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POINT OF view

SapientNitro Content Strategy 2013 Positioning
By Kevin P. Nichols, Director and Global Practice Lead for Content Strategy & Anne Casson, Director Content Strategy

In the digital and agency world content strategy is a topic discussed frequently. Over the past few years, content strategy has risen to become a very hot topic. And yet there remains much misunderstanding about what it is and what it entails. SapientNitro previously adopted Kevin Nichols’ definition of ‘getting the right content to the right user at the right time’ as its definitive positioning statement and approach; however, in the past two years, several other disciplines in the industry, including those which specialize in personalization, have co-opted this definition, rendering it less cogent as a specific definition for content strategy. Moreover, content strategy has evolved as a practice. As content strategy has gained much more industry recognition, sundry understandings of what it is or what it means have also emerged. And while more brands are recognizing content strategy as an imperative part of their digital and publishing solutions, there are varying understandings of why it is necessary, how it actually benefits organizations, and how and when to engage it effectively. This multiplicity exists in part because there is not one single tactic or strategy to a content strategy, but similarly to the practice of information architecture, there are several. We would never say today that we are delivering “Information Architecture” as a single deliverable, but yet, we hear from clients and others in the industry that they want ‘a content strategy.’ Because content strategy is complicated and because it is so important for our and our clients’ success, we have written this paper and updated our positioning on this practice, in the hopes of clarifying how we believe it needs to be defined, why it is important, and the true benefits content strategy offers to businesses. So let’s start with a simplified definition of the practice. Let’s begin with two definitions that expediently convey content and content strategy: Content communicates an idea that is recorded. A DVD, package for a product, video on YouTube, product positioning on a Website page, product user guide, television commercial, magazine article, news report, etc., are all mediums that record content and the information these things record is content.

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POINT OF view

Content Strategy is the systematic, thoughtful approach to surfacing the most relevant, effective, and appropriate content at the most opportune time, to the appropriate user, for the purpose of achieving a company’s strategic business objectives and its customers’ goals. It is an overarching strategy that is realized fully only through many deliverables and tactics that touch many different people, processes, systems and customer targets. At SapientNitro we break down this definition into three pillars:

Content Experience
What is the content experience for the end-user? What goes into a digital solution? To which user(s) is it targeted?

Content Delivery
What model is necessary to acquire, create, maintain and optimize content?

Content Governance
What are the operational processes and mechanisms required to ensure the continued success of content?

The ‘strategy’ in content strategy So where is the strategy in all this? Given the lack of understanding around content strategy, we also want to be clear about what we mean about the ‘strategy’ piece of content strategy. We have found that people get caught up in semantics when they assume that content strategy is only about strategy. In our universe, strategy is important and answers the ‘why?’ with a statement of intent, the stratagems, objectives and goals that must be achieved, and the roadmap or vision to get there. But we also feel strongly that the strategy within content strategy cannot be divorced from its tactical implementation, and as such, we see content strategy as a discipline that provides strategic and tactical solutions to content needs. As we will demonstrate, content strategy is not a single strategy, but a series of stratagems, processes and tactics that involve and impact content within a business. The benefits of content strategy or ‘Why should you do it?’ The unique benefits of content strategy are predicated upon an understanding of the relationship content has with a business, its brand, and its customers. Content is the life-force of a brand. It’s how businesses engage their customers and how customers interact with the brand. Along with product and service, content frames the customer perception of brand—it can force the brand to be more viable from a customer perspective. It can also competitively differentiate one brand from another. When we consider these points, we can also draw the conclusion that a lack in quality content can damage or harm a brand and customer perception of it.

Customer

Trust with Brand! Product Or Service

Content

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POINT OF view
‘Content is king’…so now what? Today, the concept that ‘content is king’ is fairly ubiquitous in the digital and publishing realms. You may have heard it again and again. But more often than not, the logical conclusion to that sentiment is left unrealized. The entirety of the ‘content is king’ statement is only relevant if we draw the conclusion that good content needs a successful content strategy, since both will: • Enforce content quality, ensuring that it is meaningful and relevant to the end user; • Tie the content and the stories it tells to customer needs, in a consistent and relevant manner; • Keep content on-brand regardless of the customer touch-points; • Result in measurable organizational benefits such as streamlining the efforts around content processes and workflows; • Define success metrics and criteria to sustain optimal performance; • Allow for sustainable, repeatable maintenance through governance strategy; • Better the content in the organization, making the content that an organization produces work more effectively and achieve the desired results; and, • Ensure that the optimal content design and internal business processes for the front-end map successfully to the technologies on the back-end. Within this framework, content should, along with user needs and business objectives, drive the digital and publishing solutions businesses put forth. If content is a brand and business asset, then content can make or break a brand, and drive customer satisfaction. Thus, a lack of attention to content can create numerous issues and costly problems for a business. Without a unified, holistic and enterprise approach to content, a business faces several challenges, which can cause complex and expensive content problems:

