A Three-Step Approach to
Strategic Content Development

Innovative Content

Social media and the blogosphere are fascinating because of the conversational nature of it all. Ideas are generated, evaluated, criticized, praised, and recycled.

Often, we’re happy participants in the conversation. Whether adding to the current Techmeme pile-on, or chiming in on an ongoing cross-blog discussion within our industry or niche, conversations make blogging tick in a way that static media does not.

But this series is about innovative content, and that means we want to start conversations. After all, the conversation starter gets the links, references, and bulk of the attention.

The key is to see where things are going within your subject matter arena before others do, and to integrate that insight with your objectives. You want to create content that not only attracts attention, but also helps you achieve the goals that prompted you to create online content in the first place.

Attracting links doesn’t have to be about being controversial, rude, or shallow—as long as you’re strategic about it. Use this 3-step strategic content development process, and you’ll start more conversations, score more links, and gain more traction.

1. Information

The first step involves taking a step back and really looking at things, both externally and internally. Although this is only the first of three steps, you’ll find that so few content producers actually begin the process that you’ll develop an immediate advantage.

From an external standpoint, let’s take the time to research and evaluate the possible future of our niche or industry. Where are things going?

  • How is technology affecting your niche? What about in 5 years?
  • Are there looming economic changes that will impact your topic? How?
  • These days, many established markets are being turned upside down. Yours?
  • What legal and political issues pose a threat or represent an opportunity?
  • What social trends will impact your niche, and what angles do they present?

Next, you’ve got to evaluate where you’re currently at. Be brutally honest. Make a true assessment of your current audience and content so you’ll be able to determine where you can take things.

  • Who reads, listens to or watches your content? Are you sure?
  • Why do they read, listen or watch? Are you sure?
  • What are the boundaries of your topic? Why?
  • How does your current content measure up in terms of quality?
  • What knowledge do you have that gives you an untapped advantage?

Now it’s time to collect the results of your external and internal audit, and see what you’ve got.

  • What do you now know based on where things are going and where you’re currently at?
  • What potential threats to growth and your current positioning did you identify?
  • What about opportunities?

Write it all down and reflect. This is the basis of your upcoming ideas and action.

2. Ideas

When it comes to developing ideas about future content, first do a “change nothing” analysis, which means you’ll stay on your current course for now. Change for the sake of change has doomed many a publication, so start your idea generation analysis by envisioning changing absolutely nothing about what you’ve been doing.

  • What happens if you change nothing?
  • What opportunities are you leaving unrealized?
  • Is your current course achieving your objectives?
  • What is the competition doing right? Wrong?
  • What is your audience asking for? Are you sure?

Next, evaluate the conclusions and ideas you generated from your “change nothing” examination. Whether you change direction or not, what is the likelihood that your objectives will be met (or continue to be met)?

In other words, where should you be going from a return on investment standpoint?

  • Who should be reading, listening to or watching your content?
  • What do they want, need or expect?
  • Should you be producing content in another format?
  • Where can you find more of the right readers, listeners or viewers?
  • Are you inspired and motivated? If not, what would change that?

Finally, the end of the idea phase is a realistic assessment of the challenges you’ll face in implementing a new direction. What are the obstacles to moving in the direction you’ve determined you should be going?

  • Identify each obstacle that you face in achieving your new objectives
  • Which objective is threatened by which obstacle?
  • Can you overcome the obstacle?
  • If so, how?
  • If no, what’s your new objective?

For example, if you decide you should quit trying to battle the big personal development blogs with text-based content, can you manage quality audio or video production? What might stop you? What’s your fall back position?

3. Action

When it comes to taking action with content, we imagine sitting down and actually cranking it out. But creating alternative action options, critically evaluating the feasibility of those options, and planning the development process will keep your from going down the wrong path.

  • First, how many options can you create? The more potential paths to remarkable content you have to travel, the more likely you’ll be to latch on to a strategy that provides big results.
  • Second, do all of your options make sense? Are they truly in line with your goals and motivations? Apply your critical thinking skills here once again.
  • Finally, how will you execute? Do you have the right tools to produce content? Do you need to outsource? What about strategic joint ventures for content development, such as teleseminar interviews with notable experts?

What Happened and Why?

The most important thing to keep in mind about strategic content development is that it’s truly an improvisational process. The reason why you want to identify as many viable options for potentially remarkable content is simple: You’ll almost certainly need to make adjustments on the fly, and it’s easier to do that when you’ve already identified alternatives.

Sometimes you’ll spot an entirely new content strategy, seemingly out of nowhere, and the upfront research and analysis you’ve done will tell you if you need to jump track and move in a new direction. It’s those who haven’t done the groundwork who jump around randomly and jeopardize their existing audience.

