A Content Strategy Conversation — Noz Urbina

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

Thank you Noz Urbina.

[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?

[NU]: In terms of area, I think content modelling, in particular, adaptive omnichannel content modelling, is the next area that we need to be focusing. We’re getting nicely to grips with content strategy, but the full complexity involved in tackling all channels, not just the web, in a sophisticated, cohesive way is still a significant challenge. Kristina Halvorson, who made her name with “Content Strategy for the web”, just released a new deck called “Content Strategy for everything”. It addresses to an extent what the next 10 years of CS will be vs. the last 10 years. I’m pleased to note she used some of my slides to illustrate. (Note: we need a word for slide reuse as “quoted” doesn’t sound right.).

In terms of career step, there are many options, depending on the strengths of the content strategist in question. The point of CS is that it’s an interdisciplinary, world-bridging role. You can have marketing CS, techcomm and product info CS, non-profit CS. Each of these leanings could lead a practitioner to a different next step: global head of marketing, head of CX, head of brand, head of customer services, even simply: head of content.

[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?

[NU]: I would say my top 3 (not in order) are: structure and semantics, omnichannel thinking, and customer-centric thinking.

Structure and semantics are still too often left up to technical staff. The content strategist needs to be the ambassador for these concepts into the business as a whole to show not just that they’re the nuts and bolts of a platform, but also the way that a business can control and manage its voice, brand and experience going out to the market. If you don’t know what they are, then what I just said probably is a bit meaningless. That’s the problem. Everyone senior in content needs to understand content types, models, and semantic metadata at least enough to understand why they deliver so much ROI, and therefore deserve investment.

Omnichannel thinking I’ve wrote loads about recently. Essentially, it takes over where multichannel leaves off, and it makes us think about customer journeys not within various channels, but across channels. Channels are not parallel alternative ways to convey a message — consumer A likes to get their content on Instagram and consumer B in email newsletters — but they work together. I said in a recent whitepaper that the channels are all threads that interweave to sow the tapestry of customer experience. Taken together, channels are much more than the sum of their parts. Organisationally, we’re built for teams around channels or formats (web team, social team, print and events team). How this can be fixed isn’t simple, but we need to have integrated experiences that cross channels seamlessly. Where channels hand off and calls-to-action line up to engage the user in coherent, interesting stories. The vast, vast majority of companies aren’t thinking this way yet.

Finally, the ol’ “customer comes first” thing. So simple to say but so hard to do. We’re still pushing for our goals first and we’re still too often saying “Customer journey” when we really mean “Our sales cycle”. Enterprises need to learn the customer’s real journey, not their paths to and through your website to a close, but their whole story, before and after they’re touching you. They need to really understand their lives, their interests and their needs, and develop content that adds real value. If you add value, they will come. I’m a huge devotee of content marketing and challenge selling, and both emphasize that you need to show up earlier in the journey and show that you’re not just presenting the best offers, you offer the best relationship and knowledge (for content marketing, your knowledge travels in the form of content).

[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?

[NU]: I have had times when I have had to push clients hard to rethink the way they organised themselves and how they conceived of the positioning of content within their group. Too many times content is commoditized and treated as a matter of fact cost of the business instead of a real asset. I spend a lot of time with clients working to find out how to craft the internal message — and adapt it appropriately — for different internal stakeholders to understand the role and value of content and all its supporting process and infrastructure. The internal “sale” of content has to be done right to get the external experience resourced and organised.

[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?

[NU]: I think this simply a governance question. As a strategist I’m often asked for input on organisational and process issues. The answers are all extremely situational. There is no right or wrong answers for organisational questions because each organisation is unique. How things should flow is a people question just as much as a process or theory question.

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

[NU]: Content strategists must have a leadership role in disruption. CS needs to be leading the organisation’s content roles through the impact of disruption (technical or otherwise — like they did with mobile web and will soon need to with the internet of things). They also need to be a bridge back to business leadership to demonstrate and report on the ROI potential and achievements from the strategy for disruption-handling. CS may even need to be leading the disruption itself. They may need to be the cutting edge that carves through we’ve-always-done-it-this-way thinking and show how that is not strategic, is bad for users, and how it needs to change.

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

[NU]: I think that Unilever, Redbull and GoPro all deserve a mention in the commercial content space, although I feel Unilever is still too locked into the ad agency/campaign model. I’ll focus on GoPro as they were recently highlighted by Content Marketing World. GoPro became a world-leader not just because they had a great product, but because they fully leveraged content.

They focussed on the promotion especially of user-generated content to make their community a self-sustaining global content machine. You can Google the recent full story posted on the Content Marketing Institute, but they’d definitely be my number one right now.

Also to give proper recognition to someone innovating in the techcomm and user assistance space, I’d like to mention SAP. At the Congility 2014 conference, we had Knowledge Architect Priscilla Buckley who was talking about how they’re now using algorithms to push content pro-actively when software detects users might be lost. If they click in and out of the same dialogs or hover for too long without accomplishing any actual tasks, the system can subtly but helpfully pop some assistance which can allow the user to go deeper if desired. They’re also levering opensource script libraries to make their help content dynamic and responsive for better user experience across devices.

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

[NU]: That everyone was truly focused around customers. If we paid enough attention and mapped our goals to the customers, everything else would flow from that. And we’d make more money too.

[CH]: If I ask you the same questions in April-May 2017, which questions do you expect to answer differently, and why?

[NU]: All of them to some extent, but mainly the “What’s next” question. I’m hoping that content modelling will have taken its place as central role, and that more people will have gotten their heads around omnichannel. Being customer-centric will always be hard because people are simply self-centred. It’s part of being a person that we can only spend so much time in other people’s shoes — figuratively speaking of course… So the fight to be customer-centric and really understand issues from their perspective will always be hard. It’s not a matter of the destination, it’s about maximising return while on the journey.

[CH]: Any additional comments or thoughts that are relevant to this conversation?

[NU]: Thanks for the opportunity to contribute. If anyone is interested in learning more about modeling content for an omnichannel, personalised content strategy, then do check out our workshops that we list on my website. I hope to meet you in person!

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