With deference to Roshi Kapleau’s classic, The Three Pillars of Zen, it occurs to me that many of the recent discussions about content keep coming back to three essential ‘pillars’. While the ideas are easy, implementing them are not. Let’s talk about what the pillars are, and how to build them to support more effective content marketing.

As we talked about in an earlier post on branding as a semiotic system, good things just seem to come in threes: business strategies that address the company, the competition, and the audience, UX strategies that address brand, business, and user goals, and so on. In fact, the similarities among these factors are telling.

First, there is a story an organization wants to put out in the world, whether it is a product, a service, or a narrative about that product or service. Secondly, there are the reasons why that story matters to the recipient of the message. And thirdly, particularly in the social age, there are ways to manage, measure, and improve on the ‘performance’ of that story over time.

So those are the three essential pillars of content strategy. Perhaps a better metaphor is the classic Venn diagram: successful content sits at the intersection of business goals, audience needs, and ongoing content management.

Define your story, connect that story in a meaningful way to your audience, and gauge the response to that story over time. Sounds straightforward, doesn’t it?

Of course, there are challenges.

Most commonly, there are organizational challenges: the company is simply not constructed to provide an owner or leader for content initiatives that can successfully incorporate the three pillars. And behind that challenge is another: content needs an advocate to overcome existing internal perceptions of how to tell the story. Whether it’s an engineer who passionately believes that product features are the heart of the story, or the marketer who feels just as strongly about customer benefits, or a marketing or technology group that lacks resources to define and implement content measurement, there are often significant people and perception barriers to be overcome.

However, getting to a basic understanding of “say what you do, say why it matters, and understand how well the message is coming across” may be the first step to developing a successful content strategy capability within an organization.

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