WTF Is A Content Anatomy And Why Is It So Awesome?

An experience innovation POV by Jason Tell, Chief Experience Officer at Modern Climate

I am going to wager that you have never heard of a content anatomy. And, further you are wondering if you’ll be as fired up as I am after reading this. We’ll the best way I can summarize is that content anatomy is the critical missing link between content strategy and information architecture. Have I got your attention?

The thing about content strategy is that it’s a strategy. Which by definition, is a plan for making, doing or most importantly, achieving something. Ultimately, it’s about effectively communicating a message to motivate someone to take an action. The Content Strategy Alliance defines content strategy as “getting the right content to the right user at the right time through strategic planning of content creation, delivery, and governance.”

Do you employ a specific method to accomplish this?

At Modern Climate, we believe it requires a deliberate effort to stay connected and aligned with the consumer’s perspective. Too many times the gap between strategy and execution is vast. It’s not rocket science, but it’s also not trivial. What is required is disciplined and relentless focus on the consumer, their journey and their expectations.

Because it didn’t exist or at least we couldn’t find it, Modern Climate developed a tool for one very important job — bridging the gap between strategy and execution. We call it a Content Anatomy because of how comprehensively it informs content strategy, information architecture and the design process. And because we are pretty open-sourcey around here, I’d like to share!

What Exactly Is It?

Content anatomy mapping is a method to ensure content, along with requirements of all varieties, are driving our user experience solutions. Content, opposed to platform-defined “best practices” or the latest, trending UX patterns, is king. Content is the absolute foundation of any experience because the purpose is to communicate something — an idea, instruction, guidance in completing some task, a point of view or an insight. The experiences we create are essentially just containers to package and deliver content that communicate messages to motivate action.

When To Use It.

A content anatomy is best developed when you have your brand strategy and positioning clearly articulated and you have your challenge or purpose for creating whatever you are about to create defined — essentially, the pivot-point between strategy and execution. Use this tool early in the design process, even before you start inventorying your content and certainly before you start organizing or “information architecting” it.

How To Do It.

Tactically, a content anatomy is a bubble mapping technique to align and combine the content (messages to drive action) and various requirements in context to the user’s mindset throughout a given customer journey. It defines what should be communicated, when and where in relative terms. Take this simple mindset progression: awareness –> familiarity –> Understanding –> Consideration –> Conversion –> Loyalty –> Advocacy. These are neat labels we all use to identify what consumers are thinking about or where they are at in the proverbial “funnel”. Throughout the process of moving through the different mindsets, consumers are looking for answers, credibility and value. Developing a content anatomy is a process of anticipating those needs and applying content as the answers every step of the way.

Literally map your mindsets horizontally as adjacent zones. Now take your content and plot them as bubbles across the mindset zones. It’s that simple. Check out the example below.

A content anatomy is a tool developed by and to my knowledge is unique to Modern Climate. These are hard working-bubbles, but not to be confused with the other hard-working bubbles (
Think of the mindsets as steps though the consumer’s journey and identify the questions the consumer is asking at each step. Here’s a simple example.
Mindset Or Step In The Journey
Answers The Question…
Have heard of that brand before?
What does this brand have to offer?
How is this brand unique or unlike other options?
Is this brand right for me? Does it align with my values? Will it meet my needs?
What do I need to to to participate with this brand? How do I obtain this product or service?
Why should I stick with this brand when there are so many other choices?
How can I share this brand with others?
Now, plot your content as the answer to the consumers’ questions.

So simple, but so powerful:

Content anatomies connect more dots

Requirements are not enough. The best requirements only communicate WHAT an experience is required to do, purposely omitting any direction as to how the requirement is expressed within the experience. A content anatomy informs “the when” and the “context”, the WHAT happens. (I don’t know if you noticed, but we just knocked off the first two elements of the Content Strategy Alliance definition.) Putting content in context to consumer’s questions inspire new and strategically aligned design ideas and reinforce a systems thinking approach.

