A Content Strategy Conversation — Mathias Maul

This is part two of the content conversations series. Our guest today is Mathias Maul.

Half linguist, half computer scientist and half psychotherapist, Mathias Maul founded The Content Shrinks to help organizations implement author-first workflows as the most effective means to plan, create, manage and measure reader-first content.

Mathias is passionate about debugging processes and people, tears down silos with bonsai scissors and enables his clients to establish work environments that make their content guys and gals more productive and happier, leading to measurably more effective content within and outside the organization. The Content Shrinks is a boutique agency for content therapy and corporate change. Its loosely-knit network of strong-minded professionals is available world-wide for on-premises and remote projects alike.


[Frontend Questions]

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

[MM]: The warm shivers down my spine when clients understand that content, when done well, is an expression of the personality of every individual that is involved in creating and managing that content.

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.

[MM]: Generally speaking, I love projects that present themselves as heaps of unstructured content and teams. I love cleaning up, sorting stuff out, and helping people get along with each other to create something beautiful and valuable.

I’m not dreaming of specific groups, organisations, goals or places, I’m dreaming of CEOs that are determined to improve their company by improving their departments’, teams’ and employees’ dedication and communication. (As for my dream location, Japan comes to mind, obviously.)

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.

[MM]: From my experience, the CS discipline as a whole (if there is such an entity) has not at all been successful in communicating the business value of content strategy, especially as opposed to content marketing.

Many leads that we’re talking to have the preconception that content strategy is just a fancy word for content marketing, and this upside-down belief makes the first steps in establishing the value of content strategic efforts more difficult than it should be. Of course, content marketing does offer business value, but it’s minute when compared to the value that can be derived from well-done content strategic work in a company as a whole.

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?

[MM]: I don’t really subscribe to a on the one hand/on the other hand approach when it comes to software vs. wetware. To me, there is no duality of approaches: In our 2016 content strategy event on Artificial Intelligence and Humane Content Workflows in Tokyo, we pitted both “worlds” against each other, only to find out that it’s not about two competing ideas but about finding local optima in a very, very complex solution space.

Maybe we shouldn’t try to find balance but instead develop strategies to stay flexible in spite of the unforeseen changes brought forth by AI? Ask me again in some years.

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?

[MM]: When I did web development in the mid-nineties, it was massively difficult to adapt a website to all possible (and thought-to-be-impossible) combinations of target browsers. Since then, browsers and development tools have improved so far that today developing web sites is a breeze compared to the past.

I believe that the same thing will happen with omnitarget content — tools and platforms will improve, and we’ll become better at what we can do, incrementally.

For the way content strategy as a discipline is taking directions and for how the world understands our roles and contribution to technology and life, I get a feeling that it is a bit Americanized. I do not say that this is wrong but I am curious to know how experienced CS practitioners from non-US regions think about it. For instance, I follow a few non-US content strategy and UX conferences for their program, and for what their speakers talk and write and I see the difference. Do you agree with me on the *Americanized* aspect? And do you disagree with a few notions for how it is shaping up as a skill, a role, and as a discipline for a common and global understanding?

[MM]: I wouldn’t call it “Americanization,” it’s more about addressing differing preconceptions in markets that have huge cultural differences. For example, the main issue here in Germany is that only very few people are convinced that content provides real, lasting business value. They are irritated and repulsed by the “content marketing” hullabaloo, and it takes a lot of effort to explain that content is not a marketing topic.

When I talk to people in Japan or the UK or Spain or the US, I am presented with very different ideas about what “content” can mean and what makes or breaks a strategy.

[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?

[MM]: There’s an employed content strategist whose name I can’t mention here; he’s doing a marvelous job at connecting technical teams with sales and marketing teams. I’d take him to a restaurant in a country we’ve never been to and where people speak a language we both don’t know — just to see how we would manage to make the best out of a blank-slate situation where we’d need to get back to the basics of human communication to make ourselves understood.

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

[MM]: My magic wand would instantly erase the (not very useful) preconception that content is a marketing topic. Poof!


Thank you Mathias Maul.

Vinish Garg | Products. Experience. Stories.