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Design-Thinking in Content Marketing: Some Ideas and Tools to Ace the Process

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27th Jan, 2021
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Design-Thinking in Content Marketing: Some Ideas and Tools to Ace the Process

What is Content Marketing? Most people use extremely technical terms to describe this newest kid on the Marketing block. However, at upGrad, we are focused only and solely on the customer. Our students are supreme and being in the business of education means you have the back-breaking responsibility of making an aspirational lots’ career.

Content Marketing Infographics design thinking in content marketing some ideas and tools to ace the process UpGrad Blog

So, how do we approach Marketing and how is it different from what most other organizations do?

The truth of the matter is – there’s no rocket science to it. We spend a lot of time mapping out our buyer’s personas, which is nothing but trying to get a grasp of who our audience is, understand their needs and more specifically, what their career paths have looked like so far, in what areas are they looking to upskill themselves, if they have questions on making such transitions, on salaries, growth, etc. Essentially, this is where all content marketing efforts begin.
Step 1: Understand.
Step 2: Empathize.
Step 3: Ideate.
Step 4: Create.
And finally, Step 5 and 6… hold that thought. We’ll get to these a little bit later.
So, how can you leverage design at this stage of TG identification and creating buyer personas? By creating proto-personas (similar to prototypes of products) for your inbound marketing strategy.
Before you get into the research and creation process, you need to make sure you know whom you’re writing for and understand them. The background, desires, conflicts, and stories of your target audience are all extremely crucial factors to consider when you’re trying to understand whom to target, where to target them and what to target them with.

To give you a brief example, at UpGrad, the process of understanding our customer, and subsequently the content to be created for them, would be something like this:

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Who is he/she?

Maybe an IT professional with 2-5 years of experience.

What does he/she want?

To upskill to upcoming areas of technology and build a future-looking career that keeps him/her continuously relevant.

Why does he/she want it?

To quell a desire to be financially independent and be faced with multiple opportunities for career growth, at least every couple of years.

What can we do about it?

Offer them a value proposition. Direct them towards programs that can provide them with the skills they are looking for. Alternatively, if the person is still in the awareness or early consideration stage of the marketing funnel, we can provide them with career advice on how to transition, skills and background knowledge they will need, etc. Plus, we can share resources with them for further domain insight.

As you can see, design-thinking at the stage of creating a model person to associate with can really complement your understanding of the customer and what type of content to deliver to them.

Thinking like a designer can help bring that much-needed edge in the next two steps of Content Marketing as well. After all, the ideation and creation (or production) of content is a highly creative activity!

Let’s look at some tips that can help you in the content creation process, along with some tools that have really mastered design-thinking as products:

1. & 2. Make an editorial calendar that runs like clockwork

One of the ways you can do this is by signing up for a great planning tool that helps you sort content ideas across the buckets or domains relevant to your brand (main areas you will be writing in) and dividing these into further sub-categories if the need arises.

You can also assign authors, editors, designers, etc, depending on how your team functions. This will also discipline your content team and ensure everyone is on the same page with regard to timelines. Check out one really cool and visual tool we discovered recently.
design thinking in content marketing some ideas and tools to ace the process UpGrad Blog

3. Keep an eye on what your competitors are talking about

Now, it’s time to fill up the editorial calendar. So how are you going to ensure that you stay ahead with some of the best content ideas in the business? You can generate ideas with the help of some extremely useful tools – (that Digital Marketing experts such as Brian Dean and Neil Patel also swear by) – such as Ahrefs, Buzzsumo and Moz. In fact, Ahrefs will tell you exactly what your competitors are talking about and you can use this information to cater to your own audience’s needs. These sites are also very effective in aiding link-building.

Another one of the easiest ways to do this is through a simple Google search to track what are the top-ranking pieces of content in your domain or for the keyword you are trying to optimize.
Make sure to always think back to your buyer personas and overall content buckets while researching and coming up with content ideas.
Ahrefs and Buzzsumo
design thinking in content marketing some ideas and tools to ace the process UpGrad Blog

Remember, Content Marketing is not just another channel to sell your product. It’s more about connecting and engaging with your customer and providing them with the answers that they’ve been looking for, through multiple channels.

