Aug 14, 2012

The Rise of Content Strategy—Trend #1: More Content! More!

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

The Zeitgeist Moment
I’ve learned a lot in the past few years at Hot Studio, where I oversee a small team of content strategists and writers. I’m witness to what I’ve told many people is a zeitgeist moment in Content Strategy.

Today, more than ever before, it seems impossible to discuss things like "the customer experience," responsive and adaptive designs, or SEO or social media strategies without recognizing that content is the common element. It's what people are looking for, and at.

Content (language, imagery, videos, sounds, and more) comes up early in strategic conversations as we refine the positioning and key messages for a company or product. It is core to our design process, when we’re organizing content in the information architecture, and drafting on-brand and user-friendly language for navigation, buttons, and everything else in an interface. The need for clear, well-structured content is a constant as we work with our clients and developers to deliver rich digital experiences that satisfy business needs, and make customers happy.

But how will that content be created, approved, imported into Content Management Systems, maintained, and appropriately delivered to hundreds of different devices and sites?

Enter the practice of Content Strategy, and the growing need for the role of a Content Strategist. At Hot, our Content Strategists help organizations plan for the creation and delivery of content that resonates with people.

Though the practice of Content Strategy is still evolving, Content Strategy is becoming a crucial business tool. In this series I’ll describe the trends leading to this zeitgeist moment, and conclude with how the practice is rising to meet the challenges.

Hope you enjoy!
- Margot

p.s. Kindly note that these are my first drawings ever. Props to Dan Roan, author of Blah Blah Blah, who motivated me to illustrate. Please laugh with me.

Trend #1: More Content! More!

Now Ain’t Then.
The five-page brochure site is so 20 years ago. It worked fine then. If your company moved, your called the Web guy (a.k.a. your neighbor, son, or daughter), and you asked them to update your Contact Us page. So what if it took five weeks? No one was looking at your site anyway.

No longer. Hot’s clients have anywhere between 25 and 50,000 web pages per site. After a thorough investigation, one of our clients found they owned 1,500 domains. Many of which housed content: valuable content, worthless content, timely content, hopelessly dated content, and everything in between.

Good content drives traffic and expresses your brand. More importantly, customers need it. They’re trying to get stuff done. They want to know the latest. Fast. And they’re going to talk about your company and its content (or lack thereof) with their friends and online peers.

Organizations have responded by making more content. And faster! “Publish something every day!” they’ve apparently been told. They’ve responded valiantly. The sheer quantity of new pages being generated is astronomical. In 2008, search engineers at Google stopped “in awe” when their systems hit a milestone: 1 trillion (as in 1,000,000,000,000) unique URLs (pages) on the Web at once! And as of June 2011, 150,000 new domains were being added to the Web every day.

So. Much. Content.
I’ll always push for content to be created. And for it to be cutting-edge-current. But the goal isn’t to publish something frequently. It’s to publish something valuable for your customers. So why it that so hard? You probably have some ideas about what gets in the way of good content being produced consistently in your organization.

How Content Strategy Can Help With Content Mania
First, a Content Strategist is going to work with everyone on the team, including your organization, to understand business goals, brand goals and positioning, and target audience needs and goals. We can craft a set of key messages—things the organization wants to communicate. Then, we can evaluate how the existing content stacks up, and identify any gaps. Things we might deliver as part of a project include:

  • Key messages
  • Voice and tone
  • Content inventories
  • Content analysis (measuring how existing content stacks up against established goals)  
  • Content migration plans (if you’re moving to a new platform, move only the good stuff)
  • Editorial workflow and governance plans (ensuring your organization can oversee future content, and continue to evaluate and update existing content)
  • Editorial team and CMS training

We produce things like massive spreadsheets to track everything—so you don’t have to. Ultimately, our goal is to provide you with a clear set of parameters for “smarter” content—and the tools to make great content yourself, for years to come. If only the massive amounts of existing content were the lone problem. But no—we’ll uncover more issues in our next post, Trend #2: More Devices! More!


***Updated 9/12/12***

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Margot Merrill Fernandez's picture

Hi Chris,

Sounds like you're succeeding regardless of what your process or way of thinking is called, right? Design Thinking or Content Strategy or whatever–you're applying a human-centered methodology to help clients and their customers. Bueno!

Totally concur with your last point that unless institutions put designers in top roles, the path to successful design will be more winding, expensive, and full of boulders to climb.

Our founder Maria is spreading the good word with her upcoming book and speaker series about the DEO: Design Executive Officer. Here's Principal 1 of a DEO:

May the boulders be small in your path to design success!

Chris 's picture

Content same as for anything IS human centred. Design Thinking is what we have all been doing, haven't we? I guess not. That's why I walked away from red rimmed spectacles of arrogant designers forcing their elitest view of the world. On moving from design into marketing I brought a link that is far more important than sales to marketing. Design is core to any new product and service and business. I have always known this and akways practiced this without knowing what Design Thinking was...didn't need to. In my work Strategic Thinking is the same thing. 90% of new market introductions fail apparently. Not one of the products I have been involved in has failed because all have adhered to the Design Thinking mode. So what the hell have designers been doing the last thirty years? I didn't realise I was a proven practitioner of DT until I heard the noise about it. What do I do now?
With an MBA and Design Degree perhaps I should be looking to move into design and business leadership role. I feel the design industry has let guys like me down really. I was pulled up for my forensic investigations, early prototyping and holistic approach to new product do I best utilse my knowledge now or will it just slip me by? I guess IDEO have rebranded design but having discussed DT with some business leaders the concept (repackaging) hasn't done anything to step up the value of good design. Unless Institutions put designers in top roles will anything ever change?

Margot Merrill Fernandez's picture

Thank you for commenting Lauren! Yes, it can be overwhelming. As a content producer myself as well as a strategist, I always want to know the big picture goals, and what will constitute success, before I start writing. Clarifying those things can bring a lot more peace into our daily work lives–as well as happier customers of course. :)

Lauren Still's picture

This is a great explanation, and also makes me feel less silly for feeling overwhelmed about the amount of content we could/should have on our own website. It truly is a new trend reflecting how people expect to be able to find everything they want online. Without a guiding plan for content, and a sense of how you want it to be conveyed, it is easy to get lost in all those pages. And pages. And pages. Strategy = direction!

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