Scriptorium Publishing

content strategy consulting

From soccer balls to content strategy: the kick of change resistance

June 10, 2014 by

Your content strategy can learn a lot from soccer ball manufacturing plants in Sialkot, Pakistan.

The town produces 40 percent of the world’s soccer balls, and it’s now in fierce competition with other Asian companies eating away at Sialkot’s dominance in the soccer ball market.

soccer ball being kicked

Yes, a soccer post just before the World Cup (flickr: Michael Johnson)

When economists offered the plants technology to decrease the amount of wasted synthetic leather, they thought the plants would jump on the chance to adopt the innovation and save money.

Wrong!

 

“I told the owner that it’s not going to work,” says Mohammed Iqlal Urfnana, a worker at one of the soccer ball firms. He is a cutter, meaning he operates a die-press to cut out the hexagons and pentagons that are sewn together to make a soccer ball. Like many workers, Urfnana didn’t like the new die. “For us cutters, this means lower daily wages.”

That’s because Urfnana, like most cutters in Sialkot, is paid by the piece. Learning how to use the new die would slow him down, so he would make fewer pieces and therefore less money. While it was in the factory’s interest to save money by cutting the fake leather more efficiently, it was not in the worker’s interest.

Change resistance has a long, storied history of wrecking innovation in the workplace—whether it be in soccer ball manufacturing or in the creation and distribution of content. Workers become accustomed to The Way Things Are (TWTA), and talk of higher corporate profits isn’t an enticement for those doing the work to change TWTA.

In the case of the soccer balls plants, the economists offered a bonus for workers who learned about the new die. That incentive realigned the workers’ self-interest (money) with the company’s goals to reduce wasted leather. With the bonuses in place, about half of the plants implemented the new die system.

Despite the fact that money talks (and quite loudly), I’m not recommending paying content creators bonuses to learn about the tools and processes for a new content strategy. Staffers in tech comm, marketing, and support departments aren’t usually paid on a per-topic or per-paragraph basis, so that model doesn’t make sense.

However, there are other ways to gain support for new processes. Employees are often concerned about productivity loss when changing tools —reduced productivity usually means late nights at the office to meet deadlines. Simple gestures (ordering in food during those long workdays, for example) can make a huge difference in workers’ perceptions. It’s also unfair to hold employees accountable for hitting productivity benchmarks during process change, so give content creators time to adjust to new systems before calculating metrics and using them in performance evaluations.

Further mitigate change resistance by pinpointing and communicating the value of change for all the different groups affected by proposed process modifications. For example, if there is manual drudgery that everyone in a particular department hates, ensure the new process automates those tasks. Making unpleasant things go away is powerful force in gaining support. You should also offer training and establish strong communication channels for addressing inevitable pushback.

Forcing process change from the top just doesn’t work. You must align the company’s goals with workers’ self-interest. Otherwise, your strategy will end up in tatters—like scraps of synthetic leather swept from the floors of soccer ball factories.

 

Keys to content strategy: ROI

June 4, 2014 by

Content strategy requires you to connect information with business results. The key to getting a content strategy approved? Return on investment (ROI). Once you show that your content strategy is beneficial to the business, you are on your way.

Here are some common approaches to content strategy ROI.

Web analytics

Your web site offers a wealth of data about site visitors. But what does the data mean? You could base your content strategy on increasing visitors to your site, but a better measurement would be quality visits or lead conversions (perhaps people who fill out a contact form). If you run an ecommerce site, you can look at revenue, shopping cart abandonment percentage (less is better), and more to get an idea of whether and how your content is improving matters.

For most technical content, however, you need to look deeper.

Support metrics

cowbells. MORE cowbells

You can never have too much ROI // flickr: mecklenburg

Providing one-on-one support, via telephone, email, or chat, is expensive. Technical information provides one-to-many support–a single document can be read by many people, which spreads out the cost of developing and delivering that information.

Therefore, content strategy ROI may involve measuring technical support costs along with content development costs, and trying to shift customers over to using more of the self-service content instead of the technical support.

Sales impact

The basic premise of content marketing is that providing useful content leads to customers—better, more relevant content results in more sales. But how do you calculate the ROI? How do you identify the share of sales produced by better content (as opposed to a marketing effort or a sales initiative)?