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Where a content strategy really benefits a business. So if we can appreciate that what we stated previously is critical for a brand’s success, then let’s add an additional thought: all aspects of content strategy are measurable. You should and can measure all aspects you put into place within an overarching content strategy including: • Effects on the customer and content consumption patterns, including the effectiveness, relevance and timeliness of content measured by: time spent with content in each digital property (e.g., duration on page), on-site and organic search terms used, conversion rates (customer signed up for service, purchased a product and/or filled out a profile), clickstream and navigation paths, areas where the customer leaves prior to conversion, and fewer complaints through self-service support and accurate content. • Effects on brand, sales and customer retention such as the number of repeat existing customers, new customers, and customer attrition, conversion rates and volume, and the number of cross-sells and up-sells, improved and competitively differentiated brand performance.

Customers rate your brand by your content.
The customer does not silo content the same way many businesses do. The customer does not care whether a product detail page on a website originates with product positioning within a company or that technical marketing may create a user guide to a product, or that a customer call center may get their talking points from customer support or that packaging of content may come from a combination of sources. They do care if any of their experience with these various touch-points fails due to poor or inconsistent content, and ultimately they will hold the brand itself accountable for their experience. They will reward a good experience with loyalty and punish a bad experience with abandonment.

• Effects on the business internally: such as cost to produce and translate content, time to produce and translate content, errors or issues with published content, time to make changes in existing content, inconsistent and off-brand content, and redundant content (that could be a candidate for sharing or reuse). Ultimately, rich, relevant, and quality content translates to great success for an organization and its business objectives, when its power is properly harnessed.[1] SapientNitro’s content strategy pillars analyzed So let’s return to visit the three pillars of content strategy mentioned above to understand more fully what content strategy is and how we at SapientNitro recommend doing it. Content Experience ‘Content Experience’ defines the overall and singular experience a customer has when engaging with any content a brand has to offer. Included here is the content a user interacts with, when and how they do it, and most importantly, how and which content can meet their needs. As part of a content strategy, the content experience must define the strategic intent for the content solution: • Why are we building the new Website, mobile experience, channel or a page or template within it? • Which objectives do we need to meet? • What goals should we achieve? • Which content experiences and specific content must be served up to achieve all of the above?

1. For a detailed analysis on articulating business benefits of content strategy, see also: Bailie, Rahel Anne and Urbina, Noz. Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits (XML Press, 2013).

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POINT OF view
In addition to the strategic intent, content experience draws from the following questions to create relevant, timely, contextual and meaningful content: • Who are our users? • When and how will they consume this content experience? • How will they consume it (or how will it meet their needs)? • With what will they consume it? Content experience frames the overall narrative or story that must be told, as well as the individual stories that help the customer meet his or her needs. For example, for some customers, the experience may answer why they should buy a product or service. For others, it might answer how they support a product they have already purchased. And for even others, it might answer why they would want to work or invest in a particular company. In framing the content experience, we look at which content to personalize and to whom, which multi- and omni-channel opportunities exist, and what is the customer journey throughout his or her experience with a brand. Content lifecycle The end-to-end content lifecycle is just as important as the content itself, and if it is broken, then chances are the content experience will have serious flaws as well. To address this reality, SapientNitro has pioneered a proven approach to a closed-loop content delivery process that provides a flexible framework for achieving content success internally within an organization. Building from this approach, which incorporates industry best practices, we have tailored a process to fit the unique needs, goals, and focus areas for any type of project involving content. By ‘closed-loop,’ we mean an approach that creates a repeatable and sustainable content lifecycle, future-proofed for changing customer trends, emerging technology and business needs. Once an organization launches content with this approach, metrics—which we define at the onset of the project—measure the content’s performance to determine future priorities and actions. We also put measurements in place to evaluate the internal content lifecycle to ensure that content efficiencies and gains in an improved content process can be demonstrated. This overall method positions content to be successful in the future, regardless of changes in technology, customers or the business. Adopting a closed-loop content lifecycle, a business is able to respond to customer needs and feedback, technology innovation and evolution of business objectives.

