Five Steps for a Performance-Driven Approach to Content

To be honest, there are more than five steps needed for a performance-driven approach to content. A lot more.

Information Development World 2015 LogoAt the beginning of Information Development World in San Jose on Sept. 30, about 20 content professionals spent a day exploring performance-driven content in a workshop conducted by content strategists Paula L. Land and Kevin P. Nichols. During that day, the team touched on the numerous steps involved in developing a content approach that includes setting goals, measuring progress, and optimizing content based on how well it performs.

At the risk of slighting the complexity of the topic, I focus on five highlights. Even if you’re not implementing a complete performance-driven content plan (and almost no one has), these are steps that can probably boost your content efforts.

Start with good content.
Definition of performance-driven contentPerformance-driven content has its roots in data-driven marketing. In both, we measure how content performs to figure out what to do next. As Nichols explained, we focus on “measurements and evaluation of content in order to make decisions on future content priorities.” And of course starting with effective content sets us up for success.

Work with your content team on business requirements.
Business requirements are core inputs that go into developing a performance strategy. To gather these requirements, create or identify a content team – for example, the content strategist, copy writer, and product manager. They can act as a de facto governance team throughout the project. Get additional input from stakeholders, and distill the requirements into a project brief.

The Content Strategy Alliance published a project brief template you can use. This is one of the more than 40 tools included in The Content Strategy Alliance Tools and Templates: A Best Practices Handbook.

Pay attention to the user.
Nichols emphasized that a user journey map is the most important user input when developing a performance strategy. “The user journey defines the end-to-end steps the customer takes when interacting with your brand,” he stated.

Armed with a user journey, we can create a publishing model that focuses on user needs and content types, as opposed to business silos.

Nichols identified eight steps for developing a user journey map.

  1. Select the persona you’re charting the journey for.
  2. Document the user’s tasks.
  3. Chart the steps the user takes to complete a task (this can be done with varying levels of detail, depending on business and user needs.)
  4. Determine which users complete which tasks. This will provide valuable information about user states, and this data can help when developing personalized content.
  5. Identify triggers – the motivation that started the user on her journey.
  6. Map channel (web, mobile, app, packaging content, etc.) to each task.
  7. Define the content needed for each step and identify what is missing.
  8. Test the customer journey with user testing and other validation efforts.

Assess your content.
As Paula Land explained, in a performance-driven content approach, “constantly monitoring and optimizing content is the goal.” To do this, we need to figure out how much content we have (content inventory) and how good it is (content audit). The Content Strategy Alliance Handbook includes a content audit template with a list of factors to consider when evaluating content.

Land stressed that a content audit is not a job for the content strategist alone. The work of auditing should be spread around so that more people in an enterprise can learn the value of content and how improving it is everyone’s business.

Govern your content.
Once an audit is completed, the team can then plan content improvements and figure out how to make them. This is where governance comes in. Making change, especially with content, often requires organizational change.

Benefts of Governing Content
When talking about governance, Paula Land stated, emphasize benefits, not burdens.

If organizations didn’t include any people, that would be easy. “Numbers are easy,” Land said. “People are hard.”

Land outlined some processes and tools that can help an organization prepare for and make changes.

  • Develop a team model to support governance. The more team members, the better. Just make sure to define roles and responsibilities.
  • Train the team.
  • Provide enough documentation so that everyone knows what to do and why.
  • Communicate with the organization regularly.
  • Use governance tools such as editorial calendars, style guides, and dashboards to report tracking data.

Throughout the course of the workshop, Land and Nichols examined numerous other details that go into performance-driven content: hard and soft metrics, omnichannel content delivery, and personalization. They’re all great candidates for future blog posts. But for now, I imagine most content strategists have their hands full with these five issues. How are you putting these steps to work?

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Content First and Always: More Highlights from the Content Strategy Innovation Summit

When Content Strategy Innovation Summit attendees returned to downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 11 for the meeting’s second day, they were treated to a spirited defense of designing with content first. The content strategy and marketing sessions throughout the rest of the day focused on progress in academia, healthcare, and content marketing.

