Content Pillars and Why Your Business Needs Them

July 4, 2020

Great content strategy starts with an intimate understanding of your user personas and a solid set of content pillars. If you’ve skipped either of these steps, the chances are you are randomly firing out content with no real understanding of your audience and their needs. It’s such a simple concept but one all too often overlooked, and the great news is that it’s easily fixed.

The tell-tale signs of a lack of content pillars are frenetic comms with little cohesion, and posts and messaging that look like they were crafted on the spot. You know the ones. Haphazard templates without identity or a hint at who they are intended for, random musings with little purpose and a confused proposition that limits engagement and hampers understanding of your brand’s essence.

The Value of Content Pillars

Content pillars are the themes and principles relevant to your brand, product or service.

So why do you need content pillars at all? The clue is in the name folks. They lay the critical foundations for your strategy, providing vital support for future growth. They provide an indispensable checklist against which you can continually monitor and measure your output and they help all members of your organisation understand the shared vision and purpose of your product or service. They also keep your content strategy focused and are an enormous help when it comes to ideation. Think about it. If you determine several content subs sets or topics of interest, you already have a head start when it comes to what to talk to your audience about. Content pillars are also the most obvious outward expression of what your brand offers and represents; it’s beliefs, values and personality. They speak volumes about your product or service.

Who Are You Talking To?

Content pillars are pretty easy to build but they must always begin with your user personas. Remember, you are not producing content for yourself. The trick is to really consider who you are talking to. What are their needs and paint points? How can you solve a problem, add value or give them a ‘wow’ moment that they’ll savour or maybe even share with a wider audience? The answers to all of these questions should be addressed by your user personas. Just like a pen portrait, these are documents that personify the core consumers for your business. Done well, they are comprehensive and give a real insight into what makes your audience tick. They should cover basic demographics but also take in media consumption preferences, shopping habits, hopes, dreams and ambitions.

How Do I Create Content Pillars?

A good place to start is with a touch of SEO and a trusty pie chart. When customers are searching for you or your type of business what is likely to be the most relevant keyword or phrase they’ll use? Start with this as your key theme and branch out from there with aligned topics. You might find it useful to grab a pack of sticky notes and brainstorm as many themes as you can.

There is no magic number when it comes to content pillars. You can choose as many or as few as you like but we typically advise around 5. You should allocate the highest percentage to your key segment and then split the balance between the rest of your segments. It might help to look at an example.

An Illustration

Imagine you’re a gym business. A good place to start with your pillars will clearly be fitness content but chances are your audience will be interested in meal plans and nutrition to fuel their goals. Form will be important to avoid injury and ‘how-to’s’ will add huge value to your content mix. Video is an obvious choice here for its demonstration capabilities. A ‘reason to believe’ will go a long way to bolster your proposition and give your audience confidence. In the fitness world there’s no better way than case studies – before and after shots and client testimonials. Finally, motivational quotes are easy to produce and there is an abundance of them out there in the ether – just make sure you differentiate them by adapting to suit your brand’s blueprint.

So, at the end of the exercise your content mix might look something like this:

Fitness 50%

Nutrition 25%

Form 10%

Cast Studies 10%

Motivational Quotes 5%

What's Next?

Taking time out at the beginning to develop your content pillars will pay dividends that will create demonstrable value for years to come. They will help you to simplify the planning process and to produce engaging content aligned for every channel. They’ll keep you on track, consistent and allow you to speak with authority.

The next step is to think about is how to disseminate your content. This will mean thinking about your target audience’s media consumption habits and determining the social platforms most relevant to them (back to your user personas). You’ll also need to think about the tools you might use to schedule your content, when to post and what conversations you’ll join to ensure that you’re optimising your engagement.

We’ve hope you’ve enjoyed this introduction to content pillars.

Would you like help creating your user personas or content pillars?