 
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POINT OF view
Content Governance Governance provides the key to ensuring that content standards are in place, maintenance of content success is enforced, and future-state decisions are realized through a controlled environment. Governance also helps manage content across channels and across business units including guidelines for managing editorial workflows, approval workflows, a content style guide, as well as a staffing plan and organizational structure to support the model. An effective, content governance model will: • Create a formal decision-making process that is rational, balanced, and consistent • Provide the enterprise with a framework to identify, prioritize, and manage content modifications and enhancements • Establish a vehicle for communication up, down, and across the organization • Enable the enterprise to share information and resources across the organization • Create an organizational body that can oversee “shared-cost” investments and avoid duplicative work • Define enterprise-wide and business unit/brand/country-specific guidelines • Identify content-specific success measures for the enterprise (e.g., speed-to-market, accuracy of data) • Allow flexibility for local needs to be served while providing structure for enterprise-wide growth needs How we do it within our work. As with any project, at SapientNitro, we divide our work up into phases. The diagram below demonstrates these phases and calls out which deliverables go with which phase. And although we illustrate a comprehensive set of deliverables, not every project requires each of these. We do want to point out, however, that the discovery phase is the most important phase to frame the future-state solution. A content inventory and audit is not just a spreadsheet that contains a listing of content, and which just anyone can do. Rather, it is a process that creates a deep understanding of the current content ecosystem and helps frame the content requirements, issues and gaps, necessary to frame a successful future-state solution. The person(s) who completes the content inventory and audit, makes many of the decisions that impact the overall solution. In many ways, this person(s) holds the cards to how successful the end-state of a digital solution will be. Content Strategy Work per Phase

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POINT OF view
How do I know whether a content strategist is necessary? We often ask our clients one question to determine whether a content strategist is necessary on a project: “Does your project have or include content that reflects your brand in any way, shape or form?” If the answer is yes, then we recommend a content strategist. In general, any of the following necessitate content strategy: • Any type of customer-facing content • A new Website or mobile site • A CMS solution • The need to sell a product or service with customer facing content • Content that serves customer needs in X ways But let’s translate these basics into the top ten things we hear our clients say— indicating a solution involving content strategy is most likely appropriate: 1. We don’t know how much content we have 2. We don’t know every place it’s stored 3. Any sentence involving the phrase “all over the place” 4. Any sentence involving the word “homegrown” 5. We have not assigned owners to our content 6. A link to a fee schedule from 1997 was returned in a Google search 7. We never delete anything, we just unlink it 8. We have multiple copies of various things in our CMS 9. It takes 2 weeks to make an editorial change to our web site 10. We know personalization is important but aren’t sure where to start Why SapientNitro Content Strategy? SapientNitro has and continues to approach content strategy holistically, focusing on every editorial, delivery, and governance aspect of it. We can help you tell the most compelling story, through your myriad channels, deliver it seamlessly and create an organizational model to ensure its continued success. Our approach is enterprise and unified in nature. We roll out a closed-loop approach whereby content is continually optimized via the measurement of its efficacy. We can deliver on all of these capabilities and over the past few years, we have hired and grown one of the most talented content strategy practices in the industry. Kevin P. Nichols is Director and Global Practice Lead for Content Strategy at SapientNitro. He has over eighteen years of experience. A Harvard graduate, he executed his capabilities in the Sabre Foundation before traveling to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he was Webmaster for Physicians for Human Rights. He went on to Sapient Corporation as a UX Lead for global brands on Web and CMS projects. Kevin played a key role in launching MIT’s OpenCourseWare project, and as a Senior Consultant at Molecular, he led UX teams for global brands. He went on to become an independent consultant at Kevin P Nichols’ consulting, before returning to Sapient as a Director of Content Strategy. Anne Casson is the Director of Content Strategy for SapientNitro Boston. She has nearly 20 years of experience planning, designing, creating, and structuring digital content for front-end web, content management systems, and product information management systems. Her work enables definition and implementation of efficient workflows, personalization and governance strategies, migration planning, and measurable content ROI.

 

© Sapient Corporation, 2013