Content Strategy for Business Success—My Meetup Transcript
I hosted a content strategy meetup on 23 February. This is the first person account (transcript-like) of that lively discussion.
The audience was a mix of UX and UI engineers from services agencies, marketers, copywriters, and founders, and they had never worked with a content strategist before. Note that I have not transcripted it from any video.
The Content Strategy Context
Finally some good things are happening in Chandigarh—apart from Rose Festival. People are interested in content strategy! Wao!
So many meetups and events are happening all over the world, in India, and a few in Chandigarh too. Organizations and communities invest in events for specific skills and roles such as in marketing, sales, design and UX, CRM, or agile. What is that one common factor that binds all these events together? What is one thing that participants in all these events are eyeing at? What are we all trying to achieve by participating in all such events?
That is Business Success. Ultimately, we put all our learning and takeaways into our work — to contribute to the business success.
So, this meetup is not about content, really. It is about business success and we need to discuss and understand how content can contribute to whatever we are doing, and to the business success goals. So, it means we are not thinking of how marketers can write better emails for more conversions, or how copywriters can write better landing pages or product copy . Each one of us needs to ask this questions from ourselves —what is my role and what are the constraints to give my best to the organization, and if content has a role— how best we can use this discussion to eliminate the constraints. So, we are certainly not talking about content only.
Starting with a Question
To get started, are there any questions that according to you are critical for your work and where content really impacts your work, negatively?
[A UI designer]—“Many a times, I follow the best UI design practices (the minimalist design standards) but the content given by the content team does not fit into my design. So, it is like reviewing content or tweaking the design to keep the best of both—design and content. So, how best we can address it?”
I am interested to know who makes the design decisions in your team? If you decide it, how do you know that your design will work best ? But before that— if you are thinking of the design without any idea of content— this is the first real step to product failure—a product that may see the light but will not scale. Content strategists worldwide have been saying it loudly for years now—plan content before design. [Then, there was a discussion on why and how.]
[Another UI designer]—But, sometimes the client gives us the design and the content is not ready.
This is one of the most important roles of a content strategist—to question and educate the client—that their customers will convert by content and not by design. As content strategists, we should not be in the habit of following instructions—even from our managers—and definitely not from our clients—for anything.
We know our work better than what they know about it and so we are more qualified to ask questions. We should question to validate what others advise or propose, and then guide or educate them as required. So, if your client picks a design first, ask them for a meeting (on priority). Give them a mock-up without any content and ask them if they can convert their leads only by gradients, and colors, and by typography. [Then, there was a discussion on why and how.] Related Reading: Missing
Getting Marketers In
Anybody in marketing here? (And a gentleman raises his hand.)
Whatever content you write—whether for an email campaign, or a blog post for a product—or in a case study—is it available for reference to other teams also?
How do they access it—is it via some common platform or repository, or copy-paste? If they have the rights to edit this content (which I can assume so), how do you ensure or how the other teams ensure that the content’s core message, the vocabulary, the style for voice and tone and branding, are consistent and it conveys the same message to the audience?
Why Shared Understanding Is The Key
Customer journey is complex — let us see an example.
- A customer reads some marketing content and he signs up for a trial. Assume that this content package is C1.
- The customer has some questions while using the product and he calls the support team. The support team solves the issue by sharing some content (instructions via a reference to a support article, or solving it in the ticket email itself) and assume that this reference content package is C2.
- The customer uses the product and they see the onboarding text in the UI for guiding them to next steps. Assume that this content package is C3.
- As the trial is about to expire (or if it expired yesterday), the sales team contacts this customer for conversion, with a product demo and some conversion text—assume that this content package is C4.
Also, in this whole cycle, the customer may be reading our social streams or some FAQs on the website.
When different teams use some content to convert a customer—how they ensure that the content is consistent for vocabulary, message and promise, for voice and tone, and for the branding? Is it written once and used by all (COPE—Create Once Published Everywhere)? Can different teams edit the same piece of content for their own style and CTA? Are there multiple versions available for the same piece of content? And in either case, who owns this content (to edit, archive, distribute, measure)?
This lack of strategic content for ownership, distribution, and governance is the primary reason of poor UX and a broken CX for the audience—before conversion, for active users, and even after they quit.
My personal recent experience—I registered for an AWS event at JW Marriott Hotel Chandigarh, in early December. Two days before the event, I got another commitment on the day of event and so I canceled my event participation so that the spot is available for someone else. After the cancellation was confirmed in an email, I got a call an AWS event executive for some instructions on what I should bring to the event—my laptop and stuff. That was weird, and after I told that lady on call that I had canceled my participation, I got another email with same instructions. Pretty much an ordinary effort by AWS team, with absolutely no collaboration for what to communicate, to whom, at what time, and why.
This is why we are talking about shared understanding of where all we need to collaborate and why, and where content has a role to play in this whole product cycle.
Content Strategy—Culture. People. Ownership.
The biggest pain in most of the product teams is the siloed culture. Different teams plan (and write or update) content for their own use—without really understanding how other teams are making use of same or similar content.
This siloed culture means that we do not keep a balance in how much we own for our team vs how much we own for the organization.
Remember that you are not developing products for your team—nor for your organization—(and not for your client if you are a services agency)—you are developing a product for the actual and paying customers of that product.
So, with that goal in mind, you should be fighting with everything that stops you—to eliminate all reasons of friction, whether for people or for culture. If you are not fighting for it, I am interested to know the constraints now—for what stops you.
