Content Strategy at Work: Real-world Stories to Strengthen Every Interactive Project

Content Strategy at Work: Real-world Stories to Strengthen Every Interactive Project

by Margot Bloomstein

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Content is king… and the new kingmaker… and your message needs to align with your model and metrics and other mumbo jumbo, right? Whether you’re slogging through theory or buzzwords, there’s no denying content strategy is coming of age. But what’s in it for you? And if you’re not a content strategist, why should you care?


Content is king… and the new kingmaker… and your message needs to align with your model and metrics and other mumbo jumbo, right? Whether you’re slogging through theory or buzzwords, there’s no denying content strategy is coming of age. But what’s in it for you? And if you’re not a content strategist, why should you care?

Because even if content strategy isn’t your job, content’s probably your problem—and probably more than you think. You or your business has a message you want to deliver, right? You can deliver that message through various channels and content types, from Tweets to testimonials and photo galleries galore, and your audience has just as many ways of engaging with it. So many ways, so much content… so where’s the problem? That is the problem. And you can measure it in time, creativity, money, lost opportunity, and the sobs you hear equally from creative directors, project managers, and search engine marketing specialists.

The solution is content strategy, and this book offers real-world examples and approaches you can adopt, no matter your role on the team. Put content strategy to work for you by gathering this book into your little hands and gobbling up never-before seen case studies from teams at Johns Hopkins Medicine, MINI, Icebreaker, and more. Content Strategy at Work is a book for designers, information architects, copywriters, project managers, and anyone who works with visual or verbal content. It discusses how you can communicate and forge a plan that will enable you, your company, or your client get that message across and foster better user experiences.

    • Presents a content strategy framework and ways to implement in both in-house marketing departments and consultancies
    • Includes case studies, interviews, and lessons learned from retail, apparel, network television, business-to-business, automotive, non-profit, and higher ed brands
    • Details practical sales techniques to sell content strategy and use content strategy processes to sell other services and larger projects

    Editorial Reviews

    From the Publisher
    "This book is filled with easy-to-use models and examples from many different resources. The chapters are cohesive and easy to understand…Content Strategy at Work is useful as a supplement for anyone who is knowledgeable or has a personal interest in content strategy."—Technical Communication, May 2013 "Bloomstein is at her most thought provoking when she shines the light on complex projects that present a host of strategic, editorial, design, organizational and technical challenges. For example, the case of the television network that wanted to comingle its programming content with encyclopedic information, a goal that required the active use of nearly every wrench and screwdriver in the CS toolkit. It demonstrates the highly strategic and supremely tactical nature of content strategy in a single project, including a healthy portion of organizational challenge, a common byproduct of smart content choices. In Content Strategy at Work, Bloomstein frames the cases with meaningful context, crisp approaches to problem solving (I will definitely be cribbing from her message architecture client exercise, which she generously shares) and genuine curiosity."—

    "The newest book to the list, Content Strategy at Work by Margot Bloomstein, is a great starting point for those with backgrounds in SEO, social media, or design. Bloomstein effortlessly ties common marketing disciplines to the emerging forefront of content marketing and does so by providing ultra-readable and down to earth case studies. The real lesson presented here, and what drives this book, is to give the user a better experience, a goal that all marketers, regardless of background, shouldn’t find much trouble getting behind."—

    "Margot Bloomstein guides us through the lifecycle and mindset for content strategy. The process begins with defining what you really need to say. It ends with a solid plan, and long-term commitment, for maintaining that content. To illustrate this lifecycle, Bloomstein provides not only approaches from her personal experience but also a range of case studies from non-profits, healthcare, auto, apparel, higher education and many more. That’s a wide variety of budgets, team sizes, and goals. Chances are you'll find many instances in this book that make you say, ‘Their situation is exactly like ours!’"—

    "Bloomstein, who heads a brand and content strategy consultancy that helps retailers, universities, and other clients engage target audiences and project key messages through traditional and social media, shows designers, information architects, project managers, copywriters, social media consultants, and others who work with visual or verbal content specific strategies for prioritizing content initiatives to ensure that its types, tone, and media support the customer experience in a way that is appropriate to the brand and useful to its audience."—Reference and Research Book News, Inc.

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    Read an Excerpt



    Morgan Kaufmann

    Copyright © 2012 Appropriate, Inc.
    All right reserved.

    ISBN: 978-0-12-391929-8

    Chapter One



    Today, more and more brands—and individuals—embrace the role of publisher. Great, right? Content is king, everyone gets a crown, and who doesn't love a good coronation? Organizations that formerly just sold now also teach, inform, connect, and motivate in order to make a friend—and ultimately, make a sale. We share the CEO's latest insights, publicize project ideas for our products, and go on and on about the virtues of the vegetables the chef's preparing tonight.

