6 Lessons on Content Strategy from ConfabEU Barcelona

Last week, Barcelona, Spain, was the host of the most important content strategy (CS) meeting of the year: Confab EU. Europe’s greatest and finest professionals gathered with overseas pros to share their expertise on everything content strategy.

The 3-day conference was packed full with almost 30 talks about content-related advice, challenges and new trends. Keeping up with all of it and taking in all the valuable insight was a true test. I’m sharing six main lessons I took home, from the talks I was able to attend:

ConfabEU Barcelona 2014 speech

1. It’s all about your audience and their (content) needs.

Long gone are the days when you could publish on your web only information about yourself, your company, your great team, your unique services. Now the roles have changed. You must research, understand and cater to your audience. Find out what they want to see on your website and deliver that. Make sure you know your customer’s position in their purchase journey, and create content for the place where they are. Most prospects are at the informational phase – and you must deliver informational, useful content, and a number of them have arrived at the transactional phase, when they are ready to buy. Knowing your audience and what they need, empowers you to deliver the right content at the right time and place.

“Content educates newbies, excites enthusiasts and motivates purchases.”

2. Your content strategy must overlap with the business strategy.

Whether your company is large or small, this is a great mindset to start with. As a nice coincidence, at ConfabEU two talks were going on at the same time, one about CS and micro-enterprises, the other about CS and big corporations. Interestingly enough – but not surprising! – both speakers mentioned the same, paraphrased like this: “I don’t have a content strategy. The business has a strategy and I support it through relevant content”. If your business strategy is to operate online as well, and have a website, then directly correlated to this is what you will be publishing on this online platform and why. How it will be relevant to your business goals. The two strategies are clearly interchangeable once you decide to operate from an online space in your business.

3. Defining a strategy means setting (appropriate) limits.

Most of us tend to confuse the strategy with the grand master plan of things. Actually, to set a strategy in place forces us to make choices, mostly to decide on what we will not do with our business. For example, a social media strategy could be to choose to be active only on one platform, say Twitter, instead of all of them. The companies that do not have a social media strategy typically wish to be present on all social channels, in the hope they won’t leave anything and anyone out. Like this, they end up being ghosts on most platforms, proving that without a strategy the tactics are random and don’t bring any value. Setting a strategy is difficult, especially because we – both as professionals and as human beings – are afraid to leave things out, to make mistakes. Ultimately, we are afraid to fail.

“No one works on purpose for content to be bad. But without a strategy you will probably spend resources on creating bad, unuseful content.”

4. Make content strategy a cross-departamental effort.

Sometimes, as content strategists, we are misunderstood for the know-it-all ‘genious’. A great tactic, which is even more valuable than the individual work we do, is to involve the other project members in a collaborative effort. Instead of creating and delivering a content strategy by yourself, it’s more effective to bring together all related parties, from authors, translators, designers, business managers, SEO specialists and sales executives. Empower everyone to give their input, incorporate it all in the plan and build a shared perspective that everyone resonates with. By involving your colleagues they will feel they own parts of the content strategy project too and everyone will work for the same shared goal. The content strategist must act more as a connector, as an orchestra instructor, than as a loner expert who invents a strategy all by him/herself.

5. The “Going up from mobile” tactic.

Given that the number of mobile devices has surpassed the world population, it is safe to say that adapting your content for mobile browsing has become compulsory. In the travel industry especially, from business travelers to backpackers, everyone will be checking some type of information from their mobile during their travels. At ConfabEU I’ve even heard professionals advising to create your content primarily for mobile browsing, and then expand it for tablet and PC browsing. This means actually creating content to be consumed from a mobile device, and not simply adapting the design of your content to fit nicely on the mobile screen. Shorter pieces of information, different structuring, even selective content.

“Taking care of content on the web is like painting the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. By the time you’re finished, you need to start all over from the other end.”

