A Content Strategy Conversation — Don Day

This is part of the series of conversations that I originally published in ContentHug, in 2015.

Thank you Don Day.


[CH]: A few content strategists got into this role because ‘nobody else was doing it, and so there was a need for content strategists in the team’. Now, since it has kicked off relatively well, what next to address something else. For example if we talk about titles, what can be the next title of a senior content strategist. If not for title, what next in terms of ownership or value to a business?

[DD]: As the importance of Adaptive Content grows, content strategists will need to work more closely with programmers (erm, “Content Engineers”) to design the parameters for these adaptive behaviors. To enable this collaboration, the progressive content strategist must understand how content can be structured and semantically organized for selective use. In the process, the content becomes an asset with future value, a Win for the company as well as for the marketing team.

[CH]: Assume that you get your dream job or contract, as a content strategist, lead or otherwise. What is the most important thing that you have learnt so far that you will put into practice there?

[DD]: Content is not just data consumed by a publishing system; it should be seen as potentially a set of business rules that can inform marketing and delivery strategies while improving a reader’s ability to be informed.

[CH]: Content strategists often need to push things around, such as to get a buy in. Can you share some experience when you had to take a really tough call, such as for style guide for voice, for user education, or governance structure?

I once ran a user experience test on the value of structured content for improved relevance in support systems. The test revealed that the content itself lacked the semantic richness to make the results more relevant. The hard truth behind this finding was that engineers who wrote these support procedures should invest more skill in designating the semantically important parts of a support document. But this involves changing the authoring system to make it easier for engineers to add their deep knowledge to their answers.

I had to make investment and training recommendations that were not popular, but I had the data to justify the value of helping authors create better content by improving the authoring interfaces and experiences.

[CH]: How do organizations address the content ownership concerns when we have content strategists, content marketers and even data scientists? What is your role in defining the content ownership process?

[DD]: When content is recognized as a company-wide asset, we all become stakeholders in nurturing it for best value. Not all teams may need all content created in the company, but we can lower the barriers to how content is shared and reused. The content strategist negotiates these policies and gets agreement and buy in across those who have an interest in particular silos of potentially reusable content.

[CH]: What role content strategists can have in disruption–technology or otherwise?

[DD]: For the past 15 years, there has been little meaningful innovation on the Web’s use of content. If we characterize this era as “the age of doing-it-our-own-way,” then the true disruption would be to create larger communities of shared methods and techniques. Vendors achieve this by locking users into a closed system. Communities of use who gather as a consortium or center of competence may disrupt this state of affairs by creating appetite for shared, open standards.

Content strategists should look for opportunities to collaborate and share their information assets and best practices beyond their local practice.

[CH]: Can you name any companies or brands whom you admire for their content strategy?

[DD]: Content strategy is not only about brands but also about disciplines within a company. One example is the Web Platform project which describes itself as “a collaboration between those who make the specs, those who build the browsers, and developers from all over the world.” Their process is a good study in how a common approach to documentation can benefit the browser makers, the product vendors, and the end users of Web tools.

Another example is the narrow niche of writers who create API documentation. They have no formal organization as of yet, but they have a vibrant, informal community of participants and shared practice, largely attributed to the efforts of one consultant who shares his knowledge widely and provides courses and literature that helps this community stay connected.

While these are not the usual cases we’d think of when considering “brands,” they are nevertheless strongly identified and branded for their specific constituencies, and do produce marketing value therein. Content strategists should envy the breadth of influence and cohesion that these vertical brands have achieved.

[CH]: If you could weave a magic wand only once, what you wish as a content strategist?

[DD]: I wish for HTML5 to acquire a layer of rules-based validation for the repeatable structures that content strategists need for defining the templates and behaviors on which they can build their strategies. Having this in place would largely clarify the “chunks vs blobs” discussion and the lack of direction in how to step up to the Adaptive Content challenge.

[CH]: Please share additional comments that are relevant to this conversation, if any.

[DD]: The future of content strategy is exciting because the vision is improving of what it is to manage information as smart assets. Although the road ahead may appear rocky, at least it is less slippery.


Vinish Garg | Products. Experience. Stories. I am a EEES (External Eye Experience Specialist) for startups and their goals, for content, UX, and customer experience.