Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: Closing the Loop in Content Strategy

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A guest post by Noz Urbina, Mekon Senior Consultant and Congility 2011* Conference Chairperson

* Keep reading for discounted and even free entry opportunity.

The Hole in Holistic
There’s an industry buzz about Content Strategy. But, in it, there’s a tendency to define Content Strategy as near synonymous with internet marketing strategy, or worse, clever web copy writing.

There’s regularly an assumption that we’re talking about B2C mass-market writing where we’re trying to drive web conversions, ‘excite’ customers, and drive click-throughs.

Although web marketing projects need content strategy, I don’t think that adequately defines the discipline. All dentists are doctors, but not all doctors are dentists.

Content Strategy is in its adolescence, and the discipline is asking: Who are we? Why are we?

Many thought-leaders feel Content Strategists are the ones who:

Go where the business problems are, identify the content issues, lay out the strategy for how to fix them; or fix them ourselves.

This implies a holistic approach, not simply a sales and marketing basis. And there’s good reason for that. Brand strategists and managers, UX designers, marketers, all say: every touch point affects the customer experience. Everything in the CX affects brand, and therefore revenues. Damn the silos! We thump our chests and declare that content needs to be consistent, relevant, on-brand and value-adding across the board. Ipso facto: You have to go holistic to make sure that there isn’t a hole somewhere in the UX.

But the net (pun intended) is being spread so wide with content today that there’s so many more ways for holes to creep in that previously:

In today’s electronically enabled (eNabled?) world, technical information of various forms is available online, so prospects can often see it before they become customers, making all content in some way ‘presales’.

Content is becoming more “agile”, and once created pops up in more and more incarnations and formats that was ever conceivable before.

On her blog, discussing the rift between SEO and Content Strategy, Kristina Halvorson – Author of “Content Strategy for the Web” said:

‘A content strategist’s primary role in any project or organization is to create and maintain a “holistic perspective” of current and future content states.

Whether the content strategy is focusing on marketing content, internal communications, in-the-cloud content, or any other kind of content, our work is driven by business results, every time.’

Too right.

Everyone (generally) chimed in on Kristina’s blog to agree we should be collaborative across specialties in the content landscape – in that case SEO v CS. My 110% favourite comment was:

‘heatherrast …sounds like an objective ripe for collaborative, sustained efforts to me. The marketplace can’t support fractured efforts and closed ranks. Departmentalism is what was wrong with business 15 years ago.

Silos and labels keep professionals with a common overarching objective from learning from and influencing the outcomes of one another’s contributions. It takes all kinds of savvy folks to make the best magic happen, and a commonly held content strategy ensures all contributors are producing with a single vision..’

But product data content strategy and product marketing content strategy are often at odds. The former focuses on enabling the customer towards their goals, that deals with persuading the customer along with the corporate goals. Different departments, different budgets, different IT, different agendas, cultures, personalities and language. But they need to work together.
Nikki Tiedke, eBay’s EU Senior Content Strategist and a case study presenter at Congility 2011, said to me: “Content Strategists have to become (internal) consultants,” in relation to how much change management and internal bridge-building needs to be done to get the business and the users what they want. A CS that is optimised for the business demands we get past the divides, and close the loop in pre/post-technical/marketing content.

Expanding the Content Strategy Footprint
A case study where a customer wanted to optimise content for their customer needs and better leverage content to address business goals.
These included:

  • Speaking with one ‘voice’ across the organisation, especially important for groups where content sources were not native English speakers or via social media.
  • Integrating of communication teams that were geographically dispersed and historically from different acquired companies
  • Establishing of a corporate taxonomy to make sure everyone referred to things the same way and that navigation could be coherent regardless of management system or source
  • Eliminating all possible instances of off-brand, contradictory or confusing content
  • Enabling single-sourcing/reuse
  • Lowering localisation costs for their 14+ regions
  • Enabling customers with optimised/fat-free, high-value content
  • Further increasing brand equity
  • Integrate other internal systems to personalise communications

All pretty standard CS/UX stuff. So we did the usual CS/UX/IA stuff:

  • A content inventory and audit
  • A user workflow analysis to map requirements
  • Created writing guidelines and content models
  • An information architecture and metadata taxonomy
  • Laid out a cross-channel delivery strategy
  • Reviewed and implemented a CMS.

Bla bla bla…

The difference is what they make. They are medical device manufacturers, and they make radiation therapy hardware and software so esoteric to the average person, they could easily confuse them for Star Trek props.

They make software so advanced that some of their development team members aren’t software programmers, they’re physicists. They do physics, like, “How much gamma radiation* will I need deliver, given the mass of the human skull, in order to burn a tumour off the optic nerve?” Their software also did things like help administrators manage the hospital pay role and schedule planning just to make the user personas extra complicated.

* Seriously. Gamma radiation! I thought that was just a comic book thing.

To optimise the content needed to market, use, and service this type of thing, you are going to have to align content across various stakeholders, formats and languages.

I am passionate about the idea of bringing content strategy across the traditional boundaries of both industry and department as we are achieving in this project. We need to align content with business goals, regardless of the source department or destination deliverable. If we need to start with one department, so be it, but solutions and strategies should be technically and logically future-proofed so that the organisation could at least potentially be headed towards better collaboration. You shouldn’t paint your content into a corner.

If this kind of idea interests you, or if you’re just looking to know what the various contributing platforms like CCMS, DITA, XML, S1000D and Content Strategy are all about, then you’re more than welcome to join the party at Congility.

Congility 2011, this May 24-26, just outside London, England is for content professionals looking to advance their organisation’s goals with better content strategy, management and process. It is the only European platform bringing together such a diversity of content experts and learning opportunities under one roof. Learn from ‘The Mother of Content Management’, Ann Rockley, renowned content strategist Rahel Bailie, and case studies from eBay, Nokia, AMD, IBM, AGFA and more.

As part of an arrangement with this blog, you could attend completely free, by taking advantage of this unique discount code. The first person to use the code below will be given access to the conference (but not workshops) at no cost to them besides travel and expenses. Everyone else who uses the code will be entitled to the 20% discount*:

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* If you can’t go even at 20% discount, you can cancel your registration without commitment or penalty.