6. Your work is not finished once you have deployed content on the web.

Your job is not done once you hit the ‘publish’ button. There is a reason why it’s called ‘live’ content. It shouldn’t be left to die alone on the pages of your website. Once online, you need to make sure the content stays up to date, that it’s still relevant for your audience, that it is accurate as time passes. For instance, if you are a travel agency focused on accomodation, make sure your product pages display the current information, describe the right hotel rooms you provide, and not some outdated facts from last season’s end-of-summer sale.

Bonus! The difference between Objective, Strategy and Tactic.

How to start a content strategy conversation, Kristina Halvorson style: “Let’s say you’re a bear.” It will help you though, I promise. You will see the light.

So here it is: Let’s say you’re a bear. Your objective is to feed yourself. Your strategy is to go by the river, in order to be closest to the fish, a yummy meal for you as a bear. Your tactic is to sit in the the river and catch the fish right from the water.

Without strategy however, if you jump directly to the tactic to fulfill your objective, you might as well sit in the middle of the woods with your mouth open hoping a fish or two will fall into it (remember, you’re a bear). Even though my story is not as entertaining as with the visuals Halvorson provided, now you better understand the importance of strategy. Without it, your tactics will be random, with a minimun chance of success.

For more resources I discovered at ConfabEU in Barcelona this year, check out the Twitter hashtag: #ConfabEU. You will find discussions, presentations, photos and links to the best content strategists’ Twitter profiles.

Discovering the Identity of Lisbon through the Azulejos

Streets of Lisbon

Streets of Alfama neighborhood, Lisbon.

Square, shiny ceramic tiles, colorfully painted, cover the city. They cover its walls, its tabletops, its staircase banisters. Its bathroom and powder room interiors, its churches inside and out.

All around, azulejos.Azulejos in Alfama, Lisbon

They take their name from the Persian al zulayj, meaning  “polished stone”. But they are much more than polished stones. They are little works of art, that put together build the image and the identity of Lisbon. They tell the story of the city, and manifest the artistic trends of the times, tirelessly, for the past 500 years.

A Bit of History…

The ceramic tiles were first brought to Portugal from the Moors, in the 16th Century, when they were used to sketch mostly biblical and mythological scenes. About a hundred years later, the Portuguese started to imitate the Persian carpets and built them out of tiles on their walls. The 18th Century brought the “Golden Age of the Azulejos” when these unique hand-made works of art were replaced by mass production. The notorious repetitive pattern tiles were born out of this azulejos era.

Art of azulejos in Lisbon    Azulejos art in Lisbon    Azulejos in Lisbon

After Lisbon emerged from the Great Earthquake it survived in 1755, the azulejos became a practical, durable material to rebuild the destroyed city. The locals started putting small shrine-like painted tile designs above their home entrances, believing it would protect them from future disasters.

The City of Million-Color Tiles

Casa do Ferreira das Tabuletas, Lisbon

Casa do Ferreira das Tabuletas, Lisbon, 1865, showing allegories of science, agriculture, commerce and industry.

Climbing the hilly roads of the Alfama neighborhood, I learned to see the painted tiles with new eyes. Strolling on the narrow pathways of Chiado I understood that they can be more than “ceramic wallpaper” for clean bathrooms. The ceramic white squares have been canvases for expressing hundreds of years of art. Storytelling mediums, that left a deep, colorful print on the history and culture of Lisbon. The poems they would silently recite could be as long as hundreds of tiles put together, or as short as a bunch evoking a domestic scene or a craft tradition.

The azulejos, are the great identity of Lisbon. And they peek out from everywhere.

Multicolored or monochromatic, they fill the streets with myriads of shiny shades. They run through Lisbon like a silver lining, waking up the soul of this Atlantic windy city.

Museo de los Azulejos, Lisbon

The cloister of the 16th Century convent where the National Tile Museum (Museu Nacional do Azulejo) is housed.


