Content strategy. What is it? Google it and you’ll find a myriad of definitions involving terms like planning, process, phasing, and maybe even aggregation (18 base points in Scrabble). It can be a bit incomprehensible and confusing for the average person.
I’m going to try something different and explain content strategy using something equally incomprehensible to the average person: competitive StarCraft tactics.
Why? No reason… I just like StarCraft, and I figure the StarCraft and content strategy SEO space probably isn’t hotly contested.
My definition of content strategy is making sure that all the content you produce leads towards a singular goal: hitting business objectives and winning games.
No fluffy throwaway posts, no cat videos… just posts that are all designed to drive that objective.
Follow these tactics and you’ll be on your way to becoming a diamond league content strategist.
Scout ahead , find your audience
An early action every StarCraft player does is to move a worker unit out to scout ahead and find your opponent’s main base. You have to know where your opponent is because a 2v2 map is too large a place to stumble around blindly.
Likewise, you need to know roughly who your target audience is for this particular campaign. Narrow it down to an age range (and don’t say 14–65!) and then narrow it down to other demographic details like if they’re blue/white collar, married/single, if they like traveling or playing sci-fi themed RTS video games.
Once you know who they are, then you know where they hang out. It could be Facebook Groups, Instagram Stories, or Internet forums… knowing where they are makes it easier for you to focus your marketing efforts in right areas to reach your audience.
Study their build order, understand their plans
Now that you know roughly where they are, it’s time to understand who they are and what they’re doing.
In StarCraft, you can tell a lot about a player by what is known as their build order — what buildings they prioritize in the early stages of the game. If you see a Protoss player building 4 Warpgates, you know he’s going to rush you with units really quickly. A Zerg player who takes her 3rd hatchery before a spawn pool is focused on building her economy.
In content strategy, understanding your audience is key to developing content that is relevant and compelling to them. This is where having some storytelling skills comes in really handy, because you need get into their minds and figure out what their dramatic need is.
Think about what stage of life they’re in. Read their blogs to find out what issues regularly plague them. Or if you’re feeling adventurous, talk to them.
A regular teenage student’s dramatic need would be to noticed, fit in and be popular. For a stay-at-home-parent who spends all their time raising a baby, their dramatic need might be to not lose their own sense of individuality.
Once you know what their needs are, you can start figuring out how your product or service can be of most use to them. I guarantee you that even if your product has a gazillion cool features, it wouldn’t be worth a zergling to them if it doesn’t somehow solve or alleviate one of their problems.
It could be something really simple: I was consulting for a distributor of some kids scooters and we worked out a plan to help them fulfill that dream parental milestone of watching kids gleefully learning a new skill like scooting. A ton of ideas cascaded from this one inspiration!
Counter-plan to make an impact
You know who they are, you know what their problems are. Now you use that to your advantage to develop a strategy.
The over-expansive Zerg player? You know she hasn’t built up her forces, so take out one of her undefended bases, cripple her economy, then overrun him. That Terran player sitting idly in his main base? If you can mass up your forces to contain his army, you’ll restrict his expansion and economic growth. You’ll gain map control and a large economic edge.
Likewise, now that you know your audience’s problems, you can work out how your product can benefit them by solving these issues.
At COMO Hotels, we identified that a key demographic of our wellness resort was the guest in search of the “Eat, Pray, Love” experience. Traditional holiday messages like “365 days of beautiful beaches and sunshine” wasn’t going to be effective on them, so I planned content that directly addressed their need for a profound spiritual change in their lives by speaking directly to the empty void within their souls.
Don’t spam the same units
Army composition is a big deal in StarCraft, because an army composed of only one kind of unit is easily overcome. Hydralisks do a ton of damage and have good range, but they’re expensive and kind of squishy. Thus, pairing them with Roaches (cheaper and hardier units) makes your army exponentially more versatile and effective. Adding a few Vipers into the mix takes it up a few more notches because they have the Blinding Cloud ability to neutralize enemy ranged units like the Siege Tank to protect your units.
With content strategy, the principle is the same. You might have one good idea, but focusing entirely on that idea makes you a boring one-trick pony with very predictable content.
Instead, plan out an idea tree with different idea pillars. A big dramatic need can be approached from different angles, and each angle can be segmented into specific ideas. These then tie back to key solutions offered by your product/service.
