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.

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Stories and Strategy: Highlights from the Los Angeles Content Strategy Innovation Summit

Content Strategy Innovation SummitOn Thursday, Sept. 10, about 100 content strategists and content marketers gathered in downtown Los Angeles for the Content Strategy Innovation Summit. Here are select highlights from the day’s sessions.


Google Apps – Engaging with Your Audience
By Veronique Lafargue
Global Head of Content, Google

Lafargue has been involved in Google Apps for business projects, and she argues that the key to effective content in these products is authenticity. How to achieve it?

  1. Define your core; know your brand and what it stands for.
  2. Decide who is NOT your audience. This can help focus product and content efforts.
  3. See the heroes in your customers — the people who want “to make work better, more fair, more fun.”
  4. Bring a piece of yourself to the content you create.

HLS Online Strategy 2: Web Platform Migration and Content Strategy
By Keith McCluskey
Senior Director, Online Strategy, Harvard Law School

McCluskey delivered an update about his experience in a multi-year project to upgrade the design and content platform for Harvard Law School. Among his tactics:

  • Keith McClusky Presents about Harvard Law School
    Keith McClusky delivers an update on Harvard Law School’s online strategy.

    Listening: Seek out and share best practices and other information with industry peers.

  • Starting small: After being denied the full budget for a redesign effort, begin with a pilot project that is less expensive and will show the value of stronger content design and strategy.
  • Getting buy-in: Develop an online strategy committee that unifies deans and other stakeholders, especially the ones who might throw up roadblocks.
  • Scrum: Tap into the Agile methodology to create a list of tasks that can then be prioritized.

When Words Are The Product
By Anna Bloom
Content Strategist, Facebook

Based in London, Bloom is working primarily on advertising products for Facebook. In approaching the interface content she creates, she strives for the most honest, effective terms. “When words are the product, we need to be professional truth seekers.” Her steps to crafting such content:

  • Gather the facts.
  • Tell the truth.
  • Be honest about what works, and be open to surprises.

Strategy, Storytelling and Stakeholders
By Dave Howard
Manager, Content Strategy, Herbalife

Howard works on marketing, brand, and website content for the health and nutrition company. He spoke about the emotional connection and business use of stories. He cited the The Heath and Heath attributes of a successful story, and, yes, the attributes are an acrostic that spells “success.”

  • Simple
  • Unexpected
  • Concrete
  • Credible
  • Emotional
  • Stories

Creating Trust and Belonging Through Content
By Joscelin Cooper and John Campbell
Content Strategists, Airbnb

In their work, Cooper and Campbell focus on how content can incite emotion, change behavior, and shape experiences. They drew on literary examples to show how thoughtful writing can be integrated into a user experience to help users feel that they belong to a unique, safe community.

Why focus on examples from fiction and drama? Because literature offers valuable content lessons about

  1. Story
  2. Clarity and concision
  3. Character and persona
  4. Authorial intent and “getting back to real life”

Literature also offers inspiration for whittling content down until it is as simple and precise as possible. In the words of writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”