    That's fine, but a few whitepapers or recurring blog posts do not a publisher make. Kristina Halvorson, president of Brain Traffic and savvy patron saint of content strategists everywhere, offers this perspective:

    "The moment you launch a website, you're a publisher. The moment you begin a blog, send an email, participate in social media, build a widget, even show up in search engine results ... you are a publisher."

    That's heady stuff. And for millions of brands and the marketing teams and agencies that support them, that's not a bad thing. But with the opportunities of publishing come immense challenges. Don't just write; write well. Don't just blog once; maintain a schedule. Don't just launch an app; ensure your content is appropriate for the many contexts and devices through which it may appear. And goodness, don't just curate content by choosing keywords and automating aggregation; hone your perspective on the topic and continually revisit your collection to maintain its relevance.

    Kristina continues (breaks are mine):

    "Publishers plan far in advance which content they will create. They have established, measurable processes in place. They invest in teams of professionals to create and care for content. They would never think of starting with design and then cramming content in at the last minute."

    But would you? Or would your colleagues or clients?

    Whether or not you think you—or your client—is in the publishing industry, think of the content a typical marketing department might create, organize, and maintain:

    * User reviews for every product or venue

    * Top ten lists, created by the brand, their audience, or both

    * Blog posts, comments, and responses to those comments

    * Education that spans delivery channels: print, digital, and their sales associates and customer service reps

    * Email campaigns

    * Hosted conversations and virtual seminars

    * Location-based guides that take action from the laptop to tablet and phone

    Sound familiar, or daunting? Each of these examples comes to life in the coming pages in automotive advertising, curated lists of tea, healthcare institution microsites, higher education content management, and more. In the meantime, welcome to modern-day publishing on the web—in fact, welcome to the modern web itself: it comprises content, appears on multiple devices and contexts, and demands you plan for its creation—and ongoing engagement and maintenance. So what does successful publishing look like? Whose job is it? How do you go beyond sales and brochureware with a multichannel content strategy? Sit back with a cup of coffee—or really, your favorite oolong—to take in the example of Adagio.


    In addition to buying tea, consumers visit to engage with content that explains its origins, provides a quantitative rating, and offers reviews, which appear with rankings and context. After you try that first sip, you can add your feedback, reap "frequent cup points," "like" a favorite flavor, or easily order something entirely different. With so many options for user-generated content, Adagio welcomes its customers to the content creation process as well.

    Engagement goes beyond the website, as Adagio's broader integrated web presence includes outposts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Integration with Steepster, "an online tea community," lets Adagio foster conversation elsewhere while it drives sales back to

    Like most web-savvy brands, Adagio doesn't limit its content—or content strategy—to just text-based copy: maps introduce us to tea rooms, video explains the blending process, and music on a community site lets fans download tracks in the "key of tea." Content combines with frequent, brand-and channel-appropriate engagement to drive the conversation. And across channels and content types, messaging is clear and persistent. Consistent, even, as featured tea farmers appear in images on Facebook and in interviews on at the same time.


    With all these options for content, how does Adagio choose? How does it prioritize, create, measure, and maintain its content? After all, web developers—and many accessible, low-cost content management systems—support myriad features, functionality, and content types. Can do, they say, and "sure, we can do that" becomes an expensive, all-consuming death sentence.

    You want a blog? We can have that running by tomorrow, says your developer.

    A plug-in for comments? Easy.

    Video interviews with everyone in the company? Bandwidth for EVERYONE!

    Add live chat? AWESOME. Access + conversation = instant customer service, right?

    With enough budget, anything is possible; even with just a moderate budget, it's easy to add enough stuff so as to overwhelm the screen (and your target audience) with options—and many grotesque websites jostle to prove this. It's a death sentence for many brands, and content managers, who suffer the death of a thousand cuts trying to keep up with all that.

    If this is you, you need to prioritize. You need to say no. Whether you're raising requests for the blog, the video interviews, the user-generated top ten lists—or if you're fielding those requests—take a breath. Not everything is of equal importance, especially (though not exclusively) when you don't have infinite time, money, talent, availability, and creativity.

    In coming chapters, we'll discuss how different organizations prioritize their content initiatives. Some, like AdoptUSKids, mandate internal stakeholders file creative briefs in which they must explain the communication goals and personas their prospective initiatives will serve. If those initiatives are approved, the web team fits them into a high-level editorial calendar. Other organizations, like Oregon Health and Science University, require new initiatives have both a technical owner and business owner responsible for messaging and accountable for content updates throughout the life of the section or site.

    Prioritization means holding your work and efforts accountable to a bigger plan, a sort of raison d'être: why this, and why now? Content strategy focuses that plan, adding additional layers of accountability: beyond the brand or employer you serve, how will you meet the needs of your audience?

    After all, just because we can add a blog or video interview series doesn't mean we should—our audience may not want it, it might not be right for the brand, or it might be wholly improper for the medium or device in which they want that information. And even if we ignore the fold, every homepage only has so much space and primary navigation should only support so many options. But that's where content strategy can help: as it turns out, while many web initiatives balance competing priorities, there are some things we all want.


