Content strategy pitfalls: lacking a unified content strategy (podcast)
In episode 107 of The Content Strategy Experts podcast, Bill Swallow and Gretyl Kinsey are back for another episode in our Content strategy pitfalls series. They talk about what can have happen when you lack a unified content strategy.
“One way to get funding in place is to start the conversation among different groups. Get these groups together and start talking about what their ultimate goals are with their content strategy and their content operations. That way you can have multiple voices coming together and asking for a larger pool of money that can be shared.”
– Bill Swallow
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Bill Swallow: 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 this episode, we look at another content strategy pitfall, what can have happen when you lack a unified content strategy? Hi, everybody. I’m Bill Swallow.
Gretyl Kinsey: And I’m Gretyl Kinsey.
BS: So, before we jump into talking about what can happen when you lack a unified content strategy, we should probably start with explaining exactly what a unified content strategy is.
GK: Yeah. So, if you’ve listened to any of our podcasts before, looked at any information on Scriptorium’s blog, you might have also seen us refer to this as enterprise content strategy. So, what we mean by enterprise or unified content strategy is a plan for managing all of your content processes across the organization. And a lot of times that involves bringing all of your different content producing groups into alignment with each other.
BS: And as you can imagine, if everyone is working against a different strategy and doing different things, a lot of bad things can happen. One thing that we see right out of the gate when an organization does not have a unified content strategy, is that there are a lot of inconsistencies throughout the entire content chain, from authoring the content all the way through to the customer experience on the final destination of that content.
GK: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of times this happens, because not everybody in the organization places the same amount of value on content. I know one example that I’ve seen of this might be something like, an executive sees a lot of value from something like the marketing content, because that’s directly making sales. But they don’t realize maybe the importance or the value that other kinds of content like your technical documentation, your training modules, maybe your legal materials might have. So, those groups maybe don’t get as much funding, as many resources, as much invested into them. And then you end up with this inconsistency, with this lack of cohesion among the different content producing groups, just because there wasn’t really value placed on content as a whole.
BS: And we also can see this within even what we consider a traditional content group. So, for technical documentation, a lot of times you will have user focused guides and user focused content, and you will also have deep technical content, perhaps API references and so forth. And oftentimes, we even see several different strategies being used for these various sub-components of what we would refer to as the umbrella of technical documentation. And even in those cases, you can start seeing a lot of dissonance between how the content is being authored, how it’s being produced, and how it’s being received.
GK: Yeah, no matter whether you have these subgroups that you’re talking about or your larger content producing departments. Another issue that we see is that these different groups may come up with different content strategies separately. When you’ve got all of these different ideas and these different ways of work trying to come together for the first time, you can have a lot of issues like change resistance. You can have egos coming in and you can have a lot of debate over what approach is the best approach. And so, that’s why, whenever we talk about a unified content strategy, it’s oftentimes easier to work on it from that perspective from the start, rather than trying to bring together a whole bunch of separate content strategies from different groups.
BS: And a lot of these inconsistencies and a lot of these mismatches that you might see as you try to combine two different strategies into one, could range from how people work when they author, it could be what tools they’re using and whether they’re even compatible together with other groups. It could be the tone and voice of the content that’s coming through and that there’s a stark difference between the two, and there’s no way to easily glue them together without it sounding completely bizarre to someone who’s reading it.
GK: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s an important point, because when you start having those inconsistencies, you reflect outward in the content to where they’re going to be affecting the way that somebody might use that content. If whether you are a customer who is trying to decide whether to buy a product or you’ve already bought your product, you’re trying to figure out how to use it. If the content is not consistent, if some of these issues from the way it’s been created are spilling over into the user experience, then that’s going to have a negative impact on your company. And so, that’s why I think what we said up front about the value of content is so important and you have to really think about that from all different angles.
BS: Right. And a lot of times any of these changes are going to come really with a significant cost. And a lot of times we look at the dollar signs or the price tag on the tools involved in being able to swap tools and migrate content over into a new system. But sometimes that’s not even the largest cost we’re talking about. If there are workflow changes that need to happen within a company, that usually means not only changing what that process looks like, but training everybody up on using it correctly. It probably involves a completely different way of authoring into some fashion. So, whether they are using different tools to author, there are different ways of going about producing that content.
BS: If the tone and voice needs to come to alignment, a lot of stuff needs to be rewritten. If there’s localization involved, then anything that has been translated previously is no longer a leveragable asset, in which case you’re starting from scratch with retranslating everything. So, it’s really important when you are defining your content strategies, that you take a look around and make sure that you’re not operating in a silo and potentially magnifying the cost of unification later.
GK: Yeah, absolutely. And one thing that you mentioned that got me thinking about another pitfall when it comes to that cost was you mentioned tools and process changes. And I think one pitfall that I’ve seen a lot of companies fall into is they make decisions about their tools or their process changes and purchase new tools without consulting everyone who might be affected by that decision. So, for example, let’s say that you have got an LMS at your company and you need to upgrade, and you only consult people in training and e-learning who use the LMS. And you don’t talk to other content groups who may share content, who may need to use some of the training materials as part of technical documentation, as part of marketing content, for example. And then when you purchase your new LMS, it affects those other groups and there’s that spillover.
GK: And we see this happen all the time. We see it happen with component content management systems. We see it happen with localization, where these kinds of tool decisions are made without really taking into account the unified content strategy and the effects. And I think when we’ve got those kinds of content silos, that’s where it’s more likely to happen because you don’t really think outside of your particular group.
