Content Strategy: 5 things I learnt last week close

David Hart
In Codegent College
17th March 2011
Content Strategy: 5 things I learnt last week
Thanks to our guest writer for this month, Catherine Toole, CEO of the digital copywriting agency Sticky Content.

“In 2011, content strategy will be bigger than social media”. So declared Kristina Halvorson in her keynote at last Spring’s Content Strategy Forum in Paris.

And what a difference a year makes. At last week’s Digital Cream event, Sticky Content moderated 6 tables made up of over 60 senior UK digital professionals eager to get them some content strategy.

Here’s 5 things I took away from that day:

1. Nobody knows exactly what content strategy is yet. And that’s ok. There are various definitions and processes flying around and what people consider to be the key content strategy tasks varies depending on whether they come at it from a UX, IA, marketing, development or editorial background.

Yet in general, people agree that it’s about planning for better, more effective, targeted content – meaning dedicated budgets and much earlier/more prominent consideration of how and what content is to be created and produced. And that’s a big leap forward from filling in lorem ipsum sites.

2. Some people just need to produce that PowerPoint. On the flipside, I’ve been asked a lot recently to simply produce a ‘quick PowerPoint’ outlining a content strategy for us. So it can tick a box and lie in a dark cupboard somewhere no doubt. But few organisations are agile enough to embrace content strategy overnight so in the meantime, anything that raises its profile and gets a content advocate a louder voice in an organisation has got to be a good start.

3. If you can’t sell it all in, just do something small and strategic with your content – and then publicise the uplift.

I’m giving a NN/g usability week seminar in NYC this year called ’24 quick copy fixes with high ROI’. The idea is that you do something small, inexpensive and clever with text (but it could be any kind of content) prove its worth and then stand back as you are flooded with requests to ‘do it again’. A kind of reverse engineering of content strategy, if you like.

4. We forgot what we did well in print. We all know that writing for digital requires a completely new skills set and many talented print writers come a cropper when asked to provide scannable, searchable, ecommerce copy in a specific brand tone of voice. But you tell me when any self-respecting direct marketing agency last said: ‘Yeah, well, we’re doing this mail shot. It’s purple, A4 and has a picture of a dog on it. It’s all done, we just need you to drop some text into it’.

Offline, we always started with a messaging strategy. Equally, what journalist is allowed to write whatever they like and publish it? Magazines have formats, word counts, style guides, sub editors providing QA and publishers and editors determining the balance between what readers need and advertisers want. Content strategy is a return to these disciplines that made the British press admired the world over.

5. ‘However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results’. So said Sir Winston Churchill. There was lots of talk around the table last week about what we can put in place to measure and evolve a content strategy, so what begins as an inspirational PowerPoint begets a set of processes and internal changes which actually allow you to create more effective content ongoingly. It was generally agreed that the stronger the strategy, formats, processes, insights and guidelines, the more content creators can concentrate on execution itself and certainly most websites will be the better for it.

- Catherine Toole, CEO Sticky Content