Content strategy! As early as last month, August 2014, I knew next to nothing about content strategy, content marketing, and custom content. But on August 27, something happened — I attended a MadCap-hosted webinar by content strategist Mark Baker. Although Mark’s presentation focused on EPPO topic-based authoring, it opened the gateway to the kaleidoscopic world of content strategy.
Naturally, over the following weeks, my senses were sharpened or tuned to pick up some of the more appealing articles by content marketing tacticians, especially those that overlap or collide with the approaches by technical communicators and recreational bloggers. While the perceptions of content strategy might differ for these roles, I see a common effort to appreciate the big picture!
Hi, my name is Jay, and I’m an IBM TRIRIGA information developer at IBM. Do I have a personal content strategy? Now that’s an intriguing question! Although I’ve never taken a formal course on content marketing or marketing strategy because I was never interested before, I’m indeed applying my own strategy, even if it’s only on the instinctual level. What is my content strategy? Let’s find out.
Which articles appealed to me?
Before I dive into my personal content strategy or soon-to-be-recorded podcast, let’s take a step back at the bigger picture and the larger context of articles that appealed to me the most. Based on these first 5 articles — ranging from topic-based authoring to custom content — my piqued curiosity convinced me to dig deeper into the varying definitions and interpretations of content strategy.
Every page is page one
Earlier, I mentioned Mark Baker’s gateway webinar. Before I registered for it, I explored his linked article about his Every Page is Page One (EPPO) topic-based approach. In a nutshell, I was hooked.
- Every Page is Page One: The Book (05 Oct 2013)
Readers look for information the way wild animals forage for food — seeking good-enough information that takes the least effort to find and digest. The Web make information foraging easier, and therefore people spend less time struggling with difficult content. They prefer short information snacks, which are best provided by Every Page is Page One topics…
A web is organized bottom up. Every page is page one, and every page is a hub linked to other pages by a web of subject affinities. Hierarchies flatten reality. Organizing content from the bottom up allows us to express more complex relationships that are more true to the irregular nature of the real world. Beyond a certain scale, only bottom-up organization is effective…
Every Page is Page One topics are self-contained. The are designed not merely to stand alone, but to function alone.
Needless to say, I registered, attended, and thoroughly enjoyed Mark’s webinar. Among his 7 EPPO principles, the principle that a topic should be “self-contained” resonated with me the most. My DITA interpretation of this goal is that the particular subject shouldn’t necessarily be split apart into typical concept, task, and reference topics if it can addressed in a single, focused, and fully-formed topic.
The perfect illustration of this “self-contained” principle is the online recipe. For example, let’s say that I’m searching Google for an Orange Pecan French Toast recipe. As I click through my list of Google results, will I be satisfied with a recipe that quickly provides the ingredients, directions, and tips in a single article? Or will I be satisfied with a recipe that splits these 3 sections into 3 separate articles?
In other words, if I can’t find a single topic or article or post that covers what I’m looking for, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’ll stay in the same topic hierarchy or content structure to look for it. Why should I stay? Instead, it’s much easier to go back to my Google results and click the next link. Later, I’ll discuss the content framework and how the EPPO approach fits into content tactics.
I think I stumbled across this next article through a tweet or retweet. Although the Mashable article feels rather lazy with its brevity, the linked infographic by Captora is the most fascinating piece.
Content marketing campaigns have become essential for marketers to engage audiences and generate leads. In fact, more than half of all consumers are more likely to buy from companies that create custom content. But one of the biggest challenges B2B and B2C marketers face is measuring ROI. Only 27% of marketers track content metrics effectively…
Luckily, the folks at Captora created a graphic visualizing new data on metrics of success, which types of content have the highest ROI, the best days to share content on social media and more.
What strikes me about this infographic are the video-content numbers. Although video content is relatively effective (35%), its click-to-open rate is unexpectedly poor (21%). But in terms of how-to or educational “top of the funnel” content, this makes sense in that it’s much quicker and easier to scroll through a blog post or white paper about an unfamiliar idea, rather than pay attention to a long video.
