Questions and Lists for Managing Content Strategy

Book Review:
Enterprise Content Strategy: A Project Guide

By Kevin P. Nichols

XML Press, The Content Wrangler Content Strategy Series, 138 pages

Full disclosure: I’ve been meaning to review this book for some time, but I’ve been too busy with my own enterprise content strategy projects. My efforts would have gone smoother if I had read this book first.

Enterprise Content Strategy Book CoverWith Enterprise Content Strategy: A Project Guide, Kevin P. Nichols turns his years of leading content strategy teams and projects into practical, detailed advice. Nichols is the author (with Donald Chestnut) of UX Strategy for Dummies, and for more than five years he served as director and global practice lead for content strategy at SapientNitro. At numerous events and conferences, Nichols has shared his experience and interest in topics such as omnichannel and performance-driven content strategy.

Nichols has been practicing and perfecting his craft for years, and he crams a great amount of content expertise into this deceptively small book. The page count is small, but the content strategy ideas are plentiful. Nichols likes lists, and he packs his book with sequences of questions and considerations that content strategists need to ask and be aware of, whether they work in a large enterprise or a small agency.

Early in the book, Nichols defines enterprise content strategy and how it “envelops all proprietary and intellectual property across an organization’s operational infrastructure.” A thorough enterprise content strategy includes every delivery method, every content interaction, and every integration point.

A content strategist in an enterprise needs to be aware of three factors, and the many processes and tools involved in each:

  • Content experience
  • Content delivery
  • Content governance

Perhaps the most powerful of these factors is governance. In the following pages, Nichols presents his content strategy project lifecycle, the nine steps that should be part of most content projects. The content project lifecycle is similar to some presentations of a product lifecycle, but at its core sits governance, the organizing, supportive force that helps keep the other steps – and the people taking those steps – moving forward.

The remainder of the project guide is organized into quick chapters that track the steps of the content strategy project lifecycle:

  • Plan
  • Assess
  • Define
  • Design
  • Build
  • Publish
  • Measure
  • Optimize
  • Govern

Throughout these chapters, Nichols offers how-to insights from someone who has clearly been in the trenches. He knows the questions to ask. He knows who you might need to collaborate with. He knows the many details that need to be considered for a thoughtful, effective strategy.

For example, in the Define Phase chapter, Nichols discusses how to create a content strategy framework after doing a thorough audit. In a sample framework, he asks many of the questions content strategists need to ask during this phase. It seems as if just answering those questions will result in a worthwhile framework.

As if. Despite the advice and encouragement, Nichols never shies away from the reality that doing content strategy in an enterprise is challenging work. It might have been nice to see more specific examples of this throughout the book, but perhaps Nichols’ agency work keeps him from sharing those too revealing case studies.

It would also be helpful to see even deeper explorations of certain topics, such as omnichannel content delivery. On that note, Nichols simply states, “I plan to continue to evolve the theme of omnichannel content strategy.” Perhaps some of that thinking can be included in a future edition of this book.

Admittedly, this book is a project guide, and Nichols acknowledges that he doesn’t intend to discuss exhaustively all the topics he raises. In many cases, he mentions other books that focus on certain topics in greater detail, such as Ann Rockley and Charles Cooper’s Managing Enterprise Content and Rahel Bailie and Noz Urbina’s Content Strategy: Connecting the Dots Between Business, Brand, and Benefits.

Nichols’ book deserves a place among such work. With its sharp focus on using content to achieve positive business results, this little guide is packed with enterprise-tested ideas that most content strategists can learn from and start applying now.

Using Strategy to Create Successful Digital Products

Book Review:
UX Strategy: How to Devise Innovative Digital Products That People Want

By Jaime Levy

O’Reilly Media, 312 pages

UX-Strategy-How-To-Devise-Products-People-WantIn the preface to UX Strategy: How to Devise Innovative Digital Products That People Want, Jaime Levy suggests who should read her book: entrepreneurs, product managers, and designers. But other members of creative product teams, such as marketers, content strategists, and copywriters, will get valuable insights from this book. When an urgent “copy-to-the-rescue” project comes across a writer’s desk (or “visual-design-to-the-rescue” for designers), such a project is often a frantic attempt to fix major flaws in the product and the UX strategy work that may or may not have been done. This book helps outline what that strategy work should be.

