Our Blog

Archive for the ‘Content Strategy’ Category

Show Me the Content Strategy!

by Julie Vollenweider

Hi, Brain Traffic. Before we continue, can you send me an example content strategy?

It’s quite common for me to hear this question during preliminary conversations for project work. Despite being a regular request, it’s not an easy one to answer, for three main reasons:

  • Differences in vocabulary (how you define certain terms)
  • Specifics unique to your needs and project
  • Key drivers for why you want to see a sample

Content strategy document samples

With content strategy, there's no "one-size-fits-all" approach.

Although this is a complex question to address, it’s not impossible. Here’s how it breaks down …

Vocabulary

As an emerging discipline, “content strategy” can mean different things to different people. At Brain Traffic, our view of content strategy includes four main components—substance, structure, workflow, and governance. We call it the quad.

However, not everyone thinks about content strategy in these terms. For example, to some, content strategy means editorial components like an editorial calendar or a content style guide. To others, content strategy means cataloguing and organizing content. And the list goes on …

That’s why before sharing samples, it’s important to align expectations for content strategy, including:

  • What comprises your definition?
  • What’s your ideal approach? (If you don’t know, here’s our suggested methodology.)
  • What are your desired deliverables and outcomes?

Specifics

In addition to differences in content strategy vocabulary, your content needs, opportunities, circumstances, and resources are unique—every content strategy project is different.

Because we embrace each project’s unique attributes, our work at Brain Traffic is highly customized. That’s why our work doesn’t yield a “standard” content strategy deliverable that can easily translate as a sample. What we created for Client X isn’t necessarily going to be a meaningful illustration of how we can help you with your content.

So, the next step in our conversation is to talk about your unique situation, including:

  • A brief description of your proposed content strategy project
  • What you hope content strategy will achieve for your organization
  • Timing and budget requirements

Drivers

Finally, it’s important to get a sense for why you are asking to see an example content strategy. Do you need to:

  • Prove to your organization that you need content strategy?
  • Vet our experience solving issues or uncovering opportunities similar to yours?
  • See the level of detail we’ll include in our deliverable(s)?

The driver for your request may be more effectively demonstrated with a customized presentation of Brain Traffic’s capabilities and methodology, relevant case studies of our previous work, a conversation with one of our current clients, annotated excerpts from a related deliverable, a combination of all the previous items, or something else entirely.

The moral of the story is that we’d love to help you out! In order to do that most successfully, we’ll need to have an exploratory conversation to confirm your request, get a sense for your potential project, and understand how we can get you the most important information.

View Comments

Posted in Content Strategy

No-pout Routes: Ways to Do Content Strategy on a Budget

by Melissa Rach

Maybe you’re a small organization. Or maybe you’re trying to introduce content strategy to a large one. Either way, getting the budget for a full-fledged content strategy can be a challenge. But never fear, just because you don’t have a lot of budget doesn’t mean you have to stand around looking like our friend, Eel Poutface.

Eel poutface

You can make a lot of progress by starting slow and getting a few quick wins. Here are a few ways Brain Traffic helps clients with limited budgets get some content strategy satisfaction.

Audits & diagnostics

It’s often said, “knowing is half the battle.” Audits and diagnostics are the quickest way to get to know your content and content processes inside out. During these projects, you take a thorough look at your content and/or content processes, in order to:

  • Understand the scale and scope of your content or resource expenditures
  • Identify risks and opportunities
  • Make the business case for further content strategy work
  • Prioritize future content projects

When you’re done with audit and diagnostic work, you’ll be able to back up your opinions about content with real examples and stats. Persuasive tangible data, like this:

Content audit graphic

There are a wide variety of ways you can do audit and diagnostic projects, but the two most popular requests we receive are:

