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Content Strategy

A three-part content strategy roadmap: diagnosis, guiding policy, and coherent action.

Lauren Pope • 3 minutes

Embarking on creating a content strategy can feel like being at the start of a running race.

And the tendency is to want to sprint to the finish line as fast as possible. But a content strategy isn’t a 100-metre dash in a straight line. It’s a marathon on windy mountain paths. Try to sprint it and you’ll burn out or lose your way. A content strategy roadmap can help to guide you.

In this article, I’ll give you a three-stage roadmap (and GatherContent have a free template to download below) to help break the content strategy marathon down into manageable steps.

The kernel of content strategy

This approach to content strategy is based on Richard Rumelt’s ‘kernel’ strategy model from his book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy. Rumelt breaks strategy down into three chunks with a logical order:

1. Diagnosis: working out where you are and framing the challenge.
2. Guiding policy: the overarching approach to solving the challenge.
3. Coherent action: a comprehensive, cohesive plan to reach your goal.

These three chunks form the basis for the strategy roadmap and they feed into one another in a satisfying, logical way too: your diagnosis gives you the insight and clarity you need to set your guiding policy; your guiding policy gives you the sense of direction you need to build a coherent action plan.

Now let’s look at each of those three chunks in more detail.

Step 1: Diagnosis

Diagnosis is about getting a clear picture of where you are right now, what challenges you’re facing, and what the opportunities are. In this phase of your strategy roadmap, you should go wide, do lots of research, then refine that down into actionable artefacts and insights.

This phase should include activities like:

  • User and stakeholder research.
  • Content audits.
  • Competitor audits.
  • Gap analysis.
  • Stakeholder interviews.

You should condense that research into a set of artefacts that you’ll draw on in the next phase, for example:

  • Personas.
  • Customer journey maps.
  • User needs.
  • Business priorities and needs.

The final step is to craft a challenge statement, a succinct and memorable explanation of the priority areas that your strategy should address. I do this with a fill-in-the-blanks exercise:

The challenges we’re facing are:

Challenge 1: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Challenge 2: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Challenge 3: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The impact of that is:

Impact 1: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Impact 2: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Impact 3: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

So, how do we…:

Question 1: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Question 2: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Question 3: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

A simple example of that in action might be:

The challenges we’re facing are:

  • We’re facing real competition from a challenger brand with low prices after years of being the only brand in our niche.

The impact of that is:

  • Our customer retention rate has fallen by 30% in the last 12 months.

So, how do we:

  • Use content to retain customers who are being poached by our new competitor on the basis of price?

You can download a free template to help you write a challenge statement of your own here.

2. Guiding policy

Guiding policy is the overarching approach you will take to your challenge, based on what you learnt from your diagnosis. It should be the answer to the questions you wrote in your challenge statement.

This is about laying out a bold and memorable direction to guide you. It’s not about specific activities (that comes in the next step). And it’s not about just saying where you want to get to; saying you want a 50% increase in traffic to your content isn’t a guiding policy, it’s a goal.

Your guiding policy should provide a ‘direction of travel’ – a clear signal about where you’re headed that everyone can follow. It should be focused and decisive rather than vague and broad. Again, you can use a fill-in-the-blanks exercise:

The challenge is:

Challenge 1: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Challenge 2: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Challenge 3: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Our solution is:

Solution 1: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Solution 2: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Solution 3: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

We’ll achieve this by:

Principle 1: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Principle 2: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Principle 3: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

We’ll know we’re successful when:

Result 1: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Result 2: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Result 3: ……………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Going back to our fictional example, based on their diagnosis, the guiding policy might be something like:

The challenge is:

  • To use content to halt disruption by a competitor that’s attracting our customers with low prices.

Our solution is:

  • To create content that contributes to an unbeatable customer experience that our customers won’t want to give up for a cost-saving.

We’ll achieve this by:

  • Working across organisational silos to create a joined-up experience for our customers.

We’ll know we’re successful when:

  • The customer lifetime value of users that engage with our content increases by 10%.

You’ll find this template in the downloadable content strategy roadmap too.

3. Coherent action

Coherent action means a cohesive, detailed plan to achieve your goal. This is where you get into the finer details: tactics, operations and governance.

It’s crucial that everything is coordinated and complementary. One part of this is about coherent planning – making sure that you have aligned all your content plans from different teams and across different platforms and channels to the strategy and that they complement one another.

Another is making sure you’re working in a coordinated and efficient way, with strong content operations and governance. For example, you’re following a process that works, and have guidelines and standards in place.

This part of the process involves creating a lot of different artefacts, including:

  • Content or campaign plans/calendars.
  • Channel guidelines: what different platforms and channels you will use to reach your users, and what kind of content should you be using on each.
  • Process: the step-by-step process you’ll follow throughout the content life-cycle.
  • Technology: the technology you’ll use throughout the life-cycle.
  • Roles and responsibilities: your approach to leadership, roles and responsibilities.
  • Measurement: KPIs, metrics and how you know if you’ve succeeded.
  • Messaging: hierarchy of key messages you want to communicate.
  • Voice and tone: a guide to your voice, tone and style.
  • Policies: policies to follow, from a content perspective and legal, compliance, accessibility, etc.

Ready to run?

A content strategy roadmap template

If you’re ready to run your content marathon and like the sound of the diagnosis, guiding policy, coherent action approach, download this content strategy roadmap for a checklist and templates to help you get started.

Credit to Sara Wachter-Boettcher whose Content Madlibs exercise inspired the ‘fill in the blanks’ templates here.

A three-part content strategy roadmap: diagnosis, guiding policy, and coherent action (plus a free roadmap template).

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About the Author

Lauren Pope

Freelance content strategist

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