Example: Detailed product specs should be aligned with a Consideration mindset — only expressed in the experience after someone is Aware of the brand, is Familiar and Understands it uniqueness relative to other choices — when they are ready to evaluate it against their personal needs, preferences and expectations. In other words, at just the right time!

Content anatomies identify gaps like black light on a motel bedspread

It becomes very obvious what content is lacking when you evaluate your content anatomy and an entire step of the journey is blank — “Geez, we better add some content so people know how we are different (Understanding). Not only can you see the gaps, but you have immediately adjacent content to provide context and insight into exactly what new content needs to be developed to fill it.

Content anatomies articulate content relationships

Defining relationships is elegant in a content anatomy because you are leveraging the inherent principles of Venn Diagramming to demonstrate the nature and degree of relationship for two or more elements of content.

Here are a few acute examples of how to visualize relationships. However, this is an exercise in the abstract so circles can exhibit any degree of overlap required to communicate the relationship effectively.

No direct relationship.
Tangential relationship.
Content A and B would not appear on the same page or view, as content is not intuitively perceived as related. Use when grouping less-intuitively related items together. Think menus and logical navigation systems.
Weaker relationship.
Content A and B are intuitively related. May appear on the same page or view but will definitely perceived as connected. Think contextual linking, or sidebar content.
Stronger relationship.
Content B is a very important aspect of or even part of content A. Think quantity(B), size(B) and color(B) as it relates to an add-to-cart button (A).

Content anatomies articulate the intended experiential impact of individual content elements

Bubble size represents magnitude in terms of volume or significance. Bigger bubbles are more important than smaller bubbles. Need to cut scope to meet a deadline or budget? Start removing the small bubbles to reduce scope with less risk of falling short of your MVP (minimum viable product).

Also, a content anatomy is useful in both evaluating and identifying where it’s best to amp up the production value with video or rich content and where it is ok to keep it basic. This can be really helpful in allocating your time and resources.

Content anatomy mapping activates both sides of your brain

In many ways, a lot of content strategy work is a left brain exercise, digging through user research and making inventories, evaluating quality and identifying gaps. Visualizing the content in context to consumer’s mindset and the act of moving circles around a screen, adjusting size and relationship activates your right brain which enables intuitive leaps and inspires more informed creative (and significantly better) solutions that would have otherwise remained undiscovered.

Content anatomy mapping is an accelerator

There is so much power and efficiency when you have your content sorted and aligned with consumers along their journey. It clarifies and catalyzes every design decision, allowing you to move forward swiftly with confidence.

More examples:

Are you getting a feel for it?

These are strategic documents, so I really cannot share the details. But you can get a sense for the diversity in these silhouetted content anatomy examples from three client experiences.

The gift of a content anatomy just keeps on giving!

The content anatomy is complete, with all the bubbles aligned to mindsets and content relationships accurately represented with just the right amount of intersection. Yet, there is still more value to be had (this is where a content anatomy pays-off on the governance aspect of content strategy).

Create content anatomy versions with strategically added or subtracted bubbles. This is a simple and powerful way to represent a feature release roadmap.

Color-code bubbles for a quick reference to communicate the magnitude of high-frequency CMS updates versus data-driven content to help clients understand resource needs and workflow?

Documenting technical implementations, identifying subdomains or 3rd-party hosted experiences integrated into a single user experience is yet another simple codification effort.

Markup your content anatomy with anything that drives stakeholder alignment.

To summarize

  1. The experiences we create are essentially just containers to package and deliver content.
  2. A content anatomy is a powerful tool to improve the quality and effectiveness of the experiences you create by providing a framework of discipline and accountability in answering consumers questions with your content throughout every step of their journey.
  3. It leverages data-visualization to create a content strategy and information architecture fusion that activates creativity and accelerates alignment to ensure you are creating content-driven, brand experiences and not empty vessels waiting to be “filled up” with content.

This article originally published on the Modern Climate website:

Modern Climate is a Brand + Technology company dedicated to helping brands keep their promises by creating and supporting modern brand experiences across the consumer journey.

Email Modern Climate. Email Jason Tell directly.