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EPISODE 8: What are Content Pillars and Why Do You Need Them?

by Nov 17, 2020Podcast

In this episode we will cover:

  • Identifying main topics to keep your content on point
  • What content pillars are NOT
  • Helping your audience make an informed buying decision
  • Is your content linked to offers? 
  • How to filter your content ideas through your pillars

In a previous episode, we briefly touched on content pillars and the role they play in choosing the content you’re putting out. In this episode, we take a closer look at HOW to identify your content pillars and WHY those pillars are foundational to a solid content marketing strategy. {Think Stonehenge, not the Parthenon.}

In today’s episode, you’ll learn: 

  • How to identify your main topics {to keep your content on point}
  • What content pillars are NOT
  • How to help your audience make an informed buying decision
  • How to ensure your content is linked to offers {and is really working for you}
  • How to filter your content ideas through your pillars

 

For example, if you’re mostly posting puppy pictures on social media but not running a puppy-centered business, you might not have a firm grasp on your content pillars. We love puppy pictures as much as the next person, but your audience might forget what it is you actually DO. {Hint: NOT the goal!}

So how do you make sure your messaging isn’t scattered or watered down? You identify those pillars of content… and you stick to them! For this episode, you’ll want a pen, some paper, and several highlighters.

Once you get those pillars nailed down, tag us on Instagram @northstarmessaging and let us know what they are!

 

TRANSCRIPT

Jessi:
Welcome to the Brand Your Voice Podcast, where we're digging into how you can create personality driven content that connects and converts. I'm Jessi.

Marie:
I'm Marie. We're the co-founders of North Star Messaging + Strategy where we support business owners in outsourcing content without sacrificing authenticity.

Jessi:
Every brand has a unique voice that sets it apart. We're digging into how to capture the way your brand communicates, from the words you use to the stories you tell so you can create more compelling content that strategically helps you meet your business goals.

Marie:
If you choose to outsource that content, you'll be able to do so with confidence, knowing your brand voice is in good hands and you can reclaim your time. We're so glad you're here and hope you enjoy this episode.

Jessi:
All right, welcome to episode eight. Today, we are talking about what content pillars are and why you need them. So we dug into this a little bit a few episodes ago when we talked about your core messaging. We talked a little bit about what they are. We're going to reiterate that a little bit, give you a refresher, but we're going to dive deeper in today's episode because content pillars are so important that they really deserve their own episode. So as a refresher, what they are, and these are the two to three topics that all of your content or most of your content, maybe not the puppy pictures, but that's okay, all of your content or most of your content falls under and they have subtopics underneath.
So for example, you're thinking about not the Parthenon where there's like eight million different pillars happening. You're trying to narrow it down. So the example Marie used a couple of episodes ago was Stonehenge where you have maybe two or three pillars holding something up. What it's holding up is your brand, your message. We're looking for two to three really narrow topics that you can fit all of these subtopics underneath.

Marie:
So examples from our business, our three content pillars, our brand voice, content strategy and copywriting. So each of these has subtopics underneath them and each of them can lead directly to a service that we provide or a product that we offer. Now, we're not selling all the time, of course. We're mostly here to show up and give value, to educate, to help people understand. We're also here to share our expertise, right? This is kind of going back to those stories, right? But when it is time for us to sell something, at least we will have done the heavy lifting of making sure that we have content that helps people prepare so they can make an informed decision about that. So go ahead, Jessi.

Jessi:
Sorry. Yeah, absolutely. So when we're talking about brand voice, content strategy and copywriting, which are our three pillars, we're really careful when we're creating content, whether it's these podcast episodes or something that goes on our blog, an email that goes on our list to really run it through a filter of, is this about one of these three things? If the answer is no, it might make sense. It might be part of that extra little percentage of topics that get thrown in there, like cute dog pictures but-

Marie:
Absolutely valid.

Jessi:
Absolutely valid, but you're not going to want to post dog pictures for every single one of your pieces of content, unless you're running a business that relies heavily on something to do with dogs. It doesn't.

Marie:
Because I want your business.

Jessi:
Yes. It doesn't make sense for our business to do that. However, it does make sense for our business to create content that falls under brand voice, content strategy and copywriting, because those are the things that we do and those are the things that we offer. Without those content pillars, our content could end up feeling really scattered and disconnected.

Marie:
Exactly. So I think it's important also to talk about what content pillars are not and that's the how. So do you want to introduce this a little bit and maybe I can give an example, Jessi?

Jessi:
Yeah, absolutely. So the how of content is what it does. So it may persuade. It may entertain. It may inform. That's not what your content pillar is, though. Your content pillar is the topic. It's the context. So brand voice is a topic, whereas teaching someone about how to capture your brand voice, that's what the content is doing. That's not a content pillar. That's a content topic. That's something I'm going to write about or to talk about. The pillar, the overarching idea that all of the content is going to fall under is brand voice.

Marie:
Exactly. I remember having a conversation with a client at one point when we were talking about this topic of content pillars and trying to help them decide what they were. Honestly, I don't even remember who this was, but I remember this conversation. They said, "Well, I think one of them would be education." I'm like, "Okay, but you're not in the education field. Can you explain what you mean by that?" They're like, "Yeah, I'm going to educate people about financial management," or whatever it was that they do. I was like, "Oh, okay. I see, I see." So then your content pillar in that case would be financial management. Then you have certain types of content under that. Some of them are selling, some of them are providing teaching, right? So that's the education piece. They're doing sort of different things for heavy lifting, but the how is not the pillar. So hopefully that distinction helps.

