Your content business model
The final installment of the 12-step brand and content strategy workshop
Oh hi, oh hello!
I said I’d send this email last week but I didn’t and so much time has passed and you’re very very upset, just look at you!
But it wasn’t my fault!
No me dio tiempo, as we say down here in Mexico City. The day didn’t give me time. Isn’t that wonderful.
It was the day’s fault.
But now here we are, today, in your inbox, hello, and I’ve brought you the final three steps to the 12-Step Brand and Content Strategy Workshop.
Let’s get them irons barking.
✨ The Final Framework Exercises ✨
Brief recap! The exercises in the 12-Step Brand and Content Strategy framework will help you—or help you help your client—accomplish three very powerful and fundamental things:
Establish who you are (brand)
Define who you’re talking to (audience), and why (goals)
Develop what you’re talking about (content topics, themes, and ideas).
I’ve used each of these 12 exercises throughout my career to develop editorial strategy, voice, and content for brands like Amazon and MetLife and Box and Adobe (and, also, one creative agency).
Today we’re going to talk about #3—that is, we’re going to review the exercises that define what you’re talking about.
Are you hyped? Are you so excited? All hangin’ out in yer inbox like
Telling stories is a strategic business activity
Read this before telling your team or your marketing VP that you want to do this workshop.
The big idea of this workshop is to help you tell differentiated stories that are strategically correct.
Demonstrate that creating content ideas can be an efficient process that is legible to management, and…
Will result in good content ideas that strategically support your brand’s market position.
That last part is worth more pixels:
Creating good content is a systematic way to strategically support your brand’s market position.
Well, it’s simple.
Storytelling is the act of competing with other brands for attention.
And as anybody named Michael Porter will tell you, competitive strategy is all about being different. “It means deliberately choosing a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value.”
Porter’s point was about business strategy as a whole. He was talking about choosing activities that combine to form a market position that is difficult for competitors to copy.
One of his famous examples: Ikea.
Ikea targets A) young buyers with B) stylish furniture sold at C) a low cost. This is a market position. To support this position, Ikea chose different activities than its competitors: Self-service showrooms (instead of salespeople), furniture arranged by room (instead of type), generic furniture designed and made in-house (instead of by custom-made by third parties), and available immediately (instead of waiting for your couch for three months).
See how the activities are tailored to the position? See how it would be difficult for a competitor to copy all of these choices? This is the definition of differentiation.
Content works by the same principle.
Content is a strategic business activity.
When you make content, you are choosing to use content, in combination with other business activities, to support a unique market position.
Like Ikea, you’re developing a self-service showroom. That’s what content is. It shows your audience (customers) how to think about and buy your products, services, ideas, and marketplace (furniture).
And of course, to maximally differentiate yourself, you don’t want to sell the same furniture as everyone else.
Or, in other words, and to really torture this metaphor, the content you choose to place in your showroom must itself also be differentiated.
Copying the style and form and message of another brand’s content would actually hinder your competitive position—it would literally make you less differentiated.
No. To create good content, to create or complement a strategic market position, you need to deliberately choose a different set of inputs to deliver a unique mix of stories.
That’s what this workshop does.
It helps you generate those different inputs.
It helps you clarify your purpose, your vision, your values, and your voice (who you are).
Then it helps you clarify who you want to reach, define the reason you want to reach them, and align on who else is competing for that attention (who you’re talking to).
And then it helps you create content ideas to speak to those people (what you’re saying).
If you do these exercises with intention, you’re likely to create a different set of inputs that lead to a unique set of content ideas—and that combination is going to leave you in a strategically advantageous position that will be difficult for your competitors to copy.
It’s like my mom said.
Be yourself, kid.
Everybody else is taken.
Themes, topics, and story ideas
We began this workshop defining you, the brand.
Then we defined who we were targeting, the audience.
Now, for our 🪄 last trick 🪄 we’re going to generate your story ideas.
We’ll generate these ideas at the intersection of your topics and themes.
Exercise #10: Themes
Themes are, simply put, your opinions. They’re what you want you audience to think and feel.
Learned practitioners of content strategy refer to themes as priority messages or messaging pillars. It’s all the same.
I prefer to use the term “themes” because it sounds more human and less like you’re a soulless, joy-killing automaton. Anyway!
The object of this exercise is to translate your brand position into messages that resonate with your target audience.
We’ll create your themes by considering your brand’s purpose (exercise #1) and your content goal (exercise #9). Then, we’ll consider your audience’s pain points, tasks, and goals (exercise #7).
For example, I did some work on an Adobe product for creating 3D images a few years back. Adobe thought its product would be good for traditional graphic designers to get into 3D design. We interviewed designers. Many designers said they were being challenged to add photorealistic elements to their work. So, we developed a few themes that would resonate with that pain. One of those themes was that we help you push your creative boundaries. That theme would come to be reiterated in subsequent content.
For this exercise we’re not going to interview anybody (though maybe you already have the benefit of those interviews). But we are going to define what you want your audience to think, and then translate that into draft messages that speak to their pain.
We’re gonna mind map those out.
Exercise #11: Topics
Topics are your subjects of conversation. They’re what you and your audience both want to talk about. And, they’re where you express your themes.
One easy way of visualizing topics is to think of a newspaper’s section, or a web site’s nav bar, or what’s trending on tik tok.
We’re gonna mind map those out, too.
Exercise #12: Story Ideas
Ok! Now it’s time to develop story ideas.
To show you how, let’s walk through a quick example of topics and themes, together.
Let’s say you (a brand!) and your friends (your audience!) have a few interests in common. Let’s say those interests are, hmm … Sci-Fi Novels and, oh, Long-Distance Running. These are the things you talk about together. You both care about these things. These things are you topics.
When you’re talking to your friends about Sci-Fi Novels or Long-Distance Running, you have a specific way you think about these things. You want your friends to know that, e.g., <inhales dramatically> soft sci-fi is better than hard sci-fi because soft sci-fi explores unchanging human nature in the context of rapid technological development and thus is applicable to lived experience despite the remove of its setting, whereas hard sci-fi is just a fancy list of things to do with a Dyson Sphere and usually the characters suck. <takes a breath>
Or, when it comes to Long-Distance Running, that marathons are hard. These opinions are your themes.
So now, it’s easy to see that your story ideas will come from the intersection of your topics and themes.
For that, we’ll be using ye olde Venn diagram.
In order to generate ideas, we’ll apply themes to topics one by one.
A brand example I like to use is Tracksmith.
Tracksmith makes running gear. “Long-distance running” is one of their topics. “Amateur runners are the heart of long-distance running” is one of their themes. Accordingly, some of their stories include Bill Squires and the Greater Boston Track Club (about amateur runners in the 70s) and Yu Wu: The City Runner (about an artist and amateur marathoner who makes detailed maps of his runs).
And that’s it for the exercises!
I’ve collected them all in the workshop deck.
They’re also available in Miro.
I’ll be making tweaks and adding more examples in the near future.
And will you look at the time!
I’ve gone and newslettered at length again haven’t I.
Be back soon with more brand stuff.
And more content stuff.
And more satiric wolf stuff.
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