Stephanie Hay speaks about content-first design.
Heck yeah! Stephanie Hay advocates for the content-first approach to design.

Content-First Design
By Stephanie Hay
Director, Content at Capital One

Hay has been making inroads at financial services company Capital One and in the content strategy community as a whole by making the case for designing digital experiences with content first. Hay calls this approach “content iterative design,” and she explains that it’s the lowest risk way to create new digital products and features. Many of the iterations can be done collaboratively and inexpensively in tools such as Google docs or Microsoft Word.

Hay draws inspiration for content-first approaches from the world of gaming, where experiences such as registration and onboarding are often done in a conversational, fun way. With a few reasonable adjustments, why shouldn’t the same approach work for financial services?

Like game designers, content creators need to “nail the story first” – understand “what the hero really needs to win,” or, in user-experience speak, what the customer needs to accomplish. Getting the hero/customer there depends on clear, conversational copy first, before sophisticated visual designs or interactions.

“Design [write] for discovery” is Hay’s next piece of advice. As we lead customers to the next step of success, allow them to discover what they need to do as part of the process. Don’t overwhelm them with instructions. The design and content should guide them along almost effortlessly.

Hay and her team of content strategists use this content-first approach with product owners and technology partners, and the effort helps them create minimum viable products quickly. Hay cites other benefits: faster approvals, rapid testing, smooth product launches, and a higher level of engagement in content and design across the organization. In other words, Hay has almost everyone doing content-first design.

Many Speakers, One Voice: Using Strategic Governance to Unify Digital Content in a Multi-Contributor Enterprise
By Stacia Jesner
Director of Digital Content Strategy, Johns Hopkins Medicine
and Aaron Watkins
Senior Director of Internet Strategy and Digital Content Marketing, Johns Hopkins Medicine

Hundreds of content creators contribute to the hundreds of web sites of Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. Jesner and Watkins shared their story of gently bringing these diverse contributors into alignment on a unified digital platform.

Like Keith McCluskey of Harvard Law School, Jesner and Watkins face the problems of content governance in academia, where everyone is an expert and the publish/perish mindset has a heavy influence on content creation. As Jesner and Watkins explained, they were able to tap into their organization’s unique culture of kindness and care to open the door for successful content governance.

Jesner and Watkins outlined the four steps of their multi-year approach:

  1. Adapt to the culture:
    Early on, Jesner and Watkins realized that talking about core governance tools such as standards and guidelines would be met with resistance. They reframed the conversation as educators.
  2. Embrace the role of educator:
    They spoke to educator-leaders as peers, tapping into the learning culture to start conversations about consistency and innovation.
  3. Be the voice of the customer:
    After establishing trust in their audience, Jesner and Watkins began talking about customer goals and brought data from interviews, focus groups, and Foresee surveys to the table.
  4. Turn leaders into followers:
    Jesner and Watkins established a pattern of success and shared postive metrics such as improved search rankings and better patient/customer experiences. Now they count some of those experts as their advocates.

Content Strategy in the Center of Marketing and UX

Contently slide about content strategy
In content marketing, a content strategy is at the intersection of what a brand wants, what customers are interested in, and market opportunities.

Throughout the summit, a number of speakers focused on content strategy in content marketing, the art and science of getting branded content onto consumers’ screens. Representatives from companies such as Twitter, Tenet Partners, the Economist, and Contently spoke about the unique content and data challenges in this field.

Because my focus is UX content strategy, many of these sessions are not immediately applicable to my work. But this Contently slide rang a bell. It places content strategy at the center of business goals, audience interests, and market opportunities. For UX content strategy, we can draw a similar Venn diagram that places content strategy at the center of business goals, user needs, and product development.

I’ve also seen a Venn diagram that places content strategy in the center of visual design, interaction design, and technology. In all versions, content strategy remains in the center. In both marketing and UX content, the content strategist looks in all directions, bridges teams and gaps, and makes sure the entire effort keeps moving forward.