Content strategy for foodies

Sarah O'Keefe / Opinion8 Comments

Content is like food. At its best, it’s a carefully choreographed experience, like dining at a fine restaurant. This line of reasoning was kicked off by a tweet from Tristan Bishop (@KnowledgeBishop):

To enable self-service support is to lay out a rich buffet. To do otherwise forces guests to beg outside your kitchen. #techcomm #custserv

My initial reply:

@KnowledgeBishop “rich buffet” versus “soup kitchen” — you’ll take this content and you’ll like it. #techcomm #custserv

And then I thought we might be on to something, so I made a taxonomy of food-based content strategy. (Meanwhile, Tristan wrote Content: A Banquet Best Served Warm.)

  • Buffet. So much content, you don’t even know what to do. Totally overwhelming, and you’ll never find exactly what you’re looking for. Or, by the time you find it, your brain is full. It looks fabulous, but you’re so distracted by the ice sculptures that you forget what information you actually need. Quite often, this is a corporate web site. It’s pretty, and all the information is there, but there’s way too much of it, and no obvious way to filter it.
    Buffet looks spectacular, but how do you choose?

    Buffet of excess // flickr: jimg944

  • Soup kitchen. This is another common approach to technical content. The content consumer is given little respect and no control over the user experience. Here, I expect to see a web site chock full of ugly, enormous PDF files—indigestible, unhealthy, and generally unappealing.
  • Fast food. It’s cheap to produce, available everywhere, and people are familiar with it. But in the end, it’s not particularly nutritious, and you probably shouldn’t have it all the time. I’m not sure about the content equivalent—perhaps the FAQ?
  • Fine dining. You have to pay, but in return you get a carefully orchestrated experience. Everything from the architecture, the menu’s visual and technical design, the service, and the presentation is intended to enhance your experience. I don’t think I’ve ever seen this in corporate documentation, although some game manuals come close. The best example I can think of is some of the better-designed third-party manuals, such as the Head First and Missing Manual series.
  • Potluck. We’re headed for a life of potluck content. Everyone’s a contributor, the quality varies wildly from one item to the next, and sometimes you end up with too many desserts and not enough main dishes. The most successful potlucks usually involve someone orchestrating the whole thing—asking each guest to bring a specific type of item to ensure that the overall menu is balanced.
  • Farmer’s market. For me, the most enjoyable food experience is when I get to make my own choices. I go to the farmer’s market, pick out fresh, local, in-season food, take my loot home, and make something fabulous. And serendipity is a big part of the hunt. I thought I wanted blueberries but instead find blackberries. Next to the crowder peas, I find a basket of tomatillos.

If your content is food, then are you providing a handout, a cruise ship buffet, a potluck, or something else? What should your content be? Is it important for your readers to eat their vegetables?

Related: Content: A Banquet Best Served Warm, Tristan Bishop

PS Tristan is doing a webcast on knowledge integration next week. The event is free but registration is required.

About the Author

Sarah O'Keefe


Content strategy consultant and founder of Scriptorium Publishing. Bilingual English-German, voracious reader, water sports, knitting, and college basketball (go Blue Devils!). Aversions to raw tomatoes, eggplant, and checked baggage.

8 Comments on “Content strategy for foodies”

  1. Pingback: Content: A Banquet Best Served Warm « KnowledgeBishop's Mission

  2. Hi Sarah, I LOVE your analogies. You’ve really taken this tweetstream to the next level. My related blog piece is a Customer Service rant ( but you’ve put for a taxonomy that will make some great and effective presentations. (I was inspired by @Larry_Kunz and his “No Soup For You” comment on that). I think your “pot luck” metaphor for User-Generated Content is especially brilliant. Shucks, now I’m all hungry – off to the farmer’s market. (j/k)

  3. I second what Tristan said: these analogies are absolutely brilliant. Especially the potluck.

    It occurs to me that the participants bring a different set of expectations to each kind of experience. Even though a potluck might turn out to be 12 different kinds of potato salad, that’s OK because the people aren’t expecting pate de foie gras. In technical communication we often struggle because our readers expect one thing — say, the fine dining experience — and we deliver another.

    Tristan’s article asks why we promise a banquet and then deliver saltines and water. I’m coming at it from a slightly different angle: Assuming that we know what we have and assuming that we’re willing to deliver it, how can we better align the readers’ expectations with what we’re actually going to deliver?

  4. @Tristan — thanks for sparking the idea and a great related post.

    @Larry — I know the answer in the food universe. When you see a drive-through, counter service, and plastic seating, you expect fast food. Contrast that with white tablecloths, required reservations, and a seasonal menu, which tends to raise quality (and price!) expectations. So…what are we delivering? Does the look and feel of the site match the deliverables? Are we pushing fast food to a bunch of locavores?

  5. In my case, I’m repeatedly promised “Fine Dining” by excellent and effective marketing campaigns. There are usually slogans like “your opinion is important to us” and “Customers are our purpose”. The promise is “gourmet” but the actual experience is “ballpark hotdog.” In the case of the telecom that prompted my post, I doubt that their techcomm team would be able to convince marketing to make their promises more realistic. Instead, these the only option these writers have would be to bring the service (access to content) up to the level of the promises, right? I think techcomm has power we have yet to use. We know stuff.

  6. I love it–just love the analogies, being a Farmers Market type.

    One thing about fresh, local, in-season food: shoppers are the kind who are willing to cook from scratch and flexible with respect to recipe ingredients–but are able (as you said) to make something fabulous! Some folks will still prefer to have something of lesser (or even dubious) quality if it is instantly ready to consume.

  7. @Debbie…and I think that trade-off is fine, as long as everyone is aware. The larger issue seems to be what @Tristan mentions in the previous comment, where you are promised the world, and get a bone to gnaw on. And I think there’s going to be another post on that topic…

  8. Pingback: LavaCon: Cooler than Star Wars? « KnowledgeBishop's Mission

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