You need a way of measuring why people buy your product. Talk to the sales organization and find out what sort of metrics they track. For example, do they ask people why they bought a particular product? Or do they want to emphasize a feature? Can you provide content that talks about that feature?

Another possibility would be to look at product return rates. Can better installation instructions reduce return rates? Can more upfront information ensure that customers select the right product the first time? (For some interesting statistics on product returns, check out this article by Sharon Burton.)

Time to market

Can you create content better and faster? If so, you may be able to accelerate time to market for your product, which in turn means you get revenue sooner. Time to market calculations are most common for localized content. Cutting a shipping delay from six months to three months means that the organization gets revenue three months earlier. For many of our bigger customers, this type of improvement is enough to justify a substantial investment to create a better content process.

 

Do you have other ROI justifications for content strategy?

Other posts in the keys to content strategy series

Keys to content strategy: Discovery

May 20, 2014 by

In the legal world, discovery refers to the compulsory disclosure of relevant documents. In the consulting world, disclosure also important, but it is usually spotty and not in writing. Instead of disclosure, we have discovery.

A good discovery process looks a little like the Discovery Channel line-up.

Mythbusters

First up, we have to bust some myths.

Who is the actual decision-maker? Is it the senior executive sponsoring this project? Most often, it is the person that the senior executive listens to. Sometimes, that’s the consultant; often, it’s an employee whose job title in no way indicates any potential influence.

The decision process rarely resembles the official org chart.

Deadliest Catch

Our road to a successful project is fraught with peril—and the perils, like the Bering Sea, are constantly changing.

Every project is different. Superficially, they have a lot in common—same industry, same legacy content problems, same budget limitations. But an approach of “just do what you did for customer X” doesn’t work. Instead, we need to understand all of the subtleties of a specific customer—especially their corporate culture and their risk tolerance—before making any recommendations.

The technical solutions are often similar, but change management issues and in-house skill sets affect recommendations, budgets, and sometimes even results.

Even when we put in the same technology, the projects don’t look the same.

Hoarders

All of us like to hoard things. Some of us hoard knowledge.

New content strategy often means new tools and new ways of doing things, and this can be as painful as decluttering a house.

Most people hate change and will resist it.

Understanding the level of change resistance is a key part of discovery.

Shark Week

Not all of the people we work with have our best interests in mind. Some of them think we look like a tasty snack.

Don’t be shark food. // flickr: travelbagltd

Where are the bodies buried? Is someone determined to sandbag the project and if so, why? Some projects run smoothly; others are filled with political land mines. It’s critical quite early on to figure out who is who. And bring a shark cage.

Don’t be shark food. 

Gold Rush

Gold. Gold nuggets. Gold fever.

If you want your project approved, show ROI.

Naked and Afraid

Every content strategy project starts with huge unknowns. The key to success is to fill in our gaps in knowledge as fast as possible.

At least we get to start with clothing.

Other posts in the keys to content strategy series

XML publishing: It is right for you?

May 12, 2014 by

Wondering about a transition from desktop publishing to XML publishing for your content? Check out our new business case calculator.

In five minutes, you can estimate your savings from reuse, automated formatting, and localization. If the results aren’t compelling, you have your answer—XML is not right for you. For many of you, though, the results will tell you that you need to do some additional work.

The implementation side is more complex, so we haven’t provided that calculator. (Yet.) Keep in mind that your content strategy is more than just XML publishing, and more than just cost savings, but this is a starting point.

Like it? Hate it? Let us know in the comments here.

XML business case calculator

Ten mistakes for content strategists to avoid

April 28, 2014 by

As content strategy spreads far and wide, we are making old mistakes in new ways. Here are ten mistakes that content strategists need to avoid.

1. Overly technical

Some content strategists are more comfortable with technology than with strategy. (I’m looking at you, technical communication people.) So instead of discussing how better content can help the business, they focus on how the awesomeness of DITA specialization will enable better semantics.

Which brings me to the Scriptorium’s first law of content strategy:

Every time you use a word the funding executive doesn’t understand, your project budget is reduced.

2. Bad pitches

When you ask for resources, funding, approval to proceed, or anything else, your pitch needs to be tailored to the person you are talking to. A technology-heavy pitch won’t work for the CFO. A budget-focused pitch won’t work for your technical experts. A pitch focused on efficiency and ROI will not appeal to writers. And so on.