For instance, see when I lift my arms like this, this coat makes it uncomfortable for me or I need to make an effort to complete this action or the movement. I feel a certain restriction, and so here you see—I am just getting rid of this coat. (And I put it one of the vacant chairs.) Why you cannot get rid of that coat that stops you to fight your constraints—and to be more proactive in your work?
Content strategists are best positioned to trigger this change management.
To bridge the siloed content culture, and to educate why it can really hurt organizations. Ultimately, they need to setup the right processes and right awareness for the teams that the right content is available to customers, on the device of their choice, at the right time, for the right context, in the right language, and with right CTA for their goals of interaction with the brand. You need to own it well.
Business Success. How?
For any product, there is a customer story. Customers approach a brand with some expectations or goals. They see some content, communicate with the brand, and go through a series of steps (over a period of time) to see a favorable result or at least they form an opinion.
We should design such experiences that help customers live their story while talking to the brand—this is UX. On top of that, we should invest in our product stories in such a way that customers live their stories even after their interaction with the product—this is CX.
That is our goal and our responsibility—while keeping an eye on the business goals as well.
Content Strategy for UX
Consider some examples where customers sense some friction in the UX. For example:
- The onboarding is poor and user is not too sure what to select, where to click, and what will happen as a result of that interaction.
- The outcome is not expected—customer selects an option but they cannot see the expected outcome (as Lincoln Murphy often says) because either the CTA was not clear or the customer goal was not clear enough.
- Customer is looking for some directions (education) for why they should take an action (volunteer) but the message is weak or is missing altogether.
This is a perfect recipe of poor UX, a broken trust with the brand, NPS, and churn. So there is clearly an important role of content strategists . They are not responsible to write or plan every piece of content in the product UX. For example in relatively mature product teams such as in Shopify or Facebook—they have UX writers for product copy but they certainly have content strategists too for an equally important or even bigger role in the team.
How We Setup This Shared Understanding?
Consider an example:
Personas: Who invests in persons in your organization? And how do they make sure that the persons understanding is same for what the marketers understand about it (while planning campaigns) and what UX team understands (while planning interactions). Communication, proactiveness, and getting rid of ‘for my team (siloed mindset)’ is the key.
Jobs To Be Done (JTBD): In addition to personas, there is another approach that I have noticed as being practiced by Intercom. Their execution is flawless and we can learn a lot from their experiences. But if we are not committed to big picture—neither personas nor JTBD will help.
So, let us first invest for the right ‘why’ of doing our work — how it is helping the organization and the customers. Whether we speak in the language of personas or JTBD, user stories or job stories, customer success or customer experience—people in different roles and teams should have a common understanding of how the customers might feel, or respond, or think of, or act in any interaction with the brand.
[Question—There are times when we are not sure of our decision in our work. For example, after all the research done on what navigation may make sense—how we ensure that this is the right decision.]
Well, it depends on certain factors. For example, product teams invest in A/B testing, or questionnaires with real users who are close to your ideal (and paying) customers, and industry recommended practices. It also depends on the team size, the market, and the skills set of design team. Technically, this is the job of an information architect, to invest in planning the navigation. (During this discussion, the term ‘content writer’ comes into the picture.)
Who is a content writer? What according to you is the job of a ‘content writer’? (Audience responds—To write blog posts, and to write marketing content—sometimes presentations too.)
But why an organization hires a ‘content writer’ — just to write blog posts? Take an example of any of the 500 content writers in and around Chandigarh—do you think they can answer why they are writing that content and how it helps the organization? Can they really measure the effectiveness of their content—do they know how to measure it? (It was dead silence—and the answer was there to be seen and understood.) The term ‘content writer’ does not make any sense at all, it does not serve any purpose and nobody needs them. If an individual is doing right job by providing content that is relevant, meaningful, and that aligns with the business goals and when that organization has right framework to measure the effectiveness of that ‘outsourced’ content, they are not merely writers—they are either content marketers, or copywriters, or content strategists. So, let us use the right terms for the people who are making a difference in the teams.
[Audience wanted more as someone asked—But how do we communicate it that is convincing enough.]
The issue is with you because you try to convince someone else. I learnt it at my first job in coveda—that teamwork is not about convincing others. The best way is to present your case and let others question before they agree. For example if you think that B works better than A in certain situations, make your case with story and data—the two wonderful ingredients to make your case stronger and authentic. Let others come to you with valid reasons and with right questions.
This is how content strategists actually plan their actions, because as I said—lot of education is involved particularly in teams who have never had a content strategy before.
[Question: How we can ensure that we are hiring the right content person—marketer or strategist?]
Well, if you have the budget and when you start interviewing candidates, you listen to them for how they explain what they can bring to the table. Since you are not experienced to hire content strategists (for UX or marketing flavor), I would not advise that you plan some parameters to make a hiring decision. No. You just need to have the clarity of why you are hiring someone. And then you watch how the content strategist makes a case to be hired — it is their job to sound convincing (with story, and reason) that you should hire them . If you cannot hire a content strategist even when you have a budget, it is generally the candidate’s failure to win your confidence.
A Content Strategist Concludes
Well, the whole idea of this discussion was to identify and discuss the why of content strategy—why it is so important in product teams. I do not want to talk about metadata or content types or editorial strategy—because the moment we talk about any how in content processes, we jump to the tools and processes. Content strategy is very little about tools and processes—it is much more about people, culture, awareness, and shared understanding of business goals and for customer experience goals. So, if we connect the right dots for why, I am sure we are prepared to how as well.
If you are hiring your first ever content strategist—empower him to contact and question all the teams.
If you are planning to join a product team who never had a content strategy before—your most important role is to educate everyone else on the shared understanding. It is important for startups, for teams who have just gained traction, and for those who are on the scale up.