Not satisfied with your content strategy? Manage the change to the ADKAR approach

Recently I attended a one-day training program, hosted by a company called Prosci, that teaches a change management methodology that “has become one of the most widely used approaches to managing the people side of change in business and government.”

Prosci used its considerable creativity in naming this methodology with the acronym ADKAR, which stands for:

  • Awareness: is there awareness that change is needed?
  • Desire: do the key stakeholders impacted by change have a desire to change?
  • Knowledge: do the key stakeholders impacted have the knowledge required to undertake change?
  • Ability: do the key stakeholders impacted have the literal ability to change?
  • Reinforcement: do factors exist that will reinforce the change with the stakeholders impacted over time?

When each aspect is rated on a scale of 1-5, it becomes evident which steps of the process are the strongest and weakest, and therefore which aspects need to be addressed for change to be successful. As a newbie to organizational change management, I found it a practical and effective approach.

I also find ADKAR interesting because it can be applied to developing and executing an effective content marketing strategy – it asks the right primary and secondary questions that all must be addressed for your content marketing to be successful:

  • Awareness: Is your audience aware of your organization and its key strengths/value proposition?  Can you define your target audience(s)? Is awareness the right part of the purchase funnel to target or do you need to move further down the funnel and focus on consideration or decision? This will inform your decisions on what type of content is required based on the audience profile.
  • Desire: What content does your audience desire? I.e., what are the knowledge gaps or key challenges they face that they’d like to address? This will inform what themes or topics your content should focus on.
  • Knowledge: Does your target audience know what your your organization’s key strengths are? Has your organization clearly identified what its competitive advantage is (which infers that you’ve conducted a competitive assessment)? This narrows down the themes and topics to be focused on and ensures they reinforce your brand/competitive advantage
  • Ability: Does your content give your audience the ability to close their knowledge gaps or address their key challenges? This guides the content development to ensure it’s focused on the audience’s needs and not promoting the organization
  • Reinforcement: Does all the content you develop and distribute reinforce your organization’s competitive advantage? Do you have an editorial calendar in place that details what content will be produced over time to create consistency in messaging? Do the specific themes/topics clearly ladder up to your organization’s value proposition?

Although different on the surface from the strategic approach I’ve written about before, underneath, the creatively named ADKAR does ask the same key questions that need to be answered to create an effective strategy. If you’re not happy with the approach you’re currently using, it may be worth managing a change.

Scientific method key to content marketing party

I was watching a hilarious bit of content from dollarshaveclub.com the other day. Not only did it make me laugh out loud several times (i.e., not only did I laugh out loud several times during one viewing, but I kept laughing out loud several times over subsequent viewings) but it also made me think about one of the vital factors required for long-term content marketing success. (BTW, for you grammar geeks, you’ll notice that I’ve written “long term” and “short term” in different ways, sometimes with a hyphen and sometimes without. There’s method to the madness that you can learn about from Grammar Girl)

You see, content marketing is not a short-term thing. Unlike holding a sale or distributing discount coupons, you’re probably not going to see immediate results. It’s something that often takes a longer time to set up and generate results, which is why creating a content development program geared to the long term is vital. And that means being consistent with the scientific method by defining a strategy and action plan (including editorial calendar, repurposing options, and distribution channels) on paper that anyone can follow.

How does the scientific method and effective content marketing relate? Well it’s only by defining and writing down a strategy and action plan that anyone could follow that enables your program to be reproduce-able, one of the key tenets of the scientific method. Being reproduce-able means that almost anyone could read your strategy and action plan and reproduce the activities defined within to achieve the same (or very similar) results you did when you ran the program.

And how did dollarshaveclub.com’s content help me realize this key to long term success? Because it seems that they don’t follow the scientific method. After doing some reading on it, I learned that the main guy featured – Mike – is the President of the company and actually has an improve/comedy/film background – he’s uniquely qualified to develop and execute this kind of content strategy. But if he were hit by a bus, or god forbid lost his sense of humour in a tragic shaving accident, the content marketing program could die from a thousand cuts because it’s based on such a unique (and hilarious) talent and approach that would probably be very difficult for someone else to reproduce if Mike wasn’t involved.

So make sure your content strategy is consistent with the scientific method. Over the long term, that’ll mean your content marketing party…is on.

Focusing Your Content Marketing on Your Competitive Advantage

I’ve talked a lot in past posts about understanding and using your competitive advantage to develop content that helps grow your business.

But, the question that both of my readers are probably asking themselves is: how do you identify what your competitive advantage is? What process can you go through to figure that out?

