It is ironic, as we’re all professional communicators of types, that we suffer so at the hands of our own labelling and terminology.
We are all responsible for creating, curating and disseminating content to support an overall strategy, yet we hold onto vertical, department, or (heaven forbid) technology and tool-specific communities as if our lives depended on it.
This isn’t a message just for web marketing folk or technical communicators, it’s for all content professionals.
Content Strategy is something that crosses departments and verticals and channels, because the business strategy isn’t divided up by department. You don’t have the product team saying “We’re going to develop for the home user” and the marketing team saying “We’re going to market into the B2B space!”.
Tech Comms is sometimes under product, sometimes under marketing. Either way, they can’t be off on their own writing help or manuals thinking “So… we’ve defined our users as all being nurses who speak English as a second language”.
We have to align content across agreed audience profiles and speak to them in a cohesive, brand-enhancing way.
You would never want a web marketing team to say “We’re going to approach the under-25s with a hip and conversational messaging architecture” and the print team to say “We’re going after the over 40s with a professional and academic tone”. Or, if you do, that’s bad business strategy.
To do content strategically, we have to talk to each other across the currently-held boundaries.
Images of Content Strategy
I’ve heard Content Strategy described in a breath-taking variety of ways (it’s almost as bad as ‘structured content’ or ‘XML’).
When Ann Rockley began using it in the first editions of “A Unified Content Strategy” (Second Edition features a case study by me by the way, so check me out with my bad self…) it was a holistic term, crossing silos and formats. The term didn’t really take hold of the popular imagination for a decade or so (real innovation takes time to bed in), and it first took hold in the web marketing world, so it looked like this:
Since then, we’ve been hearing more of an a collaborative message between the core externally-facing communications team, which I think looks like this (which is not too bad frankly!):
Finally, and most inspiring to me, truly ‘holistic’ content strategy doesn’t limit itself to departments or points in the content and customer lifecycle. For example it doesn’t just look at external marketing messaging architecture and copy, but market-requirements documents and product strategy documentation which is internal. Similarly, it isn’t about ‘technical communications’ in the sense of external docs, but any technical content on intranets, engineering specifications and so on inside the development process of product content:
I know few organisations will ever be this sophisticated, but it’s a nice idea… isn’t it?
Even if we get it, the customers don’t…
The message I get from most professionals is that this is a harsh business reality. Their customers are only ready for the most basic and superficial interpretations of content strategy. I think that that’s partly true and as professionals we have to try to educate the market while not going out of business talking about “beyond mobile” publishing with clients that resolutely can’t get their heads out of printed pages.
So although it feels like it took us years and years to get this far in the practioners communities, it’s going to be years more that we’re explaining it to the rest of industry to have the concept of content strategy – looking at a content as an asset that can help achieve strategic goals – sink in.
Please, someone disagree with me…!
PS – If you are a technical communicator, please check out David Farbey’s latest post on exactly this. It’s no small thanks to David’s post that I was inspired to write this.
PPS – I know I often allude to my crushing project schedule, but right now is really bad. I shouldn’t even be blogging right now frankly but I couldn’t resist… so sorry if this was at all a garbled mess. I think I need a content strategy and process for my blog… 🙂