Diving into Functional Content

Diving into Functional Content in Four Easy Steps!

By: Jen Mears, Account Supervisor

Functional content marketing is all the rage. All the smart agencies are talking about it. And, our favorite websites are even building out whole editorial sections about it. Functional content marketing is about creating experiences that enrich the lives of your audience while offering measurable results for you or your clients.

If your marketing plan hasn’t included functional content marketing, here are some tips to get started:

1. Do some intense audience research.

Before you even decide what medium or platform to build your content for, determine who your audience is. Then, figure out where they are. And, embrace the process! Create target audience profiles: Sally is female, married, and has been retired for 2-3 years. She enjoys knitting, doing crossword puzzles, writing letters to friends and family, and playing games with friends. Sam is 17 and a high school junior. He likes Seth Rogan films, plays “Call of Duty” on PlayStation 4, and friends refer to him as “Selfie Sam.” Building these profiles, which marketing folks often call “personas,” is a great exercise to start thinking through not just your messaging but also the medium in which you’re going to broadcast those messages.

Here’s how personas help you:
If you wanted to recruit people like Sally for a big Bridge tournament in your community, would you produce a high-action video? And, if you wanted to recruit members to join your military branch (we do this a lot at iostudio), would you send “Selfie Sam” a letter in the mail? As you’re reading that, you might be thinking, “Thanks, Captain Obvious.” But, I’ve seen clients experience “Aha!” moments when their content marketing hasn’t been speaking to or reaching the right audience. Developing personas helped make those realizations happen.

2. Define success criteria.

Figuring out what action you want your audience to take will also help determine your message and your medium. If you’re looking for audience engagement on social media, you might want to stay away from Snapchat*, for example, since there are fewer ways for users to engage with a post.

How defining success criteria helps you:
In this case, it may be fun to use the Snapchat platform, but fun doesn’t get you closer to your goal. Once success is defined for each content platform, that definition, or criteria, will guide the narrative you deliver and support your call to action.

*While Snapchat has historically been less engagement friendly, they are taking some steps to change that.

3. Optimize your content.

Again, this feels like a no-brainer, but this simple step gets missed way too often. Functional content needs to be optimized for the chosen medium, platform, and success criteria. At a recent “Studio 54” theme party, someone caught the right lighting and took a fantastic photo of me in my crop top and bell-bottoms. My first thought was obviously to use it as my Facebook Cover Photo.

Unfortunately, once it was uploaded, the tight tummy I somehow had in the photo was stretched across the screen and didn’t look so tight at all! I was happy to discover it looked fine as my profile picture, but it definitely wasn’t right as the cover. That’s what optimization looks like—picking the right content for the right context.

How optimizing your content helps you:
You can’t create one piece of content to be successful across all platforms. Your social media followers could be different from your email subscribers. And, if you’re ever going to get your audience to take the action you want them to take, your content must speak to the right people in the right way. The good news is that if you do this right, your content will encourage action and build your audience’s brand loyalty. It’s a win-win.

4. Be hypervigilant.

After publishing each piece of content, no matter how small it seems, you have to be right on top of the data delivered by the platforms. Compare your defined measurements for success with the data, and actively tweak your strategies. You may consider enlisting a third-party agency to implement custom tracking, so the data is delivered in an easy-to-understand and easily tweakable fashion.

How hypervigilance helped us:
For one of our clients, we’ve discovered that “feel-good” stories generate fabulous engagement on social media. Obviously, everything we post for them is actionable (think, “Click here for how you can help!”). Our fans click, they like, they love, and they share, ultimately achieving our social media goal of empowering the audience and developing a trusted community. But, when we sent out an emailed survey (to EMAIL subscribers), the client was surprised by the results. Over 45% of respondents felt that the same “feel-good” stories were least useful to them when reading the e-newsletter. If we hadn’t been vigilant about comparing our data to our success criteria, we would’ve never noticed and kept sending content our audience didn’t want.


Putting the fun in functional content marketing is more than just finding a fire-and-forget solution, but rather it’s a constant management process.  Execute these four steps over and over, and you’ll begin to hone in on the best platforms and messages to elevate your content marketing. Above all, you’ll speak to your target audience in their language and meet them where they want to be met. These two outcomes foster loyal audiences who engage with your brand.


 Jen Mears

Jen oversees accounts for state government, regional brands and national industry heavyweights, providing strategic direction for integrated marketing initiatives. She’s fluent in video production, visual branding, content strategy, paid/earned media and social media. She brings almost 15 years of experience to the marketing table in client management for industries that include consumer packaged goods, nonprofit and higher education. She’s also not nearly cool enough to live in East Nashville, but that’s where you’ll find her at home researching her fantasy football team.