An integrated content marketing strategy helps us do two things:
1. Build a consistent, credible brand story across all channels
2. Create a scalable content development process that supports growing marketing demands
First, integrated content strategies bring everything back to a foundational message—our brand purpose. We currently operate in a belief economy, meaning that people are no longer just buying our products because of their quality and price. Modern consumers want to know their purchase transcends the transaction. They want meaning. They want to contribute to something bigger than themselves.
That’s a lot to ask from brands, but that’s exactly what is being asked.
Creating a deliberate content marketing integration strategy introduces an audience to our brand purpose no matter how or where they come in contact with us; it associates that corporate mission with our brand through reiteration and consistency; and it allows our audience to recognize our larger purpose even in non-branded events throughout their everyday lives. This helps build an affinity with the cause and supports a societal, environmental, or philosophical good while strengthen our brand equity.
Second, and on a more marketing operations level, an integrated content marketing strategy ensures we never do one thing once. We simply do not have the bandwidth to keep pace with disjointed one-off content products. Our digitized information economy has created an environment in which we have to talk to people on social, on our website, with our resources, through webinars, in print, on television, in podcasts, and through the ever-growing list of content channels. There are too many content gaps to fill with single-use pieces of content. It’s not scalable. Everything we do as content creators must complement, build on, or amplify what we did before and what we are going to do. This allows us to do more with less—specifically create fewer pieces of higher-quality content with longer and wider tails rather than larger quantities of mediocre stuff.
An honest, effective, and manageable content strategy has six core elements.
Content Marketing Integration Strategy
Brand Purpose (Corporate Mission Statement)
An added benefit of developing a integrated content marketing strategy is that it forces our companies to define and live into a mission statement. Do we strive to design the world’s safest care, offer the lowest priced airfare, make a child’s wish come true, feed America, or organize the world’s information? Mission statements are stretch goals, and consumers appreciate brands who are willing to stretch themselves. The most successful content marketing embeds a company’s corporate purpose into everything that is does. This includes the language it uses as well as the tactics it uses to distribute that language.
Our brand’s purpose must be represented in every communication we create. This can be in ways big, small, direct or abstract, but it has to be. If our brand’s mission statement is to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis” (Patagonia) then every blog, video, white paper, webinar, and tweet needs to add to the ongoing story our organization is telling toward that goal.
Similarly, the strategies and methods we use to distribute our content must also also live into our mission. Patagonia strives to “inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” If they were to use content marketing tactics that encouraged people to use Patagonia products to improperly overtax or harm our outdoor environments, those tactics would be directly antithetical to its corporate mission. This doesn’t just halt the larger brand story, it undermines it. It makes our customers question the sincerity of all the words and pictures we propagate.
More than any function, the brand marketing team needs to live and breathe the corporate mission statement. In our modern belief economy, people purchase with purpose and do so from companies that know their larger cause and live into them with every word, sentiment and ad they create.
As Andrew Alvarez, apparel analyst at research firm IBISWorld says, “I don’t thing [Patagonia is] anti-company. I think they’re just a company that understands their cause and understands how to integrate that cause into it’s business model and it does extremely well with that.”
Brand Marketing Taxonomy
Delivering on a corporate mission statement day in day out is hard. This often leaves us repeating the mission statement in every possible ways until we are simply moving commas around. To operationalize our corporate mission statements, we have to identify how they manifest in each of the problems, issues or interests of our consumers.
A branded marketing taxonomy identifies the five-to-10 key topic areas that sit at the middle of the Venn diagram between our company’s purpose and our consumers’ motivations. Those topics areas should then be paired with a simple yet detailed boiler plate. This boiler plate sentiment provides additional context for our taxonomy topics and helps streamline the blank page.
For instance, per Patagonia’s mission statement above, we could break this down into the topic areas below:
[Boiler Plate] Products that last longer require people to buy fewer products and therefore reduce the environmental toll retail has on our limited natural resources.
[Topic] Personal Expertise
[Boiler Plate] The best mountain climber is not the one with the most climbing gear, but the least. The better you are at a thing, the more you rely on skill and less on tools for assistance. (A counterintuitive business strategy, but Patagonia seems to be doing just fine.)
[Boiler Plate] Summiting the highest peaks requires looking at our terrain in different ways and uniquely matching it to the tools and knowledge at hand. The same goes for developing those tools.
This list should have about seven more topics. Ten feels like the magic number for brand marketing taxonomies. Any fewer and our messaging can get repetitive or reduce the dimensionality of our brands; any more and our brand identity will cover a lot of surface area but will ultimately lack depth and consistency.
