Introduction: Why Content Matters - The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web (2014)

The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web (2014)

Introduction: Why Content Matters

Abstract: To create and maintain a strong online publishing structure for content, you must follow seven rules. These rules—from the first “Should we change the content on our website?” to embracing an iterative process involving stakeholders (early and often), knowing which content to create, how to do it, how it has to perform, knowing your audience, and making content governance a priority—will guide your content efforts. This text will guide you from that first question to an adoption of a new way of thinking about content, your audience, and the sales cycle.

Keywords: content marketing, online publishing strategy, content strategy, content management, branding guidelines, content governance, sales, iterative process

Information in This Chapter

• Solving the Content Problem

• Managing Content with a System

• Knowing Your Audience

• Using the Right Talent

Whether you are a marketing executive, a small business owner, a content professional, or the chief technology officer of a Fortune 1000 company, chances are you’re freaked out by the demand for online content. Bill Gates famously said in 1996, “Content is King.” Everyone keeps repeating that quote, but some people have no idea what it really means—how to achieve content excellence, ascend the throne, and wear the crown.

If you need to understand the how, why, when, and who of creating great content for your audience to consume, then this book is for you. You may feel unequipped to create and deliver fabulous content experiences for a variety of reasons: not enough money in the budget, not the right staff, not enough content, too much content. If you’ve noticed that focusing on video, or blogging, or search engine optimization (SEO), or social media, or the next hot digital thing isn’t getting you where you really want to go, then you’re in the right place. Together, learning the theory of content, as well as tactics and tools for content success, we will build a roadmap toward digital strategy victory.

Solving Your Content Problem

Chances are you picked up this book for one, two, or maybe all three of these reasons:

1. Your business isn’t performing the way you want it to and you’re suspicious that after two expensive redesigns the problem may not lie with design.

2. You’ve been on too many website and digital strategy projects that have failed and you’re looking for a new way to think about digital strategy.

3. You buy any book with the word content in the title.

The reason that websites and other digital strategy projects fail is because the people managing them don’t focus on what really matters. They begin changing things for the sake of change, to “update,” without first asking themselves why. They usually also forget to ask what the update will accomplish. This creates a focus on the wrong priorities.

In the case of any strategy for a business, not-for-profit organization, government agency, or other organization, the first question we must ask is: Why are we doing this? This question is otherwise known as the business case.

A business case demonstrates the reason we do something that costs resources such as money or someone’s time. If you want your digital projects to be successful, you need to move your focus away from doing what everyone else is doing to “keep up.” Instead, start focusing on your audience—what they want to say as well as what they want to hear. Start with a conversation. In the digital world, content makes conversations happen.

In the digital world, content makes conversations happen.

Your design can look good, it can even win design awards, but without the content to attract the audience, keep them there, and get them to buy something or use your service, your pretty website or social media page does not meet the needs of your business.Meeting the needs of your business is what content is about: content supports the sales process.

The Inherent Tension in Content

Our challenges with content lie with two different but interrelated challenges:

• How do we capture the information we need from our internal sources?

• How do we create a publishing system to release that content into the world?

The information you need from inside your organization is the content your audience needs and wants. Content consists of all of the information assets of your company that you share with the world.

And, it’s not just text. Mind-shift time: We need to stop thinking about content as articles, blogs, and catalogs. Content is the information, resources, and materials that you want to communicate to your audience. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, written text, photographs, graphics, infographics, PDFs, documents in other formats, reviews, video, audio, and so on.

Getting all those information assets out to the public in a systematic, sensible process feels overwhelming. Publishing has become so instantaneous that it’s (almost) impossible to keep up with your audiences’ demands—four years ago it was Facebook. Eighteen months ago, Google +. Now, if you don’t have an infographic, you’re not relevant (that’s Pinterest). Vine exploded just a few months back. Apparently, even MySpace is back. How can any organization, especially smaller ones with very limited budgets, keep up?

If you are responsible for the content on a website or for a brand, then it’s not just the written word you need to think about, but also any type of content that communicates about your brand. In fact, user-generated content (UGC) is also your responsibility. How do you publish, regulate, and manage all of that content? (Without the use of illegal or prescription drugs?)

Content Is Messy. It’s Complicated. It’s Time-Consuming

People typically go wrong with content because they want to finalize it. Finish with it. Forget that, too. Things change too quickly in today’s marketplace for us to get to “perfect” and feel that a project is finished. It’s not like writing a book or a brochure that is printed (and even books have second and third editions). Content is something that keeps changing, so by definition it does not really end.

