Timely + Technical Doesn't Mean Cheap + Tactical Why Content Strategy Has Lasting Business Value
If you're trying to champion a content initiative, sooner or later you will have to explain the value of content and, in particular, getting strategic about it. Let's take a closer look at two misconceptions you might encounter.
Timely = Fleeting?
If you're dealing with any kind of UX (user experience) or digital product team, you will have to explain the value and relationship to information architecture. This challenge reminds me of Peter Morville's closing keynote at German IA Summit this year, where he reasserted information architecture's relevance. (I dug it, as you can see here.) Peter noted that some sites still use the information architecture he planned for them 10 years ago. A potential misinterpretation for busy people trying to make sense of all this is that architecture work lasts and content work doesn't. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course.
Content strategy is timely, but the approach to developing that strategy is timeless. It has lasting value. The system of content people, process, and technology gives an organization a powerful capability that is anything but fleeting. Once an organization puts that system in place, revising the content strategy later is easier and more efficient. That means an organization has the capability to respond to content opportunities or threats quickly, not to mention experiment with and optimize tactics.
And, of course, developing that capability does make a difference to information architecture (or what we call content architecture). I don't know the particulars of Peter's example of an IA lasting 10 years, but I would guess the scope and nature of the content had not changed much. I doubt that's a good thing. I've never worked on an engagement where the ongoing content strategy and planning didn't change the information (or content) architecture in at least one way, usually multiple ways.
Technical = Tactical?
Last week, Rachel Lovinger brought to light another misconception about content strategy. She recently talked with folks who viewed the more technical planning, such as structuring content, as tactical. In her discussion, she notes a fantastic example of failure due to lack of planning. I relate to that. In 2010, we worked with a client to develop a content strategy. The client, a niche Internet retailer, insisted they could implement the strategy. We talked at length about implementation because we hate to recommend strategy that never sees the light of day. (The strategy might as well not exist if it's never implemented.) So, the client achieved some quick wins well and flailed (and failed) on the more significant editorial and architecture changes.
Fast forward to 2012, the client came back to us and said, "We're stuck." So, we're helping plan the implementation on a more technical level. This planning gives organizations a bridge between strategy and tactics rather than having them take a leap—and risk falling on their face. (Ouch!) More importantly, this allows an organization to bring the strategy to life at the right time. In 2010, our strategy would have given the retailer a serious competitive advantage. Because of the delays, the retailer is now playing catch up to the competitive landscape. It will be another several months before the retailer can add a component to the strategy that gives an advantage. You can only imagine how much lost opportunity and revenue, not to mention extra costs, this implementation faceplant represents.
Misconceptions + Marginalization of Content (Again)
In the past, content and its strategy was marginalized by being mostly an afterthought. Now, content is a part of any serious conversation about digital. But if misconceptions like these persist, a new, subtle, condescending, and in many ways more insidious kind of marginalization will arise. Nip these misconceptions in the bud before they spread like weeds and choke the life out of your content efforts.