Levy has been practicing UX strategy since 2007, about a year before the term first appeared in print. Today she runs her own agency in Los Angeles and teaches at University of Southern California, and she has funneled much of her teaching skills into this book. She presents a step-by-step approach to coming up with, testing, and designing a successful digital product – that is, a product that consumers want. And, as she describes with examples such as Airbnb, Waze, and Uber, if consumers want the product, then some worthwhile disruption is probably occurring and some money is being made.

Well before that happy day occurs, however, UX strategy needs to happen.

Interestingly, the term UX strategy arose at about the same time as content strategy. Discussion continues about whether the terms are precise or appropriate for either practice. Levy herself engages the debate by asking UX strategists such as Holly North and Peter Merholz, “What does UX strategy mean to you? Is it a bogus job title?”

It’s evident that UX strategy is not bogus for Levy. “UX strategy is the process that should be started first,” Levy writes, “before the design or development of a digital product begins. It’s the vision of a solution that needs to be validated with real potential customers to prove that it’s desired in the marketplace. Although UX design encompasses numerous details such as visual design, content messaging, and how easy it is for a user to accomplish a task, UX strategy is the ‘Big Picture.’”

To arrive at that Big-Picture vision, Levy explains, entrepreneurial product teams can focus on four tenets of UX strategy.

  • Business Strategy – what the company is; “why the company exists”
  • Value Innovation – when the company aligns something new at the right price point and with the right utility
  • Validated User Research – making sure that the customers you’re targeting see the value and can use your product
  • Killer UX Design – innovative design that reaches beyond established patterns

The list above admittedly oversimplifies these terms. To get a more complete understanding of how these tenets inform each other and the shape of digital products, read Levy’s book. Her description of these tenets is one of the book’s highlights. Her insights and examples throughout these pages are engaging, sometimes surprising, and stimulating for anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit.

Levy’s own intelligence and spirit come through when she’s explaining her UX strategy framework, and part of that spirit is her sense of humor. To help clarify what UX strategy should be, she publishes her own top 10 list of things that are not UX strategies. My two favorite things that are not UX strategies:

  1. A creative permutation of trending buzzwords that were just used by another startup that raised financing (for instance, peer to-peer sharing economies).
  1. A laundry list of features!

Levy also puts her humor to incisive use when encouraging teams to replace the customer journey map with an ecommerce funnel matrix. The funnel matrix she proposes is faster to create and tracks more closely to the product’s performance once it’s been released. Journey maps have a tendency of being ignored after they’re created, or worse: “The posters are then hung or stored somewhere in the office to hopefully influence employees on their way to the bathroom.”

Levy’s humor is based on insight and behavior that she and many others in the design community have witnessed. Who hasn’t been in a situation where certain design tools and approaches are overused, despite their ineffectiveness? Brainstorming sessions, anyone? North Star? Oh yes, Levy mentions that in her top 10 list.

Levy has a considerable store of UX strategy experience, and she freely shares many of her own work examples. Even when the outcomes are not exactly positive, such as her confirming for a Hollywood executive that his ecommerce idea will not work, we get to see the process of considering new ideas, testing them, and possibly turning them into worthwhile products. Levy has refined her process into a UX Strategy Toolkit, which she makes available with the book. Entrepreneurial teams can use Levy’s templates to research, test, build, and refine their own products.

Perhaps giving out the UX Strategy Toolkit is not, after all, a great favor. To really use this resource and take full advantage of the framework, a product team will have to undertake an exceptional amount of work, collaborate intensely, and be prepared to iterate and pivot quickly.

UX strategy is difficult, unpredictable work. Levy’s framework tries to provide the path to happy innovation and disruption, but there are still hundreds of steps to take along the way. “As a UX strategist,” Levy writes, “I am paid to help my clients face dilemmas and chase dreams.” With this book, Levy shares her experience and her process for how the chase can end in success.


UX Strategy Launch Party
On July 17 at 6 p.m. at Cross Campus in Santa Monica, Jaime Levy will be on hand for a launch party for UX Strategy: How to Devise Innovative Digital Products That People Want. Levy will be answering questions and signing copies of her book. More information is available on Eventbrite.

The Avengers of Content

Featured image
Heroic content: Disney is one of a number of southland entertainment companies that base their success on quality content.

This morning, when Disney Chief Executive Officer Robert Iger announced another quarter of growth for his company, he gave a whole lot of credit to some things we care about  – Star Wars, Marvel’s The Avengers: Age of Ultron (didn’t you love the robots’ debate about chaos, order, and the fate of humanity?), and content.

“Our results once again reflect the strength of our brands,” Iger said, “and the quality of our content.”

