This lecture is relevant for future content strategists who need to understand and to explain their role, and to develop the appropriate knowledge to carry out the role of a strategist. The article covers fundamental concepts such as the content lifecycle, content maturity models, and content operations.
Discovery and interdependencies
The tasks of content strategists are not as clearly defined as those of other professions and roles in digital business. This makes it difficult for freelance content strategists to describe what services they provide, and it makes content strategists who work in-house the go-to people for everything on content-related tasks that others avoid handling. To be successful in the profession, it is important to clearly define the role of the content strategist. Rahel Anne Bailie therefore clearly distinguished this role from others at the very beginning of her introduction to content strategy. She compares it to the role of management consultants who analyse and diagnose business problems and help companies achieve business objectives. This perspective is echoed by Sarah O'Keefe and colleagues in an article that demonstrates how content strategists use standard consulting methodologies such as the gap analysis and needs analysis, as the foundation for their work.
Content strategists are responsible for ensuring that content
optimally supports the business objectives of an organisation. Their core goal is to change the existing content-related skills, processes, and tooling in such a way
that the business processes become significantly more productive, and contribute to the success of the business.
Content is involved in many business processes that are connected by several interdependencies. Taking these dependencies into account is essential to making successful decisions about content outcomes. Because of the dependencies between content-related and other business processes, content strategy cannot be separated from business consulting.
"The point is that business consultants are supposed to improve businesses: they are not hired to maintain the status quo but to change it." (Toppin & Czerniawska 2005)
The core mission of a content strategist is not much different. Content strategists need a holistic view of a business' core content processes so they can identify how content contributes to achieving business goals.
The business processes in the field of content are often similar to those in other fields. Content strategists analyse and improve on those processes. Content plays an important role for acquisition activities such as content marketing, social media marketing, or direct marketing campaigns to attract new clients. Content has essential functions in serving stakeholders and maintaining clients via customer support, training, and knowledge bases. The management and governance of content is not only essential to securing effectiveness and efficiency of its production and administration, but also for defining key characteristics of a business for external and internal stakeholders.
All in all, content strategy can be seen as the umbrella strategy that considers all internal and external factors affecting business via the role that content plays. While a strategy may ultimately focus on a particular area, to avoid "boiling the ocean", a strategist must first understand the interdependencies between various content areas. This holistic view of the organization allows content strategists to understand the ways that different content genres can work together to create potential business benefits.
Analysis - planning - implementation
In the work of a content strategist, the same phases typically follow one another. They correspond to the content lifecycle. In order to fulfil the role of a consultant focused on content issues, a content strategist first analyses the needs of the business, users, operational needs, and the content itself, as well as the governance and budget. This is the main prerequisite for planning further steps. After the planning, content is collected, managed and delivered. Collecting, managing, and delivering are the operational phases once the strategy is implemented. In a nutshell, a content strategist is designing a repeatable system that supports content operations.
A repeatable system as the goal of the content strategist's work - this understanding is characteristic for Bailie's approach. Content strategists are not operationally responsible for developing the content itself, but they do develop the conditions for the work of those responsible, to achieve the best possible results on a daily basis. To accurately describe the operational processes involved in implementing a content strategy, Bailie and other practitioners introduced the concept of *content operations* several years ago.
Successful content processes and organisational maturity
Just as other business consultants, content strategists need to persuade
and convince organisations of the benefit of an operational model. Companies that view dealing with content as a
necessary evil are usually not aware of the benefits that come with a
good content strategy. Therefore, a content strategist has to point out
business benefits that are achieved by dealing with content
appropriately. Such benefits can be:
- the expansion into new markets through personalised content,
- building brand trust with more accurate, trustworthy content,
- reducing operational costs with more efficient production processes,
- managing risks with a better audit trail, or
- increasing revenue.
Well-functioning content processes are only possible in an organisation that understands the dependencies and the relationships within the content it produces and delivers. Clients will understand the whole spectrum of possibilities that comes with a sound content strategy only if they realise that content is more than just text on a website. Everything transmitting a message is content – from design to images to metadata. Much of a content strategist's consulting work has this state of mind as its goal – and an inherent difficulty is that clients often don't grasp the point of content strategy activities until the strategists have achieved their goals.
A four-stage methodology for a successful content strategy
Every content strategy project starts with a dialogue – more precisely, with the content strategist's question: “What do you want to achieve, and what are you doing now that is preventing you from that achievement?” The question marks the start of the discovery step, the first phase of a four-stage methodology leading towards a successful content strategy. The goal is to examine the status quo and to figure out where the problem lies that prevents an organisation from achieving future goals. The second step is to analyse the gap between the current state and the goal the organisation wants to achieve. A gap analysis serves to define what needs to be done to reach the future state. This is only successful if the strategist understands enough about the greater content landscape to be able to identify the best possible change in direction. Step three is all about creating recommendations – often using the “MoSCoW” model (International Institute of Business Analysis 2009), where you work with the client to prioritise the recommendations by putting them into the categories of must, should, could, and would, for the purpose of implementation. The fourth and last step is a logical consequence of part 3: creating a roadmap that guides the client from the current state to the future state. Using this roadmap to guide your content strategy practice is a proven way to ensure that you can implement the strategy in an organised and logical way.
Project phases and deliverables
There are diverse types of projects a content strategist can be asked
to complete. These vary in complexity and can be grouped into:
- Core projects: These projects generally cover existing markets and processes. They are often single-language, single-market projects deployed on a few channels, and have no technical requirements.