Yet all is not lost. If I assume that the video numbers are based on “standalone” delivery such as a YouTube or Dailymotion channel, then the click-to-open rate (21%) might be boosted by “piggyback” or “embedded” delivery in coordinated blog posts with much higher click-to-open rates (44%). By delivering a more inviting or informative context for “top of the funnel” videos, ROI might improve.
Naturally, the phrase “custom content” piqued my curiosity. Is content customized for an audience? For a solution? So I dove deeper. After a brief search, I found Andrew Boer’s insightful Adotas article.
In my view, there is a simple and fundamental difference between Content Marketing and Custom Content: one is internal, one is external.
Custom Content… was typically the creation of content meant to build an affinity with your existing audience. This content would reinforce the brand, communicate the value of the product and create new opportunities. Custom Content is the creation of ”branded content” for a customer. And, for the most part, custom content is created for the client to communicate with their own existing customers…
Content Marketing for the most part is a different beast. Content Marketing is predominantly outward facing — it is about creating content that will attract *new* customers for brands. It can be branded content, but it can also be simply “brand-relevant” content that attracts an audience…
Content Marketing is going to be a lot harder than Custom Content to do well. Brands who want to be content marketers will have to understand and use a much wider array of expertise and disciplines including: social media, search optimization, paid and earned media, distribution and community building.
Despite that fact that Andrew’s article is 3 years old, it still clarifies or makes a worthy attempt to clarify the new-versus-existing-customer distinction between content marketing and custom content. Three years later, these terms and their differences might have evolved even further. But for now, I’m satisfied. Later, I’ll discuss the content framework and how custom content fits into content strategy.
Ridiculously good content
As recently as last week, I received the STC newsletter which highlighted Ann Handley’s article about writing “ridiculously good content”. As a technical communicator and blogger, I was quite impressed.
What follows is an outline of a 12-step process for relatively long text you might produce—blog posts, e-books, whitepapers, site content, and the like… I’ve used it to cobble together the bones of video scripts and presentations, as well as longer memo-style emails…
Consider the order of the steps in this outlined writing process merely a suggestion. You can toss them around and follow them in any order you wish—perhaps you like to barf up your first draft onto the page incoherently and then organize your writing into something more cogent.
That’s fine; it’s completely at your discretion. There is no one way to write, remember?
Jay Manaloto (11 Sep 2014; my reply if the login screen hadn’t deterred me)
Thanks for sharing, Ann. For newbie writers, you can’t have too many GPS-like guides or perspectives to help you get started. Here are two more suggestions that assume you’ll be writing more than a single post or article of content.
*Start small.* Sometimes it’s better to keep your idea small and manageable to wrap your head around its structure and evolution. You can always add more examples and insights later, or in later articles!
*Rinse and repeat.* Your first published article is always the most difficult. But after you get more familiar with your own process and your own voice, it gets easier. Before you know it, you won’t need guides like this!
Sadly, the only downside of Ann’s article isn’t anything in its content. Instead, the MarketingProfs login screen proved to be an unnecessary deterrent and ironic barrier in writing my intended reply. I suppose such a login screen is unavoidable in the land of marketing, but there must be other options. Later, I’ll discuss the content framework and how the content writing process fits into content tactics.
Finally, within a day of finding Ann’s article, I noticed Larry Kunz’s tweet about a “down-to-earth description” of content strategy. That description was Helen Mosher’s striking “book” metaphor.
— Larry Kunz (@larry_kunz) September 11, 2014
- Helen Mosher: Content strategy. You keep using those words. (10 Sep 2014)
But to my mind, overall content strategy is kinda like dealing with books…
Inventory and architecture are important if your focus is on being the librarian. Outcome and analytics are the primary focus of the bookseller. Neither will have anything to work with without decent writers and editors doing the creation, curation, and QA.
And the content strategist? The publisher. This is a person who can take stock of overall trends and knowledge of the marketplace, identify gaps between existing stuff and needed stuff, retire hackneyed and predictable pieces to the “reject” pile, and manage the workflow, the output, the talent needed to produce, market and organize the information.
