Investors want returns, you need strategy. What do you do?

Output versus strategy. What do you do?

Investors (often) want to see output with returns. They often want this quickly. So what do you do when you know that building the strategy first is a wiser idea?

You take the middle road.



5 minutes




Find the middle ground first. Once you demonstrate the value in the process, you can always ‘upgrade it’.

Investors want returns, you need strategy. What do you?

For any founder or ‘business owner’, investors are one of the most important (and hidden) groups of interested parties. This article is focused on the issue of the outcome-​focused investor, and how to manage the tension between them and your desire for a strategically focused content project.

Terminology: Interested parties versus stakeholders

Most articles about content strategy talk about ‘stakeholders’, yet stakeholders is far less comprehensive a concept as an ‘interested party’. For the purposes of this article, an ‘interested party’ is anyone that has an interest of any kind in a business activity.

Here is a sample list of interested parties:

  • Investors
  • Boards of directors
  • The founding team
  • Founders and owners
  • The executive team
  • Management
  • Staff members
  • Suppliers
  • Consultants
  • Partners
  • Referring businesses
  • Clients or customers
  • Regulators
  • Accrediting authorities.

Depending on your business, there may be more.

Investors are an interested party with a specific interest in the business. That interest is a financial one. As people who have invested their money into a business, they want to see the business grow.

As the business grows, the investor gains a financial return. The faster the business can grow, and the faster the return this gives the investor, the better.

Not all investors are focused on strategy

As much as we love the idea of investors helping companies to become strategic wizards, it’s often not the case. When it is not the case, strategy falls off the table in pursuit of growth.

This is why we sometimes find a company in which the content team is caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand they are keen to grow the business (and are pressured by investors to do so). But on the other hand, they know that sustainable growth and function requires a level of strategic thinking that is at odds with Pure Action.

Strategic thinking takes time, and sometimes time isn’t available.

Content strategy isn’t a black or white process

Many content strategy books and articles talk about ‘getting stakeholders on board’. In most cases, the ‘stakeholders’ refer to the governing board. Sometimes it’s called the C-​Suite executive. Few articles address the wishes of investors and how to manage them. (You could argue that investors are on the board. This is often true, but not always.)

You can also be forgiven for thinking content strategy is a fairly black or white process. You will often hear that having interested parties on board is a good thing, and that when they’re not, it causes problems. We’ve even written about that ourselves in articles like this one.

What you don’t often hear is that you can mold the process to fit you. When you’re not in a very large organisation, content strategy is a flexible, adaptive process filled with greys.

Adapt your content strategy process

Trying to convince a financially motivated interested party to invest in a process that doesn’t have immediately tangible outcomes can be a lost cause. No matter which way you slice it, it’s a stressful (and often difficult) thing to achieve. It requires education, and demonstration, and (sometimes) data that you pull out of the air.

So, you could persist, and educate, and attempt to find the emotional connection for those people. Or, you could stop trying to climb a very high wall and re-​think the project’s shape.

Content strategy isn’t a my-​way-​or-​the-​highway kind of activity. It is ideal to undertake elements of a content strategy in a certain sequence, but it’s not going to kill you to do it differently.

Yes, it’s ideal to do your user research first and then map user problem solving to content. It makes sense to do it this way, especially if you are trying to craft meaningful, user-​focused content. But if you’re just starting, you don’t have to. In fact, there’s a good argument for the idea of just jumping in feet-​first, and weaving the strategy in as the work unfolds.

You can adapt content strategy process to find the middle road. #investors #stakeholders #contentstrategy

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Find the middle road

When your investors are pressuring you to deliver content to support other activities in the business, you can do some research to understand the space you’re playing in (our Breakaway Map was developed specifically for this purpose). But then you can just get started.

For a business that isn’t really publishing yet, and doesn’t have much in the way of a ‘content ecosystem’, just getting started will do two things for you:

  1. It shows accurately where your workflow works and breaks
  2. It gives you actual data.

It’s a very good idea to get some basics in place before you start. For example, an accountability matrix is going to make sure that relevant players are responsible for certain things.

Beyond that, though, you can build your content strategy system slowly.

Your initial runs on the board will bring you actual data, and will give you preliminary metrics. You will have some founding elements on which to build user experiments and observations. You will have an understanding of uptake. You will also start to demonstrate value or lack of value in the process.

Just getting started also gives you the time to embed the notion of content-​related activity into the organisation. This will in turn help you to bring on board or better align teams that might resist, such as direct sales or resisting management.

Retrofitting content strategy is nearly always possible

Sometimes it’s more work to retrofit a strategic process. Sometimes it takes longer. Sometimes it creates more moving parts that you have to manage. But it’s not impossible; sometimes it’s required.

If you are building a content-​first asset like a website, intranet or app, then retrofitting isn’t suitable. Most content strategy projects, though, start from something. They are re-​visitations of websites or intranets. They are shifting digital assets from one state into another. They are improvements: New things to replace old things. Much less often, content strategy projects are the go-​to for the first foray into publishing.

When you haven’t got anything yet, you’ve never really published anything, and this is new to you, you can stand back and question whether ‘stated sequence’ is required. This question will help you understand where the value is for you, as opposed to value in general.

There is never a correct answer when you are engaged in #strategic work. #contentstrategy

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Strategic work is really a tension resolution process

A strategist works to find the best solution. This means uncovering the tensions on either side of the equation, and working to find the best balance.

Therefore, when your investors are pressuring you just to get started, maybe you’re better off just getting started. One of the benefits of just starting with something is that it enables you to demonstrate the value of the exercise, and to work out what all of the other interested parties’ needs are.

That alone is beneficial, and something that starting from a blank slate won’t necessarily tell you.

Don’t be afraid to question the process right at the beginning. A great content strategy team will want you to have the best outcome. Lean on them for help; and if they won’t help you, maybe they’re not the right team for you.

Need help with your project? Get in touch for a confidential conversation.

Download Free Content Strategy Risk Canvas

Surface the risks in your content strategy project with this free content strategy risk canvas.

Once you can see the risks, you’ll know how to deal with them. Don’t waste time with pages and pages of reports. This one A4-​sized template shows you the big picture all at once.

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