The beginning of content marketing is content strategy, a governance structure that addresses why content is being created, what goals it addresses, and how, tactically, that content will be created, produced, and disseminated.
Content strategy is essential. It strips away tactics and bright shiny objects ("We need a Facebook page/Instagram/Tumblr/Vine account! All the cool kids have one!"), and it addresses the essential questions: Why and how?
Yet there's an additional and very essential element of content strategy that's much less discussed, albeit no less important than well crafted and well reasoned goals. The very best, most successful, and essentially most sustainable content strategies all center around a big idea.
What's the big idea?
Take IBM. IBM is a huge, multifaceted, global conglomerate offering a broad palette of products and services. What big idea could possibly unify its diverse offering? Simple (but smart): Smarter Planet. If you look at the initiative's home page, you'll immediately see the Smarter Planet idea easily encompasses every industry vertical, global territory, channel, and capability that IBM offers -- or serves.
As diversified and complex as IBM may be, the company seems almost one-track when compared to a conglomerate like GE. From transformers to light bulbs, media to microwaves, commercial lending and power grid infrastructure, how can all this possibly be united under the governing principle of a big idea?
It can: Ecomagination. The concept works for B2B, B2C, home appliances, and municipal water supplies. Ecomagination is the concept that GE content ladders up to and is accountable to. It's no abstraction. Ecomagination is clearly defined by the company: "Ecomagination is GE's commitment to build innovative solutions for today's environmental challenges while driving economic growth."
Arriving at the big idea
The big idea is way, way too big to belong to the content team alone, or the social media group, or communications. The big idea is (yet another) big reason -- particularly in an era of converged media -- for smashing silos. Every marketing message must incorporate, address, and answer to the big idea. It's therefore the responsibility of every marketing division to arrive at what the big idea is, and to effectively communicate it to all internal and external stakeholders.
Once the big idea is in place, content creation becomes much easier. The big idea provides a framework to address. It's a beacon -- a sense of direction and purpose for all content and messaging.
A big idea is by definition extremely broad in scope. If it wasn't, it couldn't possibly accommodate all that an IBM or a GE has to offer. But at the same time, it's inspirational, aspirational, unifying, and clear. It's almost a mission statement distilled to its very essence.
As part of my research as an analyst, I'd love to begin collecting examples of the most stellar big ideas that govern content marketing. Let me know what your organization is using as a concept to unify content across all communication points, products, services, and channels.
And if you don't have one? Then it's high time to begin the ideation process.
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