How Content Strategy Can Help

by Margot Bloomstein

An excerpt from Margot Bloomstein’s book, Content Strategy at Work: Real-world Stories to Strengthen Every Interactive Project.

Opportunity Versus Priority?

Today, more and more brands—and individuals—embrace the role of publisher. Great, right? Content is king, everyone gets a crown, and who doesn’t love a good coronation? Organizations that formerly just sold now also teach, inform, connect, and motivate in order to make a friend—and ultimately, make a sale. We share the CEO’s latest insights, publicize project ideas for our products, and go on and on about the virtues of the vegetables the chef’s preparing tonight.

That’s fine, but a few whitepapers or recurring blog posts do not a publisher make. Kristina Halvorson, president of Brain Traffic and savvy patron saint of content strategists everywhere, offers this perspective:

The moment you launch a website, you’re a publisher. The moment you begin a blog, send an email, participate in social media, build a widget, even show up in search engine results… you are a publisher.

That’s heady stuff. And for millions of brands and the marketing teams and agencies that support them, that’s not a bad thing. But with the opportunities of publishing come immense challenges. Don’t just write; write well. Don’t just blog once; maintain a schedule. Don’t just launch an app; ensure your content is appropriate for the many contexts and devices through which it may appear. And goodness, don’t just curate content by choosing keywords and automating aggregation; hone your perspective on the topic and continually revisit your collection to maintain its relevance.

Kristina continues (breaks are mine):

Publishers plan far in advance which content they will create.

They have established, measurable processes in place.

They invest in teams of professionals to create and care for content.

They would never think of starting with design and then cramming content in at the last minute.

But would you? Or would your colleagues or clients?

Whether or not you think you—or your client—is in the publishing industry, think of the content a typical marketing department might create, organize, and maintain:”

  • User reviews for every product or venue
  • Top ten lists, created by the brand, their audience, or both
  • Blog posts, comments, and responses to those comments
  • Education that spans delivery channels: print, digital, and their sales associates and customer service reps
  • Email campaigns
  • Hosted conversations and virtual seminars
  • Location-based guides that take action from the laptop to tablet and phone

Sound familiar, or daunting? Each of these examples comes to life in the coming pages in automotive advertising, curated lists of tea, healthcare institution microsites, higher education content management, and more. In the meantime, welcome to modern-day publishing on the web—in fact, welcome to the modern web itself: it comprises content, appears on multiple devices and contexts, and demands you plan for its creation—and ongoing engagement and maintenance. So what does successful publishing look like? Whose job is it? How do you go beyond sales and brochureware with a multichannel content strategy? Sit back with a cup of coffee—or really, your favorite oolong, to take in the example of Adagio.

All the Tea in China, All the Content Types on the Web

In addition to buying tea, consumers visit to engage with content that explains its origins, provides a quantitative rating, and offers reviews, which appear with rankings and context. After you try that first sip, you can add your feedback, reap “frequent cup points,” “like” a favorite flavor—or easily order something entirely different. With so many options for user-generated content, Adagio welcomes its customers to the content creation process as well.

Engagement goes beyond the website, as Adagio’s broader integrated web presence includes outposts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Integration with Steepster, “an online tea community,” lets Adagio foster conversation elsewhere while it drives sales back to

Like most web-savvy brands, Adagio doesn’t limit its content—or content strategy—to just text-based copy: maps introduce us to tea rooms, video explains the blending process, and music on a community site lets fans download tracks in the “key of tea.” Content combines with frequent, brand- and channel-appropriate engagement to drive the conversation. And across channels and content types, messaging is clear and persistent. Consistent, even, as featured tea farmers appear in images on Facebook and in interviews on at the same time.

Tough Choices Require Something Stronger than Just Tea

With all these options for content, how does Adagio choose? How does it prioritize, create, measure, and maintain its content? After all, web developers—and many accessible, low-cost content management systems—support myriad features, functionality, and content types. Can do, they say. And “sure, we can do that” becomes an expensive, all-consuming death sentence.

You want a blog? We can have that running by tomorrow, says your developer.

A plug-in for comments? Easy.

Video interviews with everyone in the company? Bandwidth for EVERYONE!

Add live chat? AWESOME. Access + conversation = instant customer service, right?

With enough budget, anything is possible; even with just a moderate budget, it’s easy to add enough stuff so as to overwhelm the screen (and your target audience) with options and many grotesque websites jostle to prove this. It’s a death sentence for many brands, and content managers, who suffer the death of a thousand cuts trying to keep up with all that.

If this is you, you need to prioritize. You need to say no. Whether you’re raising requests for the blog and the video interviews and the user-generated top 10 lists, or if you’re fielding those requests, take a breath. Not everything is of equal importance, especially (though not exclusively) when you don’t have infinite time, money, talent, availability, and creativity.

In coming chapters, we’ll discuss how different organizations prioritize their content initiatives. Some, like AdoptUSKids, mandate internal stakeholders file creative briefs in which they must explain the communication goals and personas their prospective initiatives will serve. If those initiatives are approved, the web team fits them into a high-level editorial calendar. Other organizations, like Oregon Health and Science University, require new initiatives have both a technical owner and business owner responsible for messaging, and accountable for content updates throughout the life of the section or site.

About the Author

Margot Bloomstein is the principal of Appropriate, Inc., a brand and content strategy consultancy based in Boston. For more than a decade, she’s partnered with retailers, universities, and other clients. You can follow her on Twitter at @mbloomstein.

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