Know your audience and deliver the message at an appropriate level.

(Yes, you’ll need more than one presentation.)

3. Ignoring office politics

Office politics are a reality everywhere. Ignore them at your peril. Content strategy is a cross-organizational function, which means you need allies. It’s unlikely that everyone you need reports to you. Let your charisma and your brilliant ideas dazzle them. Or, you know, get executive support and therefore grudging cooperation from their direct reports. Whatever works for you.

Master leadership without authority.

4. Ignoring the big picture

Some content strategists prefer to focus on copywriting, voice and tone, and other writing facets. But what is more important? Fixing typos or delivering relevant content? Criticizing someone else’s word choice or identifying effective communication channels? Style guides are important, but they are not content strategy. If you are mostly focused on word choice, you are a copy editor.

Forest, not trees.

5. Involving the wrong people

Content strategy projects are often high-profile. As a result, some people may want to participate to get face time with executives. (Others will avoid the project for the same reason.) Motivated self-interest is acceptable, but make sure that your team members also have the right skills. Beware of people who join the team because they want to sandbag the project.

Build the project team based on people’s skills and project needs. Include key stakeholders.

Don't kick Darth Vader

flickr: pasukaru76

6. Acting on bad assumptions

Bad assumptions can kill your projects, and they come in lots of flavors:

  • Long-held biases
  • Learned behavior
  • Holdover from previous job/project
  • Extrapolating from not enough evidence

Before you assume that an executive has certain strategic priorities, have a conversation with her. Often, you get different information at every level—content creators, managers, directors, and executives see their world differently. For example, I asked about localization requirements in one company and was told by content creators, managers, and directors that there were none. But the CEO said differently—he knew about a pending (large) sale that would result in a need for localization.

Validate your assumptions.

7. Not enough planning

Your strategy needs to amalgamate industry best practices with your organization’s unique aspects. Is your organization agile? Do you make products that are regulated? How quickly does your organization move and how are large projects normally handled? The answers will help you create a plan that makes sense for you.

Plan or Fail.

8. Too much planning

“No plan survives contact with reality.” (paraphrasing von Moltke)

As you build your plan, recognize that it will change. You’ll need to be flexible. The initial plan needs to be just good enough to get approval to get started. You cannot build the perfect plan, so don’t try.

Analysis paralysis kills projects.

9. Leading with technology

Choosing a particular content management system is not “content strategy.” Opening discussions about an organization’s content strategy with “And we’ve already decided to use XYZ CMS” is not very helpful. What if your strategy dictates an approach for which XYZ is not a good choice?

Unfortunately, this is a common problem. Sometimes, the technology constraints are imposed from the outside, such as the IT department that insists that SharePoint is Awesome for Everything. Content strategists should be technology agnostic.

Don’t lead with technology.

10. Ignoring internal talent

Most of the companies that hire us have plenty of talent on their staff. In those cases, our job is to amplify what the insiders are saying and ensure that it is communicated and understood within the organization.  Don’t ignore the smart people that are already on your team.

Even people who don’t commute on airplanes are smart.

What other mistakes are content strategists making? What’s your “favorite” mistake?

Alan Pringle and Bill Swallow contributed to this post.

Content strategy—cold as ice

April 21, 2014 by

Technical writing and marketing writing attracts people who love words and books. (This definitely includes me.) In the emerging discipline of content strategy, content is an asset. Its value is determined by what it can do for the business, not by artistic or literary merit.

If you are an executive who is responsible for content, this shift is welcome and long overdue. After all, content creation (and localization) is expensive, and it’s about time that somebody found a way to make it useful. But many content creators see their content not as a (potential) business asset, but as a carefully crafted, much-loved objet d’art.

In response, I give you Tina Turner.

And while I’m in the process of dating myself, here is something that explains how some content creators feel about executives who demand business results from content.

Managing the conflict between the artistic and the business perspective of content is a big part of our consulting work.

Have you experienced this conflict?

Side note: I will be moderating a panel on digital marketing at NCTA’s State of Technology event (May 16, Durham, North Carolina). Hope to see you there!