One of the ways is by answering another related question, which is: what business are you in? To many, it may sound simplistic – “we’re in the accounting business” or “we’re in the restaurant business”. But those answers, more often than not, are not the best ones and they don’t help identify your competitive advantage.

To get a sense of what a strong answer could be, think about Grocery Gateway. They deliver groceries to your home and if the average person was asked what business they’re in, that’s probably the answer they’d give – grocery home delivery.

But if you caught the billboard ads they’ve used in the past, you’d get a glimpse into what business Grocery Gateway thinks they’re in. One ad carries the tagline, “we deliver more ‘do not disturb’ time” with an image suggesting a woman relaxing in a bath (very non-sexual). The business they’re in, then, is the time-saving business, not the grocery delivery business, and this has big implications for the direction their content marketing efforts could take.

As a grocery delivery business, the range of themes and topics they could develop is relatively limited to – you guessed it – groceries and food, speaking to an audience passionate about those topics. Now there’s a lot of topics that could be addressed in that area but far fewer that would help differentiate Grocery Gateway in the minds of consumers from other grocery delivery services that exist.

However, as a business focused on saving consumers time (or enabling them to spend more time on the things they love to do vs. the things they need to do), this opens up a whole range of content topics related to time-saving tricks and hacks for a busy life, or on topics related to living a more passionate life. Either of these ideas has a much broader audience because, arguably, more people are interested in productivity, lifehacking, or “do what you love” content, for example, then food-related content; Grocery Gateway could become a daily read for a market not enamoured with groceries or cooking but with living a more enjoyable life, yet who still need grocery delivery, vastly expanding their reach. Or, at the least, it’s a topics that clearly differentiates them from the competition.

So to develop content that will focus your business on your competitive advantage, take a dip in Grocery Gateway’s tub and ask the simple question of, “what business are you in?”

A Lesson in Content Strategy From Sesame Street

I came across a blog post the other day that sounded promising: ”Top 15 Most Effective Content Marketing Strategies for Businesses” it read.

I bit.

Unfortunately, the hook was the the furthest thing from guidance on developing content marketing strategy.  Here is, in part, what was written:

“According to the report, here are the top 15 most effective content marketing strategies and trends that businesses are implementing for growth and to increase brand awareness (GT’s note: I’m not including the link because a) I don’t want to criticize/embarrass this specific site – I’m sure they’re doing their best, and b) I don’t want to drive traffic there because the information is inaccurate):

  1. Social Media (marketing content via LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter)
  2. Articles (posted on your business website)
  3. eNewsletters
  4. Blogs
  5. In person events and meet-ups
  6. Case Studies
  7. Videos
  8. Articles on other websites
  9. Whitepapers
  10. Online Presentations
  11. Webinars
  12. Infographics
  13. Reports (educational guides)
  14. Microsites
  15. Branded Content Tools

You know that Sesame Street song where it say, “one of these things just doesn’t belong…” Well, these 15 things just don’t belong with the strategy headline because THEY’RE NOT STRATEGIES! These are a list of tools you may include in a tactical plan based on a strategy, but they’re not strategies themselves.

So what is a strategy, you may ask.  A good definition I’ve found comes from an article from Strategy + Business that describes strategy as defining, “where to play and how to win, to maximize long-term value.” In developing a strategy, you’re basically answering the following questions for your business:

  1. Who is my target market and what needs to do they have that I can address?
  2. What are the dominant forces/factors influencing their behaviour?
  3. Who are my competitors, what are their respective competitive advantages, and how do they position themselves in the market/how do they address the market’s needs?
  4. What is are my company’s key strengths and competitive advantage (i.e. our BIG Diffs)?
  5. How can my company create value for its target market and itself?

The answers to these questions are your strategy and in aggregate they act as a map or compass to provide you guidance on how to “…choose a different set of activities to deliver a unique mix of value”, as Harvard’s strategy guru Michael Porter puts it. Or put another way by Joan Magretta, “strategy explains how an organization, faced with competition, will achieve superior performance.”

To develop a content strategy, almost the exact same questions should be asked and answered but with a focus on content, not the entire business. (For an even simpler but arguably no less effective approach to developing a content strategy, check out my earlier post).

With that definition, hopefully you can see why the above list is the furthest thing from a content strategy. Not to say that they don’t have value in providing options/tools for bringing your strategy to life through an action plan (another topic all together), but there’s no strategy there.

And if you make the massive mistake of thinking they are strategies, the “one of these things just doesn’t belong” song will be about your business not making any money.