Kaitlyn Heath: 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. In episode 38, we focus on the beginning stages of adapting your content strategy. What are the first steps in analyzing the current methods, what are the primary issues, and what improvements need to be made?
Kaitlyn Heath: Hi, I’m Kaitlyn Heath and I have Gretyl Kinsey with me.
Gretyl Kinsey: Hello.
K. Heath: Hi. We’re here to talk about the first steps in improving your content strategy. So I figured since I’m the newest member here at Scriptorium, we would start at the very beginning of a content strategy.
G. Kinsey: Absolutely.
K. Heath: So, a few episodes ago, we talked about what the reasons are that you might want to restructure your content strategy, so I was hoping that you could kind of summarize the main reasons that people want to implement a new strategy.
G. Kinsey: Sure. So we’ve seen this with a lot of our clients and with other companies where if you’ve had a strategy that’s been working for you for a while and then suddenly some major change comes along, you’ll definitely want to adapt and restructure the way that you’re doing things to account for that. That’s one thing to look at sort of in the beginning stages is what kinds of changes has your organization gone through, how does that affect the processes that you’ve been doing to create content up to this point? And then the third major thing is where are you going now that you’ve gone through this major shift into something different?
K. Heath: So what are some of the main processes that you see that people want to change?
G. Kinsey: We see a lot of examples where, as I was mentioning, if there’s a big organizational change that causes a shift, that can sometimes reveal things like inefficiencies so that’s one major one. If you have a content process that maybe started off just fine but has now become really inefficient, it wastes a lot of time, money, resources, that’s one thing that really pushes people to change.
G. Kinsey: One example I’ll give is we actually had one situation with a client where they were undergoing a rebranding process and, this was after a major merger acquisition, and they’d had this happen several times before where they realized that their content creation processes were really geared toward kind of a small department, maybe one or two people making changes, but then as they acquire more and more smaller companies inside of them, they needed something that could scale up so that every time they need to rebrand, it’s not one or two people in Microsoft Word changing out the logos on every single file one by one. That’s one really good example of if you’ve got some major change that happens in your company, your current content processes don’t scale up, that’s one place that you might want to start with your strategy.
G. Kinsey: Another one is also with localization requirements. This is something we see quite a bit across a lot of the different clients that we’ve worked with. It’s one of the major drivers that we’ve seen for needing to adapt or change the content strategy that you already have in place. All of a sudden maybe you get a new customer base in a different country and you have to deliver content in their language by some sort of regulation or requirement, and you can’t deliver your product unless you’re also delivering content in their language, so now all of a sudden you have a new requirement you have to meet and if your current processes are just set up to produce content if your source language is English, if you’ve only got things set up to do English only, and then all the sudden you say, “Oh, we have to start delivering Chinese now as well,” then you have to change your processes and your strategy or you’re going to be stuck in a situation you don’t want to be in.
K. Heath: Okay. That makes a lot of sense. So once you’ve decided we need to implement these localization strategies, we’re not being efficient, what are the next steps?
G. Kinsey: The major steps, and this is true whether you are changing your processes or kind of starting a strategy for the first time, the major steps are first identify what your issues are so … what is your current state and the problems that you’re facing in that current state? And then second is identify where you need to go from there, so an example might be our current state is we have unstructured content and we have maybe a group of five writers and we have suddenly grown to where we’re going to end up needing to deliver content to a much larger audience, so right now this current state of unstructured content, small group of writers is not going to meet that need.
G. Kinsey: So then you say, “Okay, where do we need to go next? What’s our goal?” Our goal is to deliver, let’s say, 50,000 pages of content, we’ve grown significantly, 50,000 pages of content to users in countries where we’re going to have to support five new languages, so what do we do? That’s where you kind of start. You say, “What are we working with right now? What is not working about that? Then where do we want to go?” That’s sort of that question of where do you see your content in five years? So you sort of … it could be more short term as well. Where do you see it in one year? Where do you see it in five? Where do you see it in 10? You kind of start building out your strategy from there.
G. Kinsey: Then of course the other kinds of questions you ask yourself along the way are, one, what is my budget? Because that can have a lot of possible either constraints or if you’ve got a big budget, it could have lots of help going toward where you need to go to achieve those goals.