Since the film industry started, Los Angeles has been a content town. Content is big. And big business. In trailers and studios and soundstages, people ask certain kinds of content strategy questions all the time. Should our megastudio produce this sequel? Should we bring back this sitcom for another season? How do we promote it on the web?

That last question is often where we come in, with our focus on web and mobile content experiences.

Our questions are generally different from our film and media partners, but our focus on content is no less intense. When we talk about content strategy with the southland’s media companies, we may need to remind ourselves that “content strategy” for them might have a more entertainment-industry focus. We might have to reposition some discussions to veer toward technology and database structure and user experience.

It’s not a new direction for these media companies. Tech companies from up north (Yahoo!, Google, Netflix, etc.) have been playing with L.A. media companies for years. And, in addition to expensive outbound advertising, studios devote considerable resources to websites, social media, content marketing. Disney itself completed its acquisition of Maker Studios about a year ago. And the studios are keeping an eye on other southland content creators, such as Snapchat, Whisper, Scopely, and more  – as competitors and potential partners.

Entertainment content will continue to expand to more screens and devices, so the need for strategists to manage that content and the communications about it will increase. Hollywood: It’s a great place to promote the practice of content strategy.

L.A.’s Content Strategy Meetup Drought Is Over

When I left my job in Silicon Valley to relocate to Los Angeles, I told my soon-to-be-former manager that there were no content strategy meetups in southern California. The look on her face said it all. I just as well might have told her I was moving to a land with no running water or paved streets or Wi-Fi. How could a content strategist survive in such a place?

Fortunately, the content strategy drought is over – Content Strategy Southern California holds its first meetup event today. Marlowe Sarah Beckley, Manager, Content Strategy at Sapient/Nitro, presents “How to Future Proof Your Content,” strategies for making sure content looks and performs well now and continues to be effective on whatever device or platform it will appear on in the future.

CSSC-business-card-bordered
Content Strategy Southern California is a meetup group for content strategists from Santa Barbara to Los Angeles to San Diego.

Finding the Southland Content Community

As far as I can tell, content strategists or folks doing this kind of work have been active in and around Los Angeles since the Web started happening. The Los Angeles User Experience Meetup was founded in April 2007, so certainly content professionals were collaborating with design teams then. San Francisco content strategists launched their meetup in November 2009, but, except for a few small meetings and some LA UX Meetup events, southern content professionals stayed quiet.

Where were the content strategists in and around Los Angeles? Where are they now?

This past October, in coordination with Los Angeles’s Innovation Week, the LA Economic Development Council released data about the number of folks doing high-tech work in the Los Angeles region: 368,500, or about 9 percent of all Los Angeles jobs.

There’s bound to be a few content strategists in there, right? And probably more, as content strategists also work in fields that the council might not consider high-tech, such as education, advertising, and entertainment. Content Strategy Southern California exists for all of them, and for content professionals in design, marketing, media, and more.

Who Are We?

Despite the LA Economic Development Council’s report and some other research, we don’t have much data about the southland’s content strategy community. We are obviously here. Today’s meeting is sold out, and interest in our next meetings is strong. But where are we working? What are our concerns? Where are our opportunities?

If you have answers to these questions, please leave a comment and let us know. We will continue to ask these and more questions in future meetup events. After some dry years, we finally have a local venue to share our challenges, learn about better practices, and make progress together.

Content and Community Where the Sun Shines

Content Strategy Southern California is a meetup group for content strategists, designers, creators, and managers in and around Los Angeles, California. Serving content professionals from Santa Barbara to San Diego, Content Strategy Southern California operates as a platform to share the best and latest about web and mobile content.

To join this meetup group and get information about the next event, visit Content Strategy Southern California on Meetup.com.

Working in collaboration with the Los Angeles User Experience Meetup Group, Content Strategy Southern California meets regularly to bring the content and design community information and insights about content

  • Audits
  • Creation
  • Design
  • Delivery
  • Engineering
  • Governance
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • Modeling
  • Planning
  • Structuring

Our community of content and design professionals comes together to discuss these topics and the emerging challenges we face. Our goal: Helping content and design professionals throughout southern California as we build and share better content for ourselves and the clients and companies we serve.

Content Strategy Southern California Launches

On Feb. 12, 2015, Content Strategy Southern California launched to create a platform for content strategists and designers in Los Angeles to share insights and information about planning, creating, designing, and managing effective digital content.

To become a part of this community and learn more about upcoming events, visit Content Strategy Southern California on Meeetup.com.