Content strategy for the web is all about doing the research. Planning and creating solid content not only involves writing engaging text but also includes finding supporting images and other media, adding useful links and optimizing the content for search engines.

You’re smart, but you don't know everything. There’s loads of stuff out there you haven’t had the opportunity to absorb yet, and probably some you’ve accidentally let drift away. It’s bound to happen, there’s just a lot of information in the world to keep track of.

That’s why I find it so important to constantly refresh, remain curious, and keep on digging. In other words, I’m constantly doing research and discovery. Every project we take on begins there, and every insight Harlo provides is based on it. Research is the platform from which we discover strategies create amazing content.

“Tell me something about yourself…”

It’s such an easy way to get the conversation started. Before I start thinking about insights and strategies, I like to understand who my clients are as people. Understanding a client, not just their product, makes it easier to discover just what they’re looking for and how they’ll go about asking for it. I think of it as person-to-person research.

This step is more about facilitating the work than developing insights, but there are opportunities for discovery as well. Get someone talking, and before you know it they’ve dropped some gem about their goals and beliefs that you weren't even asking about. These are some of the most powerful insights as well, and really get to the core of what they do. Trust me, getting to know who you’re working with will make life so much easier in the long run.

Ask For Everything

Nobody knows the product, company or industry better than the client. It’s what they do after all. So, when it comes to the details, the technical specifics, and industry preferences, you might as well go directly to the source. Clients most likely have all this information in their heads, and hopefully written down somewhere, so go ahead and ask for it. And don’t stop there, ask for everything!

A good place to start is any information or materials that customers might see. Get an understanding of how they already talk with their audiences, including past campaigns and strategies. Ask for analytics reports to see how successful these efforts have been. Speak with leadership about goals for the company. I always let clients know that the more information they can provide up front during the discovery process, the better the project will be.

It’s All About the Customer

The client may know more about customers, but it’s our job to know about people. Our advantage as marketers is the ability to remove ourselves from the business or product, and consider the psychological and emotional reasons people may, or may not, buy something. Study the way customers think, both broadly and specifically to a client's industry, and place yourself in their shoes.

I start by identifying the pain points for customers, and how that struggle affects their day-to-day experience. What emotions drive them to find solutions, and what do they hope to feel when they find it. I like to find unfiltered takes, so I’ll often take to social media, chat rooms or forums to discover what changes customers are calling out for. These are real people you’re trying to connect with, so listen to them!

Speak the Industry Language

The thing about sounding like you know what you’re talking about, is that you do actually have to know what you’re talking about. You have to know the qualities and benefits of different products. You have to know there shortcomings. You have to know how people that use the products are talking about them. You have to know the jargon.

Customers are smart, discerning people, but some companies still think they can be fooled by clever headlines and slick design. That’s all important, but it will only get you through the door. If you want customers to commit to what you’re doing, you have to respect their expertise. Instead of trying to trick potential leads, give them information they can use to make a decision. The ability to do so creatively without getting in the way is what makes you great at your job.

Get to Know the Competition

Competition research is critical for two reasons. First, it’s a great way to further understand the industry. Check out competitor’s websites to see how they present their products and services. Explore with a critical eye, and pinpoint the strengths and weaknesses of their presentation. It won’t be the same as what you’re working on, but it’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the industry and discover more about the people you want to connect with.

The second reason is that researching your competition, and the marketplace as a whole, can reveal openings for you to stand out. I like to keep an eye out for missed opportunities, or ways that my client’s brand or services are markedly different. I can’t tell you how many times a competitor’s site has led me to discover some new emotion or truth. Sometimes they are obvious, but other times it has to do with nuanced messaging. As a copywriter, that’s what I appreciate most.

Go Ahead and Get Strategic

Research and discovery is a constant process, but there always comes a point where you need to push forward to the next step. Once you feel like you have a solid grasp on the client’s needs, product specifics, industry characteristics, competitors and opportunities you want to target, then it’s time to get writing.
This is the strategy phase, where you take everything you’ve found in discovery and research and begin to put together voice and tone guidelines, mission statements and brand identities. Each of these is important, but they should all be based on the same principals and insights you discovered in your research. If you’ve done that, and you’re as smart as you say you are, then the rest should come naturally.

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