I’ve harped about Marketing vs. Technical Communication Content Strategy in this wacky World of Content for a while now. The thesis in short is that we can and must integrate content strategy across these divisions for the sake of competitiveness and customer experience in the modern global market.Now here’s the wrap-up and what I think we should really be doing about it. Your comments have indicated that there are some glowing exceptions to the trend of separation, but that others feel the challenge is hopeless.
My final thoughts below.
Content Strategy is at the centre of debate right now, not only because it’s a buzzy term, but because it brings together content together with the bigger picture issues of planning and accountability. It links in with the overarching business goals that will take content to its rightful place as a strategic asset in any organisation.
Content Strategy unification, integration and sharing of standards. Is it hopeless? No. Difficult? Yes.
Companies don’t get far in a globalising marketplace when we don’t even make strategic efforts to do things because they’re “hard”. We should be reassured more by our similarities than bothered by our differences.
We have much common ground to build on. In discussing this post with Scott Abel he articulated quite nicely that content professionals share a baseline of skill-sets like:
- analytical and structural thinking
- empathy for the user and usability sensibilities
- the ability to express oneself in words.
Everyone in this world of communications and content rallies behind (or should?) certain battles cries:
- Content is king (but not really…)
- Content is a strategic (critical) business asset
- Consistency helps us and helps customers understand and engage with us
- Business needs first, technology second
Joe Gollner wrote on this blog recently and defined content quite nicely: that which goes in a container. This is most apt. If you’ve been following this series you know I am organising Congility 2011. The “unwritten theme” is recognising that all content professionals are, in the end, concerned with how to best move those containers around amongst different formats, audiences and channels to best serve our customers and business goals. When it can, you can say your content has agility.
Once you are integrated and agile, we can break down silos in delivery as well as silos in the business, and that is really when the customer and therefore the revenue stream will see some effect.
Giving the Customer What They Want
The wisdom that content is king is second (in my mind) to the older wisdom: the customer’s always right.
We’re designing customer experiences; not web pages, not manuals, not help files.
It’s about the customers and what they want to do, how they want to do it; not your content nor what you want them to do. They (may) want to buy your product, if you show them properly why they should. Especially true in the B2B space – putting meat behind the sizzle of communication is vital to engaging the modern mind.
Users want answers to their product and technical questions fast and easily in the format that’s most convenient for them. Not just support post-sales questions, but presales curiosities and decision-making questions. Persuasion loses its effect if it is not backed up with enablement.
I’ll dust off this same “The Oatmeal” cartoon from a previous post:
It talks about how to sell to the new generation (but I don’t think that is generation just in age, this applies to the new generation of consumers). He pulls out three keywords; we must be:
How are you really going to be helpful and knowledgeable without closing the communications loop?
Final thoughts for Marcomm/Web Content folk:
- You are less persuasive when you spend too much time focussed on persuading.
- When you’re selling technology products, the stuff that might bore you – like tables, specs, details, trouble-shooting, how-tos, and so forth – is often make or break to your customers.
- There are all sorts of skills and technologies already developed for technical content that do the things you want to do like control language, metadata style, presentation, and structure across multiple formats. Some may already be in your company. Go learn about them!
- There is a lot of process management experience and integration experience in the more forward thinking TechComms world. Each organisation moves at its own speed. Think of every organisation as being somewhere on a “Content Maturity Model” and check out the DITA Maturity Model, or JoAnn Hackos’ Information Process Maturity Model as examples looking at how a large business can develop its content smarts.
Final thoughts for TechComms:
- No matter how good your information is, if it’s still “the documentation”, then you will struggle to get it considered as a first port of call for users in trouble. Diversify your delivery methods to engage people across different media and models.
- You have so much more to offer the business than you may realise. Your skills are applicable to many business critical operations on both sides of the sales / pre-sales cycle. You know how to deal with ugly, complex content. Teach your colleagues and they will thank you.
- Social media a) has already impacted your career and your customer’s preferred way of ingesting information b) is your pipeline to the user feedback you’ve been denied all these years c) is more trusted than you are by an order of magnitude – you can’t beat ‘em. Join ‘em.
- Search has changed everything.
I’m really interested in hearing the from “the exceptions” – people in the collaborative, integrated, standardised teams out there. There’s been a few comments from those in shining star organisations, and some saying it’s hopeless and that the populations of these worlds could never produce ‘viable offspring’.
Can we do it? What are the half-measures in your opinion that get us at least on the road from point A to B? Where does technology fit into all this?