It’s an imperfect metaphor, really. So is just about everything else I’ve seen about content strategy, but when you’re trying to get your arms around the concept it’s helpful to understand that there is a difference between architecture, analytics, and production. And all of these things are involved in the implementation of content strategy but none of them IS content strategy.
Jay Manaloto (11 Sep 2014)
Thanks for sharing, Helen. Yours is one of the few good metaphors I’ve come across. Mark Baker applies a similarly strong metaphor comparing content strategy to military strategy, tactics, and logistics. While I still prefer the traditional definitions of the high-level strategy, the lower-level tactics that execute the strategy, and the logistics that support the tactics, Mark adds an appealing “fractal” twist that each role in the ladder has its own relative view of what their own content strategy, tactics, and logistics are. Personally, I sometimes tend to think that as long as you know what your goals are, all of these buzzwords are just glorified plans or lists. I mean, when I drive to the local supermarket with my weekly grocery list, should I call this my “agile grocery strategy”? :)
I think my reply to Helen’s blog post sums it up well. But looking back, my only disagreement with her metaphor is that it doesn’t go far enough in classifying each role — architecture, analytics, and production — into the proper strategic, tactical, or logistical layer within a content framework. Which explains why I assembled my own approach. Next, I’ll discuss my concept of the content framework.
What is my content strategy? Or content framework?
As someone new to the curious land of content strategy and content marketing, yet armed with my experience in technical communication and recreational blogging, I could feel that its atmosphere carries not only electricity but also uncertainty. Which makes perfect sense in a rapidly evolving socio-mobile industry. But could I make sense of the uncertainty that these 5 articles represent?
In my introduction, I asked, “Do I have a personal content strategy? What is my content strategy?” Yes, to answer the former question, “I’m indeed applying my own strategy, even if it’s only on the instinctual level”. But to answer the latter question, and to cut through the hazy “varying definitions and interpretations of content strategy”, I went back to the historical military definition of strategy.
First, here’s the meandering Wikipedia definition of content strategy.
- Wikipedia: Content strategy (23 Aug 2014)
Content strategy refers to the planning, development, and management of content… The term is particularly common in web development since the late 1990s. It is recognized as a field in user experience design but also draws interest from adjacent communities such as content management, business analysis, and technical communication…
Many organizations and individuals tend to confuse content strategists with editors… It has also been proposed that the content strategist performs the role of a tastemaker or curator. A museum curator sifts through the mass of content and identifies key pieces that can be juxtaposed against each another to create meaning and spur excitement…
[S]ome specialize in content analysis, which roughly describes work with metadata, taxonomy, search engine optimization, and the ways these concepts support content… There is yet another stream of content strategy advancing information architecture goals. In this case, content strategy may only involve writing site copy for new website pages and adapting the content on existing ones.
By comparison, here are the Wikipedia definitions of military strategy and military logistics.
- Wikipedia: Military strategy (14 Sep 2014)
Strategy, which is a subdiscipline of warfare and of foreign policy, is a principal tool to secure national interests. It is larger in perspective than military tactics, which involves the disposition and maneuver of units on a particular sea or battlefield…
Military strategy in the 19th century was still viewed as one of a trivium of “arts” or “sciences” that govern the conduct of warfare; the others being tactics, the execution of plans and maneuvering of forces in battle, and logistics, the maintenance of an army.
- Wikipedia: Military logistics (09 Sep 2014)
Military logistics is the discipline of planning and carrying out the movement and maintenance of military forces… The first theoretical analysis was by the Swiss writer, Antoine-Henri Jomini, who studied the Napoleonic wars. In 1838, he devised a theory of war on the trinity of strategy, ground tactics, and logistics.
Earlier, I mentioned instinct — “even if it’s only on the instinctual level”. Maybe I should refer to it as my online instinct. In other words, although I’ve never taken a formal course on content strategy, I knew that if I wanted to extend the reach of my thoughts in the Blogosphere, I should tap into the energy of the Twittersphere, not in any random way, but in a more coordinated and consistent way.
