ImageI am not big into definitions. I don’t like arguing. And I don’t like sharing ideas unless I know there is substance, strategic thinking and experience to back it up.

Here is an idea that I believe is critical as we move into 2014. Brands need to get content right. Content is how we reach consumers and change their behavior. It’s pretty obvious, I know. But the reality is that the external landscape will not change just because you’re frustrated with engagement, number of “likes” and other measures.

You have to change and adapt. You have to evolve the way you think, operate and communicate with your customers and prospects.

The reason why many of us struggle with content, storytelling, and being able to scale our content operations is because we perceive content at a very elementary level.

Content isn’t a box you check, a bubble you fill in, or a bullet point in a new business capabilities presentation. It’s more than search, more than real-time content and so much more than spitting out buzzwords like “content marketing.” And you can only learn so much about content from clever blog titles like “10 Proven Tips to Do This” or “5 Smart Tricks to Do That.”

Content must be considered a strategic imperative for your brand. You must become a content organization if you want to take your business to the next level.

Just as there is an art to storytelling; there also needs to be a strategic and operational plan that can help you create and distribute content; integrate it across paid, earned, shared and owned media; and measure it effectively. As a marketer, brand manager, or small business owner you must move beyond the content marketing buzzword and commit to building a content strategy that will allow you to execute your tactical content marketing initiatives flawlessly and at scale.

Here's how I see this playing out; and let me introduce 4 pillars of content strategy.

Brand Goals: Obvious but worth mentioning. This is critical. You must decide very early on what your specific content goals are? Are you trying to increase sales of a specific product or change perceptions about your brand? In either case, having documented goals that are aligned to your business/marketing goals and supported by your executive team is kind of important.

Brand Narrative: Too many of us jump right into social media channels without understanding the story we want to tell; and then we get frustrated when we run out of things to say. The narrative exercise should be done early on and considers several factors – brand positioning, audience interests and affinities, media/community perceptions of the brand, historical content performance and search. From there, a good narrative coupled with your storytelling principles will blossom in a way that breaks through the clutter and actually changes customer behavior.

Content Operations: Believe this when I tell you that successful storytelling requires a significant amount of operations in order to actually work. Newsrooms create thousands of pieces of content daily and it’s not a free for all, trust me. Establishing a content supply chain (workflows that facilitate content ideation, creation, approval and distribution) are needed to build consistencies in brand storytelling and controls to avoid inconsistencies. Identifying roles and responsibilities, internally, are also important especially if you are mobilizing employees to help tell the brand story. Also, building customer brand advocacy programs is a smart thing to do and requires an investment into a technology platform (i.e. Branderati, Dynamic Signal, Influitive).

Media Integration/ Distribution: Consumers need to interact with your content 3 – 5 times before they actually believe it. And, when you consider the fact that there is a content/media surplus and consumers have an attention deficit, you can understand how difficult it may be to reach them and then make an impact.

In order to do this, you must prioritizeyour storytelling principles and content and then map them specifically to various digital channels. It's also important to deploy converged media models (the integration of paid, earned, shared and owned media) simply by promoting relevant/resonant content on Facebook and Twitter or use platforms like Outbrain and OneSpot that also deliver converged media models. Lastly, you will need to make a strategic decision to launch a real-time command center operation that will allow you to capitalize on what’s trending in the news cycle and reach new audiences with real-time content. 

Analytics and measurement will undoubtedly play a critical role in each pillar - determing a consistent measurement, KPIs, measuring real-time content performance, audience research and establshing benchmarks that will help you determine when to use paid media to amplify organic content.