Sounds like the beginning of an existential joke, right?

It’s not. This is my team. Together, we make up the content strategy department at Netplus. We have one simple goal: we make great content work.

And I find us to be a mighty team of three—a social media specialist, a copywriter and me, a content strategy director. We spend our days ideating and debating over content, ushering ideas through a labyrinth of hoops and constraints to determine whether or not any pass the test.

What is the test, you ask? The test is also quite simple. Does the idea work?

Specifically, will it have impact? Will consumers respond to it? What is the end objective? Can it do more? These are the demands I make of my team everyday. And they deliver—with a whole slew of challenging questions of their own.

But how do we get there? What does it take to for us to make great content work?

Embrace conflict.

They say culture begets culture, and a culture of dueling perspectives is paramount to generating successful content. By nature, content strategy is a subjective science with tension at the heart of it. Its practitioners are constantly creating and strategizing at the same time, all the time. Their goals and objectives perpetually evolve, converging and diverging at a moment’s notice.

Recently, I had the team to complete a quick exercise to demonstrate how conflict is a normal and valuable part of the content planning process. I asked them to complete the following sentence in three words: “Great content is…”

Our responses?

great content, content quotes, content strategy

Colleen (Content Strategy)

great content, content quotes, creative content

Jess (Copy)

great content, content quotes, social media content

Brittany (Social Media)

These are the hoops we run each fragile new idea through. You’ll notice each team member has a different set of checkboxes and definitions of what makes for great content. This inherently creates conflict. We debate. We disagree. What checks off my boxes may not check off theirs, but that’s the point of having a truly cross-functional team. We’re supposed to challenge each other.

Not for the faint of heart.

Too often, we forget that great content will never feel like this “eureka moment” (though it often starts this way). Great content is a slow burn. It’s manual and difficult.

Consider, for example, how many columns and blog posts you read about content marketing and strategy. They all begin with the same adage. “Create great content,” they say. That’s it. Created some content? Great! Check off the box. You did it! Everyone loves the content. Your job here is done.

Right?

Wrong. Totally wrong. 

“Content: there is no easy button.” — Scott Abel

Successful content strategy starts with an idea—and more specifically, a hypothesis. I believe my content will achieve X. Conflict occurs when you begin testing that hypothesis, both internally and in the real world. As content strategists, we must push our hypotheses to fail everyday. 

If the idea works, your hypothesis should always remain true.

Work with builders. 

Your hypotheses are not always going to prevail. In fact, they’ll fail more often than not. So when it comes to building a content team, remember that it takes builders. Work with people who want to build something with you.

This is especially true during the early stages of content development. Content strategy doesn’t happen overnight. The insights required to succeed can’t be simulated or rushed. They can only be measured and tested in the real world. You have fail repeatedly before you can identify the right mix.

Source: Ghost Blog

Too often we reallocate budget to content,” expecting it to act like a campaign. But content strategy is not a campaign. Its objectives and tactics are massively different than traditional advertising or marketing methods. And ultimately, most of the impact you’ll generate by investing in content strategy won’t be immediate. 

That’s why you have to hire and work with experts in balancing the short and long term—what you want content to do today and what you need it to do a year from now

Have a little fun!

I get it: all of this can sound a little heavy. Content is damn hard work, which is why you won’t succeed without a sense of humor.I find our most memorable breakthroughs happen when the team is engaged in a collective state of play. Sometimes, you have to forget all of those heady considerations. You have to smack a wild idea on the board and see where it takes you. That’s really where brainstorming and creative exercises come in.

Consider this: just about every brand engages in some form of content marketing. If you can’t create something truly unexpected, how can you expect to reach and impact consumers? To do that, you have to give yourself the space to think like a human first, a strategist second.

Remember: content = vulnerability

Ultimately, all of this boils down to one important quality: vulnerability. Are you open to failing? To committing to patience, discipline and deliberation? To killing your darlings? To listening?

That’s what makes content strategy work. Vulnerability. That’s it.

Can anyone do it? Hell no. Can my team do it? Hell yes.

As they say, if it was easy, everybody would do it. Lucky for me, my team just makes it look easy.