BS: To that point, if one of the key factors in moving toward a unified content strategy is to be able to intelligently reuse content rather than copying and pasting, or what have you, the tools are really going to make or break that particular aspect of your content strategy. Because if one group is authoring in one particular tool that has a very specific file format or some kind of binary format, it is going to be near impossible to be able to get that content out and reusable as a single chunk of content. A lot of times it will either need to be copy and pasted or re-keyed or something to get it into another system to be able to use it. And that completely defeats the purpose of reuse.
GK: Yeah, absolutely. And I think this really speaks to why whenever, at Scriptorium, we come in and help companies with their content strategy is we often say tools should be the last thing you do. You need to come up with all of your goals, all of your specifications, all of the reasons why you’re buying that tool in the first place before you start looking at options. Because what happens when you make those decisions in the early part of that process is you don’t think of all the different factors. And then you end up either in a situation where you’re locked into using a tool that doesn’t really work for you or to get out of it. It’s going to be like Bill said, really expensive. There’s a lot of costs involved with these kinds of tools. So, rather than making an expensive mistake, it’s always better to take more time upfront, to work on the strategy itself and really understand what it is you’re looking to get out of those tools before you buy them.
BS: And with every strategy comes one particular item that is often overlooked when putting a content strategy together, and that’s content governance.
BS: And if everyone is doing different things with different tools and different ways and using different processes and different quality control checks, it is going to be very difficult to get any kind of overarching governance in place to be able to make sure that everyone is working as they should be throughout this process. The governance is going to be rather wide in scope. And the more differences you have between different teams working together, the more difficult it’s going to be, to be able to govern all the aspects of content creation across the enterprise.
GK: Yeah. I thought it was really interesting that you mentioned how governance is something that people don’t consider enough. I also have seen it be treated as an afterthought, when really it should be one of the most important parts of your content strategy. And I think when we have a situation where there’s a unified content strategy and that’s the goal, then people tend to consider governance as a greater part of it. But you’re right, Bill, that when we’ve got a situation where there are all of these different silos, all of these different tools and they don’t fit together into one streamlined content set of processes, then governance is just going to be herding cats. It’s going to be wrangling all of this mess that you’ve got, instead of truly moving your strategy in a better direction for the whole enterprise.
BS: Right. I mean, the governance angle really is speaking to a lot of the other pitfalls that we talked about. If there are multiple different tools in place, it’s very difficult to govern how those tools should work and at what point in the process that tool should have a handoff and what that quality check should look like. If you have many, many, many different strategies in place, regardless of whether you’re using the same tool or not, it’s very difficult to get those quality checks and get those points defined as to where you do certain reviews, where you do certain checks and balances. It will just exacerbate the problem of not being able to produce content that looks like it came from one organization with one voice, with one intent to its audience.
GK: Definitely. So, I want to close out by talking about one issue that’s at the root of all of these pitfalls, which is that oftentimes when we see this lack of unified content strategy, it tends to come down to a lack of funding or resources, or maybe unequal funding across different departments. And a lot of times that’s outside of their control. So, I want to talk about what companies can do to account for that limitation and how you can avoid some of those pitfalls, even if you’re dealing with a lack of funding or resources.
BS: So, one way to get this funding in place is to start that conversation among different groups, to talk to different groups that may have a different content strategy that is underway or that they’re using, or that they’re thinking about. Getting these groups to come together and start talking about what their ultimate goals are with their content strategy, with their content operations. And start pulling together those ideas, and being able to look at the tools that they’re using, for example, or that they plan to use in their new content operations and start pulling that together and making sure they’re compatible, if not identical. And that way you can have multiple voices coming together and asking for a larger pool of money that can be shared, rather than individual groups getting their own little pocket of cash to work with.
GK: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely critical, to make sure that you have that communication across departments. Another idea that I’ll suggest that might help, if you know that you’re going to be limited on funding, you know that you’re going to be limited on budget. At least one thing that you can do for now is once you’ve done what Bill has suggested, you’ve maybe gone to some other departments, you’ve talked about your content needs, start seeking out an executive champion. So, even if you can’t get the money immediately, even if you know it’s going to take time, the sooner that you can start planting that idea in someone’s head about why content is valuable, why it’s going to help to eventually get that funding in place, what it’s going to do for the organization, then the better your chances are of actually securing that.
GK: And one really, really solid way to do that is by gathering some metrics. So, what information can you actually provide to the executives about how much money that you are losing right now with inefficient or inconsistent content processes and how much you’ll save by fixing those? One thing that you might even consider doing is taking what limited funding you do have and conducting some sort of a pilot project or a study to just show here is what we’re thinking with regard to content strategy. We’ve talked it over with other groups, they want to buy into this too. And here is just a little bit of proof that we think it’s going to work. And if you can show some of that evidence, then I think that really helps to prove that value of content and maybe start to have the folks at the top who have the cash take it more seriously.
BS: Yeah. Showing that return on investment is critical, especially to gain an executive sponsor. Another thing to look at is not necessarily the cost savings that you have by working together and doing these things in unison, but it’s also looking at opening marketing or opening market opportunities for your organization. So, if you have been hindered by the way you work from entering into new business markets, or being able to broaden an offering to an existing business market, and your thoughts of having a unified content strategy can get you there, that return on investment will be much greater than the savings you’ll get from streamlining existing processes.
GK: Absolutely. And don’t forget to account for time as part of your savings as well, whether that is things like time to market, whether it’s time saved in your actual content workflow. Just remember to take into account all the other factors that can go toward the idea of return on investment aside from just strictly the cost savings.
BS: And I think that’s a good place to close it.
GK: Yeah. So, thank you so much.
BS: Yes, thank you all. And thank you for listening to The Content Strategy Experts podcast brought to you by Scriptorium. For more information, visit scriptorium.com or check the show notes for relevant links.