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Content Strategy: Why we’re a centralized team

And proud of it!

Christina Cartal
Jul 8 · 5 min read

Hi, my name is Christina and I’m an… organizer. Yep, I’ll admit there isn’t a drawer or closet in my house that isn’t working over-time to bring order to my life. I live for expandable desk trays, KonMari folds, and clear snack canisters. Don’t even get me started on the heart eyes I give my label maker. Plain and simple: good clean organization just makes my heart happy.

So, imagine my excitement when NerdWallet reached out almost five years ago asking me to start their Content Strategy team. This meant, not only establishing our discipline and voice but also determining where we lived within the organization. Words and organization: two of my biggest loves all rolled up into one amazing opportunity. Taking the job was pretty much a no-brainer.

Fast-forward to today and we’ve grown to a team of 13, highly-talented, content strategists. We’re a centralized team that supports Brand, Product, and Marketing, and we sit on NerdWallet’s Brand Studio team — a smaller sub-team within our larger Design and User Experience department.

Why centralized?

So glad you asked. It really all boils down to efficiency. As a centralized team, we can more easily align on critical foundations like brand and voice. It also allows for more seamless collaboration and communication between team members. Of course, both of these things take time and dedication to get right, but we’ve found that being on one team makes it a heck of a lot easier.

Unfortunately, centralized Content Strategy teams are still somewhat uncommon. From what I’ve observed, this is the case for two reasons:

  • 1. Most Content Strategy teams just aren’t big enough to span multiple departments. Shout-out to all you teams of one (or two!). We see you.
  • 2. Some Content Strategy teams are created by mistake. This sounds controversial, but it’s true. Because we’re still a relatively new discipline in tech, most companies and teams lack the understanding of what content strategists do or the impact we can make. Because of this, companies might hire one-off writers to support a team or project. They report into a design or marketing or product manager. Sometimes more writers are added, but the discipline never truly takes shape because of the haphazard way folks were hired on.

In the rare case where a company has invested in content strategy as a discipline, the teams are usually split. One set of writers supports the Marketing team and, sometimes, the Brand work. And another set of writers supports the Product team and, sometimes, the Brand work. In this model, Content Strategists are divided up by the teams they support and Brand initiatives have no clear content strategy owner. This means we usually go unrepresented in these conversations. And that’s a real bummer since good storytelling and voice are arguably some of the most valuable aspects of a brand’s identity.

The decentralized model also assumes that the Product and Marketing Content Strategy teams are proactively collaborating. Spoiler alert: They’re not. But, not because they don’t want to. Because, as it turns out, it’s really hard to find alignment when teams are busy chasing separate goals. Unfortunately, this lack of proactive collaboration leaves important work like iterating on voice and style and identifying critical overlaps in user flows to fall by the wayside. Teams just don’t have the capacity to take on this work or they get into an unfortunate tug-of-war about who should own what.

At the end of the day, I’ve found that the decentralized model doesn’t produce better work. Instead, it produces stressed-out writers, less-than-ideal user experiences and a Content Strategy function that isn’t empowered to meaningfully contribute to or action off of critical brand insights and/or identity work.

Why Brand Studio?

That’s easy. As members of our Brand Studio team, we’re at the forefront of our brand’s strategy, expression, guidelines, and execution across all consumer touchpoints. Content strategists, at NerdWallet, no matter what part of the organization we support, not only contribute to brand conversations, we lead them. We don’t just write for the brand, we’re some of its biggest advocates, ambassadors, and architects.

We see our voice as an extension of our brand and personality. It’s the foundation of everything we write — influencing the decisions we make every day, from our overall approach down to each and every word we use. This foundation is what empowers and unites us as we embed into teams and projects across almost every aspect of our business. It makes it easier for us to make informed decisions, push back on partners who like to wordsmith and help identify where our work overlaps.

Speaking of overlaps…

Being a centralized team empowers us to more easily connect the dots across experiences — from first awareness through long-term product usage. We’re one of the only teams at NerdWallet that spans our user’s entire lifecycle. What power! But, as they say, with great power comes great responsibility. And ours falls in the form of making sure we’re identifying all the overlaps to create the very best experiences for our users.

But we can only see it all if we share it all, which makes communication and collaboration key to our success. So, we’ve instituted a few very tactical touchpoints to ensure we’re always connected:

  • Share. Every week, we meet as a team to share what we’re working on. These sessions provide visibility into our work, help us develop a culture of giving and receiving feedback, encourage rapid exploration, allow us to share tools and frameworks, and leverage our collective experience to help each other grow as writers and strategists. Share is just as beneficial to the development of our team as it is to the work itself.
  • Slack. We love Slack and rely on our content strategy channel to stay connected. We do daily standups to keep each other in the loop on the projects we’re working on, which often leads to fun aha moments like “Oh-you’re-working-on-the-email-that-kicks-off-my-user-flow-let’s-talk!” We also like sharing photos of dogs, babies and food — but mostly stick to sharing word nerd inspiration or getting gut-checks about word choice or syntax.
  • Meet. Larger forums are great, but sometimes you just need 1:1 time with an expert. Because our content strategists are deeply integrated into the teams they support, they’ve been able to really develop into true subject matter experts on stuff like how our account linking feature works or how we talk about refinancing a mortgage. As our feature set expands and our product becomes more interconnected, these conversations are happening more and more — much to the delight of our close-knit, very collaborative team.

Hey, we’re not perfect.

All this to say, we’re proud of what we’ve built, but we’re constantly working to optimize and iterate on our centralized model. With the right structure and systems in place and all the exciting work that lies ahead, we’ve never been more ready and excited for the challenge!

NerdWallet Design

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