One of the core planks of a content marketing for PR strategy is to understand the position you want your brand to occupy in the marketplace, relative to your goals and the competitive landscape.
Key reason for this is to ensure that any content you produce reinforces such position. Anything else and you run the risk of muddying the communications waters and potentially confusing the people you’re trying to reach.
I recommend starting the positioning process using what I call ‘Spheres of Conversation’ (see diagram below), a simple tool I’ve used effectively in communications planning workshops over the years. It has been a great way to get my clients to focus on what they want to be known for.
Here’s how it works:
You need to identify those public conversations that, as a business or organization, you want to be involved in. To do this, ask yourself and your team:
- Which conversations do we want to participate in and/or lead?
- What debates do we want to ignite, facilitate or engage in?
It’s totally okay to start with big, broad topics (represented in the diagram by the circles) and then cascade down to those specific areas of specialization you want to be noted for (the oblong boxes).
The sweet spot — your “flag in the ground” — is that virtual territory you want to be known for in the minds of your customers, influencers and stakeholders.
Three more quick points about your Spheres of Conversation:
- Having Spheres of Conversation in place does not mean you can’t stray outside their boundaries with the content you produce. But it is important in today’s noisy, information-rich world to be as consistent in your messaging as possible, so obviously the more you can stay within your spheres, the better.
- You might want to place varying degrees of emphasis on each sphere. For example: Sphere 1 (50% of your effort), Sphere 2 (20%) and Sphere 3 (30%). These percentages are fluid and can be dialed up or down as required, but again, like the concept of the Spheres of Conversation generally, they exist to serve as a guide only. Consider them a sort of filter.
- Spheres of Conversation are great for getting others on the same page. If other team members are involved more than you, the owner, and if they’re regularly creating content and sharing news and information on social media, then harnessing their efforts will benefit the brand by conveying a consistent story in the marketplace. Everyone needs to be on the same page, so to speak.
Obviously, your communications in this respect need to not only reflect your business strategy but also align with your overall narrative. For some of you, one or two spheres will be sufficient. Three is generally OK, too, but try not to add any more; otherwise you’ll start diluting what you want to be known for.
An example of Spheres of Conversation in action
Say you run a business consultancy that advises growing digital technology enterprises, with a skew towards financial technology (fintech) start-ups.
Your patch is the North of England, with a focus on the cities of Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield, which collectively form the bulk of what’s known as the Northern Powerhouse, a government initiative to boost economic growth in the north of England.
After a workshop session with your colleagues, you decide your consultancy has three Spheres of Conversation, each of which has a couple of skews (areas of specialization):
1. What it takes to run a successful high-growth business (broadly)
- Skew 1: digital tech start-ups, generally
- Skew 2: fintech start-ups, specifically
2. The fintech sector (globally)
- Skew 1: fintech start-ups in the UK, generally
- Skew 2: fintech start-ups based in the North of England, specifically
3. Northern Powerhouse (economic revitalization of the region)
- Skew 1: digital technology sector in the North of England, generally
- Skew 2: fintech start-ups in this region, specifically
These spheres and their associated skews act as a guide for your owned, earned and social media efforts, providing direction and subject matter “anchors” to keep you focused.
To see how to put all of this into practice, let’s take a look at our second sphere: The global fintech sector.
In this case, your aim is to be part of the broader fintech conversation. To tick this box, you might decide to curate and share news and information on social media about what’s happening on the global fintech front. This will demonstrate that you’re well-informed about what’s happening overseas in terms of trends and success stories in this growing space.
Occasionally, you might write a piece on global fintech trends, or you might allude to some US case studies, for example, in podcast or press interviews. This content is likely to appeal to your core target audience: local fintech entrepreneurs with global ambitions.
But while the global fintech sector is your gateway to the broader conversation, the goal is to progressively narrow your focus to your areas of specialization, namely fintech start-ups in the UK and then fintech start-ups based in England’s northern region.
Context and meaning
While your main aim might be fintech at a local level, oftentimes the conversation starts more broadly. This means you need to become adept at injecting yourself into the conversation at a higher level, to provide greater context and meaning to your more focused areas of specialization.
At times, your content might focus on the bottom layer. For example, you could write a piece looking specifically at the vibrant state of the Northern Powerhouse fintech scene, highlighting a couple of your clients to bring your story to life.
Or you might go one layer up and produce a podcast that looks broadly at the fintech sector in the UK. While interviewing other experts in the space, you might have the opportunity to provide some local success stories to illustrate your point: that there’s plenty happening in the northern region of England.
If your geographic patch comprises the Northern Powerhouse cities, it makes sense strategically for your consultancy to be seen publicly championing the economic strengths of the region. This gets you in at a higher level of the conversation, and you can insert yourself in myriad ways through the content you create, publish, curate and share.
The goal, then, is to move the topic to the general state of the digital technology sector in England’s north and then cascade down again to fintech more specifically, if and when it makes sense to do so. Thus, you’re consistently reinforcing your advocacy for the Northern Powerhouse but with a focus on digital technology and, more specifically, fintech.
So you can see how, over time, the content you produce, plus what you say in media interviews or onstage in presentations at industry events, will reinforce the breadth and depth of your knowledge and expertise, and that of your consultancy. This will catch the attention of the start-up entrepreneurs who make up your desired target audience.