    File the buzzword bingo card for a moment—ideally, for the duration of this book—and let's examine what content strategy is and what it isn't.

    The last section raised a lot of questions. So many possibilities! How do you make smart choices to ensure the content types, tone, and media in an experience support that experience in a way that's appropriate to the brand and useful to its audience?

    Easy. That's content strategy.

    Or at least, that's one definition for this nuanced and multifaceted practice. And that's the main question I posed to the CMOs, creative directors, consultants, project managers, and content strategists I interviewed for this book. When you can implement a host of features and content types, gated in part by budget and in part by politics, how do you choose?

    Before we start planning for a fabulous future, let's take a look at our recent history. It shapes the many definitions and facets of content strategy today.


    For over a decade, large interactive agencies have employed teams of content strategists. Former copywriters, librarians, and others worked under that title to plan migrations, prescribe structure for help content, and establish a tone for application error messages—along with other tasks focused on organization, marketing, labeling, and maintenance. In collaboration with designers, information architects, user research specialists, project managers, and developers, we helped some of the most forward-thinking big brands, government agencies, and upstart entrepreneurs put a digital face on their products and services.

    Developing a definition

    In 2009, the IA Summit convened the Content Strategy Consortium to discuss this in more detail. A preconference event organized by Kristina Halvorson and Karen McGrane, the consortium was the first formal external conference to bring practitioners together with the purpose of discussing and defining content strategy. The 20-some invited participants offered first-hand perspective from a variety of venues:

    * Large digital agencies including Razorfish, Digitas, and Sapient

    * Mid-size agencies including HUGE, Inc. and ISITE Design

    * Advertising agencies like Campbell Ewald

    * Government agencies including the Federal Reserve

    * Corporations such as REI

    * The front lines of freelance consulting

    Rachel Lovinger was one of the participants. As she writes on Scatter/ Gather, Razorfish's blog about content strategy, participants focused on "defining the practice, identifying the processes and tools, building community, and evangelizing." Rachel herself offers a unique perspective. Back in 2007 she wrote one of the seminal articles on content strategy for information architecture journal, Boxes and Arrows. In it, she offers this explanation:

    "Content strategy is to copywriting as information architecture is to design."

    By way of analogy, Rachel offered one of the first definitions for our practice, though not without contention.

    As web design and creative direction have continued to mature from roots in graphic design, among other disciplines, this analogy may not be entirely suitable. We'll discuss this further in Chapters 2 and 3, which are focused on design and information architecture, respectively. But while this analogy offers a context for content strategy, it still doesn't define it in a practical way that's equally appropriate to tweet-worthy tidbits and pitches to prospective clients.

    If you can't explain what you do in those contexts, how can you build visibility or bill the big bucks?

    Ann Rockley offers another definition of content strategy, calling it a "plan of action":

    "A repeatable method of identifying all content requirements up front, creating consistently structured content for reuse, managing that content in a definitive source, and assembling content on demand to meet your customers' needs."

    Against those precedents, this is the definition that emerged from the Content Strategy Consortium:

    "Content strategy is the practice of planning for the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content."

    Stop the presses—in fact, how can they possibly keep running if we don't even mention copywriting amidst all that planning? Presses or not, modern news organizations provide a good model for a broader definition of "creation." Content strategy addresses the creation of content, but as those news organizations demonstrate, creation entails aggregation, curation, writing (along with image making, videography, and audio creation), and usually some mix of all three, in an effort to tell compelling stories.

    And that's another working definition. In May 2011, Confab brought together over 400 content strategists to learn from each other. Prateek Sarkar, Director of Creative Services at The Walt Disney Company, led a talk with this statement:

    "Content is story. And content strategy is storytelling."


    Excerpted from CONTENT STRATEGY AT WORK by MARGOT BLOOMSTEIN Copyright © 2012 by Appropriate, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Morgan Kaufmann. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
    Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.


    Meet the Author

    Margot Bloomstein is the principal of Appropriate, Inc., a brand and content strategy consultancy based in Boston. For more than a decade, she's partnered with retailers, universities, and other organizations to create brand-appropriate user experiences that engage their target audiences and project key messages with consistency and clarity through both traditional and social media.

    A participant in the inaugural Content Strategy Consortium, Margot speaks regularly-and energetically-about the evolving challenges for content strategy. Recent engagements include Content Strategy Forum London, Confab, edUi, SXSW, Web 2.0 Expo, Web Content, and more intimate regional events across the country. She also helps organize Content Strategy New England.

    Margot is the author of Content Strategy at Work (Morgan Kaufmann, March 2012), a collection of case studies, examples, and processes that help teams embrace content strategy on every interactive project. Content Strategy at Work is a book for designers, information architects, copywriters, project managers, SEO consultants, and anyone who wants to create better user experiences, whether in in-house marketing departments or agency consulting engagements.

    Margot lives outside Boston with her husband Mike and Ringo, their adorable and talkative white German Shepherd.

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