Information Beats Persuasion: CS Forum 2011 Afterthoughts

I spoke at CS Forum earlier this month on Content Strategy.My presentation title (suck as it did) was “B2B Content Strategy: How to create company- and customer-focused content“. Terrible. But still, people seemed to see through that and show up.Here’s my feelings on, and inspired by, the event:I liked CS Forum a lot. Like, a lot. It was definitely eye opening!

People Are Getting Enable vs. Persuade

My most epic of blog of all time addressed the landmark case of Enable vs. Persuade, aka MarComm vs TechComm. Summarising 3000+ words into much fewer:

Focus first on helping people do what they want, and they’ll do what you want.

Check this post from just today on the CS Google Group by Ian Waugh entitled, “Product ‘support’ content as marketing/sales”:

“Wonder if you can help me? I’ve heard and read a couple of things recently about the benefits of providing support content like a PDF manual as part of a product description page in an ecommerce site, and the effect that it can have on sales.

I agree with this intuitively, I know I have bought products after looking at the user manual before purchase.
Guess it fits in with the whole “information beats persuasion” kind of approach.”

“Information beats persuasion” Wow. So, 3000+ words down to 3. Good ratio.

For me reading emails like this is like being handed water after running a marathon that lasted 11 years.

Now, there are many more people than I’d have imagined in the web content strategy community who are thinking about this stuff. They’re considering the overlap and touch-points between web/marketing content strategy and, for lack of a better description the “format agnostic” and “product content-centric” content strategy on which I focus.

If they weren’t thinking about it before CS Forum, they were thinking about it after.

Killer Keynotes

Both of the first keynote talks – Gerry McGovern and Karen McGrane – were dead on. They talked about task orientation, technical information and its role in the (modern, online) sales cycle. My favourite quote of the conference was Gerry’s:

“The content that use to come after the sale, is now driving the sale”.

Karen even specifically did us a shout-out by name:

“The Techcomm folks have been doing this stuff [that we in the rest of the CS world need to do] for years. We need to engage with them.”

She talked about a “Content API” which was like a CMS which can content to any format you want, even ones that have not been invented yet, and allow mash-ups of content to any device easily and quickly.
I realised that that was not a normal thing at this event. This was a conference where CMSs publish to one format/channel: the web. The extra fancy super-duper ones will do multi-language and serve up your mobile site.

The stuff our customers bang on us for, was a bridge way too far. Stuf like:

  • Generating content that goes to offline-capable mobile apps
  • Delivering dynamically to user-driven, nicely formatted print-ready PDF
  • Serving up content as a service to multiple internal and external websites

Just today I have a conf call about a customer who wants to move to publishing knowledge base content from one repository (authored by various flavours of support and service engineer) and standard content (written by technical authors and trainers) from another repository inside their product itself.
The products have sometimes PCs attached, and sometimes they have data screens (like the data dashboard console in newer cars). Why not get some real, dynamic content in there? Embedded, integrated, social content.

Content Drives the Customer Experience

People are starting to realise that when you buy a TV for $800, you go online first – a lot – and when you do so, being told that it’s “elegantly designed” and “sleek” is not compelling. Being told it’s got a USB port that can open those movies oh-so-legally downloaded is.

You may not know what your TV being 100 megahertz or 50 megahertz means, but if you asked anyone (and you probably did) then you at least have a feeling of whether it’s a good thing or not.

When it’s time to shop, it’s facts and product, not concepts or “brand messages” that you are seeking. Brand messages aren’t dead, but everyone has to add “We’re here to enable you, not seduce you” to their core messages.

To quote a wise friend:

“Content drives the customer experience”.

To read more about how the web has had some fundamental flaws in how it evaluated itself, I suggest reading more on Gerry’s blog.

So after my CS Forum experience, I repeat my call for collaboration to web CSs, UX people, and IAs. We’re here to help and learn from each other. You do things we don’t, and vice versa. Let’s chat and build some content applications that drive customer experiences.

Has anyone other in the web community be thrust into a web project that’s pushed you out of your comfort zone? “After sales” material mixing in with your copy? Apps? Print? If so:

  • How did it go?
  • How did you handle keeping that all in sync with other deliverables?
  • How did workflows, process and roles have to change vs. what you’re used to?
  • How did management envision all this and what drove the new approach?

I’m been hearing experiences from the other side of the fence and I’m looking forward to more stories!


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