Beware the monster of change management: THE MAGNIFIER

April 15, 2014 by

For his 1959 horror movie The Tingler, director/producer William Castle had movie theater seats rigged with buzzers to scare moviegoers during a scene when the Tingler creature is loose in a theater. Patrons in those seats probably didn’t enjoy the jolt—or making a spectacle of themselves because of the Tingler’s “attack.”

If you’re managing the implementation of new processes and tools as part of your job, you’re in a hot seat of your very own—and you need to be on the lookout for another horrifying monster: THE MAGNIFIER.

Poster for The Tingler showing a chair and the words, Do you have the guts to sit in this chair?

Poster for The Tingler (Columbia Pictures)

When you’re determining how changes will support corporate goals and calculating the potential return on investment (ROI) for process improvements, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement generated by the positive things that new processes and tools will bring.

But don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by all the goodness. Lurking in the darkness is the Magnifier, and it will pounce on you if you let your guard down.

So, what is the Magnifier? It’s a phenomenon I’ve witnessed again and again on process implementations: the very act of process change can magnify existing personnel problems in an organization.

For example, if employees do not have a significant understanding of the company’s products and goals, they may create a lot of busy work to mask their lack of domain knowledge. When it comes time to update processes, “busy worker bees” want the details of their unimportant work codified as part of the new processes to make themselves relevant and indispensable (at least in their own minds) in the new workflow. These employees are less interested in the company’s goals than saving their own skins, and that trait becomes even more evident in times of change.

Employees with control issues are highly inflexible and want everything done their way. During process change, they will take a “my way or the highway” approach. For example, if they are dead set on a particular tool set, they will sandbag the tool selection process by exaggerating the feature set of their favored tool and by overemphasizing “problems” with other tool solutions.

Before you think I’m wallowing in unproductive negativity here, please understand I have witnessed the preceding poor behavior on multiple consulting projects (and I’m not even close to cataloging all the bad stuff I’ve seen). As the manager of a process change project, you must be prepared to fight the Magnifier. Effective weapons against it include:

  • Outlining clear business goals for process change. If a proposed tool or process does not support the company’s end goals, it should not be part of the solution.
  • Establishing clear communication among all parties. Start the communication channels up early as possible, and involve everyone, even those who are indirectly affected by the process changes. The company’s business goals should be front and center as part of all change-related conversations. As the project manager, you need to differentiate between legitimate concerns and outright recalcitrance during conversations. Pushback from others can help you identify weaknesses in the proposed workflow that you had not considered.
  • Hiring a consultant, even just part-time. A consultant has seen the Magnifier do its evil thing on other projects and can therefore help you locate and dispose of it early—before it does too much damage. Because consultants come from outside the company, many employees give what they say more credence, even if the consultants end up repeating the very things you’ve been saying all along. A consultant can also act as the “bad cop” in unpleasant situations, particularly ones involving personnel changes (detailed in the next bullet).
  • Realizing that successful change management may depend on personnel changes. Implementing new tools and processes is not going to magically transform poor employees into model workers. In fact, bad employees will have a negative impact on process change. If an employee’s recalcitrance is having significantly detrimental effects, consider reassigning them to another project (for example, maintaining the legacy system), placing them on a performance plan, or even terminating their employment. You must weigh the employee’s value to the company against the drag he or she is creating on the project.

Have you fought off the Magnifier in past projects? Please detail your battle scars in the comments below.

 

Making the most of your conversion to XML, part 2

April 2, 2014 by

You’ve made the transition to an XML workflow for publishing your technical content, converted all of your legacy content, and started authoring in the new system, as discussed in part 1 of this post. Although you now have a much better outlook on sustainability, you’re still facing a problem: your content creators are having trouble with the idea of separating content from formatting.

If you’ve spent years in a print-based workflow, this mindset can be understandably difficult to change. As your content creators work within the new system, new habits will gradually begin to take over the old ones. In the meantime, you can help jump-start their new perspective by showing them how the benefits of an XML workflow outweigh the ability to control every aspect of formatting and page design.

