The framing effect in content strategy

Sarah O'Keefe / Opinion4 Comments

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Different flavors of content strategists seem to be having trouble talking to each other. I think it’s because of the framing effect.

The framing effect is a specific type of cognitive bias, in which “the way a question is ‘framed’ often has an influence on how people answer that question.” (source: The power of framing effects and other cognitive bias)

The Content Marketing Institute frames editorial content strategy:

Who is the content for? […] the beauty of editorial strategy is that you can get as specific as possible in determining who you are trying to reach.

Why are you creating new content?

What are you going to say? […] Being consistent in your message – what you are saying and how you’re saying it – is so important to really connect with your audience.

But here is a different, more business-oriented perspective on content strategy from Joe Gollner:

[Content strategy] is centered upon the business goals of the organization. It sounds almost painfully obvious but grim reality shows us that it is not as obvious as it sounds. A content strategy should bring to the fore the idea that the content must be expressly designed and developed so as to address specific business objectives. This content must also, it follows, be designed to work with and leverage the tools that are being used, such as the search technology that a customer or prospect is most likely to call upon when looking for an answer.

Here’s Scott Abel’s take:

[Content strategy means you deliver] the right information, to the right people, at the right time, on the right device, in the right format and language. Your content is your most valuable business asset. Let us show you how to manage it efficiently and effectively.

If that’s not enough, here is a list of ten different definitions of content strategy.

Scott also wrote a post about the content strategy definition problem that included this call to action:

I believe that all content strategists should be knowledgeable about the entire content ecosystem, the content lifecycle, content tools, technologies, standards, and methodologies — even those that fall outside of their area of specialization, or are tangentially-related to the project on which they are working.

Richard Ingram takes a holistic view of content strategy (click the image for a high-resolution PDF version)

overlap of technical, editorial, and web content strategy roles

One major component missing from this image is localization.

Here is my attempt at a holistic frame for content strategy, which I originally posted as a comment in Scott’s article.

We need to come to an organizational and temporal understanding of content strategy. Here are my proposed questions:

1. How can content contribute to meeting business goals?
This is big-picture, noneditorial stuff. For example: We want to ship a product in all our markets within 2 months of the first market launch. Our current workflow has a lag of 12 months. Our content strategy must streamline localization to support near-simultaneous shipment. -OR- We want to increase our market share by xxx and to do so, we need to win the online conversation about why feature X is better than our competitor’s inferior feature Y. We need to make sure that our content is optimized so that potential customers find it and understand our offering. Currently, only 10% of potential customers actually know about our fabulous feature X, but of those 10%, 90% buy our product. Increased awareness of feature X will drive sales.

2. Given a content strategy (see step 1), how do we execute on the strategy? This is where content engineering comes into play. We need XML content because it will streamline localization. We need to publish HTML (and not just PDF) to help with SEO. We need a CMS to manage authoring. We need web analytics. And so on.

3. Given a strategy and an engineering solution, how do we create the needed information? NOW, we can talk about editorial calendars, voice and tone, and other aspects that are (incorrectly, I think) described as content strategy. These are not strategies…they’re tactics.

4. How do we sustain this effort for the long term? What people and processes need to be in place to continue this effort?

5. When do we reassess our strategy, engineering, and tactics? What changes in the business would lead us to reevaluate the current approach?

What are your thoughts? Can we encapsulate all of content strategy in a broad frame?


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.

4 Comments on “The framing effect in content strategy”

  1. This is one of the best explanations I’ve seen. As I writer, I get irked when folks “sexy-up” simple writing and call it “content strategy.” For me, the ideal situation is doing my thing *within* a larger strategy that provides the direction and constraints for making choices about tools, processes, and editorial issues. I enjoy wearing the content strategist hat, too; that’s why my red flags go up when I am asked to write something, can’t get any strategy questions answered at all, but the buzzword “content” dominates the discussion.

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