It’s the biggest impediment to your success. It’s what just about every business struggles with most. It’s likely the No. 1 thing holding back your business. It’s so simple a 5-year-old could solve it, but so easy to miss teams of people with advanced degrees spend countless sums struggling to get over the hurdle.
That “it” is the inability to ask the right questions, the tough “must-be-answered-before-we-do-anything-else” questions.
- Why are we doing this?
- How will we measure the impact?
- What comes next?
- How will we define success?
- Who should be involved?
The list goes on and on and on.
One of the biggest holes in content marketing is “do-it-a-lot-before-learning-to-do-it-well” syndrome. Everyone jumps right into content creation without ever defining why they are doing so or who it’s designed to help. Then, when the results they’d hoped for never materialize, everyone sits around looking dumbfounded, or worse yet, they denounce content marketing for being a failure.
The real culprit is marketers love to jump right into tactics without ever clearly defining our objectives.
The Only Place To Start With Online Marketing
My indoctrination with this line of thinking happened more than a decade ago, when I applied for a business writing job at a newspaper. I’d just aced the interview with the executive editor and the lifestyle section editor, when the metro editor comes in and starts peppering me with questions.
Instead of staying the course and highlighting what I brought to table over a traditional journalism grad, I played to the crowd, starting in about knowing AP style, being an avid reader and studying the reporting style of well-known writers.
When the metro editor left the room, the lifestyle editor gave me the business.
“We don’t need better journalists,” she said. “We need someone who’s willing to ask the tough questions.”
That three-minute conversation made me a better writer, researcher and reporter.
There appears to be a lot of confusion on the web about where to start with online marketing. Is it SEO? Technical SEO? User experience? Content? Information architecture? Personas?
It has to be one of these, right? After all, these are the buzzwords that set hearts aflutter online.
Maybe I’m biased, but this is why I love content strategy, which I have come to call the great clarifier. As Kristina Halvorson has said, content strategy brings to the table the “right questions way before any work actually kicks in or gets done.”
We can agree or disagree on just what those questions should be, but this plotting of the right path cannot be overstated in its importance.
It also ensures that what’s important remains a priority throughout the process, no matter what the overall objectives are for the business.
Never Stop Asking ‘Why Are We Doing This?’
That’s just want I want you to start doing, however.
Before any content is created, any websites are designed or any social media platforms are chosen, get to the bottom of why you’re doing it in the first place. It could very well be that the answer you get saves time, money and a huge investment in resources your team does not have.
To see this plan at work, we’ll use a conversation I had recently with an executive coaching client looking to rebrand himself as a thought leader outside the confines of his current company.
His goal is to grow his presence outside of corporate America with hopes of being hired as a consultant by some of the brands who are now vendors to his current company.
His idea was to post weekly content on LinkedIn, daily content on Twitter, Google Plus and Instagram, and blog at least once per week.
By asking “Why are we doing this?” I find out he’s looking to exit his current job within the next 12 months, so moving quickly is seen as the only option.
However, he lacks the time for such a full-on rebranding assault.
With his overall goal laid bare, we see where he is trying to go, yet we also recognize the flaws in how he is trying to get there. Now we can plot a workable plan of action that should be no less effective, but places the emphasis where it should be: On the desired results, not the process, which can become a quagmire that’s impossible to extricate yourself from.
That’s the beauty of asking “Why are we doing this?” It strips away process, forcing you to focus on what matters most—and only what matters most at a given point and time.
There is no room for distraction.
Making “Why are we doing this?” work for your business is easy and necessary.
Here’s a simple example:
Your team is planning for a big new product launch in the spring. The goal is to generate significant momentum leading up the launch, then have the pieces in place to sustain the momentum as the sales channels continue to materialize.
By asking “Why are we doing this?” you get a very clear, finite answer: to goose sales.
See what happened there? Your team doesn’t get bogged down in the details. You don’t create silos, since the content, web development and SEO teams aren’t pitted against one another for resources initially and, most important, the work becomes about the over-arching goal, not the process of getting there (e.g., web redesign, hiring sales team members, content marketing, etc.).
I’m convinced online marketers would all do well to start asking themselves the same question.
The results could be astounding.
Give this approach a try in your business and let us know what you think.