For example, when we were planning Carousell’s strategy in Australia, we knew we were targeting university students who were struggling with student debts and part-time jobs that either took up too much time or paid too little. Our product is an e-commerce platform for preloved goods, so I designed a strategy helped them make money by seeding the idea of selling old clothes and belongings for spare cash. This was supplemented with the theme of saving money by buying preloved textbooks and laptops so you don’t have to pay full price. This made our app a lot more appealing than other e-commerce platforms that were all about buying brand-new items.
An idea tree like this is invaluable during the content creation process, because you can always refer to it for inspiration and alignment to the plan.
Come from different directions
In StarCraft, the most direct way into your opponent’s base will be up a single ramp. Thus, that will usually be the most defended way in, and you can expect to find lots of Photon Cannons waiting to decimate you in this choke point.
The counter to that is to come from different directions as well, so you can flank his forces and circumvent his static defenses. Use those towering Colossi to scale the cliffs at the side of his base, or use flying Void Rays to swoop in from behind.
Content is no different, and you should always try to reach your audience through as many touch points as you can. Honestly, it’s pretty easy to just create a Facebook page and call it a day, like that first little pig and his house of straw.
But if you want to be really serious about reaching your audience, you’ll find out where else they frequent, and if your strategy suits those platforms. For example, the hospitality benefits strongly from visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. Who doesn’t want to see gorgeous images of blue seas and white beaches?
However, brands with a strategy that emphasizes price and promos like discount shops and petrol stations aren’t going to find an appreciative audience on those platforms. Sully their experience on Instagram with your text-based promo images declaring “50% off!” and you risk damaging your brand image.
While analyzing the competition in a new market, I came across the Facebook page of a brand built around discount fuel. A single monthly “discount day” post accounted for almost 95% of its average monthly engagement… which means the other posts were meaningless to its fans. Try expanding into Instagram with that approach!
Be realistic about your resources
In StarCraft, your army is restricted by two major resource units: minerals and Vespene gas. You have a finite amount of both (especially Vespene), so you’re planning to mass-produce the gas-intensive Mutalisk, you’re not likely to have much left over to produce the mighty Ultralisk.
Think about the army composition you want, and budget accordingly.
Remember, content strategy is about keeping your end goal in mind!
In marketing, minerals and Vespene are known as time and money. There’s really only so much you can do, and even the biggest brands will have a finite budget to work with. This is where planning comes in. Knowing what kind of content you have planned means you can decide how to allocate your budget.
Videos, so vaunted these days for their engagement and virality potential, need time and money to produce. Don’t waste video resources on in-house cat videos that have zero brand-building potential. Devote video resources to important campaigns and big feature releases instead.
For smaller ideas, use simpler infographics or static visuals.
Timing attacks and the content calendar
There’s a concept in StarCraft called the timing attack, where you time an assault to coincide with factors that are advantageous to you. For example, if you are researching an armor upgrade for your infantry, it’s better to hold off your assault for that extra 20 seconds until the upgrade is completed and your army is all buffed up.
The application of this in content strategy comes in the form of the content calendar. In the content calendar, you can plot all the major holidays, your product releases and marketing campaigns, and other events (school holidays, typhoon season), and then arrange your content for maximum impact.
If you want to organize a YouTube campaign that encourages teens to shoot their own skate videos, you’re better off timing that during the school holidays rather than releasing it in the middle of their exam period.
A content calendar keeps events in view so that your content can be designed to be highly contextual.
Harass and experiment
For a lot of novice StarCraft players (myself included), army management is mostly hitting F2 to select all of your units and then moving them as a huge group from point to point. Pro players can micro manage smaller squads to harass enemy mineral lines, and poke around to find weaknesses and weak spots in the enemy’s defenses.
For content strategy, that equates to small experiments. Social media platforms are always coming out with new post types and there will always be new trending content styles.
Before you commit a major campaign to an Instagram Stories or Facebook Canvas execution, try a post or two first and see what the results are like.
This isn’t so much a content strategy thing but an execution thing, but it’s nevertheless important to note (plus it matches nicely to a StarCraft tactic).
Generally speaking, it’s nice to jump on new and exciting trends and clients and bosses will always push for you to design a campaign to do so, but it’s more effective to develop a messaging that resonates with your audience and use only the tools that deliver that message.
As Bruce Lee says, “I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.”
Drew used to be a professional videogame reviewer, then he took an adulthood arrow to the knee. Now he is a content strategist, helping brands tell their stories without resorting to overused videogame memes.