G. Kinsey: Then the other thing to ask is what is my timeline? Because that also can be a major factor. Your strategy’s going to be really different if you need to start delivering localized content within the next six months as opposed to if you only … if you have maybe like two years to get there, then you might take a different approach, you might take more time to consider different ways that you’re going to tackle this problem or sort of go in phases, as opposed to if you’ve got to do it quickly, then you have to have a whole different approach to your strategy.
K. Heath: Right. So if you had unlimited budget and ideal timeline, what is the first thing you’re going to do? Who are the first people that you’re going to talk to?
G. Kinsey: The first people that you talk to, and this actually is true regardless of budget, but you want to talk to all of the people who have a stake in the development of your content, so that’s going to be your writers, it’s going to be … and that’s across multiple departments, so technical writers, marketing writers, training content authors, all those different content creators.
G. Kinsey: You’re going to want to talk to designers, you’re going to want to talk to the people who are in charge of distributing and delivering that content, and of course you’re going to want to talk to, since we’re mentioning budget, you’re going to want to talk to the people with the purse strings. So you want to talk to … if there is a department head of … if you’re starting in tech com, whoever runs that department, whoever runs the other departments you’re working with, and your C level executives who are really going to be the ones determining what your budget is and that might be one place where you could say, “Right now our budget is limited,” but if you make a really good case to that executive, then your budget might not end up as limited as you thought.
K. Heath: Right, right.
G. Kinsey: Or it could end up more limited if you don’t do a good job explaining your needs. So that’s where it’s really, really crucial to think who has a stake in the content, what stake do they have, and how can I make it clear that as a … if I’m in a content creator role and I know what resources I need, how can I make that clear to everybody else who has a stake in the content and make them see how important that is?
K. Heath: Right, so after you’ve talked to the authors and the distributors and the executives, what do you find is the biggest discrepancy between the requirements that they give you?
G. Kinsey: Oh, goodness. Well, for us as consultants, one of the things that we see, because that’s what we do. We go in, we talk to all those different groups separately, and that way they’re all honest and that’s really eye opening as far as the perspective we get. The biggest discrepancy that I’ve seen is different departments having different goals and so there are sometimes conflicts where, especially if they’re sort of vying for resources from the higher ups, technical content creators are going to say this is maybe what’s important to me is accuracy, is speed of delivery, is the ability to translate it quickly and get it out with the product, whereas from a marketing perspective, they may say the design is really, really important, the message it’s sending is really important, and really that kind of gets into this issue that I know we’ve talked about on lots of other podcasts and blog posts, but the idea of getting all these different departments, whether it’s technical, marketing, training, to understand that they all produce content and users see that as one big thing.
G. Kinsey: They don’t really care that this is technical content or this is marketing content. To them, it’s all just content that represents your company. If all these different groups could kind of get on the same page about that, then that helps sort of bridge that gap and those discrepancies and some of those conflicts that they can often have. That’s where it also really does help if you can align the needs of those different groups. That’s going to help you have a much better shot at getting the budget and the green light from the executives that you need to really put in the strategy that’s going to help you achieve your goals.
K. Heath: So if you find, probably worse case scenario, that you’ve got five authors using Microsoft Word that need to scale to 50,000 pages of content for their product and put it into five different languages, what is the thing that you have to do first to make that transition?
G. Kinsey: I would say the very first thing you have to do is, as I mentioned before, you’re going to identify what your goals are but the very first step also is prioritizing that. Once you’ve identified it, you have to say before you can take that first step into going into that strategy and putting it in place, you’ve got to ask yourself, “Which goals are the most important?”, because you know that you’re probably not going to get all of them done in one fell swoop. You’ve got to say, “Is it more important to deliver that first of those five languages, or is it more important to go to something where we’re not having just these five writers stuck in Word? Is it more important to get out of Word first or is it a crucial time constraint to just get something translated?”
G. Kinsey: What you’ve got to do is look at your requirements and your constraints and then those goals that you want to achieve, put that in some kind of order of priority so that you have a plan to start moving forward. We see a lot of companies taking what we call a phased approach, so that’s breaking down an overall strategy that encompasses all the goals you want to meet, both short and long term, breaking that down and saying, “How can we tackle this one manageable step at a time so that we don’t get completely overwhelmed and also so we don’t throw a bunch of money into a solution all at once and then it takes several years for it to pay off?”