Content that is created and formatted separately will be:

Learn to embrace content creation for multiple outputs. flickr: adactio

Embrace your new publishing possibilities.
flickr: adactio

  • Easier to update. When your content creators don’t have to worry about how things fit on a printed page, they can focus all their attention on the content itself. Since no formatting or design expertise is required to create XML documents, SMEs and other contributors who may not have been qualified to edit the files in a print-based environment can now update the files directly.
  • More consistent. Special, one-off formatting choices that may have made the content less consistent are no longer an issue in XML. When tables, images, and paragraphs are structured the same way every time they’re used, the content will be much better organized, and ultimately easier for the user to consume.
  • More versatile. Content from a single XML source can be transformed into numerous output types—print, PDF, HTML, EPUB—giving the target audience more control over how they want to consume it. Documentation created for print gives the reader a much more limited set of options.
  • More accessible. Content stored in XML is more easily searchable than print documents or print-based outputs such as PDF. Digital outputs from XML (such as HTML) can also be made more accessible by giving the user the option to adjust fonts, sizes, and colors or pass it through a screen reader.
  • More sustainable. Since anyone with or without page design skills can update the content, your content creation team can grow and change over time as needed. It will also be easier for your business to adapt to the development of new products, the introduction of new requirements (such as adding languages to your localization workflow), or overall company growth if your content is in XML. A print-based system will not be as sustainable as XML in an increasingly digital world.

When page design has always been part of your content creators’ process, it won’t be easy for them to break away from that pattern, and it will take time. But with encouragement—and evidence showing how separating content from formatting improves both the user experience and your publishing workflow—they may be a little quicker to embrace the change.

Webcast: The Bottom Line: Globalization and the Dependence on Intelligent Content

March 26, 2014 by

In this webcast recording, Bill Swallow takes a look at intelligent content’s role in global markets, and how the entire content cycle directly affects a business’s bottom line (revenue).

Though we are often concerned with cost of translation when developing content for global markets, traditional cost reduction practices (translation memory, reduced rates) simply aren’t enough. The number one means of cost control when engaging global markets is being able to establish a profitable revenue stream by delivering quality product in those markets in a manner that is meaningful to them. By employing intelligent content with attention to globalization, we can ensure that the information we produce meets market and delivery demands in a timely manner.

Three cost-saving tips for localizing images

March 24, 2014 by

Translating your content can be an expensive and time-consuming process. While there are many cost-saving practices you can employ, perhaps the easiest and most cost-effective practice involves how you manage your images.

Simplify your image localization process

Avoid unnecessary twists, turns, and delays when localizing your images. (image source: Flickr, StockMonkeys.com)

Regardless of whether you are working with structured or unstructured content, following these three simple tips can save you time and money when localizing images.

Tip 1: Avoid callouts

This is where localization can get expensive. You want to avoid anything that will add time and cost to the process. That said, the best solution is to not use callouts at all, just the unadorned image.

If you must use callouts, only use numbers in the image. Below the image, use a table or list to describe each numbered item. This will keep the image clean, you won’t have to worry about text expansion issues crowding the image, and it will significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to produce a translated image.

If you absolutely must add text within the image, make sure you save the raw source image file (.psd from Photoshop, .ai from Illustrator, etc.) with editable layers intact. This way the translator can easily add the translated text into the source image file, modify its placement as needed, and then save it in a usable format for publishing.

Tip 2: Always link, never embed

When inserting images, insert them as links only. Do not embed them into the content. When you embed the image, you need to manually replace every instance of every graphic. This can be incredibly time consuming if you are publishing several language versions.

When you link the graphic, you are merely inserting a placeholder in the content, and the image resides outside. You are then able to replace the linked image outside of the content once, regardless of where it’s used.

Tip 3: Smart storage

Ideally, you should use a separate images folder for each language translation. This way the relative path from the reference to the images is simple. Place all of your images in that folder and link to them.

Note: If you’re already using a component content management system (CCMS), you can manage your localized images via system features and/or metadata.

When you localize your images, use the exact same filenames for the translated images as you have for the source images. You should have the same number of images using the same filenames in each language folder.

When it comes time to publish your localized content, you can then either overwrite the working images folder contents with the translated images (have a second storage folder for your source images!), or modify the relative paths in the references to the localized images folder. Those translated images will be used without objection, since they are the exact same filenames in the exact same location as when you linked to them. From the content’s point of view, nothing has changed.

Summary

While there are certainly many robust technological ways of managing image translation, it’s always a best practice to start with the basics. These three simple tips will help in your translation efforts regardless of the amount of content you have.