Caution! This is a long post… it is a basis to a system (methodology) in creating useful content for marketing, branding and sales sites. ENJOY!
In the beginning: Its been six years in the making. After the first year of writing content for blogs and web sites, I started looking for a method to use. A year later (five years ago) I started looking for a method to sell or use as a framework with customers. I needed first to explain content marketing. Why does a marketing manager need content on the web? What will this content look like? Without simply saying “buy this product, it’s the best!” (fastest, cheapest, easiest to use, more productive, etc.) Then make the full differentiation between marketing and straight sales content (i.e. landing pages). Then came the effort to explain the use of blogs and blogging as a steady stream of content for marketing. Eventually, I gave up. I could not find one source that will fit exactly what I was needed. I tried two approaches, both helped but were not enough. The first approach was to use and teach customers traditional marketing methods. Essentially what you would learn in business school or from recent books. The second approach was to use internet publication methods. More specifically blogging and promotion methods. Then I tried to combine the two. Eventually, I created a “work-flow”: a way of breaking down the work into a linear process. This is what I describe here.
My method is based on taking product marketing tasks and using internet as a media. Essentially, marketing products using content (writing, graphics, photos, videos, audio, etc.) I start out by teaching some basic concepts. This is done with traditional marketing material (books) and using actual examples from the internet. The nice thing about the web is what you can see for yourself. Essentially, you can see everything someone does. You can follow the work over time. You don’t need to sneak into a trade show and pilfer brochures of competitors by disguising yourself as a long lost customer (I had to do this more than once). One method to follow competing products is by making a short site list. Take this list of up to twenty sites and make it your reference material. Another useful source are similar or complementary sites. If you sell hiking shoes (i.e. Merrell), take a look at outdoor sites (i.e. L.L. Bean). In sectors like business and technology, you may have to hunt to find a relevant site you like which can also help you in your work. Don’t just focus on design and content, take a look at blogs, at the way products are referenced and connected (i.e. up-selling in Amazon), and other aspects like related links (how sites use open material to extend or explain). While some sites are strict about not having any outside links, in some situations this helps.
First: Learn and Use Current Marketing Methods
My approach uses product marketing (sometimes branding), yet you can do this with any other specialty. Similar fields like sales (i.e. sales funnel sites) or P/R (i.e. image sites) can use this method as-is. If you are going to market and achieve marketing goals, you need to know how to market. Knowing how to build a site and bring clicks is not enough. Traditional marketing methods, from branding to differentiation, from direct marketing to viral messaging are all useful. You can get started quickly by simply using what people have been doing with traditional media (newspapers, direct mail, radio/TV). There are a few new methods useful in the digital domain, but you don’t need to start with them. The advantage of using traditional methods: they are easy to learn and standard results. Differentiation and branding have been going on for decades, you don’t need to reinvent anything to do it well (on a site.) You may need to do this work anyway, so pick up an old reliable book or system and simply follow the steps.
Second: Understand and Use Web Formats, Standards, Practices, etc…
Once you have a marketing plan defined, you need to learn what is done on the web. This is also fairly straightforward. Here there are not only books, but many blogs, sites, manuals, videos… you name it. You will not need to be a master at anything specific, but should know what can be done. If you are going at it alone, you may need to know the nuts-and-bolts of installing WordPress or how to connect your site with Facebook. You may also want to see how people use outsourced services to increase SEO results or buy articles from sites or hire a copywriter to custom develop content. These skills are different enough from the marketing skills in the previous section. Learn a bit about advertising, even take a course in Google AdWords. You may not need to buy advertising, yet it helps to understand how it is done on the web. You may no need certification for your work, but if you do need to show proficiency, this tool is there for you.
Third: Map or Apply Marketing Methods to the Web “Your Solution”
Now combine the first and second section into a “map” or a “plan”. How are you going to take marketing (or branding or sales or P/R) methods and use them on a site. Here it helps to look at sites which are similar in product, service, or approach. Plans or maps are extremely useful in both thinking deeply and in detail, as well as in explaining to others what you are doing. The maps and plans I have seen for the most part directly reflect on the knowledge of the individual and dedication to the work. Good (convincing) plans gives the work in early stage much more credibility. In the world of internet marketing, there are many dreamers with ideas, but not many with skills and dedication. A plan usually shows more than just the top level idea. It shows research, new concedpts and creativity, knowledge of the market and competing products, and many more elements in making a site successful.