A brand marketing taxonomy keeps us in our purpose-driven swim lane, but just as important, it takes some of the rote thinking out of the creative process. When creating a new or repurposed piece of content, all we have to do is first choose the topic or topics we want to touch on and then craft the message by building on the foundation of our topical boiler plates.
Thought Leadership Network
A company talking about itself is, at the very best, informative. People-that-people-respect talking about our brand’s philosophy has the chance to be inspirational. To add credibility to our brand messaging, that message has to be translated through a diverse and respected group of industry spokespeople.
Who is it that our customers look up to? Who is it that they trust and would take advice from? Who is it that has the experience, a proven track record, and can speak from a place of confidence on a handful of our brand marketing taxonomy topics?
We need to identify these people, build relationships with them, align them to the issues/topics they are able to speak on, and let them elevate our brand while educating and inspiring our people.
This is a simple concept, but a pivotal one.
Single Source of Truth Channel
An integrated branded content marketing strategy is key to ensuring our brand purpose is consistent and identifiable across all our corporate messaging. Just as important, however, is the efficiency it embeds into the content creation process and how it amplifies every piece of content beyond its original use. As content creators, we spend a lot of creative calories on most things that we do—everything requires a touch of innovation, cleverness and strategy. All that becomes untenable if we do not have a clear and strong foundational content channel that everything tracks back to.
For Patagonia, its single source of truth is its catalogue. As Patagonia founder, Yvon Chouinard, says, “The catalogue is our bible for each selling season. Every other medium we use to tell our story—from the website, to hangtags, to retail displays, to press releases to videos—builds from the catalog’s base and from its pictorial standards.”
This will be different for every brand. Not every B2C brand creates a catalogue; not every B2B company has a “selling season.” I often see this as the company blog. While many corporate blogs have devolved down into an archive of internal “experts” talking about how the company’s products will help make life better, others are striving to be thought leader publication channels.
A strong blog with a regular cadence also provides the perfect channel to drive exposure for our thought leadership network and push our brand taxonomy out into the market. Each of our thought leaders should be regular blog contributors. And every piece of content published on our blog should track back to one of the issues/topics in your brand marketing taxonomy.
Lead Generation Content
In many cases, the content we use to sell is siloed from the content we use to brand. This might be a divide between a content marketing team and a demand generation team, or between a corporate communication specialist and the sales team. In either case, it creates additional, unnecessary work for companies and leaves a lot of powerful industry thought leadership content on the table.
I usually preach effectiveness—take the time necessary to do the best work—however, this is one of the cases where we can allow ourselves to really focus on efficiency.
In our lead generation content phrase, we can see our integrate content strategies really come together.
1. Our corporate mission statement sits at its base.
2. One topic from our brand marketing taxonomy is selected to create mission specificity that allows our concepts to penetrate the market.
3. That brand topic is paired with an industry thought leader who adds their own experience, expertise and credibility.
4. That thought leadership content is pumped through our single source of truth channel (e.g., our blog).
5. The content from our single source of truth channel is bundled up, repurposed and creates ~80% of the lead generation content we need (e.g., a one-hour webinar led by our thought leader, talking about a specific topic, and provides an eBook made up of repurposed blogs as a high-value download).
Finally, our integrated content marketing strategies must culminate in how we talk daily to our people through social media. Social media is the real-time, consistent touch point we have with our audience and therefore has to support complete brand alignment. If the messages, tone, or content we share on our social channels deviate from that which we share on our single source of truth channels or in our lead generation content, it strains the trust we have with our audience. It doesn’t amplify, it undermines. It’s not efficient and its not effective.
Social media calendars should always track back to our brand purpose and do so through the topics of our brand marketing taxonomies. When we stray from the taxonomy, we stretch our brand identity and lose depth equity. We should also try to discuss the topics in our taxonomy regularly and equally. This is how we create a well-rounded brand online.
With this alignment, social media channels can easily support traffic to our single source of truth channel, gain exposure for our thought leaders, and drive engagement to our lead generation content.
As you can tell by the length of this blog, it is a lot of upfront work to develop an effective and efficient integrated content marketing strategy, but it will have a tremendous impact on streamlining future work and operationalizing our brand purposes.
There is a phrase I love to hate (or more accurately, hate that I love): “Work smarter not harder.” In the world of content, we are always going to work harder, it’s what we do. But by working smarter, we can amplify all the hard work we are doing. That comes with aligning and complementing ideas. Efficient content strategies create the room for more effectiveness within those strategies. It also ensures the root of everything we do—our brand purpose—is embedded into everything we do.
At the end of the day, the goal is not to brand but to brand the right thing.