Why Defining a Strategy and Not Wavering Works

At Content Marketing World in Cleveland, Amanda Todorovich gave a talk – How to Build a Killer Content Marketing Strategy – on Cleveland Clinic’s effort to grow an audience for the organization’s Health Essentials newsletter.

Todorovich, director of content marketing, manages a team of writers, designers, digital engagement strategists and project managers. Her team is responsible for the #1 most-visited hospital blog in the country.

The newsletter started at 0 visits and grew to 5 million visits per month in October this year.

I was inspired listening to her talk. She does not minimize the effort required or the mistakes made along the way. You hear about the trial and error. Her presentation shows the possibility of building an audience in a highly regulated field. Health Essentials is a living example of what happens when you do the work, persist and continue to do the work. Eventually, you will earn good results.

So how did she and her team reach this readership?

Here’s my take on some of Todorovich’s tidbits, including her insights and images.

1. Define a Strategy and Stick to It

Before you do anything, Amanda Todorovich recommends forming a strategy and not wavering. It’s the most important step.

“Your blog cannot be all things to all people in your organization. It will not work,” she says. The strategy is the guide to all you do on your blog or newsletter. It is the starting point. And, sometimes, isn’t that the hardest part – the beginning?

“Engage users in daily conversation using health, wellness and clinical content that is unique to Cleveland Clinic.” Cleveland Clinic Health Essentials newsletter strategy

The guidepost helps you choose what topics to pursue and what you do not. She talks about how sticking to the mission means she will sometimes turn down requests from other departmental staff, refuse topics and decline to publish articles.

“I probably spend more than half of my time telling people ‘no’ all day long. I don’t have a lot of friends outside our team, but that’s okay, because it’s working and it’s effective,” she says.

2. Make Customers Your Universe

Make Customers Your Universe by Amanda Todorovich

Every marketer hears the term audience named a number of ways: tribe, community, target market, customers, buyers, users, but no matter how you label your consumer, create content for the people you would like to have a two-way conversation with. Ann Handley also talks about being a writer first and a marketer second. Focusing not on what you want to create but …

“What does the audience need? Not, we need a piece of content for …” Ann Handley


Personify them

Todorovich describes “Judy,” the persona who represents their audience and who they are writing their content for. She shares the importance of making “Judy” real to the team. One way is by placing Judy’s picture at the writer’s or designer’s desk, for example.

Women over 50 years of age like Judy are dealing with more health issues than younger women. They are likely caretakers of themselves, spouses, children and grandchildren. They tend to consume and share heaps of healthcare information.

“In healthcare, we know, that females make 90% of the medical decisions of their families. They are the chief medical officers of their families,” she says.


Solve problems and make decisions

Todorovich says the team delves into the concerns and issues their readers are struggling with and provides well-researched answers.

“We think about Judy, we know what she’s worried about, we know what her problems are and we know what she wants. And that’s evolved over time,” she says.

They are expected to provide plenty of credible information to consumers. They also intentionally speak conversational, in the same manner you would talk about healthcare with your friends and family.

One of the most visited infographics, for example, is about the color of your pee, created about 4 ½ years ago. The doctors wanted the term “urine” used. But how do the non-medical of us refer to the term? Pee. She says she had data to make the case and “pee” won out, partly because “pee” is the term we use in search engines and say among friends.

The Color of Your Pee, Cleveland Clinic


Whether they buy your products or not

Todorovich says they only schedule a few days of articles at a time because they want to be as “hyper-relevant” as possible. “We operate like a newsroom,” she says. They believe they are competing not with other hospitals but with other healthcare publishers.

“We create content that is helpful to people all over the world, knowing the vast majority of them are not going to be Cleveland Clinic patients.” Amanda Todorovich

She stresses thoughtful, strategic and special pieces of content make the difference.


Data tells you everything

The number of articles per weekday has not changed, but the quality has improved because they “measure and test, and test again.” Everyone on the team accesses Google Analytics and listening to the data is everyone’s responsibility.

By publishing three to five news stories of content every weekday, the same amount of content for five years, the content marketing team has built an arsenal of content. They update and optimize the previously published content to gain a return on the investment time and time again.

The depth of content has led to significant growth in search traffic as well. She says two years ago, Facebook was 60 percent of organic traffic all by itself, but today, search traffic is 70 percent.

The experimenting keeps them going and helps the team avoid burnout.

“This is what keeps it interesting too. This is what makes you, as a marketer, excited. What do your users want from you and how can you figure it out? How can you give them what they want?” she says.

Do you see the possibility with your company blog or personal blog to grow?


What do you say?