To follow the launch of our latest ebook, Your content strategy made simple, we caught up with the author, our director of client strategy and implementation, Adrienne Burns.
Born in the US, but raised in Toronto, Adrienne brings a transatlantic flavour to our London office. Her background in filmmaking gives her a unique and creative approach to strategy with an emphasis on storytelling.
What led you to become interested in strategy?
“My background is in filmmaking and film production, so I’ve always been interested in telling stories. I was most interested in working with recording artists creating music videos, as I like mixing mediums to create a connection between the subjects and the audience. I had to work at being creative without going over the top and always keeping in mind the balance between the target audience and the artist's vision. In a lot of ways this was my first introduction to strategy - I see it as a form of storytelling.
Although I think people would often describe me as outgoing and always up for a chat, I am also a keen observer. I often find myself thinking about the meaning behind television and social campaigns, paying attention to the techniques used and their subsequent successes and failures - I’ve even written about what Pulp Fiction can teach us about conversational search.
I suppose therefore the development of my love of strategy was very organic - it was something I already loved without labelling it.
How have you applied this to your work at Axonn?
When I joined Axonn as an implementation specialist in 2011, I found myself gravitating towards (what I now know as) strategic elements, over the administrative side of account management. I loved finding the stories my clients wanted to tell and working with our production teams to execute their vision successfully.
I started to see results from these strategic campaigns and I enjoyed working in a more agile approach with our internal teams. In late 2014 I sat down with our CEO and directors to see how we could do this better for clients.
Why do 67% of marketers still not have a written-down strategy?
We’re forever hearing stats on the number of content marketers who don’t have a documented strategy, but why is this? If content marketers who do have one are so much more effective than those that don’t, what is putting marketers off?
Developing a strategy seems much more difficult than it actually is. It’s like learning to drive a car. When you first sit down in a car there are so many things to remember, so many rules. Seatbelt on. Hands at ten and two. Checking mirrors. Changing gears. But once you understand why you need to do everything - why you need to push the clutch to change gears, why you need to check your mirrors in a certain way when reverse parking, it starts to make a lot more sense. It’s about seeing the bigger picture, not the individual steps, in order to get where you want to go.
Too many people get too involved in what’s right in front of them - “I need to sell more of this product so our strategy needs to focus on that” - not on the bigger picture. It’s about focusing on the “why” not the “what” - exactly what Simon Sinek explains in Start with Why.
How does Start with Why fit into your strategy development?
Although I was always trying to inject creativity into what I did for my clients, when I first started to develop a documented strategic approach, I made the mistake of focusing too much on trying to please Google - rich content, keywords, alt tags, etc. I even had a kind of “checklist” for content to ensure it fit with all of Google’s requirements. But as time went on it became harder to know what Google wanted. It became clear this “checklist” mentality was no longer working - clients were no longer getting the results we expected.
It was at this time that I moved from a focus on “what” to a focus on “why.” I came to realise that there aren’t these two separate tactics called content marketing and SEO. In fact SEO techniques are more like the guidelines for presenting your content marketing efforts, helping you to get the best possible results. It’s like writing an essay - the guidelines tell you that you should bold the title, be clear in your intro and don’t plagiarise, but doing these alone won’t get you an A.
What is the biggest challenge marketers face in creating strategy?
I think the biggest challenge is aligning priorities. Marketing teams, whether it’s a huge department or a team of one or two, are connected to every part of the company, with everyone demanding something from them. But which priorities will give the biggest return? It can be difficult to know where to get started when it comes to content marketing, and I think this is also one of the reasons that marketers often end up attempting to do too much, or not starting at all.
How has strategy developed since you joined the industry?
I think it is more that the need for strategy has quickly developed, versus changes in documented strategic methods. I am sure we all agree that developments in technology have played a major part in how important it now is to look at developing a successful strategy.
For instance, a few months back a friend’s two-year-old showed me how to create folders on the iPad. She couldn’t have a proper conversation with me, but she knew what games she wanted to play, and how she wanted them organised. That blew my mind. What will she expect from content and technology when she is my age?
And what does the future of strategy look like?
We have to remember that people now choose what content they want to consume - if they don’t want to watch the adverts then they won’t. If they don’t like certain elements of the newspaper, they’ll just find the bits online they want to read. It’s more difficult to get people’s attention because there are so many different options available to them. You don’t just have to think about what you want to say; you have to think about where you’re going to say it, how you’re going to say it and who you want to say it to. There are all these layers to be considered.
Because of these things I feel that the future of strategy will be all-encompassing. Gone will be the days of having multiple agencies working on different strategies depending on the medium (PPC, social, etc.) I see strategy being a wider approach that overlays all these smaller services.
What was your motivation for creating this ebook?
To help people realise that creating strategy isn’t as hard and tedious as they think and to help them to visualise it more clearly. The term ‘strategy’ can sometimes be used in a fluffy, meaningless way so I wanted people to understand how to identify the purpose of their strategy and where to start. I also wanted to empower people to identify what tasks they can take on internally but also where they might benefit from outside help.
Writing the ebook also really helped me visualise the techniques that I use. In the past I have been guilty of approaching strategy in a siloed way, where I lead it and instructed other teams to help with various tasks. For this ebook I needed to document the methodology behind it all and in doing so I got input from other strategic members at Axonn. This has proven very useful in understanding my own ‘Why’ when it comes to constructing meaningful and successful strategies for our clients.
What can marketers learn from your ebook?
Your content strategy made simple is a complete resource for every element of developing a content marketing strategy. It can either be read from start to finish to guide marketers through each stage of the strategy development process, or it can be used as a resource for marketers to choose relevant chapters for them.
Topics covered include:
Starting with Why - how understanding your “why” is the most important part of your strategy
The strategy process
How (and what) to research, how to develop personas and industry benchmarking
How to analyse your research to ensure you’re on the right page
How to plan relevant content for your strategy
Implementing your strategy
Tracking and setting up goals
Adjusting your strategy to ensure you’re always ahead of the trends
Your strategy checklist to ensure you’re always on track