When content teams seek perfection, they freeze in this fast-paced world and don’t create or publish anything. Some organizations don’t act because they lack a clear strategy for what they can accomplish with their content. Instead, they throw things on the wall and see what sticks. (I call this a spaghetti content strategy.) Sometimes, because of this immense pressure, they put the wrong types of information out there, or even worse, incomplete information, further stymying that great conversation they intended to have.

While the CFO would never allow that strategy in the finance department (can you imagine how the books might look?), many marketing departments behave in precisely that manner because they don’t have a systematic content process. Then, when content doesn’t perform the way they expect, they give up. Or, they redesign.

The Mess That Can Be Managed

Feeling frustrated? I hear you. You probably feel like my ten year old who, while doing her math homework, will throw her pencil across the room and exclaim, “I’m bad at math!”

If you feel that you are not good at this content thing, or you are so overwhelmed with your to-do list that you are frozen, like peas, you’ve made the first right step: You’ve picked up this book.

Why Following a System Is Key

If you want to manage anything, you must follow a system. Content is no different. Systems, by their design, create freedom. Rules are there to help people. Take driving, for example: If one driver decides to ignore a stop sign, others get hurt.

Systems help us modify our behaviors which is vital for organizations that want to create great content. This is why in this book I introduce and evangelize the adoption of seven rules to keep your content processes healthy and adaptive. These rules will give you a system for creating engaging, robust, reusable content. Once you and/or your digital team master these seven rules, you will have a map, a road to follow—in other words, freedom from chaos and panic. In essence, a company has to experience a cultural shift in order to create outstanding, winning content. Shifts only happen with guiding principles and support. These rules provide that structure.

The goal of content strategy is to create a framework around the execution of content so that creativity can flourish.

Together, we’re going to explore content—first, how to think about it. Then, we will learn how to create a content publishing strategy that works for your organization, builds your business, and makes you and your team content rock stars.

Part 1: Content as Conversations

In Part 1, we’ll explore the idea of content as a conversation. For a great exchange we need give and take. To do that, we need to know whom we are, which is why we need to understand our organization’s branding.

We also need to know how we’re going to have those conversations, which is why we’ll explore the concepts of content strategy and content marketing. We’ll learn why it’s so important to know who it is that we’re talking to, which is why the first rule is ….

Rule #1: Start with Your Audience

Content is the fuel that drives your organization’s sales engine. Your audience will buy something, use your service, or donate money because of your content. Therefore, you need to know the following about these people (because they are people):

• Who are they?

• Why are you creating content for them?

• What types of content do they truly want to consume?

• How do they want to find and/or receive that content?

In Chapter 2, we will tackle how to build a business case for content and position that business case for your senior and executive leadership (you may even be that leadership).

Making a business case for content can be challenging. However, your executives—or you—need to understand how important content is to an organization’s sales process, or achievement threshold. Identifying some of those executives and senior leadership as stakeholders will bring us to the next step on our journey …

Rule #2: Involve Stakeholders Early and Often

We all know the expression, “Let’s get the right people in the room.”

I cannot tell you how many times I have seen content projects and entire web projects derailed because nobody consulted the senior stakeholders about content early in the process. What is scarier is how many times I’ve seen projects derailed because juniorstakeholders were not brought into the process early enough.

It’s important to understand who makes decisions and who has important knowledge that affects content. Get to know the lay of the land so that you invite the right people into the right discussions, which will ultimately affect the production and management of content.

Part 2: Content Floats

You goal is to have a great conversation with your audience in order to build a relationship. How do you know what to say? How do you get your content packaged so that it meets your audience when they are in a mood to listen? What tools do you use to listen to the audience? How do you make sure you are saying the right things?

We will learn how to create content based on our business objectives as well as use content to support the decision-making process our customers make. We’ll also learn that we must follow …

Rule #3: Keep It Iterative

Iterative describes a process in which you continually re-think and refine, making changes and remaining flexible and sensitive to the flow of ideas and input, until you achieve the final product. We all agree that in the constantly changing digital world there is no such thing as a final product.

Online we can change so much so quickly, which means we can always iterate. Plus, technology is always changing, so serving great digital content means we have to learn to adapt to change.