  • Qualitative content audit—A content audit (sometimes called an inventory) is a traditional way to kick off content strategy efforts. During an audit, you’ll go through your content, piece-by-piece, with a fine-tooth comb. A qualitative assessment is an audit that helps you understand the quality of the content you have. You can measure your content against industry best practices, competitive benchmarks, strategic business objectives, or all of the above. You can look at all of your content or just do a sample. At the end of the audit, you’ll have a thorough understanding of what content you have and what state it’s in.
  • Content organization diagnostic evaluation (CODE)—You’re probably familiar with financial auditors who review a business’ financial processes and records. A CODE works the same way, but it’s focused on content and has no threat of reporting you to the IRS. In fact, it’s not scary at all. Basically, a third-party content expert (or team of experts) takes a good, hard look at your content ecosystem—they examine your content, your content workflow, the user’s needs, competitive strategies, industry trends, and more. Whether you do a comprehensive CODE (which takes several weeks) or an accelerated workshop version, you’ll wind up with a better understanding of your pain points—what causes them and how to eliminate them. And, you’ll likely discover new areas of competitive advantage to boot. Bonus!

Quick-start strategies

If content strategy is new to your organization, another terrific option is to start with a small, contained content strategy project. That way you can:

  • Introduce your organization to content strategy concepts
  • Get measurement data to prove your case
  • Show concrete results—with your own content

If your project goes well, you can share the results with anyone and everyone. It’s much easier to get a bigger budget next time, when you can prove past victories—no matter how small. Again, here are a few of the most popular budget-friendly services Brain Traffic offers:

  • Strategy sprint—A strategy sprint is a two-day, facilitated workshop where you, your key content stakeholders, and Brain Traffic team members sit in a room and go through the content strategy process at a super-human pace. (Think Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, without Ty Pennington or his megaphone.) At the end, you get a preliminary content strategy (accompanied by a long list of assumptions and to-dos). If you’re a medium or large organization, a sprint can be a perfect way to jumpstart a larger conversation about content strategy. If you are a small organization OR have a really small project, you can take the strategy and run with it.
  • Strategy pilot—You can also do a full-scale content strategy for a small segment of your content. In her blog post, “The Inside Job,” Brain Traffic’s Christine Benson advises: “Find low visibility content with high potential. People often have strong opinions about the home page and main section pages. These content hot spots can be difficult starting points until you have some success stories to back you up. Look for things that have high potential for customer engagement, but usually get ignored. Support content like help sections, customer service pages, or error messages are good candidates.”

Awareness initiatives

If you have absolutely no budget for content projects right now, don’t be discouraged. No matter what, keep building your case for content strategy, slowly but surely.

Keep engaging your colleagues in content strategy conversations:

  • Do brown bag lunches to discuss what content strategy is, and how it could help your organization
  • Forward relevant blog posts or pass around your copy of Content Strategy for the Web
  • Or, contact us to have a Brain Traffic strategist do an hour-long webinar about content strategy for your team

And, get involved with the content strategy community:

Keep at it, and be patient. It’ll be worth it.

OR, you could just pout it out

Of course, if you’d rather not take any action AT ALL, you can try to pout it out. At Brain Traffic, we don’t have any experience with that method, but who knows, it might work. Maybe the people at the Eelpout Festival can give you some pointers.

View Comments

Posted in Content Strategy

Workflow That Works

by Christine Benson

How many great ideas never get implemented or maintained because nobody ever bothered to figure out who would do the work? Or work was assigned to someone, but no one ever looked at the tasks that person was already doing?

Out of the four components of content strategy, substance and structure seem to grab the majority of the conversation. Known as the “content” components, they define what kinds of content are needed and how to prioritize and organize them.

But if content is a business asset, then workflow is what brings that asset to market. Imagine launching a new product without considering the cost of production, manufacturing resources, quality control, distribution, etc. Unfortunately, many organizations design websites and communication plans without considering the resources necessary to support them.

Now, I’m not trying to crush anyone’s dreams. I’m all for vision and aspirations. But you need to create a real plan for how you’re going to get there. Here are a couple of places to start.