K. Heath: That makes a lot of sense. Do you find that the first phase is often really similar for a lot of different companies? Or does it really vary just as much as content strategy does across the board?
G. Kinsey: It actually varies quite a bit depending on what industry the company is in and what their constraints are, but one thing that we do see as kind of a common thread is the idea of pilot projects. I know we’ve got some interesting resources on our blog about this as well and some case studies with clients who’ve sort of taken this approach, but that’s sort of a lower risk way to prove that your strategy as planned is likely to work. So what you do is if we’re talking about the same scenario where you’ve got your small group of writers in Word who need to start delivering 50,000 pages in five languages, then a pilot project might be to say, “All right, let’s pick one language, whichever one is the most crucial and let’s put a strategy in place where we are translating content into that language and delivering it in a timely manner,” and then based on that, the executives will say, “Okay, this is working. Now we’re going to give you some more budget to tackle maybe the next two or maybe even all four of the other remaining ones.”
G. Kinsey: If you start small with a pilot project or a proof of concept and use that to prove that the rest of your plan should follow suit and go forward, then that’s kind of one common thing that we’ve seen and it tends to work regardless of industry or particular requirements, because having just that one sort of small project that works, it usually instills a lot of faith in the people with the purse strings that going bigger should work too.
K. Heath: All right. Okay. Then, I think I have one more main question about starting a project, and that’s where do you begin to assess the tools that people are going to need? Of course that’s different, again, for every single one, but what’s the process that you use for deciding what the right tool is going to be?
G. Kinsey: I think the first and most important thing to say here is that the tool stuff is not step one.
K. Heath: Right, right.
G. Kinsey: That’s the number one way to get yourself locked into a strategy that may not work for you is if you pick tools first. So that really is going to come after all of the other steps that I’ve outlined. First, you decide or you look at what is … what’s going on right now, what’s going wrong with it? Where do you need to go? Then once you have those requirements outlined, then you can look at some tools that might work and you have a sort of rubric where you can say, “All right, here’s what this tool does. Here’s what we need. What’s the overlap?” If the overlap is significant enough, then you might say, “Okay, this tool seems like it’s going to be a good fit for us.”
G. Kinsey: It’s pretty much impossible to find one single tool that’s going to be a perfect fit, and that’s why we caution people against going to tools first. It’s more likely that what you’re going to find working is maybe one tool that handles this piece of your strategy, a different tool that handles this other piece, and then you have to evaluate also how those different tools would play together. Trying to find a one tool fits all solution doesn’t really work, because that one tool is what it is, but each company has very different requirements, so that’s why it’s always important to make sure you know exactly what your goals are and what the sort of gaps you have are now before you can meet those goals before you start looking at tools that can maybe help you get there.
K. Heath: Right. So do you find that people often take a little bit of time to trial different tools to figure out what the right one is?
G. Kinsey: Yeah, absolutely. It’s very common if you have gotten to a point where you’ve said, “Okay, we know what our strategy is and now we’re looking at some tool options,” to go through a process with the vendors of those tools to do a demo, to potentially even do sort of a 30-day trial or something of that nature where you have a chance to see what the tool does and really get a good idea if it is as good of a fit as you thought, because there’s always that possibility that the tool vendors, they produce their own marketing content as well, so you can see what they say about their tool, but it’s not until you really get to see it in action that you’ll have a better idea of whether it’s going to truly be what you need.
K. Heath: Great. Okay. So I guess the rule is ask everyone that’s involved what they need from their new content strategy.
G. Kinsey: Yeah, and make sure that all those requirements are nailed down before you even start shopping for tools.
K. Heath: Right. Tools last.
G. Kinsey: Yes.
K. Heath: Tools last. Okay, well, thank you, Gretyl.
G. Kinsey: Yeah, thank you Kaitlyn.
K. Heath: Thank you for listening to the Content Strategy Experts podcast, brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, please visit scriptorium.com and check the show notes for relevant links.