A Content Strategy Conversation — Kathy Wagner

This is part two of the content conversations series. Our guest today is Kathy Wagner.

Kathy is a founding partner and principal strategist at Content Strategy Inc, a Canadian-based consultancy focusing exclusively on content strategy. Through previous careers in technical communications and customer experience research, she’s been practicing content strategy for longer than it’s had a name.

Content Strategy Inc works with public and private sector companies and not-for-profit organizations around the globe. Kathy is a regular speaker at content and industry conferences and is a contributing author to The Language of Content Strategy.


[Frontend Questions]

What delights you the most about the work that you have done so far?

[KW]: I enjoy working with people who are ready and excited to change the way they create content, showing them what’s possible, and working together with them to figure out how they’re going to do it. I like seeing their “aha” moments, and creating a blueprint to help them achieve things that they can be proud of, and that make their customers and executives happy.

What is your dream content strategy project that you want to get involved in? It can be for any group or organization, for any goals, anywhere in the world.

[KW]: I’ve built my entire company around my dream projects. We focus exclusively on the customer experience of content and on content governance (and all the various aspects of each). We build audience research into every project, and have a methodology for making evidence-based content decisions. So, in that way, I’m always working on my dream projects.

But, since we’re dreaming, I’d really like to work with a not-for-profit company that helps make the world a better place in some small way, has a complex audience base and complicated content problems, and is located somewhere tropical by the ocean.

What is the most important need or pain point that content strategists have not been able to address as effectively as they would have loved to? It can be for standards, or defining expectations from CS as a discipline, a tool, or for anything else.

[KW]: One pretty big industry pain point is how difficult it is to gather ROI and other success metrics for content strategy and quality content, particularly from the customer-experience perspective. Getting executive buy-in and long-term commitment can be difficult without concrete numbers, and it’s really hard to measure. Some of the larger companies that rely heavily on consumer content are making good headway in this area, and technology to support it is evolving rapidly, but the ability to accurately measure the success of content remains hazy in most organizations.

On top of that, I believe there’s an overemphasis on quantitative analytics metrics and an under-appreciation for the value of qualitative, human-based metrics.

On one hand, we have AI and automation for predictive intelligence and recommendation engines. At the same time, we talk about human centered design, and a personalized experience. How do you see a balance where you can use your awareness and experience to take certain decisions, while allowing technology to automate certain things?

[KW]: It’s a new platform and different complexities, for sure, but it’s essentially the same user experience challenges we’ve been tackling for some time.

How do you provide your audiences with the ability to control the things they want to control (without overwhelming them with too much choice), automatically serve them valuable and relevant information when and where they want it, and still give them the option of reaching out to an actual human being when that’s the best way to serve them?

I like to spend my time on the content experience design side of things, so these are the questions I wrestle with. And content, in general, is much more structured and granular than it used to be, so that is making things easier.

For me, the difficult part is how to make the content work with the technologies. I’m happy that there are some great content engineers out there so I don’t have to sort that one out.

We talk about future friendly content that should make sense for all known devices and channels. Also, this content should be so planned that the architecture can support even unknown devices and unexpected contexts for the way audience may need it in future (as far as possible). How do you prepare yourself to address this massive challenge?

[KW]: Honestly, the clients that I work with are struggling with the massive challenge of consistently producing valuable content that meets TODAY’S standards and digital environment.

Component-based content is the foundation for today’s responsive design solutions and is, for most companies, sufficiently future forward.

That, and adopting a working culture and systems that allow teams to adapt to shifting environments and challenges. That piece is critical.

I have no need to be on the cutting edge, leading innovators into new territory. I’m happiest shepherding the early majority through paths that are somewhat marked but not completely cleared.

[Backend Questions]

If you get a chance to have lunch with a content strategist in your favorite restaurant in the city of your choice, whom will you pick, and why?

[KW]: Well, I really like new experiences and people. And I’ve always wanted to go to India. So, Vinish, I’d love to come over there and have lunch with you sometime! You can show me the best Indian food to eat (for a Canadian palate that’s a bit heat sensitive) and we can talk about content strategy practices, approaches, and challenges around the globe.

Cultural differences in content strategy have always fascinated me, so it seems like the perfect setting and company for that conversation.

(Hey Kathy, so nice of you and that is a deal . Write to me whenever you plan to be in India and I will be with you for this lunch.)

If you could weave a magic wand to seek one wish, what will you wish as a content strategist?

[KW]: I wish that every person in the entire world clearly understood the differences between content strategy, content marketing, content engineering, and copywriting. Whoo, that would make my job a lot easier!


Thank you Kathy Wagner.

Vinish Garg | Products. Experience. Stories.