What is content?

More than words can say.

Anyone like me with the word ‘content’ in their job title, inevitably has at some point been asked “what is content?”

Here’s my short answer: content is what people come to your website for.

And for website, you can substitute app, brochure, instruction manual or any other membrane that whom ever you call your audience uses to interact with you. But let’s assume we’re talking about websites and customers.

My slightly longer answer is that the nature of content clearly depends on what your audience wants to do.

Will they consume content in the form of articles or videos? Will they transact — buying, selling or moving things? Will they interact — writing a review, rating your service, feeding data into a tool and receive a result?

There are some fundamental questions you should ask yourself to clarify what content means for your site.

Who is your audience?

Be honest about your primary audience — the people who really use your site, not the people you like to think use it. What do they want to do? Don’t just rely on stats that tell you what they do now. Take the time to ask your audience what they would do on your site if you enabled them to do so.

Now shape your content to fit that purpose, so they can do that thing as effectively as possible. Make it work for them. Don’t get in their way. It really is that simple.

If your audience wants to transact, let them log on and do just that — safely, efficiently.

Use content to guide them, to reassure or to warn where required. Don’t push editorial-style content at them in the middle of the transaction process, which confuses transacting with consuming.

If you want them to read your incisive opinions, or to watch flattering video cases studies of your satisfied customers, catch them earlier in the consideration cycle, not when they want to log on and pay a supplier or re-order stationery.

What else defines content? Your brand.

Content is core to your brand. That doesn’t mean you have to stuff every content opportunity with your brand phrases. It does mean your content must live out your brand values.

Is great customer service key to your brand? Don’t tell me; show me.

Don’t write meaningless blather about how everyone in your organisation is empowered to put the customer first, then make me click away to a generic FAQ page when I have a problem. Put yourself in my shoes and shape content that pre-empts my questions in the context of the process you’ve designed.

Don’t feed me relentlessly cheery content that makes you sound like you’re my friend. You’re not my friend. Feed me content that makes you useful to what I’m trying to achieve.

Your content reveals the truth about your organisation

Remember the good old days when people believed ads? They’d see an ad for a bank that said, “Our bank will treat you like a VIP”; then they visited the branch and got treated like an inconvenience.

There was a gap between the claim and reality. All the good work of brand-building was undone, and people learned to mistrust the ads.

In a digital self-service world, your content is my primary experience of your organisation; sometimes it is my only experience. Content does what those bank-tellers used to do: it can support the brand or prove it a lie.

What is content? In the digital world content is your brand. It speaks louder than any ad or Tweet or PR stunt. It is what reveals the truth about your organisation.

Friday helps ambitious organisations achieve agility at scale. Our strategic engineers and designers develop digital products, services and platforms.