There’s a Monkey on your Back: a Walk in Ubud’s Sacred Forest

Let go of the banana, lady!”, shouted the Balinese guard.

The lady-tourist wouldn’t give up fighting for her banana, bought at the forest entrance. She absolutely wanted to feed the baby monkey, not the heavy papa that had climbed on her back as quick as a lean lizard.

Let it go!”, shouted one more time the guard, trying to save her from being bitten. Finally the lady listened, saddened she couldn’t feed the baby monkey, while the big papa was already gulping down the small fruit.

Macaque monkeys in Monkey Forest, Ubud Bali.

Monkeys in the Sacred Forest, Ubud, Bali.

Any time of the day you pass through the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, in Ubud, Bali, you can spot this episode. Day in and day out tourists flock to see the playful macaque monkeys jump around and seem to enjoy being stolen food from their hands and backpacks.

The access to the Sacred Forest is a short walk uphill from our hotel. But the macaque monkeys claimed their playground way before the forest entrance, on the narrow streets, stealing food from the warung terraces. Continue reading

Fashionable Milan: a Weekend-Long Surprise

A weekend in Milano is all you need.

Strolling under the glass arches of Vittorio Emanuele Gallery, the sun waves “hello” from the other side, while the Baroque buildings whisper untold stories about forgotten dukes and princesses.

The massive wooden gates of red-brick Neo-Classical Palazzo di Brera stand behind, tall and quiet, like an appointed castle-guard, as we enter the inner court.

The symmetrical arches of the Main Central Station, in their signature Art Deco-style, embrace me as I rush through them to catch a local train.

Vittorio Emanuele Gallery in Milan

A weekend in Milano is all you need.

Two days of walking around the narrow streets and on the large corso boulevards to figure it all out. The palaces and basilicas, the opera and the central mansions, they all have fallen behind. Continue reading

Costa Brava’s Botanical Jewel

Popular for family holidays, Blanes, the small resort on Spain’s Costa Brava, has all the beach amenities you’d expect. Long stretch of sand, turquoise-green translucent sea, nearby water park, even hidden calas, or rocky golfs, for the more laid-back traveller.

Blanes on Costa Brava, Spain

However, the resort has more to offer than beaches and 300-days-per-year sunshine. One hour north of Barcelona, tucked around a rocky, winding shore, Blanes has some surprises in its sand-sprinkled sleeves.

One of them is the botanical garden Mar i Murtra. Leaving below the golden beaches and the old town, and after a short twisting climb up the San Juan hill, the white reception building welcomes you. Travellers looking to discover mediterranean, American or South-African nature turn to this four-hectare partially hidden garden. Continue reading

Gracia Summer Festival: A Splash of Colors

It’s August, and the blazing heat is rolling over rooftops and hidden alleys. It’s that time of the year again when Barcelona’s artsy district, Gracia, holds its summer festival, festa major.

Festa de Gracia 2013, umbrella decorations

The city, otherwise depleted of locals, away in cool country homes and nearby beach towns, fills up almost miraculously for a few days around St. Mary’s Assumption, on the 15th of August. Tourists alike mix with the locals to experience this almost 200-year-old Spanish fiesta.

Continue reading

Between Sunrise and Sunset, Bali

As he sees us strolling towards him, the hotel attendant puts his hands together before his chest, in a small prayer sign, and smiling he cheerfully says “good morning!”. It’s breakfast time and we’re trying to chase away the drowsiness from our muscles. But he’s been awake for 3 hours already.

Sunrise in Bali, Indonesia

A Life Guided by the Sun

The Balinese wake up together with the sunrise, around 6 am every morning. As a Western visitor, partially jet-lagged and with the vacation “hat” on, you feel like you’re interrupting an ongoing movie scene. You’ve entered a bit too late after the “action!” sign has been snapped and are trying to catch up as the Balinese are already in their daily errands, long past their rice-porridge breakfast. Continue reading