. She needs a compass.

She doesn’t need double-digit pages covering everything. She needs a checklist.

So I gave her one, distilled from the strategy. It has six categories:

  • For One of These Audiences
  • Has This Tone & Contains This Language
  • Has This Broad Narrative
  • Positions Client As (at least one of several listed roles)
  • Serves Audience (in at least one of several listed ways)
  • Has One of These Calls-to-Action

Using this checklist, my client can see in 60 seconds whether any piece of new content she’s created — her weekly newsletter, her next podcast script, her LinkedIn posts, her new talk — is on message, in the right voice, telling the right stories, directed at the right people and pointing them to the right solutions.

It’s the content strategy made portable. My client loves it.

Maybe she won’t need it some day. Perhaps, through repetition, the checklist will eventually make our strategy second-nature for her.

In the meantime, she can use the checklist to make sure her content is 100% working for her organization. So can everyone else who might produce content there.

Being strategic is a habit. It’s having and living the clear answers to basic, strategic questions. Who am I? Who are you? What are the ways in which I might I help you? What might we do together to make the world better?

If you’re running a research-driven organization, you should have or want a content strategy.

And when you get yours — before you and everyone else on your staff start ignoring it — turn it into a checklist.