There’s more work than you think

A friend of mine used to say, “Everyone’s the star of their own movie.” I have witnessed this to be true 95% of the time for anyone dedicated to a project. Since it’s their main focus, it’s hard to remember that it may not be everyone else’s.

It’s easy to underestimate how many other things people have to do, and the toll that takes on getting things done. Here’s a simple tool for getting to the bottom of how someone’s time is actually being spent.

Write down EVERYTHING you’re responsible for getting done in an average week. Assign percentages to those tasks. You only get 100%.

Workflow piechart

Once you have those percentages, map them to hours. As a default, use 40 hours.

 

Tasks
Percentage
Hours
Creating/editing content 55% 22
Project meetings 10% 8
Submitting requests 5% 2
Reviewing content 8% 3+
Communication plans 2% <1
Reviewing requests 5% 2
Random requests 5% 2
Personal development 5% 2
Non-content organizational needs 5% 2

 

This chart shows how much time a person actually has. It facilitates conversations about what tasks might need to shift or go away to get something done. Sure, a request for a single page may not take that long. But it’s essential to understand how that request fits into the overall process and flow of tasks for all the people involved.

Take writing, for example

Often, time estimated for writers is relative to the time given to the designers. Here’s the problem with that: designers create templates, writers create individual, specific pages. Certainly, it can take longer to get the visual design done and approved than it can to create a page of content. But one template might account for 300 pages. Make sure you’ve got an accurate page count before you fully commit to a schedule.

Next, you need to create an accurate, time-per-page estimate. Is the source content identified? Does the writer need to edit existing content or write from scratch? How familiar is she with the subject matter? Knowing the answers to these questions is critical to creating an accurate time-per-page estimate.

Once you’ve got a page count and determined the time needed to create a page, the estimating is easy:

Number of pages x Time to create a page = Total estimate

For example, let’s say 300 pages x 30 min. average per page = 150 hours. That’s almost a month of a single writer working full time, with no interruptions. That might work if your writer is a freelancer. But if they’re on staff, they probably have a few other things to take care of. Which leads me to my next point …

Of course, there’s more than writing

Oh, by the way, content isn’t done once it’s written. There are reviews. And revisions. And then more reviews. Reviews always take longer than people think. Determine who needs to look at the content—however many people that may be. Find out if one group needs to review and revise before it goes to another level, to avoid conflicting feedback (seriously, this happens ALL THE TIME).

After that, there’s publishing, QA, etc. I’m sure you get the point. Basically, it’s more math and accounting for ALL the steps. But don’t skip it. If you do, your schedule will quickly get off track.

Effective workflow = power to the people

Let’s face it. Estimating all of these tasks isn’t just about getting work done. There’s lots of work getting done every day without it. The goal of workflow is to get work done efficiently. (Read: get rid of “fire-drill” mode.) When one group skips planning, everyone else has to drop what they were doing to quickly complete the request.

By all means, there are circumstances important enough to the business that require everyone to drop what they’re doing and switch gears. But using this as the daily mode of operation makes people feel unappreciated and overworked. It also takes away the ability to efficiently balance the variety of tasks someone has to get done in a day.

It can all be avoided with a little planning up front. Take the time to communicate your needs and expectations. Your content will thank you for it.

View Comments

Posted in Content Strategy

Content Strategy for the Web, 2nd Edition Has Launched!

by Kristina Halvorson

This post refers to the Kindle edition. The print edition is unfortunately delayed until March 15. Thanks for your patience.

It’s here! The book you’ve all been waiting for! The fifth installment of the Twilight series!!

No. Not really. But, on a related note … the second edition of Content Strategy for the Web is now available! We hope you’re as excited as we are, or at the very least, somewhat intrigued.

Here is some additional information you might find relevant and/or fascinating.

It’s official: content strategy is a big deal

Things out there in the world of content strategy have changed pretty significantly since the first edition of Content Strategy for the Web was published. What used to be a niche topic discussed by only a few hardcore content nerds has become a worldwide movement in organizations of all shapes and sizes.

