Content Marketing and Content Strategy are merging. Is that a good thing?

Just hear me out. One emerging practice (content strategy) + one tactic (content marketing) = I’m not really sure.

Content Marketing: “Content marketing is an umbrella term encompassing all marketing formats that involve the creation or sharing of content for the purpose of engaging current and potential consumer bases. Content marketing subscribes to the notion that delivering high quality, relevant and valuable information to prospects and customers drives profitable consumer action. Content marketing has benefits in terms of retaining reader attention and improving brand loyalty.” –from the Content Marketing Wikipedia page created 25 February 2008

Content Strategy: “Content strategy has been growing as a practice within the industry of web development since the late 1990s. It is recognized as a field in user experience design but has also drawn interest from practitioners in adjacent communities such as content management, business analysis and technical communication.” –from the Content Strategy Wikipedia page created 08 April 2009

Then a funny thing happened about a year ago—the terms got squished together to form “Content Marketing Strategy.” I’m not sure how this happened or even what it means but it’s out there and to some people it means something.

In my opinion, “Content Marketing Strategy” is vacuous—there is no such thing. There is content marketing and there is content strategy. Or, to rollback a round of buzzwords, there is integrated marketing and there is UX Design. Either way, one is a tactic and one is a practice. I’m not shining a light on one to keep another one in the dark, but rather here to say that we all agree content is important. That includes IAs, ixDs, coders, graphic designers, and copywriters. It’s what we do about knowing content is important that counts. How we solve client’s problems is what matters.

Volume and repetition matter
The solution I hear most often from content marketing is “make more content, gain more trust.” From content strategy, it’s “content should drive all other practices.” Increasingly, you will find many articles that use the terms interchangeably, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing; primarily for the client who now has to deal with ever-finer slices of practitioner specialties and more difficult integration/PM issues.

I recently met with a friend of a friend about a website he was launching. His business was a data-based content creation & strategy play with all the requisite buzzwords in place, along with poor design, clunky marketing speak and a mish-mash of “content marketing” and “content strategy” definitions. I was at loss. Here was a very smart guy with good intentions going out into the market with one puzzle piece. The whole event felt like dropping your car off at a mechanic who asks you for a ride because his car doesn’t run.

Perhaps you don’t build trust?
Building trust goes way beyond the creation of content. (And yes, I’m guilty of oversimplifying its importance.) I’m slowing starting to realize that you can’t set out to build trust. When you do, it implies that you are building it in order to leverage it later—and that feels a little dirty. Trust has so many facets to it and is so subjective that I find it hard to believe there is a one size fits all solution that works. So if Content Marketing Strategy can live on the web, then I’m petitioning for Trust Strategy.

Perhaps content ________ isn’t about building anything but rather is just a requirement like air in your tires, ink in your pen and quality in your product/service.

A great user experience respects both the content and the reader (see Readability). A great user experience cares that labels fit inside buttons and ensures that “thanks for coming” takes precedence across all fields of practice from the first click to the last.

—Ian

Why Brands Don’t Change

Too many companies fail to seek change until after a brand or product is declared broken. Then change is ushered through at a breakneck pace fed by panic and profits. And even after broken pieces are identified, the focus is often on plugging the dike rather than seeking opportunities to improve the entire process.

In other words, maintenance often trumps improvement. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The problem

The distance and prerogatives between “change” and “improvement” often creates organizational pressure. The greater the pressure, the more likely employees are to play it safe and the more predictable a brand story becomes.

“But we make site changes every day.”

Don’t confuse maintenance with change. True change is made with the intention of moving the bar forward.

What’s the root of the problem?

  • There is often no process for suggesting change.
  • There is often no process for initiating change.
  • Change sparks questions that organizations aren’t ready to answer.
  • Managing change challenges systems that are already in place (whether they are efficient or not).
  • If the mechanism for change isn’t in place and isn’t embraced, people will only push creative they know will get approved. Which means there’s not a lot of opportunity for brand evolution.
  • If employees are shot down (or considered “rocking the boat”) for trying to create spearhead change, they’ll go back to pushing papers.
  • Change is usually brought on due to a lack of sales, a problem with an existing product, a product launch or new management. In other words, when you’re up against the gun.

