Content — Brick by Brick

This is a work-in-progress post and I plan to build on this content concept in more posts.

For ages, content was always important for brands when they planned advertisements, stories, or product literature. Content was there for clinical trial studies, science and research, and for technical manuals. It is the introduction of web that make us speak about content in the language that we see almost everywhere, as Joe Gollner says in The Birth of Content.

For different reasons, content teams often tend to forget that all content stems from the why for an organization. They falter at how because the why is not so clear.

We do not say NO to an opportunity to father content even when we are not sure how to raise it. Because many a times… we go by our instinct and not by our preparedness. And so… we treat content as a ToDo, rather than an internal and inseparable organ of an organization’s very existence.

The result is a mixed ownership and hence confused content positioning. Sometimes it raises a flawed genius and the world claps but it merely covers the chinks in the process.

There are no or little efforts to setup the common ground where different content teams know what common they are trying to achieve, with content. The customer support team may be just sharing the helpdesk metrics with technical writers, and with engineering team for their UX strategy. Technical communicators never feel the need to talk to content strategists. As a result, the content process is like a struggling orchestra band. Battle for survival, position, and visibility (rewards), with relatively less focus on harmony.

Sara Wachter Boettcher explained it so beautifully in her talk Everybody Hurts: Content for Kindness where she says, “The next thing I want to talk about is finding the fractures in the things that we create and in our content.”

Brick by Brick

When we aim for a targeted, relevant, personalized and future-friendly content experience, it is important to plan content for its basic functional units. A content design where the architecture is planned for the most fundamental units to construct the message. Brick by Brick.

It can help individuals, roles, teams, and the community, to align their individual goals to the organization goals. For example, the individual goals can be conversions (copy, drip campaigns), service level (helpdesk), user experience (customer experience), community content (social media), brand positioning (stories), or for product instructions (technical content, including API documentation).

When equipped with the right analysis, people, and tools, planning the right architecture is extremely important for successful realization of a content vision. So I use the architecture analogy and its examples to set up a reference for how content gets its position that an organization actually needs.

Content defines a brand’s positioning. Sometimes its longevity too. So content teams should plan content Brick by BrickWall by Wall. For Structure. For Positioning. For its Space.

Many organizations or even content teams generally start with unimportant questions on content. Content—Brick by Brick helps them gain a common understanding of how content works so that they can prepare and ask more relevant and meaningful questions.

I recall this quote by Frank Gehri—“I don’t know why people hire architects and then tell them what to do.” This makes perfect sense for content. Content has to be ambitious. It should be encyclopedic yet focused. It should ensure value but it should not be too preoccupied in solving business problems. It should stay as a reference too. Content should not be subject to only algorithms that match authors with brands and then brands with customers where demands and skills match. Content as a whole is and should be much more than sum of its parts.

Push or a Pull label helps users use the door correctly, but it is not only about using clear language for right labels. There were some pre-requisites in the form of a strategic decision for how exactly to make it clear, and why. This is an interesting intersection of design, architecture, and content. And of common sense. Content—Brick by Brick should facilitate this intersection.

Why Architecture as an Analogy?

Consider an architecture wonder that looks different depending on the direction, strength and color of the sunlight. The appearance changes with changing light for its intensity and direction and so different audiences can perceive it differently and make their own judgement depending on when they see a building.

Likewise for content.

A user may refer to content to make a buying a decision (because one is already informed by some reference), to evaluate a product, to seek product information via FAQs, or to read stories that resonate with one’s problems or pain points. The big picture content should be mature enough to address all these requirements, while retaining its original brand positioning. Like that architecture marvel.

Whether we talk about architecture or content—the ultimate experience is a combination of design and utility. While design is the product of thoughtsutility is an exercised after-thought of strategy. This is where architecture and content really tend to converge though the element of science pulls them apart. Science adds more weight to content because of the stakes—business goals, customer experience goals. Architecture is relatively luxuriously placed to respond to science.

But that is not the point. The point is that the building blocks can operate on the common ground—in architecture and in content.

Architecture is the mother of classic method + madness luxury that helps architects combine science and ingenuity. Although automation and technology pose a threat to this mix, there is a hope to continue seeing architecture marvels in spite of the technology. Content too is nicely placed in the same interesting mix.

Watch out for more details as I plan to write more on how Content—Brick by Brick works.