So, the final aspect of strategic content development is to constantly evaluate what happened along the way, and why. The most valuable lessons are often found in the things that didn’t work, so treat it all as a learning experience that keeps your content constantly fresh and worth talking about.

Feel free to bookmark this page for future reference.

Previously in the Innovative Content series:

If Content is the New Advertising, What Does Your Advertising Say About You?

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Reader Comments (50)

  1. says

    John Scott, my MacArthur Genius Award winning mentor, told me that he always studied jazz musicians in relation to making art… and living life. He said one thing they always insisted upon was to know where they had been, where they were , and where they were going. That’s how they kept the music moving, never stale. Applies here very well. Thanks Brian for always keeping the bar set high. This goes straight into my next actions file.
    All best,

  2. says

    Bloggers are supposed to think strategically? Isn’t it better just to go “hey, see a lot of posts about twitter recently, have add my take” or “Lists seem to be all over on Digg–I’m on it.”

  3. says

    Ditto, SWOT came to mind for me as well as I was reading through this but like any good film you watch twice the second time around reveals things that you just didn’t quite get on the first pass (I do not mean the typo in the first bullet item in section 1 either).

    Goal congruence I think was the message in section 2 – are our current strategies going to achieve our goals and if not what are we going to change to this or are we going to re-evaluate our goals?

    But I think the underlying message is to do your homework and a brainstorm or two, Know where you are and what your goals are, evaluate if you have the tools and skills to do the job and if not where are you going to get them from and perhaps the most poignant of all critically asses what you have done and what can you learn from it as a result.

    A lot to digest in such a short post but definately thought provoking stuff.

  4. says

    I always envy forward thinkers who seem to magically know what’s coming. I think, “Wow… Why can’t I be brilliant like that?” I try to predict trends or think of the future, and I can’t.


    Because having the time to think has become a luxury, not a daily event. When thinking does occur, it focuses highly on the here and now, with the priority of attaining goals I’ve set for my business and for myself.

    In the past few months, after a family emergency, prolonged absences from work to care for the person, burning the candle at both ends to keep my siblings and family friends updated, scrambling to pay attention to my own family, meet my deadlines and continue to grow and build our business stronger… Well, let’s say I’ve learned a very good lesson.

    Never take the moment that you have time to think for granted. Like most things in the world today, you may have this opportunity now. Take it for granted, and you may find that tomorrow, you’re wondering if you’ll ever have the time to think again.

    All that to say thank you for this post. You’ve provided me with a clear resource for those times when I don’t have time to think – because there will be more.

    And no, cripes, I haven’t been drinking. 😉

  5. says

    Thanks Brian for a great post.

    I think you’re right. Innovative content has attracted more new readers to my blog.
    It’s all about providing something unique or creating a Blue Ocean in your niche market.
    As a teacher, it’s all about constantly learning more in my niche market. Read! Read! Read!

  6. says

    This post got my mind a-churning.

    I can see how the “Change-Nothing” analysis can really help to kick things in gear and create some engaging and spicy conversations.

    Looking forward, backward, and everywhere in-between can create quite a few titalating topics.


  7. says

    As this article said, ideas are often recycled in the blogosphere. I believe the key is to tackle the topics in a new and unique way, just as this article implied… but it can be hard to differentiate yourself.

    I’ve found that this is much easier if I dream up my posts and write before I read other blogs. Your mind is naturally anchored to what you read, and your posts inevitably become similar to other people’s content if you read them first.

    Of course, you could always read what others write first and then go the other way, but I’ve found that writing before I read helps me stay fresh and original. This works for me because my content isn’t time sensitive or news-related.

  8. says

    It’s sort of a paradoxical thing, isn’t it, that blogging has to have the balance of both contributing to already ongoing conversations and to add new information and conversations to the mix? I find that the most interesting blogs have a great balance of this.

    So there’s actually a value to being able to apply this innovation both in the approach to adding to ongoing conversations and in creating new things to talk about.

  9. says

    I am always amazed at the way your blog makes me want to go back to my site and look over my recent postings. Then out come the surgical tools.


  10. says

    I have just started up a new blog and whenever I do so, I feel like I need to re-analyze my writing strategy.

    This was a well-timed post on your end, Brian. Straight-forward and very applicable!

  11. says

    Hi Bryan,

    Your article on Strategic Content Development gave me some ideas for creating a form that will help my coaching clients evaluate their current business position. What if you don’t change? What are you willing to change? What has changed around you?What will happen if you do change? And more. My job is to help my clients expand their expectations and create a new vision. Some of these questions will help them clarify their intentions. Thanks for the great insights

    Cara Lumen
    The Vision Distiller

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