Content Strategy

Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits

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Content Isn’t King

At a conference, I was asked a question about the role of content, and someone quoted the phrase: “content is king”, but has content been dethroned?

To frame the answer requires some context of understanding of the expression. “Content is King” is usually used to illustrate how organizations should prioritize resources when there aren’t enough to go around. It tells us that developing the right content is essential – fundamental – and definitely not the place to compromise. Rahel and I, and many others who we respect greatly have used the expression and many may still use it today.

However, there’s a downside to this expression. Calling content “king” is prioritising the tool over the objective. Similarly, when we say “content first”, it should be in an effort to help transition people who are focussed on “mobile first”, “print first”, “visual design first” or similar, to a less format-led way of thinking. After that first transition, we should very quickly move on to clarifying that the strategy of the business is always priority, and that content is not a goal in and of itself. Content is not king.

When they’re consuming content, users want to accomplish something. They might want to learn, evaluate, understand, use, install, enjoy, be inspired, and so on. For this to happen, we must transmit knowledge from the organization to the user. That, in turn, needs content. In that paradigm, content is two steps removed from the objective itself. This is true in B2B and B2C enterprise on all points on the “enable vs persuade” spectrum. If an organization is selling or informing or training, content is the asset, or currency, that needs to change hands in order for the objective to be realised.

This focus on the objective rather than the asset is the reason to change focus from content to organisational strategy. Tom Johnson in a post on “I’d Rather Be Writing” (http://bit.ly/144rzwn) and by Gerry McGovern on “New Thinking” (http://bit.ly/12DjFnd) have both discussed similar themes. We should avoid attachment to content, as with new times and channels, its value can depreciate, and it must be replaced or refreshed ruthlessly according to current and future contexts.

This whole perspective runs counter-intuitive for communications professionals who have either internalised content as their own value to the organisation or internalised the idea that raising the perceived value of content is essential to getting resources behind it.

But content is not the content professional’s value-add. The value-add is the skill of knowing what customers want and responding, to help them “get stuff done”. Content is simply the tool. To change others’ perception of the value of content to win support, it helps to acknowledge that content perception is a side-effect of its power to solve business problems. Or, at very least, changing the perception of content is a part-effect of the main focus: raising the perceived value of the content professional’s role in making sure users have a great experience with your brand.

Instead of saying to people who don’t care about content – but who do care about user satisfaction and profits – that they should start, then asking for resources to make better content and then impact user satisfaction and profit, start with the opposite focus. Assert that you have ways to improve user satisfaction that will advance the organization’s strategic and financial goals. Show how you’ve aligned your initiative with what your analysis has said the users want and need. And that you’ve done it in the context of organisational goals. Show them how you could make the necessary changes to how customers are served. Then say you’ll need resources. Some of those resources will go into content and some of it into infrastructure, and the result anticipated for the business is X and for users is Y. That’s a message that any business person can appreciate.

In short, content isn’t king. It’s the filling in the sandwich – between user needs and the business interests – exactly where it should be.

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Why “Content First” Makes Sense

Mobile first is the battle cry of many an organization today. The phrase make me grit my teeth to the point of pain. Here’s why.

I’ve been in the business long enough to remember when content was created in a “print only” world.

Then, it became print first, with substantial post-production work being done to create a version for online help. As a technical communicator, we had thousands of pages to maintain, and the conversion quickly became a tedious chore.

Eventually, the light went on and we flipped the paradigm, generating help-first content, with print becoming the secondary output. It soon became output to web, online help, and print. Then came ebooks (not the ebooks of today, but those of the early 1990s), and we were challenged to output to web, online help, print, and ebooks.

Technology was keeping up with needs of content but just barely. At some point, there was a joint realization that technology was moving too fast to place any one “first” in the middle. There was a push to create a system that would make content ready for any new thing that came along.

Now we have the mobile. And next year? Who knows. Trying to keep up is a mug’s game. You can’t keep pace – technology is moving too fast to continually be reworking content.