As the conversation continues to gain momentum, the field of content strategy is evolving at lightning speed. And so, by necessity, our second edition is a much different book from the first. But don’t worry. All new material has evolved directly from the methodology described in the first edition; all revisions are based on the shared knowledge of the wider content strategy community, and our own experiences at Brain Traffic.

What this book is … and is not

Content Strategy for the Web is an introduction to the practice of content strategy. We wrote it for people who want to understand what content strategy is, why it’s important, and how to go about getting it done.

This book is not The Complete Guide to Everything You Ever Need to Know About Content Strategy, Ever. We hope you find it a valuable reference tool for a long time to come, but don’t mistake it as the only book you’ll ever need. In fact, here are a few specific topics this book intentionally does not cover (at all, or in detail):

  • Content marketing
  • Writing for the Web
  • Content management system (CMS) strategy (software selection, design, and implementation)
  • Translation and localization
  • Personalization and behavioral targeting
  • Social media planning
  • Metadata strategy
  • SEO
  • Reuse and structured content (or “intelligent content”)
  • Single-channel strategy (e.g., mobile)

Since our intent is to provide an introduction to content strategy, we’ve tried to simply synthesize information and frame it up in ways that allow teams to tackle content challenges holistically.

(Note: Our book has a “Resources” section that lists our favorite books on the topics mentioned above. We wouldn’t leave you hanging!)

What’s new in the 2nd edition

As the proud owner of this shiny new edition, here’s what you’ll get:

  • Expanded and refined processes and tools for the research, development, and implementation phases of content strategy
  • Recent case studies examining the impact content strategy has had on a variety of small and large organizations
  • An examination of the ways content-focused disciplines and job roles work together
  • Discussion of the roadblocks you may encounter and how to navigate them
  • Ways the field of content strategy continues to evolve

Is this book just about content strategy for websites?

No. But there’s a method to our madness (this time).

At some point, everyone—everyone—has struggled with content for their website. It’s a pain we all share, something everyone can immediately relate to. So when people hear about a way to fix the content on their website—really fix it—their ears perk up. (Didn't yours?) Now there's a reason to learn about content strategy. And then, once people “get” content strategy for web projects, they’ll inevitably begin to see its applications across platforms and throughout the enterprise. Gotcha.

Content strategy applies to every medium, platform, and device. As evolving technology continues to throw us one curve ball after the next, keeping a handle on our content—no matter where it is and who it’s for—has become more critical than ever.

Perhaps you would care to purchase this book

The second edition of Content Strategy for the Web is now available! Oh, we already said that. If you’d like to acquire a copy (or many, many copies), feel free to visit Amazon.com:

Thank you for your attention, support, and enthusiasm. We sure do think you’re swell.

View Comments

Posted in Content Strategy

Alignment: The Secret to a Successful Content Strategy

by Melissa Rach

Pssst. Here’s a trade secret. At Brain Traffic, we can usually predict how successful a content strategy will be after the first few weeks with a client. No, we’re not clairvoyant. We don’t even have a fancy algorithm or success scorecard.

Here’s the trick: We simply look at how receptive the project sponsors are to collaborating with others within their organization. It’s our experience that people who are open to input and opinions succeed far more often than those who try to keep their projects under wraps.

Why? Because content strategy requires outreach and alignment.

Content touches just about every area of the organization. When you introduce a new content strategy, you’re asking all of those people to change their habits, opinions, and accountabilities. As a result, your strategy is only going to work if people get on board. Now, that doesn’t mean everyone has to agree on everything—that can be impossible. Alignment isn’t necessarily about creating consensus. It’s about creating a common understanding.

