Set Your Content Compass and Purpose
Learn to define goals, audience, and metrics to understand your content’s purpose and performance.
An important part of your content strategy is to define your content compass, which gets specific about the following:
- The purpose of your content, including relevant business goals, prioritized audiences, and content objectives
- The concepts your content should communicate to fulfill that purpose
- How you’ll measure whether your content is working and how you’ll communicate your findings
Before we start pulling together your content compass, I’ll talk about how your project’s scope affects your content compass.
Content compass components
Here are some helpful artifacts for documenting, communicating, and using your content compass.
Articulate your content purpose
The content purpose is the central component of your content compass. It answers the fundamental questions for providing the right content, to the right people, at the right time, for the right reasons. The table below summarizes the three questions a core strategy statement must answer.
How do you document your core purpose?
There’s no one right way to articulate your core purpose. The ones I’ve documented over the years have taken on different formats depending on what I think the client will be receptive to and the complexity of the concepts the core purpose might need to communicate. Let’s look at three examples: a simple statement, an annotated statement, and a framework.
The example in this figure is a one-sentence statement that identifies four key components of the content purpose:
- Business goal
- Content substance
- Content objectives
For this example, I’ve used the same sentence and added some annotations to demonstrate key concepts for the strategy.
The last example, shown in the following figure, is a slightly more detailed version that I use when it’s harder to describe the audience and content objectives in a shorter statement. You’ll notice that I added a couple details that aren’t specified in the previous two examples.
You might find it helpful to create a statement or annotated statement and a framework with some additional details. The simpler statement could be a good summary for leadership, while the framework can offer some specifics that people doing content work find valuable.
How do you craft your content purpose?
To put together your content purpose, you need information from the discovery phase (if that’s taken place). You’ll also need to know what your stakeholders have agreed on the important aspects: who the content is for, why they need it, and what the organization is trying to achieve.
Now you just need to put all that together and add some specificity about the kind of content to produce, through either a collaborative or an individual approach. I typically start by opening a blank slide presentation (for example, Google Slides, Apple Keynote, or Microsoft PowerPoint), the digital collaboration board I used for the strategic alignment workshop, and my insights engine.
Using the collaboration board and insights engine, I’ll just start writing words and phrases that relate to the business goal(s), audience(s), and content objectives. The board . . . and my thinking . . . will often seem scattered and never polished. Trust the process.
Then, I’ll sit there for a few minutes staring at the screen, trying to get started. True story. That’s often how it works. I bet you can relate. So, I’ll take a break and work on something else, play with the grandbabies, practice my ukulele, take a nap—you get the idea.
At some point during this period of what I call “productive procrastination,” concepts start to become clearer in my mind. That’s when I go back to my blank document, go to a new slide, and take a first pass at writing a purpose statement.
This is when I form a pretty good idea about whether it needs to be a statement, an annotated statement, or a framework. If I can’t clearly summarize the purpose in 35 words or so by the end of my revising and finessing, I will grab my framework template and fill that in. Of course, there will be more finessing and revising with the framework as well.
Once I feel good about where it’s at, I’ll go through a mental “definition of done” exercise, where I make sure that it includes a measurable business goal, clear audience definition, and content objectives that tie to audience needs. I’m not quite done yet, though. Before I show the proposed core purpose to my client, I like to test it out.
One way I test is to present the core purpose with a colleague or even a friend (redacting as necessary for confidentiality). Then, I’ll present the purpose in whatever format I’ve used and ask them to recap the purpose in their own words or ask more direct questions like these:
- How would you describe who we create content for?
- Why do you think those people need that content?
- What does providing the right content to the right people help my client achieve?
If people who don’t have much context for the project can get the gist and explain the content purpose back to me, it’s usually in pretty good shape.
The next thing I do is make sure it’s prescriptive enough to help my client make decisions. To do that, I will look for some examples of content they have published or produced in the past and make a determination about whether that content aligns with the core purpose.
Let’s say, for example, that the fake client in our example had published an extensive primer about the history of the Paleo diet. Using the core purpose, I would deduce that such content is not aligned because our audience is already sold on eating a Paleo diet.
After a few more of those kinds of examples, I’m ready to present it to my client so they can start using it. I’ll often use the examples I walked through in my presentation deck to show how it helps with decision-making. After all, that’s the whole reason for it to exist.
How do you use your content purpose?
The whole idea behind articulating a content purpose is to help organizations make smart decisions about content. With this in mind, it can be used a few ways:
To decide what to keep of the content you already have
You can use your content purpose to go back through existing content to determine whether it should be kept, repurposed, or archived.
To decide what content ideas to pursue
When you get requests for content, you can use your content purpose to decide whether they make sense. I find it most helpful to have a group of stakeholders go through ideas together and come to agreement based on the strategy.
The table below shows some additional examples to evaluate for the example content purpose. Before looking at what I decided, try deciding what might be in or out for yourself.
Here’s what I decided and why:
- Yes to a page about foods to eat on workout days because the purpose is to help athletes eat to perform in the gym; this page should have a call to action (CTA) to explore meal plan options.
- No to a new section with Paleo recipes because we want people to buy our meals.
- No to a blog post about feeding your family Paleo style because our target audience is responsible for feeding only themselves and needs something they can eat on the go.
- Yes to videos featuring athletes talking about how our Paleo meals helped them achieve their fitness goals because we want people to see what’s possible when they choose our meals.
- Yes to a page featuring information about the benefits of eating Paleo and tips for making the switch because our target audience is already sold on the Paleo lifestyle.
To ensure content is on strategy as it’s being planned and created
When I help my clients define planning processes, one of the things that’s almost always included is a strategic content brief. Within it is a section to describe specifically how the content you’re proposing or planning fits with the content purpose.
Similarly, when I create editorial checklists for writers and reviewers, I will include line items for audience appropriateness and content objectives.
A content compass can bring alignment, focus and purpose to your content strategy and related work. It’s a practical way to articulate your content strategy and is a valuable addition to any content toolkit.