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:
1. It’s all about your audience and their (content) needs.
Until not long ago you could publish on your web only information about yourself, your company, your great team, your unique services. Now that’s all gone. 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.
Identify your customer’s position in their purchase journey, and create content for the place where they are.
Most prospects are at the informational phase. For them you must deliver instructive, useful content, to answer their questions. For the prospects entering the transactional phase, when they are ready to buy, you must provide relevant content for this stage. 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. Funny coincidence (or not!), at ConfabEU two talks were going on at the same time, one about CS and micro-enterprises, the other about CS and big corporations. Both speakers mentioned the same idea, summarized 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 through a website, then you need to determine what you will be publishing and why. How it will be relevant to your business goals. The two strategies are 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 several networks. The companies that don’t have a social media strategy typically want to be present on all social channels, in the hope they won’t leave anything and anyone out. Instead, 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 ‘genius’. A great tactic is to involve the other project members in a collaborative effort. That is even more valuable than the individual work we do. 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, 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 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 as soon as 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). Without strategy, 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.