Getting alignment isn’t as hard as you might think. You can start by ensuring your project stakeholders:

Know the basics about your project

Your first alignment priority is to make sure everyone has access to the same information—so they can participate in conversations and make educated decisions. You need to make sure they know (at a high level):

  • What content strategy is, how it could benefit the organization, and how it could benefit them
  • What content exists today
  • What internal and external factors impact your content—highlighting user research, competitive research, and an overview of the content workflow process

Know each other

You also need to help stakeholders learn about each other. In large organizations, it’s not uncommon for people to meet each other for the first time on a content project. Even in small companies, people see each other in a new light during the content strategy process. Helping people understand and engage with each other is critical. So take time to explain:

  • How everyone fits into the content strategy puzzle
  • What role each person is playing on the project
  • How needs and perspectives differ, and why

Know what’s next

Lastly, you need to set the stage for the rest of the project. People always want to know:

  • What are the immediate next steps?
  • What is their role in the process?
  • How much and how often can they/will they need to participate?

The more stakeholders know, the more they’ll feel some ownership in your content projects from day one. Remember, stakeholders are your allies—or, if they’re not initially, it’s your job to find that common ground. The success of your content strategy depends on it.

View Comments

Posted in Content Strategy

How Nonprofits Can Profit From Content Strategy

by Tenessa Gemelke

Before coming to Brain Traffic, I was managing a publishing department at a nonprofit called Search Institute, an organization that conducts research about children and teenagers. In fact, that’s where I was working when someone in our office building named Kristina Halvorson asked if she could use our Wi-Fi temporarily. In exchange, she’d offer us a workshop about something called “content strategy.”

You can probably see where this is headed.

As we listened to the introductory speech about tying user-centered content to the business model, I saw several of my colleagues nodding in agreement. I returned to my desk thinking, “Eureka! We’ve found it!”

Content strategy money bag

And then? Reality set in:

  • “We don’t have the resources for that.”
  • “Everyone is too busy to take on anything new.”
  • “It sounds like a great idea, but we need to focus on our funded projects.”

Most of these comments are pretty typical when people initially feel overwhelmed by content strategy. But I continued having conversations until I came to some unique conclusions: In our nonprofit setting, the business model was a moving target. Funding came and went. Sometimes there were multiyear, multimillion-dollar grants, and other times we survived from small project to small project. With all of this uncertainty, it was difficult to land on a single strategy—much less to deploy the people and hours needed to implement it.

You’ve gotta start somewhere

I’d love to tell you that an anonymous donor gave us a big bag of unrestricted content strategy money, but that didn’t happen. Our dreams of best practices gave way to best efforts. Although we couldn’t afford to restructure and rewrite all of our content, we soon discovered that a little bit of alignment and analysis can go a long way.

If you’re in the content trenches at a nonprofit organization, here are a few places to focus your limited resources:

  • Document what you have and what’s working. If at all possible, conduct a content inventory or a more in-depth qualitative audit, exploring whether you’re getting results. How popular are your PDFs? Are people following social media posts back to your blog? And where is all of this content coming from? It’s important to know who’s creating what and if all of that hard work is paying off. You might be surprised to discover that a funny e-card got more traction than a free white paper.
  • Spend time on workflow. Nonprofit organizations attract people who (a) believe passionately in what they do and (b) want to help. Unfortunately, this puts your content creators at risk of getting spread too thin or duplicating each other’s efforts. At Search Institute, a brief study of our newsletters revealed that four individuals were creating four different newsletters for only two audiences. Consolidating resources and introducing a unified editorial calendar resulted in less work and higher quality.
  • Know your audiences. You might have a mentoring program that serves underprivileged kids in rural communities, but those kids probably aren’t checking out your website. So, who is? Are corporate funders investigating your credibility? Are volunteers looking for logistical information? You need to understand who is using your content, and for what purpose. Even if you can’t afford a full-scale user research study, a few phone calls, an in-house brainstorming session, or an online survey can help you start to collect this information.
  • Pay attention to your business model. Some nonprofits get so caught up in providing free information and services that they neglect the audiences who are footing the bill for their good work. Are you dependent on individual donations? If so, make it easy to donate (and receive receipts!) online. Do corporate sponsors distribute internal copies of your annual report? Offer a printer-friendly version. Do other organizations purchase your materials or services with grant money? Give them links and tools that make it easier to obtain that funding.