The Opportunity

Effective change management is a brand’s greatest asset—if you don’t have the mechanisms in place to effect change, your brand story goes stale.

Ready your brand for change. Prepare your organization to be more nimble. Create systems for gathering input. Map processes for initiating cross-departmental change. Empower your management to move quickly and efficiently.

Why?

Change saves money. Change gets people excited (once they get past the fear). Change broadens your audience. Change evolves your story. Change rocks.

Email Marketing at Its Best

This email arrived in my inbox at 5:02am. Just before  33 percent of the country was about to find out that school was canceled today and we would miss yet another day of work.

What I love about this is:

a) Care.com had this email designed, approved and ready to go

b) They included extra incentive: A huge promotional discount on a last-minute sitter

c) But to get the huge promotional discount, you have to upgrade to a premium membership

d) The email arrived at the exact right time. The moment of need.

What’s the moment of need for your customers?

Sure, you have your holiday promotions. But what unplanned event might your company prepare for, design for, create a promotion for, and have in the queue to send out right when your customers will need it the most?

By the way, Care.com’s Founder & CEO Sheila Marcelo has one of the best parenting blogs out there.

How to Redesign Your Corporate Magazine in 5 Steps

To us, building a magazine is like building a house. Here’s how to go from vision to finished product in 5 (not necessarily easy) steps.

Step 1. Survey the landscape
Discovery

The very first step in any redesign is discovery: collecting everything you can get your hands on about the existing magazine, the audience and your competitors.

This includes:

  • Competitive review: What are other magazines in your space doing well? What about magazines who aren’t direct competitors but who serve a similar audience?
  • Research: Gather all info your company has (from focus groups, surveys, interviews, reader feedback, your most tenured employees, etc.) and begin to put together the “redesign story.”
  • Audience: Define the audience and what they want from your magazine. What do they love about the existing magazine? What are its biggest limitations from their pov? Hopefully you have some solid data to work with. If not, you should be signing up for SurveyMonkey pronto. Remember to question everything: is your key audience really who your marketing director says it is?  Is it statistically possible that 90% of your 20,000 readers are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies? Hmm…
  • Gameplan: Define objectives, get everyone to agree on these objectives, and build a strategy to meet those objectives. Since we’re talking about corporate magazines here, be sure you’re clued in to any other big campaigns, upcoming redesigns, etc. that may be happening currently with your launch date.

Look, we know you’re in a rush, but this is one of the most important steps to launching a successful redesign. Anybody can make a pretty magazine. Doing it with strategy and intention requires research.

Step 2. Sketch out your blueprint
Create content departments + magazine architecture

Based on what you learn from Step 1, you can now begin to build content departments (i.e. recurring sections and columns…think of your favorite sections in the magazines you read regularly) and plot out the overall flow of the magazine. The goal is to be meaningful—and determining what will be meaningful to readers will come partly from your discovery, and partly from trial and error.

Tip: Plan to survey your audience after the redesign launches, and again after 2 or 3 issues depending on your frequency. Readers are notoriously resistant to change, which is why you want to survey them twice before you even think about redesigning your redesign. Remember all the backlash that happens any time Facebook launches a redesign? Most of those protesters probably can’t even remember what their beloved older Facebook site looked like.

Another tip: If you are under the gun to produce an issue before the redesign is complete, you can begin the editorial phase of your next issue once step 2 is completed. With all your new content departments in place and the space allotted for each piece of content, your editor can begin assigning stories. Hooray!

Step 3. Break out the colored pencils
Design concepting

Ideally, your designer will present three unique design directions. For a magazine, each design direction will typically include:

  • A cover treatment
  • Table of contents
  • A department or two
  • And possibly a sample feature spread

From here, the team selects one design direction (typically with some tweaks) and you are able to move to the next phase.

