Sep 11, 2012

The Rise of Content Strategy—Trend #5: Content Strategy as a Business Tool

Margot Merrill's picture
Margot Merrill
Director, Content & Brand Strategy

Finally! Some Good News
In this series we’ve looked at how more content, more devices, and more social media have led to the rise of Content Strategy (CS) as a practice. We’ve discussed the good folks working within organizational silos, and how hard it is for organizations to deliver content that resonates with their customers. Oh, yes, we’ve spoken of content woes! 

But no worries—this last trend is an upper, not a downer. Because organizations are beginning to use content strategy as a business tool. Why? I’ve highlighted three reasons below. 

1. To Make It Easier to Create Content that Resonates with People
I asked Forrest Glick, who’s overseen the highly successful (and awesome and educational) Stanford Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders podcast series for the past ten years, why his organization invested in CS. Here’s how Forrest explained the benefits of CS for the organization:

“As our organization has grown, we've taken on the management of more projects, each of which offers content via the Web. Naturally, we've hired new staff to manage these projects. But who owns the 'website' was often rather ambiguous. Is it owned by the web designer, the project manager, the communications editor? Not having a clear relationship and process leads to frustration and inefficiency. Taking the time to consider the broader content strategy and develop a process to guide decisions along the way produces higher quality results and greater satisfaction on the part of the team.”

Like Stanford, some organizations work together to create a CS to help clarify issues of governance, and to improve their workflow. While governance and workflow are not easy things to change or manage, they’re what can help maximize existing resources (your team!) to create content that resonates with people. 

As further evidence of this trend, Melissa Rach of Brain Traffic (the group that defined and inspires the Content Strategy practice, and hosts CONFAB) recently said that more than 50% of their projects are focused on improving workflow. Workflow! It’s not sexy, but being more efficient makes good business sense. 

2. To Improve Search Results (SEO)
Improving search results is one way to reach new audiences. But the old tricks don’t work any more. Why? SEO results are increasingly being driven by what Forbes’ Ken Krogue calls “real content”—content that’s valuable enough to share. (Definitely check out Ken’s 14 tips for creating real content.) Google’s algorithms increasingly reward unique, well-written, and high-quality content and links. Search engines still rely on keywords—but only if those words are what your customers are actually searching for, and they’re woven into your content! 

I asked the hosts of the Bay Area CS Meetup what trends they saw. Stacey King Gordon of Suite Seven and I have similar views:

“People are starting to become educated [about CS], and people are gradually beginning to understand that they may think they're looking for someone to 'do SEO,' but realizing that what they in fact need is content strategy. Of course, it only takes one person who really starts to get it, or who recognizes why things are broken, to evangelize the need for it.”

3. To Differentiate
Content is one of the last frontiers for brand differentiation. As Arvi Raquel-Santos of Hot’s Brand Experience team says: 

“I think content—specifically a company or product's unique POV—is becoming increasingly important. The design of many websites and apps has become too standardized.”

This may be because so many templates are now used to publish all of this content. So how can an organization stand out from the competition? 

Having a messaging strategy means you can more succinctly explain the unique value your product or service delivers. And beyond what you say, an actionable Content Strategy should cover how you say it. Are you more friendly, more experienced, or more strategic than others in your industry? Are you more human, or more technically savvy? The language and imagery you choose can make a huge difference in the customer’s experience.

Anna Bloom in our content practice group recently compared the content strategies of the Democrats and the Republicans. Each organization has the same goal: to attract enough money and motivated voters, to elect the next President. And yet the underlying Content Strategies, as well as the respective “brands” expressed through language and imagery on Obama’s and Romney’s sites, are quite different. Here’s a few high-level observations about how the choices their campaigns made for language and imagery communicate different things about the candidate’s brands.

Okay, enough with talking about the big guys and their Content Strategies! Let’s get back to focusing on your organization. I’d like to recap how Content Strategy can be used to connect with new audiences, and remedy a myriad of content-related organizational pains.  

Content Strategy can be used as a business tool to:

1. Make digital products and websites easy to use, original, and competitive. So you can get more business, and create lasting customer relationships. 

2. Clarify organizational goals and messages. So content contributors can help realize leaders’ vision for the organization. 

3. Empathize with users. So you can then meet and exceed their expectations.

4. Standardize the brand voice, while allowing flexibility in tone, across all channels and mediums. So every content contributor can speak confidently. 

5. Reduce inefficiencies in the content creation process. So you can save time and money. 

6. Create a future-forward plan for content creation that’s adaptive to multiple channels and emerging technologies. So you can tweak, rather than completely rethink, your strategy no matter what comes next. 

The world of content has gotten so complex. We’re looking forward to making it better with you. 

- Margot & the rest of Hot

p.s. To get down with the content people, join a Content Strategy meetup near you.

- SF Bay Area
- New York 

p.p.s. Please let us know your thoughts. What problems is your organization facing? What would you like to hear more about?

See Trend #1: More Content! More!
See Trend #2: More Devices! More!
See Trend #3: More Social! More!
See Trend #4: Silos Still Suck!

*          *          *          *          *

See more from "Our Thoughts."