Strategy Is Everything
Recently, I was talking with Carlos Hidalgo about a deal we were pitching. He commented that I was devaluing strategy in our pitch. “The strategy is everything,” Carlos said. “You are experts in financial services, and it’s what differentiates your team.”
He’s right. We don’t adequately communicate the strategy component of our engagements. We always incorporate up-front strategy development before we begin a retainer engagement. But our strategic work doesn’t stop when the content strategy has been documented. A content strategist continues to be heavily involved in every step of an engagement, overseeing the strategy of every piece of content in a Buffalo program.
I don’t view strategy as just a one-off proposition. It’s fundamentally wrapped into the way PropelGrowth engages with clients.
Strategy Must Be Customer-driven
Many years before I launched PropelGrowth, I ran a small consulting business where I trained and coached sales teams in solution selling processes. My goal was to help salespeople uncover needs and position their product in a way that allowed prospects to capture a vision of how they can use it to solve their most pressing business problems.
Part of the process was to identify all the people involved in the buying committee and figure out how each of them experienced the business problems we had identified. Our goal was always to help all members of a buying committee capture a vision of a solution, overcome objections and reach a decision. It was all about buyer facilitation.
In order to do this of course, it was crucial for the salespeople to see the problems and solutions from the perspective of the buyers.
Customer-Centric Go-To-Market Strategy
This strategic mindset carried through to my sales, marketing and product management responsibilities at the two FinTech companies I co-founded. My first job was to establish a go-to-market strategy based on the capabilities of our products. I had to find the target customers, identify needs, and position the value. Then I had to develop strategic messaging and train my sales team on how to uncover buyer needs and position the value of our solutions.
We were constantly talking with customers and prospects, listening to their questions, concerns and objections, and evolving our messaging and product strategy. Our strategy had to continually evolve as new buyer revelations came to light. This customer-driven approach was a vital element of everything we did.
By the time I started PropelGrowth, the solution selling mindset was innate to my thinking. Consequently, while customer-centric strategy has always been at the center of everything we do, it has always been underrepresented in our messaging and in our proposals. So I can see how Carlos came to the conclusion that we undervalue strategy.
Strategy Must Be Interwoven Into Content Development
To give you a better understanding of how strategy underpins our content programs at PropelGrowth, let’s take a look at the role of the Content Strategist in a typical engagement.
Understanding the Offering
At the start of a Content Buffalo Program (our deliverables retainer model), the Content Strategist is heavily involved in developing a content strategy. She interviews members of our client’s sales, account management, professional services, marketing, product management, development, and customer support teams. She does competitive analysis to understand the client’s position in the market, and she reviews their existing customers.
Developing the Buyer Personas
Once we have a clear idea of the client’s value proposition from the internal perspective, we start interviewing their customers, prospects and deals that were recently lost. These interviews are used as the basis of our buyer personas. We do additional research to flesh out detailed composite sketches of buyer personas. Note: we’re not interested in whether our personas are married or have a dog. We’re looking for the things that keep them up at night, about their priorities, how they’re measured at work, and how they experience the business problems that our client’s offering helps solve. From this research, we develop customer-centric messaging that helps us articulate the value proposition from the customer’s point of view.
Documenting the Strategy and Plans
The strategist also evaluates publications the buyers read, social and web properties they frequent, industry thought leaders they respect and conferences they attend. From the information collected, the strategist prepares a documented content strategy and an editorial plan for the Buffalo.
Creating the Content
Once we start creating and publishing content, the strategist continues to be heavily engaged in every step of every content piece and probably consumes about 40-50% of the budget for each deliverable.
Here’s how the strategy work is woven into every single deliverable:
Strategy for the Deliverable
The Content Strategist works with the client to define the purpose and objective of the deliverable, who it’s targeting, and what buying stage it’s influencing. The Strategist also clarifies how this content fits into the bigger picture of the customer’s experience (for example: what the buyer will see in conjunction with this content, what came before, what comes next). Then the Strategist documents the plan and guides the writer on how to deliver on the strategy. We have a project management system where all the details are documented that allows the client to have a first-hand view into our approach.
Together, the Strategist and Writer conduct interviews with customers, prospects and industry thought leaders to make sure we understand the key issues from the customer point of view and ensure that the messaging for this content piece is going to resonate with the target audience. Generally, every content piece involves at least two outside interviews. This is important to ensure that the content will resonate with the target audience. In some cases, we also leverage transcripts of the buyer persona interviews.
The Strategist collaborates with the Writer, guiding the content outline, reviewing drafts outlines, redirecting where necessary and discussing the outline and objectives with the client.
Before drafts are submitted to the client, the Strategist reviews them to ensure that they achieve the objectives and align with the strategy. Usually, content goes through at least two internal rounds before the client sees it. Then the Strategist also reviews client feedback on the draft, guiding the writer in the revision process.
The Strategist is involved the content distribution planning and execution. If the content is planned for syndication, she identifies outlets and assists with placement. If it will be promoted by an email or ad campaign, she guides the process of writing emails, landing pages and calls to action that promote the content. She also provides insight on social promotion strategies.
The Strategist evaluates the audience response to the content and adjusts strategy going forward to improve results. The evaluation stage is critical and is where companies can fall short — so don’t leave this one out.
Iterating the Strategy
We find that every interview, every discussion with the target audience, and every audience reaction give us additional insight that helps us refine and iterate the strategy.
One reason that the Buffalo Content Programs resonate with clients is our strategic focus. The time spent interviewing customers and industry thought leaders provides insights that inform our messaging and are more likely to connect with the target audience. This customer-centric insight is also a valuable tool for our clients. They use the insights we gather to inform their approach to marketing, sales and product development.
Strategy is not a “one-and-done” project deliverable at PropelGrowth. It is woven into the fabric of everything we do.
To read about how a major motion picture studio can inform content strategy, click here.
Case Study – Integrated Marketing Strategy for a Financial Services Technology Provider