The Content Strategy Order of Operations: Dear Aunt Sally Lives

Tom Harari takes a look at the classic “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally” order of operations, but with a new twist for content strategy. But don’t worry, Dear Aunt Sally lives.

I recently gave a presentation at iAcquire’s first meetup in NYC, which was partnered with Distilled and held at the Zemanta offices.

The slides themselves are available for viewing and downloading at slideshare.

Who here has finished grade school?

The reason I ask has to do with something you may remember from early math classes when coursework introduced multiple types of operations. There needed to be a set of rules in place so that little Jimmy would know whether or not multiplication happens before or after subtraction.

Enter the Order of Operations, a.k.a Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally.

For those who don’t remember, Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally (PEMDAS) is the mnemonic device to help us remember the mathematical order of operations: 1) parentheses 2) exponents 3) multiplication 4) division 5) addition 6) subtraction.

We at iAcquire tried to come up with a mnemonic device that would represent how we view the Content Strategy process. We ended up calling it, for lack of a better name, DASCPM, or Dear Aunt Sally Can Perform Magic.

What the letters actually stand for are:

D – Discovery

A – Appraisal

S – Staging

C – Creation

P – Promotion

M – Measurement


The first stage, Discovery, is one that is easily overlooked. The reason I say this is that it is oftentimes easy to get excited about the notion of a content refresh or content marketing campaign and head off into the wild without the slightest clue as to what you’re actually doing.

Instead, take the time to reel it back in and do your due diligence at the outset. You’ll be surprised how much easier this makes things down the line.

For instance you might start off by identifying key stakeholders involved in the campaign. This might be the legal department, or those in charge of branding. It might even just be your Marketing Director – whoever it is that will be invested in ensuring that content is successful is someone you should seek out in the early part of this process to get buy-in.

Of course you’ll want to do some market research. If you don’t know who you’re talking to how on earth can you possibly hope to speak their language?

And last, but certainly not least, what are the business goals? What is the ultimate result you hope the content will achieve?

I used a reference from South Park about the underwear gnomes who steal undergarments from people’s laundry and hope to profit but curiously leave out Phase 2. Don’t be an underwear gnome – Identify your business objectives prior to starting out.


Next up is Appraisal which boils down to figuring out what content you currently have and taking inventory of it. Keep in mind this can be both online and offline content. If yours is a business that predates the internet and perhaps you have lots of interesting offline papers, historical documents, pictures, etc. then you would include those during this step.

We’ve provided the community with a Content Audit spreadsheet that iAcquire has used in the past and I highly encourage you download it here: http://iacq.co/11g9muA

Feel free to add to it, change it, what have you. But keep in mind that the point of the audit is for it to be actionable for you in helping you understand how much content exists and what the nature of it. You can choose to examine content through a quantitative lens, a qualitative lens, or a mixture of both. Either way make it actionable for you.


As I said in my presentation, this is where the magic happens. I don’t say that lightly either. The research is all done. You’ve finished all your homework. Now is the time to take everything that’s been learned and map out a process for where new and existing content will live and which antiquated pieces of content will be retired.

The way you do this doesn’t matter all that much, it’s the planning itself that is important. You can use tools like Gather Content or you can use an old-school method of post-its on your office/cubicle wall.

As far as Editorial Calendars go, if you use WordPress there is a really good plugin, strangely enough called Editorial Calendar,  that incorporates a content calendar directly into your Admin Dashboard to let you plan out content pieces.


Next up we have Creation. I don’t know how else to say it other than, go ahead and start creating content.

Stop complaining that it’s hard, expensive, or too time-consuming.

Definitely stop using the lame excuse that you don’t know where to find content creators. Both Mike King and I, amongst many others, contributed to this fabulously long list of outsourced content creators found on Quora.


Once content is created, refreshed, and published, you might want to consider promoting it. I see this set in the process as what people typically refer to as ‘Content Marketing’, which in essence is just a new industry buzzword for – Marketing.

Indeed, Seth Godin a best-selling author on marketing, psychology, and business, was asked at a teleseminar (which I assume is like a webinar but without the screen-sharing part) his thoughts on ‘Content Marketing’. He admitted he’d never heard of the word before when another person on the panel chimed in stating that the term meant “…the creation of valuable and relevant content yourself (instead of using traditional means).”

To which Seth responded:

To that point, I was pleased to see this concept in action a couple weeks back when Shopify launched their Guide to Dropshipping. This well-researched, thoughtfully put-together piece of “big content” was well-timed with my research for this presentation, so I reached out to the Shopify team to learn more.

Mark Hayes, who wears many hats over Shopify managing Marketing, PR, Content, and Social, was kind enough to answer my questions about their content strategy. He said:

Think about that for a moment. Here it is plainly obvious they’ve thought about who their audience is (specifically) and what they are interested in. To meet the demands of this audience Shopify is in plans to create 3-4 guides. For the rest of the year.

It’s easy to go for overkill and say they will produce 3-4 guides per month. Their mandate however is for “each guide [to] be the most comprehensive [guide] available…”. They know very well that good content takes time, resources, careful planning, and an overarching strategy. It doesn’t mean getting everyone including the secretary to start blogging on the corporate blog.


Finally we come to Measurement. If you did your homework in Phase 1, Discovery, you would already know what your KPI’s are and thus measuring success should be a breeze.

However, if you’ve skipped ahead and find yourself at a loss of what you should be measuring to assess performance of content assets, I highly recommend this post by Will Critchlow as well as this one by me.

Lastly, this presentation and blog post wouldn’t be a proper throwback to grade school without a reading assignment. I’ve personally read Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson and I highly recommend it. Many of her ideas and concepts we use regularly at iAcquire.

The other two books are on my personal reading list, and I hope they’ll be on yours as well.

responses to “The Content Strategy Order of Operations: Dear Aunt Sally Lives”

  1. Hilary Marsh says:

    The text is a really helpful addition to the slides — thanks for sharing this! Great presentation, BTW.

    • tharari says:

      Hey sorry, didn’t see this earlier. Thank you Hilary – glad you enjoyed it. I take it you were at the meetup then? Hope to see you at the next one