- Complex projects: These projects involve multiple markets and languages, and possibly new channels and delivery needs, but do not require retooling or new technology.
- Technical projects: These projects involve some sort of new tooling, content migrations, and new features or system implementations; it is often an add-on to the other forms of project.
Like the business goals, the deliverables of content strategy projects can vary a lot. The report at the end of the project can also be a core deliverable as some newly created assets which are proof of the work done. Bailie cautions that the value resides not in the deliverables themselves, but in the work done in order to create the deliverables.
Deliverables can be grouped into macro-categories that may change as the project transitions from one phase to another. These categories are:
- Research: Marketing research papers, customer journey diagrams, discovery interviews, …
- Analysis: Content briefs, requirement matrices, content inventories, …
- Design: Content matrices, metadata strategies, taxonomies, localisation strategies, …
- Build: Content types, domain models, editorial style guides, …
The first two groups of deliveries are connected to the operational aspects of the project, when the strategy is applied. While the number of potential deliverables can be immeasurable, most projects require only a small set of them. Some core deliverables are essential for nearly every content strategy project.
Product content and complexity
When thinking about a body of content, most people will think about marketing content on a website. However, this persuasive content is just a small portion of the overall content for a product or service. Most of the content can be described as enabling content. This content genre is wider than only product content; it covers everything from warranty information, terms and agreements, user manuals, tutorials, chatbot or voice assistant content, refund policies, or any other content that is not related to marketing. This content can belong to physical as well as to hybrid and digital products and services - for example, software as a service.
A strategic approach understands the marketing, product, and other content in a holistic way as belonging together – from the level of branding and message architecture to that of reusable information. A holistic approach is also required by the different channels, the number of which has grown continuously through digitisation. Each of these channels has specific requirements. UX writing is different from chatbot writing or technical writing. The right channels must be selected for each task. On the other hand, all content must be coordinated and the processes behind it harmonised as smoothly as possible.
A content strategy is built and used like a house
A content strategy is only useful when it is implemented; filing it away does not help an organisation meet any goals. The idea behind a content strategy is to design a repeatable system. A useful metaphor for the purpose of a content strategy is to design and build a house so that the occupants can comfortably live in it. The design must take into account the specific needs of the occupants.
Content strategy deployment works similarly, with the strategy phase taking a number of weeks, and the implementation phase taking up to 24 months, with the ultimate operations phase being used for multiple years. These phases closely match the planning, building and living phases of a house.
The system is meant
to support content operations in their deployment and iterations and
should take into account the main themes of operational models. At a tactical level, these themes can be summarized as:
- developing repeatable processes,
- automating whenever possible,
- supporting growth through scaling up of outputs,
- monitoring results, and
- creating insights.
Management will likely understand these themes when expressed in the language of strategy, which includes:
- improving collaboration across value streams,
- automating continuous delivery pipelines,
- improving innovation, and
- reducing risk.
Content operations: the bridge between content strategy and content management
Content operations is a set of principles that results in methodologies specific to high-functioning operations of content production. To leverage content as a business asset and meet intended goals, it is crucial to optimise the production of content and to allow organisations to scale their operations, while ensuring high quality in a continuous delivery pipeline. To make this possible a series of elements must be taken into account. These are:
- Quality management
- Change management
- Internal communications
- Monitoring and analytics
Operating models influence and, in turn, are influenced by the quality of the way an organisation manages its content. Content management is comprised of several different practices that build on each other to culminate in a content model. First comes research - user research, competitive analysis, and so on - and then personas and customer journeys. From there, the technical aspects are developed: domain models, content types and flows, to the content model itself. Often, a content management system is involved for content delivery on a website, but the overall ecosystem should include an authoring system, as well as supporting technologies such as taxonomy management, digital asset management, and translation management. These technologies support good management and governance across a wide range of delivery platforms such as knowledge bases, training systems, intranets, product apps, chatbots, and other emerging platforms.
The purpose of these practices is to produce and to handle content as consistently and efficiently as possible, based on the elaboration of the relevant components of the content and their relationships. They also ensure that the content can be used and reused across different channels and types while still being optimised for the intended context. Maintenance almost always consumes exponential resources to update and revise content. Content operations combined with content management ensures that different types of content can be aggregated and combined in ways that enable automated content processing, meeting user needs and expectations, and allowing predictable delivery of content in sophisticated ways.
Where to go from here
In 2012, Content Strategy Master's program instructors Rahel Anne Bailie and Noz Urbina wrote one of the first books on content strategy where they explained their views on the discipline (Bailie & Urbina 2012). In an article on our university website (Bailie 2018), Bailie characterised the role and importance of content strategists, likening them to doctors in the content field.
Bailie, R. A., & Urbina, N. (2012). Content Strategy: Connecting the Dots Between Business, Brand, and Benefits. XML Press.
Bailie, R. A. (2018, February 27). Why content strategists are the doctors of the content world. FH JOANNEUM. https://www.fh-joanneum.at/en/...
Toppin, G., & Czerniawska, F. (2005). Business consulting: A guide to how it works and how to make it work. Profile.
International Institute of Business Analysis. (2009). A guide to the business analysis body of knowlwdge (babok guide). IIBA.
O'Keefe, S., Pringle, A., & Swallow, B. (2019). Understanding Content Strategy as a Specialized Form of Management Consulting. Technical Communication Journal, Volume 66, Number 2, pp. 127-136(10).