    You don’t have to beat people over the head with donation requests. Simply remember that meeting users’ needs for information is ideal, but meeting users’ needs when they are TRYING TO GIVE YOU MONEY is essential.

  • Use your money wisely. At Search Institute, we had big dreams of overhauling our website, but we simply never had enough general operating expenses to get it done. Funders had their own agendas, and promoting the nonprofit itself was not a high priority for them. But we did obtain money to create a new website for parents. That provided an opportunity to invest in branding and user testing—two big-ticket items that really mattered to funding partners who cared about having their logo on a reputable site. This work provided a lot of the messaging and nomenclature that informed the larger strategy for the parenting site.

Keep hope alive

It’s discouraging to list all of the things you can’t accomplish, so … don’t! Get started in whatever small way you can. Celebrate every victory. Document the value content strategy has provided—both internally and to your supporters. And, who knows? Maybe that magical anonymous donor will show up with the cartoonish money bag someday.

Have you used content strategy in a nonprofit setting? What tips can you share with the rest of us?

View Comments

Posted in Content Strategy

Content Strategy and Responsive Design

by Sean Tubridy

Maybe you’ve heard the term “responsive design.” Maybe you haven’t. Many people think it solely refers to the technical aspects of design, but that’s not exactly the case.

Responsive design can have a major impact on your content. I’ll tell you how it works, how it can affect your content, and why you should—and need to—care.

What is responsive design?

Responsive design is the practice of having one website that adapts to the device it is being viewed upon. Or, more simply: one website for all screens.

So, why is it important? If you’ve ever been involved in the process of creating separate sites for desktop, mobile, tablet, iPhone, iPad, etc., you know why. It can be a nightmare to develop and keep up multiple websites that are essentially delivering the same content. If you only have to design and code for one site, things suddenly become a lot simpler.

Below is the Confab 2012 site I designed and developed as seen on a laptop, an iPad, and an iPhone. Notice that while the design and layout look different on each device, the URL and the content are the same.

Responsive Confab 2012 site on multiple devices

How could it impact your content?

Right now, designers and developers are driving the conversations about responsive design. And those conversations are primarily about technical and esthetic matters. But, not surprisingly, it pertains to content, too. That’s the part I’d like to talk about.

The point of using a responsive approach is to allow the same content to work across multiple devices. This can make your job easier, because you don’t have to update content in multiple places.

So, what can happen to a site’s content as we go from a large desktop to a small device? Three things typically occur:

  1. It shifts: This the most obvious change in content when we look at a responsive layout. As the screen gets smaller, columns become narrower, allowing text to become larger and more readable. Sidebars and other secondary content blocks move from the side to below the main column(s). Rows of six images become three, and then two, and then one, etc. All of this is done so you don’t have to pinch, expand, and move around a site on a smaller device. When it’s done properly, it can make the viewing experience much more enjoyable and efficient.
  2. It gets hidden: Content that would otherwise take too long to skim by scrolling or just doesn’t fit well in the layout might get hidden. It's then revealed when a user performs an action like clicking a button or toggling a drop-down.
  3. It gets removed: Uh oh! Did an alarm just go off in your head? It should have, because this is the part of responsive design that no one likes to talk about. Even though the general consensus is that removing content is generally a no-no, it’s totally possible and oh-so-tempting in the name of esthetics, reduced scrolling, lowered page load time, etc.

Why should a content strategist care?

As I was developing the Confab 2012 site and creating different layouts for different screen sizes, I found that I needed to make a lot of decisions about what should happen to the content across different screen sizes. Should this piece of content shift? Become hidden? Disappear altogether? What’s more important—this piece or that piece? Should this go above or below that? It became clear very quickly that I shouldn’t be the only one making these decisions.

Don’t leave these decisions solely up to designers and developers. Chances are, we’re too concerned about things like browser compatibility and page-load time to give much thought to them. I happen to be a designer who believes that people visit websites for the content, not the design—but that doesn’t mean I want to be making decisions about content priority myself.