We’ll talk about how to approach projects from an iterative point of view, always looking to improve but not being stymied by paralysis through analysis.

In Chapters 4 and 5 we’ll learn how to structure your content so that it’s future-ready. We’ll also learn that your content is not your website, or your blog, or your YouTube channel. Content is the information you have displayed on your website, blog or YouTube channel. Those channels are just delivery methods—ways to get your content to the people that want it.

Which brings us to …

Rule #4: Create Multidisciplinary Content Teams

I spent seven years writing healthcare digital content and the major buzzword during that time (and still) in the healthcare industry was “multidisciplinary.” Medical professionals use that word to describe different specialists who work together to plan and coordinate treatment for complex diseases.

In our digital strategy world the same approach applies. Only multidisciplinary digital teams can produce and deliver great content. Having designers who understand how people read on a mobile device or a developer who picks the right platform for content delivery will make or break your digital strategy. You also need people throughout the organization who understand all the different types of conversations you need to have with your audience. That’s where finding the right people to drive certain content projects transforms into the art of skillful management and breaking down organizational siloes.

Part 3: Content Strategy: People and Process

In Part 3, we’ll learn how to set up an effective content strategy—an online publishing system—and all about the tools you will need to do so. The management of content requires a firm understanding of people, process, and technology. In Chapters 6, 7, and 8, we’ll talk about understanding your customer, how to map out what you want to say, different phases of a content strategy, and how to align your content teams so that they are running efficiently.

Which brings us to …

Rule #5: Make Governance Central

Governance describes the process of keeping content consistent, fresh, and organized. You must maintain governance if you want people to connect to your brand. Did you ever have that friend who was hot and cold? On Monday you were best friends and on Wednesday she gave you the cold shoulder? No one likes those types of people because you cannot trust them. You certainly do not want your customers to perceive your brand as inconsistent and unreliable. Consistency is powerful and the only true path to change. This brings us to content marketing, which is a vital approach to maintaining a consistent relationship with your target audiences.

Part 4: Sustaining the Conversation

Content marketing is using content to build an audience that trusts you, shares your content, and recommends you to friends. After we describe how to create effective content marketing programs, we’re going to learn about our final two rules …

Rule #6: Position the Right Talent in the Right Roles

Too often, when I consult with companies I learn quickly that the wrong talent is in the wrong roles. Creatives are trying desperately to be project managers, personnel responsible for creativity don’t have the proper training, or people with great execution skills are responsible for theory and strategy. For obvious reasons this creates friction, inefficiencies, and workflow challenges—not to mention nausea and exhaustion. We will talk about the importance of workflow and change management and how they lead to creating and managing winning content.

Then, in Chapter 11, we’ll touch upon design because just like a beautiful diamond shouldn’t be set in a less than spectacular setting, so too, your content should be displayed in a supportive design. Which will bring us to our final rule:

Rule #7: Invest in Professionals and Trust Them

You need to know when you don’t have the internal resources you need to do the job. That might mean a SEO expert, or a digital writer, or a mobile developer.

If you don’t have the financial resources to outsource, you might be able to find an enterprising person on your team who is willing to try to wear that hat. Ultimately, however, you will find you have wasted valuable time and money in potential revenue if you don’t bite the bullet and find a way for an expert to look at your problem.

Hire the right professional who can help you look at your challenge and find the solution that’s right for your budget and your team. Then trust that person. It’s his or her job to solve the problem—not yours.

Along the way, we’re going to meet businesses of all sizes that faced content problems and mastered them. By peering inside their world, you will get a glimpse of the tools and tactics others have used to succeed at content.

You Are Going to Be Great at This

The goal of The Digital Crown is to arm you with the steps you need to create winning online content. If you follow the seven rules in this book, you will feel primed to take control of content production within your company, or for your clients, and move it forward toward success.

No one has the Holy Grail on how to be successful on the web. You need a strategy in place—one that is elastic enough to keep up with the speed of innovation but structured enough so you feel confident of your overall direction. You need a Lycra® blend content solution, which is why the seven rules are so important: They provide a structured system to aid in winning the digital content game.

More than ever people need information and they want to have a conversation. It’s your job to give both to them. Along the way, you can entertain, delight, enchant, and persuade. Because content is king, it needs to be your starting and ending point. It lives in a cycle of conversations with your audience and it’s out there waiting to be mastered.

Shall we begin?