Fourth: Break Down the Problem: Create a Solution Diagram
Once you have an idea what your own site will look like, break it down to smaller elements. Here the work can be used in a few ways. If you are doing the work yourself, you can start with some parts while leaving the others for later. When a site is designed and built with a group, breaking down the project is crucial. It helps explain each part to each contributor. A well designed and partitioned site is also easier to understand. When more than a few people with different skills are involved, this step can be the core to getting organized. Note if you are not skilled and experienced in managing a large site creation; like a software or an editing project, you need to manage the partition and coordinate different people. This needs to be done with care and knowledge of the work and the people. As project management field grows in the technology area, internet content projects will benefit. Although, it is still difficult to find good project managers (or coordinators) in many specialty fields (domain experts). Many companies require both project management and domain knowledge from individuals. As more specialty fields create large content based sites, project management positions will become more standardized.
Fifth: Create a Linear Process or Method: Developing a “Workflow“
There are definite “before” and “after” stages to any content creation project. Starting a whole new site means selecting, installing and configuring a server (the platform). Even in a quick WordPress installation, even if you have done it ten times, there are things to do in order to get writers started. By organizing all the phases of a project, assuring what has to be done first is done and ready for the next step, you will be more organized than most. I have seen many projects which early steps are not completed and sites are missing from simple plug-ins to connections to social media sites (Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, YouTube), to real large issues with organizing content in a useable form. While it seems like too much of an effort to do a workflow for a small blog, so you may want to just list tasks that need to be done in a linear progression. Workflow helps when you need to do certain tasks over and over again. Writing an article may mean first research, then the draft(s), then editing and review, then going back again and checking facts (research again). This cycle can be a daily “workflow” for the editor or project manager. It could also be done by a few writers and editors in parallel. This is a tiny example of a “workflow“. The whole project also follows a workflow which may continue as long as the site is active. For most products that may mean as long as the product is sold and supported.
Sixth: Run Through the Method: Story Board, Project Launch Meeting
The steps up to this point were preparation: research, documentation, planning… now comes the actual organization of the work and the real work starts. When you have a few (or many) contributors to a project, you need to get everyone coordinated. Here you need to get people together and explain the work. Each person can explain their work or what they plan to accomplish. The manager or coordinator can go through the phases of the project or the timeline. If certain deadlines are important, each participant needs to be aware of them. If certain stages are crucial to be done before others, the ones who are “first” need to be aware just as much as the ones who are “second”. Again, whats needs to be finished first should be finished before you start the following stage. Otherwise, things start grinding and crashing into one another. Sometimes when I see a large project behind or not completely “polished”, the story is not the issues at the end, it starts much earlier. A good project manager usually can tell when something will not turn out “right”. Make sure people and customers are clearly aware of what needs to be done, what will be done, and what can “go wrong” along the way. If this information is communicated early in the game, everyone involved will be better off.
And Again: “Rinse and Do It Again” (Like Washing Instructions)
Well, after getting all ready and getting started… don’t sit back and just wait for great results. The good and bad of internet sites is that they never end. If you are successful, there is always more to do. If you are not that successful, then there is certainly things to improve. Just like washing a really dirty shirt, you may have to do it again and again to get it as clean as you want. The same goes with managing, planning, and actually creating content. There is also good news: the world is slowly and steadily moving to this format of communication. Blogs and sites are continuously becoming more useful and people are becoming more dependent on them. Another good news item: if you are in this business of creating, maintaining, promoting or managing content, you will have work for a long time to come. The bad news: most of this process is new, many people don’t understand the work, expectations are not exactly what you will get at the end. But this is the nature of new (and slow) evolutions. We are in the beginning of a very long and steady digital format evolution. Twenty years ago they called it “revolution”. Maybe in the very early days, working all day at a keyboard and screen, and putting all your “work product” on a disk somewhere was revolutionary… but today it is just a matter of “how things work“. But not everyone is there yet, so I still think it’s an evolution.