Responsive design. Mobile first. Progressive enhancement. These, and any other technical approaches where your content can take different forms across channels and platforms, present a challenge to content strategists. The content you create needs to be flexible.

To achieve this, you may need to enhance and adapt some of your traditional deliverables, or set them aside in favor of conversations and collaborations, which is always a good thing.

The Web will continue to evolve, and the more content strategists and designers can work together to adapt to these changes, the better off our content—and users—will be.

p.s. Yes, we know our site isn’t responsive. But we’re working on it. Just you wait!

Responsive design is a term and a technique coined by Ethan Marcotte in his groundbreaking article in A List Apart, “Responsive Web Design.” If you are interested in learning the technology behind it, there are many more articles to explore.

View Comments

Posted in Content Strategy

Brown Paper Packages

by Lee Thomas

A comprehensive content strategy must address a wide range of factors: business goals, audience needs, the competitive landscape, available resources, various platforms and channels, timelines, structural configurations, keywords, migration plans—the list goes on. It can feel like all the unanswered questions might swirl into a funnel cloud and engulf the project. When that happens, what can we hold on to?

Sometimes, a metaphor helps. One I find useful is the brown paper package.

Let’s go shopping

Imagine a retail store. Inside, the shelves are lined with unlabeled packages. What’s inside each? Fireworks? Creamed corn? Live mice? All of the above? (Let’s hope not.) Customers don’t buy unlabeled packages; they need to know what they’re going to get. (For starters, is it eight live mice? Or a full dozen?)

What’s in the box?

If you put your website (or organization’s) content in a box, what would the label say? For many organizations, this is the central question of their content strategy: What are we going to put in here that our audience will want and find useful?

Knowing what goes in the box—and why—is the core of your content strategy. The concrete image of the package can aid thinking and facilitate decisions about content: What is the primary value of this content package? What will be worth the audience’s time, attention, or money? What accessories should we include? How will we make this? Imagining the content in this way has various advantages:

  • It demands clarity around substance. Although content takes physical form eventually, it often feels more abstract than, say, creamed corn. That’s one reason why defining the content’s substance—what it’s about—is a big part of content strategy. This seems easy enough on the surface. In fact, sometimes, project teams blow past this step because they assume the answer is obvious, already set in stone, or otherwise predetermined. But writing out the package’s label forces a useful specificity and can reveal previously unspoken differences of opinion. (“That’s not what I thought it was about,” etc.)
  • It’s a reminder to focus on the audience. Organizations spend a lot of time and energy publishing things they want the audience to notice or use. Are those packages users will pay attention to and open? Or will they be ignored like socks on Christmas morning? If the package isn’t full of content that users really want or need, it’s probably time to revisit what’s going inside the box up at the assembly line.
  • It’s an opportunity to differentiate. Put your package of content on the table, next to the packages the competitors offer. Make note of the packaging itself (it matters), but really pay attention to who’s got the goods inside the box. Who’s offering breadth? Depth? Authority? Who’s got an unusual angle? Now, what changes would make the content you’re offering a more attractive, unique, or specialized option?
  • It’s the essence of the content strategy. Actual box manufacturers aside, organizations don’t create an infrastructure and staff-up so they can send empty packages out the door. Likewise, structure, workflow, and taxonomy don’t mean very much if the box is empty, or filled with random bits and pieces the audience doesn’t want or need.

A few hypothetical examples:

  • A health foods maker might label their content box this way: Daily recipes, shopping lists, coupons, and resources to help people eat healthier every day.
  • Because of the complex and customized nature of its products, a health information technology company might downplay its 500 product sheets and instead highlight: Technology-based success stories about health and modern medicine.
  • An employee intranet might avoid becoming a dumping ground for old documents by defining its content package as: An essential guide to help our people manage their employment and work-life.