Jessi:
Yeah, absolutely. So when you're thinking about your pillars, know that the content you create under these pillars can accomplish a lot of different things. You're not boxed into the content only doing one thing. It's not necessarily about what accomplishes. That's a different conversation for a different podcast episode. It's about what the topics are that you're talking about. So we mentioned this a little bit at the beginning of the episode, but why you need them is also a key piece. It's not just because we like the idea of content pillars and they help us with our content. It's because they exist to help you with your content as well, specifically your content strategy.
Often, we hear people talk about content strategy in this very vague term of, "I know I need one, but I don't really have one and I feel like I'm just trying to come up with content based on either what's coming down on the calendar or when inspiration strikes." That's not really an effective way long term. It's going to lead to burnout. If you're constantly trying to come up with new ideas and fit it into the model of your business, it's also going to hurt your sales because people aren't necessarily going to connect all of your content to something you're selling. So by creating this content pillars, it gives you a framework so that when you're sitting down and creating your content strategy, you can absolutely leave room for inspiration. You can absolutely leave room for, I decided all of a sudden I really want to talk about this because it's really important for me. Totally, go for it.
But it also gives you something to fall back on where you have a framework of, okay, these are the topics that are really important to my business. These are the offers that they connect to. I can be creating this content that falls under these pillars, because I know I'm promoting this offer during this quarter. So I want to focus on all the content that falls under this content pillar and all the subtopics that are underneath it.

Marie:
Right. So like Jessi said, it will help you from feeling scattered when it comes to your content strategy. I really want to lean into this point that you were just making about your launches and your offers, which is if you don't go through this process of having content pillars, how do you know that all that content that you're putting out there is actually connected to an offer? So that, again, not selling all the time necessarily, but when you are, people have been prepped, primed, educated, whatever, right? They can make an informed decision about whether your offer is right for them, because you've actually given them enough information and context to really decide that. So even when we're not selling, we're kind of pre-selling in a way, right? Because our content is strategically linked to our offers through these content pillars.
The last reason that content pillars are really important, also something Jessi was touching on, which was about that overall content strategy. Of course, yeah, you do want to be able to be flexible, right, when inspiration strikes or something's happening in the world. But it just really relieves that burden of you having to sit there and scratch your chin and think, "What am I going write about today?" Or, "What am I going to talk about on this podcast episode?"

Jessi:
Yeah. Absolutely. So content pillars have a huge number of benefits if you start implementing them. I think that the quickest, clearest benefit that it has really is that clarity around, oh yeah, this is what I talk about and so now I can just create content around these topics. Often when you're thinking about your content pillars and what falls under them, what specific topics, the act of thinking about them actually sparks content ideas. So this is an activity that you can do. We're going to give you some homework, surprise, surprise, to start thinking about your content pillars, but it's something you can come back to if you're ever feeling like you're kind of at the bottom of the barrel for content ideas. So your homework is to grab a piece of paper and set a timer for like, I don't know, a minute or two and just during that time, write down all of the things that you could talk about in your business. Don't worry about how to categorize them. Just whatever you talk about in your business, jot it down so that you have a long list of all the different possibilities.
Then I want you to grab highlighters, either two or three different colored highlighters. Not more than that, because remember, we want to keep the content pillars to two to three content pillars. The next thing that you're going to do is you're going to look at that list and you're going to try to categorize all of those topics that you wrote down into those two to three colors. You're going to color code them based off of what similarities they have. Every single thing you write down may not fit and that's okay. That's that extra 20% of content that you might be able to slide in sometimes. But at the end of it, you should have a pretty solid list of two to three color coded topics that you can then name those categories and those categories become your content pillars.

Marie:
Yes, you can also do this with sticky notes or index cards and put them into piles. So if you find that there's a lot of stuff that doesn't really fit, then that's a chance for you to evaluate it and say like, "Well, does this actually even really connect to what I'm doing? Is this connecting to like a low priced offer that maybe I could get rid of altogether?" things like that. So this will allow you to do a little bit of spring cleaning within your content and within your offers. Whatever is left, those are your content pillars and now you have a content, or at least the makings, the bones of a content strategy moving forward.

Jessi:
So I also want to just quickly challenge you. When you do this, you see one of two things. One, you have an offer with no content topics connected to it.

Marie:
You're like, "Why isn't this selling?"

Jessi:
Yeah. Or you have a offer that has content conducted to it, but the offer and the content aren't really synced up or don't really match. This is an opportunity for you to see where those holes might be, where you may need to maybe create an offer. Maybe you have content and there's no offer connected to it at all. That may be an opportunity for you to create more content or a new offer, especially if it's content you've been using for a while. You may have been priming an audience for something that doesn't even exist yet without realizing it. So this is a great opportunity.

Marie:
This may mean you might have an amazing lunch.

Jessi:
Right, who knows? You won't know until you start looking at all of the content you're creating and putting it in these categories. So take that with you as you're doing this activity with the idea of really your goal is to get a clear sense of what your pillars are and what your subtopics are.

Marie:
Yeah, because ultimately at the end of the day, you are potentially leaving money on the table if you've not gone through this exercise. So happy content pillaring. Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast. Make sure to visit our website, northstarmessaging.com, where you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, and more.

Jessi:
If you found value in this episode, we'd love for you to leave us a review on iTunes and share it with your friends. Thank you and happy content creating.

For additional content strategy and branding tips, check out northstarmessaging.com/blog. Also, please tag us on Instagram and let us know you’re out there! @northstarmessaging 


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