Published on October 23rd, 2009 | by Rahel Bailie6
Naming the “other” type of content strategy
- A while back, I started a thread on the STC Content Strategy SIG to get some consensus around what to call “our” type of content strategy. This was in response to having a couple of content strategy books in the marketplace that don’t really cover the breadth and depth of what we do for our clients and organizations.
The issue with “Content strategy for the Web” is that for me, the Web a single output format. What happens when I put the some content out on the Web, and send it to Training to incorporate into their training materials, and share it with the Customer Support group, so they can incorporate it into the knowledge base for service reps, and send it out to a PDF so it can be printed as a manual? My mandate is obviously bigger than “the Web,” but more importantly, the framing shouldn’t be by output channel.
While the term “content strategy for the Web” doesn’t say this explicitly, there are several implicit connotations: the content is marketing content, and the Web is where content consumers go to read it. The differences between content for the [marketing] Web and [marketing] print material has to do with length, look, keywords, search engine optimization, and so on.
Ann Rockley gave her earlier book, Managing Enterprise Content, the subtitle of “a unified content strategy” but the concept of “unified” is not well understood by our audiences. Unifying what and what: Web and not-Web? Marketing and technical? When the questions I get asked start with “what do you mean by the word content?” the whole idea of unification becomes a hurdle that sometimes my audiences never get to. The type of content strategy I provide isn’t the normal definition of enterprise-wide. It doesn’t include email and ediscovery, or records management for HR, or ERP data, or any of the stuff that information-management gurus look at as enterprise content management.
Yet we know that the power to name what we do can define expectations – not to mention make search terms so much more effective! So what do we do? In an effort to frame our focus, I looked at our activities, deliverables, and scope of content, and realized that there are a couple of basic common denominators:
- The content is on the critical path. We’re not talking about email or HR records. We’re talking critical-path product content. The content is related to the product being sold or service being provided. This means product content that gets used in multiple contexts: technical documentation, training, and customer support, and marketing, as well as content that gets turned into product content, such as engineering specifications, product-related user-generated content, and content used in a social media context.
- The content either supports pre-sales purchasing decisions, or it supports the post-sales relationship between you and your customers. The content may not always be customer-facing, but it is used to build the customer relationship. Why both of these stages are important is because the pre-sales stage is like dating; and the post-sales stage is like marriage. Consumers, and perhaps more importantly, industry analysts, look to see what the relationship will be like once you’re hitched, and they do that during the dating stage. So the content we’re concerned with is, essentially, relationship content.
Joe Gollner calls it “content in the context of forming persistent business relationships.” I like this definition because it defines the content by its function rather than by its output mechanism. However, someone might posit that email exchanges between staff and customers also serve the purpose of forming or maintain persistent business relationships.
I then (re)turned to Karen Donoghue’s book, Built for Use: Driving Profitability Through the User Experience, wherein she makes it clear that every successful transaction that a user has with a website has the effect of taking a step closer to a trust relationship; every unsuccessful transaction send the user a step (or two or ten steps) away from that relationship, and in some cases, irreparably damages the relationship.
Given that part of my mantra is cross-silo consistency – your content should be consistent on your site, in your print documents, in your PDFs, on your product packaging, in your service agreements, in the software interface, and wherever else it appears, AND throughout the entire lifecycle of the content – then the logical conclusion I draw is to connect my type of content strategy to the user experience. User experience helps form and retain persistent business relationships; content is a critical component of a user experience.
Then, do I call this user relationship content? I can just see the look on the face of an executive as he mutters something under his breath to the effect that his company doesn’t have a dating site. As a good content strategist, I realize the importance of crafting content to be effective for my audience. So who is my audience: the practitioners who want a technically accurate description of the craft, or the decisions-makers who are potential clients for my services?
In this case, I have to admit that I’m leaning toward a client audience, and hence the designation of content strategies for the product life cycle. Product life cycle is a term that resonates with product managers, program managers, and other mid-level to executive-level management, and all the content related to the product lifecycle – soup to nuts, so to speak, of the content lifecycle – is what is at stake in my type of content strategy. When I use this phrase to describe this to potential project sponsors, will they understand it? Will we do our field of practice justice by calling my work product life cycle content strategies? Let the debate begin!