Cue the asterisk

The metaphor has limitations. It’s easier to think of some kinds of content as product in a box than other kinds. Some organizations create multiple “packages” to serve different audiences or purposes. And technology keeps changing the way audiences “shop” for content. A metaphor like this won’t answer every question about a content strategy, but I do find this technique to be useful in certain situations. It can help explain content strategy work to clients and stakeholders, too.

Tied up with string

Knowing what goes in the box and writing out a label for it can help stimulate and refine the thinking that goes into developing a viable content strategy. Of course, many decisions still need to be made and work needs to be done before that box gets into the hands of an audience. Having a concrete image of the content can facilitate those decisions and keep the work on track.

View Comments

Posted in Content Strategy

Tell Us What You Want (What You Really, Really Want)

by Melissa Rach

Happy New Year! We hope you have the best year ever in 2012. Especially because the whole world is going to end on December 21, according to the ancient Mayans. Or not. Nobody knows for sure.*

Deathstar blowing up Earth

Hey, it could happen.

There are three things, however, that we DO know for sure:

  1. We have AT LEAST eleven more months to rock the Brain Traffic blog.
  2. Blogs, like all content, are only successful if it provides value to the user.
  3. We’d like you—yes, YOU—to tell us what topics you’d like to see discussed on this blog.

That’s right, there are 22 Brain Traffic employees standing by. We eat, sleep, and breathe content. What would you like to learn more about? How can we help you?

Make your suggestions in the comments section below or on Twitter (@BrainTraffic). We’ll address as many as we can. And treat this year’s editorial calendar as if it were our last!

Thanks in advance for your suggestions. We can’t wait to see what you come up with.

* Does anyone else see this whole Mayan calendar debacle as a content workflow problem? It’s more proof that content that hasn’t been updated regularly can cause all sorts of problems (i.e., conspiracy theories, mediocre movies, etc.). No? OK. Erm. Nevermind us.

View Comments

Posted in Content Strategy

Why You Need to Believe

by Christine Benson

Behind every successful project I’ve ever worked on, I’ve found there’s a single, universal truth. You ready for it? I believed in what I was recommending.

As a content strategist, there are multiple levels to my work—two of which are strategic consulting and executional planning. Executional planning refers to the what, where, when, and how of your content. The process produces tangible deliverables. It is the road map for how to execute the strategy. Without it, any strategy is likely to sit in a drawer somewhere.

Strategic consulting means working with clients to figure out why they’re doing something. It’s as much of a process as a deliverable. The work involves a series of conversations and research activities to discover what the organization wants, and why they want it. It then gets transformed into what they can, and should, do.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

Virginia believes, and you should, too.

Photo by @jbtaylor

Setting the stage for success

To test any strategic recommendations, I ask myself questions about how I’m going to communicate (and possibly defend) the approach. For example:

  • What problem will it solve for the organization?
  • How is it better than what is happening now?
  • What will the organization need to stop doing for this to succeed?
  • What about it will get people excited?
  • What will make people uncomfortable?
  • What will help them overcome the discomfort?
  • Can others learn to communicate it effectively?
  • Will it be able to grow and change over time?

When I believe in what I’m recommending, I see the value in the project. I can clearly articulate how it’s a good thing for both the client and their users. Because of this work, I can guide collaborative conversations with the client to refine the overall approach. Clear goals and objectives have been defined, which makes the executional planning go faster. Decisions have been made, people understand those decisions, and work gets done.

Over the years, I’ve heard people say, “Well, it’s not like we think anyone’s actually going to do/use/want this.” Huge red flag. To me, this says they never did any real strategy work. Someone just came up with a quick solution to make the client happy, slapped the word “strategy” on it, and called it a day. Without taking the time to discover what the best approach is for the client, it’s pretty hard to believe in what you’re doing.

Be realistic, but don’t settle for sub-par

I’m not saying you’re going to love every single project—there will always be unforeseen challenges and setbacks. But, if there isn’t at least something you think will be useful or valuable to both the business and the user, then you probably need to keep working. Remember, belief is a powerful thing, especially this time of year.

View Comments

Posted in Content Strategy