For example, at UpGrad, if we were creating content for our Digital Marketing Program’s target audience, we would have to first know whether the person we were targeting with that specific piece of content is a traditional marketer looking to transition into a Digital Marketing role, a complete amateur in the Marketing space or a more seasoned Digital Marketer who has some knowledge of trending channels and tools, and so on. Only after this can we attempt to answer questions about skills required to be a Digital Marketer, interviews and career paths within Digital Marketing, etc.
If we decided to write an article on Digital Marketing Skills, we would discuss with our in-house experts in Digital Marketing, speak to other external influencers in the industry, conduct competitor research and use the above-mentioned tools to check out popular content on the topic before we begin to write/shoot.

4. It’s time to create content!

Now this, understandably, is an uphill task for most marketing teams. This is what all those months of planning and research finally boil down to. And it’s almost too vast to contain in one bullet point; just because of the number of elements that go into creating content for marketing.

So, why don’t we try and bring in the design element to see how we can best use it to create awesome content?

  • Start with repurposing old content (once you have taken stock of your inventory and evaluated it). If your content piece did well in the past, it’s likely to do well in a different form too. Convert an old webinar into a presentation with the help of SlideShare. Turn a text article into an interactive infographic. An infographic is also a great way to show off your design skills. You could even convert videos into podcasts and the list goes on.
  • While taking stock of your inventory you will also get a sense of what type of content has worked well so far and what has not. Which pieces went viral and which ones tanked. Moreover, you will get a sense of whether you have a repository of content that can be built upon and made into a guide or something more resourceful and evergreen. Trust me, we forget what we have in our arsenal unless we constantly revisit it!
    • Let’s say you were creating an evergreen piece of content. Again, design plays a very important role here. How you design and position this resource could determine how much traffic you attract to it and probably even the number and kind of leads it generates. Is it a ‘How-To’ post? A customer testimonial? Or a curated list of tools? Each of these can have a unique design and position on your site to maximize whatever your goal is. Marketers often refer to some of these elements as CRO (Conversion Rate Optimisation) hooks. Why? Because they convert (traffic to leads) like crazy! Some examples of such lead capture forms:design thinking in content marketing some ideas and tools to ace the process UpGrad Blog
  • Your content needs to be fun, engaging and also reflective of your brand image and message. While this should allow marketers a greater amount of creative freedom, many tend to worry that they may go wrong. But take this advice – don’t fret too much. There are so many great tools and methods out there to create just the right kind of content your brand needs.

design thinking in content marketing some ideas and tools to ace the process UpGrad Blog

  • Use videos. Video content is highly-easily consumable and most of the internet’s content consuming audience is shifting to video, and many surveys reveal that they prefer them to text articles. Videos are design-friendly and can be created in very specific ways to target consumers across the funnel.  

We saw how one can create multiple types of content using various innovative design techniques – the internet is filled with ideas. But is Content Marketing only about creating good content and letting it take its own course?

Content creation is only half the job done.

If you want to do complete justice to the work you’ve put in to create a highly valuable piece of content for your customer, then it’s your responsibility to take it on its rightful journey. What am I talking about?

5. Content Promotion

That’s right. Content Marketing isn’t just about the 4 steps I described at the start of this post. Those only cover the strategy and production aspects. Step 5 is the rest of the game, where your content actually reaches those for whom it was created. So, what does content promotion include?
Think about how you stumbled upon this post (it would be funny if it was through StumbleUpon. While some of you have subscribed to the upGrad Blog or check it regularly, many of you may have seen this post shared on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, etc. Some of you could be parts of expert or influencer groups on social networks, around Content or Digital Marketing and may have found your way from there. On the other hand, you could’ve seen ads on social media, been sent an email or seen it come up on a search engine in response to something you searched for. 

All of these cover three main types of promotion or distribution:

  1. On Owned Channels;
  2. On Earned Channels; and
  3. On Paid Channels.

These broadly cover SEO, Email Marketing and Social Media Marketing. Marketers have also begun coming up with innovative ways of breaking through the content promotion clutter. Reaching out to influencers for quotes, backlinks, mentions, or reaching out to share content with those who have shared similar content in the past.

But how can Design-Thinking boost Content Promotion? The answer is – in uncountable ways. Let’s try to see a couple of them:

  • Create a visual social media calendar. Sync your marketing with events, holidays, festivals and trends. Basically, catch the pulse of your audience and try to engage with them in a language they understand, over things that have caught their attention. This is where your design capabilities can be used to the maximum – whether it’s creating interesting ads, infographics, other social media posts or even videos.
  • Use tools such as Canva and many others to create these amazing social media posts. You can select from a wide range of templates and even send out customized emails and newsletters. By the way, tools like Autopilot, Pardot and many others are great tools to send out automated and mass email communication.

