This week, UX Booth is bringing content strategy to the forefront with two interviews from Confab Central, taking place in Minneapolis, MN on May 20-22. Today we’re speaking with Ronell Smith, who will be speaking at Confab about business needs and content struggles. His talk is a great fit for anyone whose content feels like more of a problem than a solution.
- Your topic, “How content strategists can move from the high chair to the boardroom table” focuses on putting the “strategy” into content strategy. How do you recommend people do that?
- I’m planning to talk about content as viewed by those who know they need it (e.g., business owners) but who don’t fully appreciate the role it plays in the success of their business.
The goal is to make content strategists, and those in similar fields associated with content, aware of how we can get more of the work we want and keep more of the work we get by understanding (a) “the job won’t save us” and (b) “it’s not about us.”
I’m convinced many of the problems we face with organizations and brands arises because we see the work we do as noble, needed, required. However, to brands, agencies and organizations, content is an expense that has to be accounted for, tended do and constantly updated. Meanwhile, for those startups who want to gain an edge, they can try out services such as création entreprise suisse.
We have to see through the eyes of those we work for, realizing content can do amazing things, but it’ll never be enough. We must sell them on how it moves the business forward by talking to their pain points (e.g., sales, conversions, growth, etc.), not ours.
- That’s very similar to how we think about our clients—we see through their eyes. What drew you to thinking about business owners and their mindsets?
- My first job out of college was working in a cognitive psychology lab administering I.Q. tests, then running an ecomm store for high-end collectibles, handling everything from sales to writing product descriptions, web design and attempting to code. Since, then, however, I’ve always been involved in content in one way or another, from working on my college newspaper, to writing for newspapers, magazines, and the web, to working in PR and branding. When I became ESPN’s magazine editor in 2005, it really opened my eyes and changed the way I saw content.
Up to that point, I had seen content as a valuable asset any business needed, regardless of whether they knew it or not. After all, whether it’s a billboard, a TV ad, a magazine ad, a press release, a paid media ad or web copy, some form of content is typically what leads people down the prospect => customer => brand evangelist path.
Within six months of taking the magazine editor position, I saw the disconnect between content, sales, marketing, advertising, finance and every other part of the business, particularly as it relates to content.
Though each of the respective areas and departments needed and used content to do their work, to a person, they saw content and the people who produced it as problems, not solutions.
- Marketing saw content as something that should bend to the department’s needs.
- Sales viewed content simply as the stuff you put around ads.
- The C-Suite thought content’s cost far exceeded its benefit.
Worst of all, our clients were turned off by the “this-will-help-solve-your-problems” nature of content.
I realized, then, that the only way I would ever be as successful as I wanted to be as a content person was to become a connector of sorts, highlighting to the various camps how content is the glue that holds it all together.
But content cannot do that in isolation. We must communicate “content” in the context of making it easier for businesses to find success. That is, explaining how content has tentacles everywhere, from the mailroom to the boardroom. Content, whether in email communication with vendors and staff or legal documents, white papers, blogs or ads, is an essential part of any business. As such, we should make the creation of quality, relevant, resonant content a priority. The better we can make this case, the more consistently successful we’ll be.
Now, as a consultant, I encounter many of the exact same attitudes as I did earlier in my career. The difference is I’ve come to expect them, and am better able to manage these objections.
Instead of talking about the need for blogs or how competitors are finding success with white papers or video, I first make business owners aware of opportunities they aren’t taking, explaining the likely cost associated with these omissions. From there, I make them aware of what they could be doing, how it should best be done and what they stand to gain, while assigning a numerical value to everything along the way.
As strategists, we love data (e.g., traffic, visits, etc). The corporate world prefers numbers, as in increased profits. They aren’t always the same.
- Why DO so many companies struggle to see the value of content strategy? Are there situations where content strategy is not helpful to a company?
- It’s not polite to say, but to the vast majority of brands, agencies and organizations, “content” means writing. You need only look at the bulk of the content strategist jobs on LinkedIn to discern this.
The key to getting buy-in is simple, though not easy: Stop trying to sell clients on the specific things content strategy does for the brand. Make them aware of how, when allowed to breathe, content strategy can be, will be and is the glue that binds all of their business objectives together, from communications to PR, branding, sales, marketing and analytics. (I actually wrote a post highlighting the specifics.)
When we go in the door talking about metadata, the CMS, content audits and such, we’re shortening our runway. We must be able to speak the language of the businesses we work with, highlighting how the work we do for them perfectly aligns with their company’s overall goals: be that excellent ROI, percentage of cost cutting/cost savings, enabling quality control, conferring a competitive advantage, or something else.
Also, I’ve come to see this problem in a different way over the last four years: maybe it’s less that companies cannot see the value and more that we, as content strategists, are choosing to sell businesses what we offer instead of what they need.
Effective, holistic content strategy can benefit any business provided we have the courage to view it through the prism of the business’s overall goal. Content strategy should be malleable and able to bend to the needs of the company’s goals, not the other way around.
- That’s an excellent point. In fact, some companies already have a marketing strategy in place, but haven’t accounted for the ROI content can provide. How would you recommend a content strategist approach a situation like that?
- I think it’s a mistake to think in terms of content ROI. Isolating content in this way leads to business owners viewing content as something optional, added on when needed, as opposed to essential, a part of everything they do.
Instead of attempting to define the ROI of content, I advise that content strategists look to make content and content strategy as “sticky” as possible. By that I mean, we must dive into the core of the business and look for any and all areas that would benefit from a strong dose of content strategy.
For example, say a well-performing brand calls in a content strategist to get the CMS in order so the business can create and share more content. But, say, during their research the content strategist learns the company has a horrible internal communication problem, one that’s stopping them from attracting new hires.
It makes good sense to highlight how content strategy could strengthen the internal workings of the company, through working with the training staff, to get everyone speaking the same language. This is the type of value-added benefit that allows us to keep more of the work we get.
We have to stop thinking about content ROI so narrowly.
- I know a lot of content strategists—and UX professionals in general—will really benefit from hearing the details of your talk! How about you; what are you most looking forward to about attending Confab this year?
- Being there, meeting all of the other speakers, in addition to hearing them talk, and getting to know a lot of new folks. Content strategists and UX experts are my people. As it regards marketing and consulting, I spend more time learning from those groups than any others. What I learn from those camps makes me a better writer, thinker and person.
- Thank you so much for talking with us today. Before we go, could you share some advice with UX Booth readers who are interested in getting more into content strategy?
- In a recent post, I outlined several things folks interested in getting more involved/learning more about the field should do:
- Follow the hashtag #contentstrategy on Twitter.
- Review the resource page on Colman’s website.
- When you read something of note, share it online.
- Realize that a short note saying “I enjoyed your content” never hurts.
- Look for opportunities to add your input when the situation presents itself.
- Listen, learn and develop a love for improvement.
- Be kind, be generous, be willing to learn, be yourself and be empathetic.
Ronell Smith, a business strategist and digital content strategist with more than 15 years of experience helping businesses online, assists companies looking to create an online user experience their customers will recognize, appreciate and reward them for with their business. His passion is for removing the obstacles keeping individuals and businesses from reaching their full potential, in large part by helping them see how search, social and content work together successfully.
Thanks again for speaking with us, Ronell. Readers can learn more about how to bring content strategy from the high chair to the board room at Ronell Smith’s talk at Confab Central, on Friday, May 22nd.
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