Even further, if I wanted to deepen the connection with my readers, I shouldn’t randomly spit out content, I should compose meaningful content. Here’s a buzzword that I’m seeing more frequently — storytelling. Then again, I learned very early — maybe as early as 9th or 10th grade — that writing articles in the form of a story is personally much more fun, natural, and in the end, powerful. Instinct.
By applying the military principles as a foundation, referring to the 5 articles as forms of conceptual testing, and following my instinct, I assembled my own approach for a cohesive content framework. I chose to clarify that the strategic layer isn’t the same as the tactical layer or logistical layer or overall framework in which it lies. But I also chose to convey some flexibility by adding “v1” or “Version 1”.
- Why should we do it?
- Why choose these goals and objectives?
- Why target these audiences and industries?
- How should we do it?
- How valid are our techniques and processes?
- How sound are our guidelines and methodologies?
- Which tools should we use?
- Which technologies and ecosystems?
- Which resources and requirements?
All 3 layers together form the framework not the strategy. Logistics supports tactics, and tactics support strategy. But strategy is not dependent on any specific tool or technique.
By now, you might be asking, “Why all the orange?” Haha, well, although Mark’s webinar started the ball rolling, the avalanche didn’t rumble until Ann’s article on September 10 and Larry’s tweet on September 11 about Helen’s blog post. Coincidentally, believe it or not, these days overlapped with the orange-tinted Content Marketing World 2014 conference from September 8 to 11! So why not?
Finally, with a new content approach in place, I’m ready to answer the question — “What is my content strategy?” — and at the same time, I’m ready to test the content framework. Starting small, let’s delve into the reasons why I launched my technology blog in the first place. Back in November 2013, I launched it because I didn’t have any easy vehicle to explore and share my larger thoughts.
Why the technology industry? Why a blog? Ah, this is where the fun begins! Since I’m starting small, my role as an individual blogger actually covers all 3 layers as a content strategist, content tactician, and content logistician. I chose a technological audience because of my love, fascination, and curiosity about technology, whether it’s socio-mobile, gaming, motorsport, or aerospace technology.
So that’s my content strategy — to explore and share technological ideas and connections. The next question is, “How should I do that?” Quite naturally, I chose a social-media approach because of my fascination and familiarity with blogs, wikis, and the technology behind them. Consequently, these are my content tactics — to pursue social-media approaches. Next, “Which tools should I choose?”
Obviously, I chose WordPress.com for my primary social-media platform. But I’ve also integrated it and coordinated it with my Twitter micro-blogging platform. As my tech blog evolved, I also realized that I’m most comfortable creating original WordPress content and original Twitter tweets with my Windows 8.1 PC yet I’m most comfortable retweeting other tweets with my Android smartphone!
So these are my content logistics — to choose my specific WordPress and Twitter tools as well as the Windows and Android systems that support them. Just as my tactics are defined by my strategy, my logistics are defined by my tactics. Now here’s the big test! If the content framework is sound, then I should be able to classify the concepts in the 5 articles as strategy, tactics, or logistics. Right?
Every page is page one: Mark Baker
- Content strategy: No, the EPPO approach to topic-based authoring doesn’t define why you’re targeting certain goals or audiences.
- Content tactics: Yes, after the strategy is defined, the EPPO approach can be applied to your structured topics, blog posts, wiki pages, and even video scripts.
- Content logistics: No, the EPPO tactics don’t limit you to Oxygen XML or MadCap Flare, WordPress or Blogger, MediaWiki or Wikia, or YouTube or Dailymotion.
Custom content: Captora
- Content strategy: No, the Captora solution for content tracking doesn’t define why you’re targeting certain goals or audiences.
- Content tactics: No, the Captora solution doesn’t define how you’re applying your strategy or tracking your content, which may or may not include blog posts, white papers, videos, and other types.
- Content logistics: Yes, after the tactics and tracking methods are defined, the Captora solution can be applied to tracking your content.
Custom content: Andrew Boer
- Content strategy: Yes, the reasons why you’re focusing on custom content for existing customers, or content marketing for new customers, or both sets of customers are the same reasons why you’re targeting certain goals or audiences.
- Content tactics: No, the choice between custom content and content marketing doesn’t define how you’re applying your strategy, which may or may not include blog posts, white papers, videos, and other types.