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design thinking in content marketing some ideas and tools to ace the process UpGrad Blog
Even today, a lot of Marketers do not pay as much attention to design as they do to other functions. Putting insightful content out there, for your TG, is important. But this also means that how they view your content, and what attracts them to it – and eventually keeps them there or takes them to other parts of your product/service offering – has a lot to do with the design elements built into the content.
A word of advice – if you’re just setting up your content marketing processor are in a transition phase, make sure you pick your mass email tool carefully. To make your life simpler, you should find a tool that either has its own lead generation (forms) options or can integrate with one. HelloBar, MailChimp, etc are also examples of such reliable and widely used tools.

Training themselves to adopt design-thinking is crucial for modern-day marketers.

It’s time to stop perceiving design as dispensable to the Marketing and Content Marketing functions. In fact, incorporating a design mindset at each step of the Content Marketing pipeline will ensure that you are always focused on the end-goal: i.e., creating content that your customers want and in the way they want it.
Now, for the final step, step 6.

Top Digital Marketing Skills

6. Tracking Content Metrics and Analysis

Ever wondered how such a creative process can involve so much data?! Well, how are you ever going to measure success without it? How will you know whether the goals you set were realistic, need to be tweaked or entirely revamped? As you can see, it’s best to be friends with data.
Lucky for you, Google Analytics comes to the rescue when you’re struggling with quantitative information. Its new feature, Data Studio, is a highly readable and easy to consume format that helps keep close track of new users, traffic, sessions, demographics of leads and any other marketing or sales data you may want to keep handy. Check it out.
Google Analytics
design thinking in content marketing some ideas and tools to ace the process UpGrad Blog
You can also explore certain other tools like Mixpanel for product analytics.
So, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and tap into all the design sensibilities within your Content Marketing team, to build a stronger brand that your audience can connect with and finds value in – helping you achieve your business goals!

Watch this space for more content upgrades and content marketing ‘gyaan.’ Comment in the section below on how you liked this article, your own content marketing experience and how you’re going to apply the learnings. Or just say hi!

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Apoorva Shankar

Blog Author
Apoorva heads Content Marketing at UpGrad. Additionally, she heads UpGrad Online Scholarship (A Swades Foundation Initiative). She has dabbled with Business Development at UpGrad, prior to this. Before working at UpGrad, Apoorva was busy providing research support to Members of Parliament - with a focus on education and technology.
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1Why is content an important part of digital marketing strategy?

Content is arguably the most important part of digital marketing strategy and efforts. The following are the three reasons why content marketing is important to your digital marketing efforts.
1. It helps to educate your audience about the product and services and help them decide what is right for them. It’s the very first step to create brand awareness.
2. Content and Search Engine Optimization (SEO) goes hand in hand. It helps to drive organic traffic to your website and appear in relevant searches in Google SERP.
3. Content enables your social media strategies. Great content drives more engagement and encourages followers to learn more and bring them into the sales funnel.

2What are the steps to great content development?

Content is the king and it drives your digital marketing strategy. The following are the basic steps for great content development:
1. Research your audience personas, whom you are targeting
2. Research and gather information on the topic to be written with solution-centric keyword research, competition analysis, and quora topic analysis
3. The next step is to write in a user-friendly manner using all the keywords. Long-form content, more than 1000 words generates more backlinks and rank better in Google SERP.
4. Lastly, optimize your content to make it more attractive for search engines and audiences too. Create title tags, meta descriptions to increase click-through rates and publish the content.

3How to measure content performance?

To track and measure, how your content is performing, you can rely on the following metrics:
Traffic: Total number of users, pageview, and unique page views on your website
Sales and Conversion: What is the rate of conversion, meaning, how many people are coming into the sales funnel after reading your blog content
Engagement: Metrics like total number of sessions and duration, average session duration, the average number of pages per session, and bounce rate
Social media engagement: Check, how your post is performing on different social media platforms, how many times your content has been shared on each platform, type of engagement, etc
SEO performance: Proportion of visitors coming from organic search
Authority: What is the domain and page authority of your website

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