Alan Pringle: Welcome to the Content Strategy Experts podcast brought to you by Scriptorium. Since 1997, Scriptorium has helped companies manage, structure, organize and distribute content in an efficient way.
AP: In episode 28 we discuss our approach to content strategy, which draws heavily on management consulting principles.
AP: Hi everyone, I am Alan Pringle at Scriptorium Publishing and today I have Sarah O’Keefe and Bill Swallow with me.
Sarah O’Keefe: Hey everybody.
Bill Swallow: Hello.
AP: Today we want to talk about content strategy, how we practice it here at Scriptorium, and it’s relationship to management consulting. So I guess the best way to start off, let’s define what is management consulting?
SO: Management consulting is typically defined as people coming in and solving a business problem. You hear a lot about business process reorganization. You hear a lot about obnoxious consultants wandering in and telling everybody what to do, but at it’s core, the principle is that the organization has a problem of some sort and you’re trying to figure out how do you solve that problem? How do you change the business? And there’s a pretty well-defined way or pretty well-defined methodology of how you do that. You define the problem, you do some requirements analysis, you do a gap and needs analysis, and then based on that—whatever your constraints might be—you figure out a solution to the problem.
AP: And what you’ve just laid out there, how do you see that map into content strategy?
SO: In my view, content strategy is basically management consulting restricted to a focus on content heavy problems or restricted to a focus on, “How do I solve this business problem using content?”
AP: Okay. I’m going to kind of touch on the elephant in the room—or, in the recording maybe the better way to say that. Today a lot of people, especially on social media, content strategy and content marketing are very closely aligned or linked. You see it a lot. Especially with hashtags on Twitter. How do you align what you just described with this whole focus on content marketing and Bill, do you have any thoughts on that?
SO: Yeah, Bill, why don’t you take that one.
BS: By the way that was a nice switch.
BS: Content marketing really is tangent to content strategy, and a lot of what you do within content marketing does require some kind of a content strategy to execute it. But there’s a big difference between a focus on just marketing content or just tailoring content to an audience and looking at content strategy as a whole. Content strategy is there to solve a specific business problem just like Sarah had mentioned and it does follow the same exact pattern or the same exact process for getting to that solution. As a content strategist you would come onboard and first of all figure out what the business problem is and then do all of your requirements gathering. Figure out what requirements are high priority, low priority and so forth. Get that prioritization list going and then do the full gap analysis and the needs analysis, and also at that time you can also even do a content audit. Then figure out from all that information what the solution needs to look like. Then you can go forward with making that solution actually happen.
SO: I mean content marketing could be an outcome of content strategy right? I mean you go in there and you say, “Okay, strategically in order to make this work you need to have this kind of content getting posted on the website,” but that’s the content marketing of, “Here’s the editorial calendar and here are the kind of topics we need to focus on and here are the kinds of things we need to do on a consistent basis and here’s a social media strategy.” Those are all relatively small potatoes compared to the big picture question of what is your overall strategy, which is what we’re focused on.
BS: Right. With the grand scope of a content strategy you would include marketing, you would include technical documentation, support, training, even sales. And internal documentation as well. If you have internal policies and procedures that need to follow through based on what your business goals are that align with marketing content development, product development, so forth, that all ties together.
AP: Yeah, so what I’m hearing is… content marketing is a tool or a subset of a wider content strategy.
BS: It should be because in and of itself you don’t have a business goal that is defined purely by marketing.
SO: Right, so you want to expand market share or you want to recruit or go into lets say the Spanish speaking community in a particular location. That would imply you might want to think pretty carefully about delivering Spanish language content and then how are you going to do that and how are you going to work through all of that. But content marketing itself is typically these are the kinds of topics that our organization needs to focus on.
BS: Yeah, and at the same time with that same entering the market strategy, you also have product development, you also have sales positioning and you have infrastructure demands. A lot of HR, a lot of IT work that needs to happen to make all of this happen. Yes.
AP: We’ve defined content strategy and talked about it in relation to content marketing and how that’s just a part of content strategy. Let’s go a little bigger-picture and talk about process now. What is a typical content strategy process, if there is one.
SO: Well, I think for us it looks an awful lot like a typical management consulting methodology. Somebody comes to us and says, “We have a problem and we need to fix how we work with content or we need to change how we work with content to address that problem.” Problems might be things like too many people are returning our product because they can’t figure out how to use it because the product content isn’t very good. Can we bring that product return rate down and how can we do that with content? We’re getting too many support calls. They cost too much money. We need to go into new markets. We need to globalize and we’ve only been doing two or three languages but how we need 20 and our current very manual process for creating, managing, publishing content won’t scale to 30 languages.
SO: What do we do? How do we address that? The ultimate business problem is there and then you have to figure out, “Okay, how do we solve this problem? Too many people are returning the product.” Well, okay, why is that? Figure out what’s going on. Figure out what percentage of that could be addressed by better content, delivered in better ways, delivered in more obvious places so that people actually find it, solve their problem and can use the product instead of returning it. Localization, which is Bill’s expertise, is a very common driver for new content strategy, new approaches because it gets so expensive so fast if you’re inefficient.