Technical communicators, often charged with writing the “dull” content, have figured out how to beat the system. (With thousands of pages to maintain, they had to!) Rather than focusing on any output, focus on the content. Then transform the content to whatever output is needed – even ones you may not know you need yet.

Download “Content First” Slides

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eBook now available

The ePub and Kindle versions of Content Strategy are now available from XML Press at an introductory price of $19.95 (retail is $24.95).

You can purchase them directly through the following links:

The ebook will also be available soon from other retailers, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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Download: Multiplicity – Content Overload Hidden in Plain Sight

These slides are yours to use in your presentations to get across just how many actual deliverables can move through an organisation, and illustrate how necessary it is to have a content strategy to handle them all.

These slides summarize and illustrate concepts Noz and Rahel have both discussed on their blogs, and support the in-depth text of Chapter 16: The Nature of Content where we discuss “multiplicity”: the common state of having multiple stakeholders, outputs, channels and audiences involved in a content.

An modern organization can easily execute tens of thousands of publishing actions every year across their teams and departments. All this publishing, and the net effect on users, is often not visible to team members, managers and decision makers, because all the different moving parts and activities are spread out across time and space.

Publishing activities – digital and print – are grouped and managed within the boundaries of separate projects, channels, budgets and areas of the organizational chart.

In our projects, new and updated pages per year can easily exceed 100,000, multiplied by print and web this means nearly a quarter of a million pages needing (re)publishing with increasing demand for more versions of the content for specific audiences, and more formats.

Download “Multiplicity” Slides

See also:

 

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Download: Yes Virginia, Even Chalk on the Sidewalk

Here’s our holiday gift for you:

Our first two downloadable slides for use when making the case for content strategy.  These slides look at the endless possibilities of semantic content and multi-format.

Enjoy and have a great break!

Download “Yes, Virginia” Slides

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Why we changed the book name

There are lots of books out there: Content Strategy for the WebContent Strategy for MobileContent at Work, and so on. Similarly, our book was going to be titled Content Strategy for Decision Makers. However, it turns out there is a bit of a problem with that title: our intended audience didn’t consider themselves decision-makers. The disconnect was the term “decision-maker.”

Team leads, project managers, operational managers, project directors, and people in related positions make lots of decisions, but they associated decision-making with pay grades higher than theirs: their senior managers, directors, vice-presidents, or C-level executives. Our book was not for those C-level executives – they may sign off on the strategy brought before them, but they leave the investigation and recommendations to decision-makers at a more operational level.

If our advance readers weren’t sure what role “decision maker” referred to, we couldn’t expect that the average bookstore browser would identify with the title either.  But what to call what we’d affectionately started calling The Damn Book? In brainstorming new titles, we realised that the difficulty was in narrowing the audience.  The book illustrates the who, when, and especially why, of a strategically aligned and systematic approach to dealing with content. It’s not the how-to level that a practitioner expects to carry out a content strategy, but for the person the practitioner reports to.

The book is for the manager or team lead who is called upon to adopt a content strategy and wonders what that actually means, or the project manager who is being asked to lead a CMS implementation and doesn’t understand it, so doesn’t know how to begin estimating the activities involved. It’s for the director who is being asked for head count and doesn’t know why it’s important to have particular skill sets. It’s for the mid-level managers who need to explain the benefits to the executives who will sign off on the budget for their initiatives.

So the new title doesn’t narrow, but expands. Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits focuses on just that: the nexus point between the content, the business, the brand, and the benefits that can be identified and realised when that nexus is properly addressed with process, people, policy, and tools. In short, the focus is on everything we think that content strategy is and should be. And this is articulated at levels useful both to those who are trying to put content and their work into meaningful business terms, and to the uninitiated who are approaching the topic from the “what is it and why should I care?” perspective. We hope that you’ll see Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits as a book for you.

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Online during October 2012

In a departure from the usual publication process, we are putting Content Strategy for Decision Makers online until the end of October.

We are encouraging decision makers, project managers, and content strategy and user experience professionals to read the book and give us feedback – before we commit to print.

To participate, click the button on the home page at http://contentstrategyfordecisionmakers.com.