5 Steps to Defeating ICS – Irrelevant Content Syndrome – and Creating Content that Connects

February 19th, 2015 by

Too much content marketing is done on the urge to “just get something out there.” We’ve all felt the urge to charge into blog posts and videos without a clear understanding of what will connect with would-be buyers, and to fill out editorial calendars on nothing more than intuition.

STOP. Put your pencils down. No matter how great your hunger to just get something out there, your strategic content marketing efforts will go adrift without an editorial focus built on the right information. A strategic assessment ensures that your content marketing sits on bedrock, and has the proper editorial focus to reel in the right customer.

Developing engaging content takes footwork, not guesswork

Developing engaging content takes footwork, not guesswork

I know, I know… I can hear you saying, “We already know who our customers and competition are, Brian.” Quit your whining! I’m not saying it’s you, but we often find the grasp many companies have on these vital aspects of their business lacks the proper depth to feed an intelligent content marketing strategy. You have to have enough information to make the right decisions — or risk pumping out irrelevant content that will engage no one.

Strive to develop a multidimensional view of your marketplace — and in turn develop a cohesive and focused content strategy — by focusing on these five points of information intake:

1. Buyer Personae. Content marketing strategists have long emphasized the need to develop buyer personae, and there’s a reason we put it first. Developing buyer personae is the act of profiling your primary customers, beyond just understanding their roles, titles and demographic data. And it’s more than just knowing why they buy from you. You need to dig deep to render a portrait of real people and what they care about. Talk to them to find out what their hot buttons are, understand their aspirations and goals, and appreciate what keeps them up at night. Synthesizing this information will help you understand what will move them to consume your content.

What to do. A good buyer or customer profile (of which there are many different formats, but you can see an example here) will give you a real sense of who your customer is, not just as customers but as people. And you don’t need to do formal research like focus groups to obtain this knowledge. Instead, conduct a series of informal interviews, preferably by a third party. Customers are more likely to open up about their needs (and what they think about your company). Getting this invaluable information can be eye opening in terms of overturning assumptions about the kinds of content you thought might work. It helps set a course for content that is going to engage people.

2. Competitor Audit. You may have a sense of the type of content competitors are putting out. What you should strive for is to develop a more complete portrait of your competitors. For instance, seek to understand not only what they are blogging about and putting into the resource sections of their websites (videos, white papers and so forth), but are they getting any media coverage or putting out valuable news? Are they performing well in search? Are they active and successfully engaging on social media? And have they gained any traction with influencers such as industry analysts?

What to do. Go beyond simple Google searches to set up a more comprehensive intake for what your competitors are doing. Spend time really digging into their websites. It’s also a good idea to gather intelligence from social media, which brings us to…

3. Social Listening. It’s easy enough to find out what your competitors are up to on social media. What takes more effort is to truly understand the conversations, trends and topics that are taking place in your corner of the world. This means working to understand your “social sphere of influence” — the companies, individuals, websites and social networks that set the tone, define the topics and produce the content that is of interest to your marketplace. Conducting comprehensive social listening through a platform such as Brandwatch or Falcon (and there are many others) will give you a single point of access where you can “listen” to and analyze what people care about.

What to do. Social listening can deliver a very large data set. You have to wade through it to find the gems. It takes time, but you also need to build the right kind of queries to gather the right kind of social data. In much the same way that people experiment with pinpointing the right search query when searching for something on Google, it’s even more important in the realm of social listening. You need to zero in on where the conversations are happening. This is another reason we recommend starting with customer interviews and developing buyer personae. They can reveal where to place your “stethoscope” and how to build your queries.

4. Media and Analyst Coverage. Media and bloggers play an important role in setting and reflecting the content agenda. What and who they are writing about highlight trends and topics. Keep in mind that it’s just as important to pay attention to what they are not writing about, as this will yield clues on where the holes or gaps in a content marketplace may be. In addition, industry analysts often play a significant role in highlighting hot topics, as they speak directly to would-be buyers, and even rank the leaders in a given industry.

What to do. You can gain knowledge of media and analyst coverage in a variety of ways. This includes Google searches, going to the websites of media and analysts, and social listening platforms, which also “listen” to news outlets and the wider web. Note that while most analyst firms put their reports behind firewalls, scanning for citations and synopses can still yield valuable results.

5. Search Data. Search data can provide an excellent vantage point for gaining a multidimensional view of your marketplace. The key is using the right set of software platforms and tools to derive data for paid and organic search, which can help you determine the kinds of content your competitors are potentially having success with. For instance, you can determine website rankings using Advanced Web Ranking. Moz, a well known SEO tool, provides insight into a number of data points, including your overall domain authority and a link explorer tool that reveals the pages or content of competitors that have gained links. Buzzsumo is a great tool that allows you to gauge the popularity of content and topics. And SpyFu allows you to inventory the paid search campaigns of competitors, allowing you to see what products and services and keyword phrases they are emphasizing. In this way you can see what they’re putting money against.

What to do. Most of the tools mentioned above are subscription based. However, many of them offer free trials.


Remember that there is no hard and fast approach for conducting an assessment, and every marketing team will differ in how it gathers the information it needs to build an effective content strategy. But gather the information you must, and we have found these five intake points to be reliable. Going for a multi-dimensional view of your marketplace and competitors will yield insights and ensure your content hits the mark.

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