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What is a content pillar?

Managing a comprehensive content program is no small task. Between trying to elevate yourself to think about objectives, you also need to get your hands dirty and manage production. This is where content pillars become a key element of a good content strategy, to ease some of the daily grind.

Definition of a content pillar

A content pillar is a group of content topics that have a common theme or connection, directly related to your brand’s business goals, that your audience is actively seeking.

What are the key elements of a content pillar?

A content pillar has a number of characteristics that a content strategist needs to consider when defining it:

  1. It’s about your audience (it always is): It needs to be about something your audience has in terms of content needs. This means it is content that your audience is actively looking or searching for and that will catch their attention if they see it.
  2. It’s also about your brand (obviously): A content pillar you define for your brand should also by all means be about a topic your brand has an interest in publishing content about. Your audience may be interested in fly fishing, but if you’re developing B2B software for the healthcare industry, chances are you’re not as relevant as the local outdoor retailer on what techniques you need to know well to catch the fish you want. So your content pillar must be tied to a message, a business objective, that your brand wants to convey.
  3. It has to be about MULTIPLE content topics: A content pillar is a group of smaller content topics. As you will want to work with a limited number of pillars in your content strategy, you need to be able to list at least 20 specific topics related to the content pillar so that you can start considering it big enough. If your pillar is too narrow, you will end up with too many of them and it will make your creative process a bit heavier, and harder and your content program will be harder to manage. You should be able to find a clear common thread between all the content topics you place under a content pillar.

How many content pillars should my content strategy have?

The easy answer: it depends.

Usually, we’ve found at Toast that a content strategy will work well when you have between 4 and 7 content pillars. The idea is to be able to work with a reasonable number of pillars, while still being able to extract insights from your content assets produced under each pillar.

Should I have content pillars for each of my audiences?

Once again: it depends.

We’ve seen brands where their content program’s audiences are very different and the interests and needs in terms of content can also be greatly different. This means that since a content pillar needs to be about something that your audience will want to watch, read or listen to, there might be situations where content pillars will be grouped by audiences.

And note that in such cases, your brand might well end up having more than 7 content pillars (see previous section).

What are examples of content pillars?

Here are two examples of sets of content pillars. By reading both lists, you can imagine the amount of content opportunities in each pillar. This is what makes a great pillar work. It groups content is precise enough, but still have great creative opportunities available to the content team.

Content pillars for a travel brand:

  • Lodging and restaurants at the destination;
  • What do to, what to see at the destination;
  • Practical information at the destination;
  • Pricing information;
  • Flight experience.

Content pillars for transportation global brand with an audience of transportation enthusiasts, potential employees and investors:

Build success & status;

  • Lift passions for tech and knowledge;
  • Support local and efficient consciousness;
  • Seek challenges and achievements;
  • Love a craftsman’s brand;
  • Connect with the world.

What are the advantages of using content pillars?

Using content pillars allow to easily document content opportunities and be able to create a defined sandbox in which content creators can work. What we’ve seen with some of our clients is that when no pillars are used, content doesn’t have a clear direction. Audiences don’t develop expectations about what the brand is publishing and creativity goes in every direction.

With content pillars, you are able to orient the creative process, analyze what really interests your audience (by grouping insights and KPIs by pillar), and allows the entire team to understand what is allowed in terms of content, and what isn’t.

When segmenting performance and insights by content pillars, you are also giving yourself the opportunity to evaluate how each is performing when presented to your audience. You might have thought that a certain theme would really interest your audience but when looking at results, you might want to tone down effort on a specific pillar and raise the volume of production on another one that is performing really well.

Should all the content a brand publishes fit into a content pillar?

Yes.

Your content pillars become the guides that decide what content can be produced, and what shouldn’t make the cut.

This means that all content should fit in one (or more) of your pillars.

It also can help with managing internal stakeholders that might have requests that do not fit into a content pillar. When this happens, your team is able to come back to them and say: “We’ve established that currently, we are producing content for our audiences on these themes and your request does not fit in the potential topics we address, is there a way to reframe the message so that it fits into one of our pillars?”

Conclusion

Content pillars are a key component of great content strategies. If you look at the Content Strategy Canvas we’ve developed (you can download a copy of our guide by clicking the link), they are an element of your Content Library, defined thanks to the work done on studying Audience Segments while also knowing what the main business objectives and KPIs are.

If defining content pillars for your brand seems to be a challenge or you would like our team to review the pillars you are currently working with, reach out to us today and we can work with you in tandem to find and optimize the best content pillars for you!