SO: Eventually you figure out the problem. You define it clearly. And then you figure out how to solve it with your content and your content processes and then you have to figure out how to build that system or how to maybe train your writers on how to write the right kind of content that’ll get out the door that’ll then support what you’re trying to do.
AP: Sure, and where does for example return on investment fall into all of this?
BS: There are many different places where you can find a solid return. One is certainly being able to realize revenue from a new market. That’s an obvious one. Another one would be within localization savings or time to market with localized offerings. And you can go further down into the weeds and look at content reuse… So, being able to expedite content development based on smart reuse rather than copy paste, being able to further reduce localized spending by having significant reuse in there, and just having more efficiencies within your workflows for developing, managing, publishing and maintaining this content.
AP: Sure. And from my point of view, really you can, you know say you’ve got these business problems. You need a content strategy. But someone’s got to pay for it and you’re going to make that a lot more palatable if you can show or explain, “This is what we estimate we’re going to save because we’re getting this product to market this much more quickly. This much more revenue’s going to come in to offset all the costs of the analysis and of the configuring and putting that new whatever system it is in place.”
SO: Yeah, and it’s interesting because I kind of led off with… The management consulting nearly is always done by outsiders. It’s done by consultants that come in and do stuff. And the reason for that is exactly why we operate as outside consultants. It’s because you start, after a while you start to see patterns. You start to see the same problems over and over and over again and not withstanding the fact that one day we’re working with consumer electronics and the next day we’re working with medical devices and the say after that we’re working in financial services. The content problems, they actually have content problems in common despite the fact that the industry, or the products, are completely different but there are interesting patterns in terms of how the content is developed, delivered or not developed and not delivered. Things that need to be addressed and fixed and updated. The more time and expertise and experience a consultant has looking at a variety of different companies the better off we are when we then go into the next project because… I’m not saying we’ve seen it all but we’ve seen a lot.
AP: And this very much ties in the discussion that Bill and I had in the previous episode about “you are not unique” and how there a lot of commonalities in business problems, even in completely different industries. And we’ll put a link to that podcast, by the way, in the show notes so you can listen to that also if you haven’t heard that yet.
BS: Right. And there’s another aspect too and that’s bringing in a third party really gives you a fresh perspective. You can certainly have internal strategists working on things but in order to get… If you’re finding that solutions that you’re implementing are not working as you expect or that you have this creeping doubt along the way, bringing in a third party really can help you because they come in with a fresh perspective, they need to figure out what your business model is and you need to figure out, the third party also needs to figure out whether that business model actually… They can find loopholes within the model itself. If there are business goals that flatly don’t make sense or need to be redirected that’s something that perhaps an internal resource wouldn’t be able to influence. But as an outside person coming in they can offer that fresh perspective.
AP: There is also a more superficial and, frankly, not so great angle to the third party. And that is, you can have someone in house who knows exactly what the problem is and have some really good ideas on how to fix it. However, management or whoever has their hands on the money is not interested in internal, in-house voices. They want to hear it from a third party. A consultant can go in there and say virtually the same exact things someone in-house has said yet it’s going to be taken more as gospel because it’s coming from a third party. It is grossly unfair, but that is how the corporate world is a lot of the times.
SO: Yeah, the best description I’ve heard of that is that somebody said, “You know, they listen to you when your commute is on an airplane.” In other words, literally because you’ve parachuted—okay, we don’t literally parachute in—but because we literally come from another place on an airplane without using a parachute, we parachute in and we have credibility because we’re outsiders and we’ve done a lot of these projects and we’ve looked at a cross section of stuff. But like you said, more often than not there’s already somebody inside the organization that kind of has figured out the problem. They just can’t get the attention that they need or the funding that they need because either like you said, they don’t have credibility or, and this is maybe more common, they don’t know quite how to talk to executives with money.
SO: When you go to an executive and say, “We need to invest in translation memory,” and they’re like, “I don’t even… You lost me at translation memory.” They have no idea what you’re talking about but if you say to them, “There’s technology out there that will allow us to reduce the amount of new content that we’re paying for in translation,” that they understand. You have to bring it into a very generic kind of discussion and very generically business discussion as opposed to being about nerdy technical stuff which the executives, I can assure you neither understand nor care about.
AP: Well you start talking about making more money with less effort, they care about that. A lot. Talk in metrics, talk in money, that tends to get their attention. That’s usually a good way around that.
AP: And on that note, I think we’re going to wrap things up. And if you have some opinions on our definition of content strategy, and I’m sure you do, please drop us a line. You can do it through the contact form on our website or you can send email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
AP: Thanks everyone, and thanks Sarah and Bill.
SO: Thank you.
AP: Thank you for listening to the Content Strategy Experts podcast brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, please visit scriptorium.com or check the show notes for relevant links.