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Content Strategy Applied 2012 in review

The two days (1-2 March 2012) are wrapped – it is time to take stock of the learnings that came of them.

CS AppliedIf I had to choose one word to sum up CSApplied2012, it would be intense: pretty much a non-stop roller-coaster of information and ideas; inspiration and levity. We managed such a flow of real-time tweeting that the event hashtag – #CSA12 – peaked into the top ten Twitter trending topics world-wide and draw the attention of the spam-bots. A quad-stream format meant there was more than enough content to keep anyone busy, and sometimes too many choices to make: does one go for the technical stream, or the localisation? It’s a hard life trying to take it all in.

As with my CS Forum write-up, I will go for recurring themes rather then a blow-by-blow account of the sessions I attended.

Content strategy as a value proposition

We need content strategy, right? We all know that. But how do we sell this discipline, with so many facets and a catch-word name that few understand the depth of, to those with the money?

Scott Abel (@scottabel) set the scene with the initial remarks in his opening keynote: content strategy is about the mathematics of cost. Everything has to track back to metrics. Content needs a clear link to the revenue that flows from it.

Perhaps the most succinct summation of the value proposition is the elevator pitch we were offered:

“No content strategy – missed sales target – no bonus. Your choice.”

Rahel Bailie (@rahelab)

Karen McGrane (@karenmcgrane) hit on this subject several times during her CS101 workshop. She describes content strategy as the implementation of a core business strategy framework: a well-run business aligns user desires with the revenue-generation model, with content as the means of communicating the business value to the customer.

Taking that idea further, Maureen McDonagh demonstrated – with examples from Nectar Fashion – how content can catalyse a buy-in loop: specifically crafted content reinforces the value of each purchase, which increases the probability of a further transaction. After a while, the benefits/content become the tool that drives repeated sales.

Which brings us back to Rahel’s description of the discipline as one of business transformation. Content is the tool that enables processes and outcomes. I believe the best definition of the discipline came form the audience during one of the sessions:

“Content strategy: it’s not so much the strategy of content; it’s content as the strategy.”

Sue Davis (@suedavis68)


Most of the speakers I heard mentioned branding in one form or another. This is a subject I have often dismissed, as brand has always come across as a fabrication: a lie to entice the unwary. But this need not be so: as part of her workshop, Karen McGrane explained the intersection of brand and content strategy as the big idea that needs to be in every message we put out. For this to work, the brand attributes need to be inherent to the organisation, not creations associated solely with what is being sold.

In their separate sessions, Bian Salins (@b1an) and Jane Honey both advocated keeping the brand message integrated. It does not work to promote one aspect in one channel and another elsewhere: that only spells confusion as to what you really stand for. This does not mean that all aspects of the brand need to be included everywhere – DeAnn Wright showed how brand attributes should be applied contextually to content types.

Rahel Bailie demonstrated this concept from the other side. She raised the question of imagery: whether it is used as decoration, or as explanation. Only one supports the brand message (unless, of course, the brand is “decorative but useless”).

The content asset

This theme is one of my favourites: it is about treating elements of content as entities in their own right, separating them from the environment wherein they are used. It is the separation of content from presentation. As with the value proposition, we got this right off the bat:

“If your publishing technology separates content from presentation, you can deliver to new platforms easily.”

Scott Abel

Lindy Roux (@lindroux) gave a very nice definition of responsive design that played on this theme. It is how we should always have been designing digital: adaptive to the delivery channel. This then brings up the theme of content-centric design. (Are there too many centres to our design processes now?)

In her talk, Bian Salins stressed that social is not as separate channel. It needs to work from the same content pool. Social interactions need to be fully integrated. Failure to do this will dilute the message, and harm the business. (She was more emphatic: “Integrate or die”.)

While covering content audits, DJ Francis (@MarketerBlog) pointed out that just as content needs to be platform agnostic, so audits need to become channel agnostic. The message is the same: one content pool, one message.

Additionally, there was a lot said in one of the sessions about metadata as the linking mechanism allowing content to be efficiently reused between platforms and channels (at least according to the tweet stream), but I cannot comment on it as I was not there. If anyone has good notes from that…

Content audits

While the idea of a content audit is nothing new, there were several points made relating to them that brought the subject into a new light.

Speaking on the subject specifically, DJ Francis demonstrated the value of the client-friendly audit findings format: pretty pictures and a single example say far more to stakeholders than the ugly details in a massive spreadsheet. He also recommended a new field to include against each element of content: edit effort.

Two other aspects of content audits were also raised. Firstly, as Karen McGrane points out, a content audit is not only an analysis of the content itself, but also of the resources available to maintain the content over time. Do you have the people to manage the content, to engage socially? If not, you have too much content, and no audit is going to help; no strategy will keep your communications under control.

Secondly, Karen and Rahel Bailie both hit on the little detail that a content audit is not a one-time deal. It is an ongoing endeavour. Rahel explained how every piece of content must service an activity, which supports an objective, which in turn facilitates a goal. Karen put it that every piece of content must the be able to answer the “why?” of its existence, against the standards of the defined content strategy.

And finally:

All in all, CS Applied 2012 was a fabulous event. It could not have happened without the efforts of Hannah King from Red Lorry Yellow Lorry and Lucie Hyde from eBay.

Old content doesn’t just fade away. IT MUST DIE!

Karen McGrane

See also
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