- Content logistics: No, the choice between custom content and content marketing doesn’t define how you’re applying your tactics, or limit you to Oxygen XML or MadCap Flare, WordPress or Blogger, MediaWiki or Wikia, or YouTube or Dailymotion.
Ridiculously good content: Ann Handley
- Content strategy: No, the 12-step GPS-like approach to creating good content doesn’t define why you’re targeting certain goals or audiences.
- Content tactics: Yes, after the strategy is defined, the 12-step approach can be applied to your structured topics, blog posts, wiki pages, and even video scripts.
- Content logistics: No, the 12-step tactics don’t limit you to Oxygen XML or MadCap Flare, WordPress or Blogger, MediaWiki or Wikia, or YouTube or Dailymotion.
Content strategy: Helen Mosher
- Content strategy: No, the “book” or “book life cycle” metaphor doesn’t define why you as the “strategic” publisher are targeting certain goals or audiences. A strategy defines why you are tracking certain trends or identifying certain gaps, but the trends and gaps don’t define the strategy, they define the tactical methods.
- Content tactics: Yes, after the strategy is defined, the “book” metaphor can be applied to each tactical process and its respective role — architecture for the librarian, analytics for the bookseller, and production for the publisher — throughout the life cycle of the book.
- Content logistics: No, the “book” metaphor doesn’t define how you’re applying your tactics, or limit you to a specific architectural, analytical, or publishing tool.
As a second coincidence, a fortuitous tweet led me to an Econsultancy article that applied the concepts of content strategy versus content tactics in precisely the way that I imagined. Awesome.
The upshot is that, though it had a useful World Cup hub page, it just didn’t manage to rank highly enough in the run up to the tournament. It is, of course, a very competitive term, but it wouldn’t be hard for a publisher with the resources of Mail Online to rank for this, given the right strategy.
According to Sam Silverwood-Cope, Director at PI Datametrics: “What our intelligence shows is that The Daily Mail got the strategy right by publishing a landing page for the World Cup early in the year, but got the tactics wrong by not giving that page (and a subsequent canonical one) enough internal links and strength.”
Did the content framework pass the tests? I think so! One by one, I demonstrated that I was able to classify the concepts in each of the 5 articles into their proper strategic, tactical, or logistical layer within its content framework. In fact, the act of classifying concepts was an enlightening exercise in comparing apples to apples and oranges to oranges. Especially in a land of content uncertainty.
What about my podcast?
At last, it’s time to introduce my first podcast in 6 years! Originally, I had planned a separate post devoted specifically to a random podcast. So I bought a new headset and found some free recording software. But as my current post about content strategy evolved, I wondered, “Why not add my audio content here?” The rest is history. Now, without further ado, sit back, multitask, and enjoy the show!
- 00:25 “My first podcast in about 6 years.”
- 02:07 “The Twitter age. The Instagram age.”
- 02:57 “Try something new. Try something old.”
- 04:01 “Let’s talk about the tech that I’m using.”
- 05:01 “Now for the recording software. Audacity.”
- 05:46 “I wanted to use Adobe Audition 3.0.”
- 07:10 “Adobe posted their retired Adobe CS2.”
- 08:04 “You can’t have a podcast without intro and outro music.”
- 09:19 “Now about the post that I wrote. The content strategy.”
- 09:58 “If everything’s a strategy, then nothing’s a strategy.”
- 11:11 “DITA is a tool. It’s one tank in the overall strategy.”
- 12:36 “I like to break things down to components.”
- 13:14 “I think I can sum it up there.”
- 14:30 End.
- Strategy, Tactics & Logistics (www.kirit.com)
- So, What Is looperman.com ? (www.looperman.com)
- Confessions of a Content Designer (www.medium.com)
- The Content Council (www.customcontentcouncil.com)
- Content Modelling: A Master Skill (www.alistapart.com)
- How to Disrupt Podcasting (www.contentmarketingworld.com)
- 10 Content Marketing World 2014 Lessons (www.heidicohen.com)
- What’s the hottest thing in Content Marketing? (contentmarketingworld.brightcove.com)