Tip: If you’re the kind of organization (you know who you are) who gets hung up on the microscopic details, by all means give your designer images and sample text from an earlier issue to work with. Or use all lorem ipsum. Because the last thing you need is a marketing manager or CEO getting hung up on the incorrect treatment of a product name when you are only supposed to be looking at design concepts.

Step 4. Hammers and nails—construction begins
Design fine-tuning and building interior pages

Once the selected design direction is fine-tuned to everyone and their second cousin’s happiness, you can begin building interior pages (with “dummy,” or stand-in, copy). These pages will act as a template for the production designer once you are working with “live” (real) copy and images.

Several style guide details are worked out in this important phase, such as how footers are handled, what the rules are for headline and subhed treatments, whether photo captions are italicized or bolded, how you are handling calls to action, etc. These are all the hundreds of little details that will make your magazine polished and professional. Most readers won’t notice these details—unless they are sloppy and inconsistent.

Step 5. Certificate of Occupancy: You are now ready to move in
Deliver print template and style guide

This is when the art director tidies up their design files and hands them off to a production designer (the person who will actually be producing each issue of the magazine). If your art director is a freelancer, you’ll want to make sure he/she reviews the files with your production designer and editor, and is available for questions as issues pop up during production.

You, the client, will want to expect some deviation from the templates, since story structures and lengths may change once you’re working with live, edited text. Also, you may not get the dream photography the art director envisioned on a particular column, and your production designer will need to adjust the layout according to reality.

All caveats aside, you are now ready to begin laying out a real issue. Take your team out for a beer.

Friday Photo Essay: The Photo That Got Away

Yesterday I was driving past Sarasota’s military academy just as school was letting out for the day. Swarms of teenagers in drab, unbecoming olive uniforms descended upon Orange Avenue, heading for the buses or for home as fast as they could. Amidst the chaos, a beautiful girl sat on the lawn, peacefully strumming her ukelele. There was bright sunlight and a light breeze and everything. It would have made the perfect photo.

—Wendy Joan

Tuesday Media Picks

Stories from the last week or so worth mentioning.

Happy reading,

—Wendy Joan

Journalist Lawrence Wright’s ‘Trip to Al-Qaeda,’ Fresh Air

“Journalism is a flawed profession, but it has a self-correcting mechanism. The rule of journalism is: talk to everybody. In the course of writing my book, I interviewed 600 people and I didn’t get everybody but I got a lot of people. Some of those sources I interviewed dozens of times and I find that the more people you talk to, you get a broader range of opinion and facts than you can possibly get from any small group—but then you can go back and check things that don’t square with what you heard before.”


Right to Remain Silent, This American Life

Act Two: “For 17 months, New York police officer Adrian Schoolcraft recorded himself and his fellow officers on the job, including their supervisors ordering them to do all sorts of things that police aren’t supposed to do. For example, downgrading real crimes into lesser ones, so they wouldn’t show up in the crime statistics and make their precinct look bad.”



The World’s Worst Textbooks, Foreign Policy Magazine

“The Texas Board of Education ignited an international firestorm last spring when members approved a controversial new social studies curriculum. The new standards skew hard to the rightchampioning American capitalism throughout and suggesting religious intentions on the part of the founding fathers.”


America is a Joke, New York Magazine

“It wasn’t exactly an innocent year, given the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Columbine and the two frames of a topless woman hidden in Disney’s The Rescuers. But since 1999, when Stewart took over as host, the context in which The Daily Show operates has been radically altered. Terrorist attacks, two wars, and a global economic meltdown have charged the political atmosphere. More important for Stewart and his show has been the media transformation. Print is crumbling. The mainstream TV networks have steadily shed seriousness and viewers. The Internet, a minor player at the turn of the century, has become overcrowded with opinion silos. As the new century began, Fox News Channel was finding its fair-and-balanced footing and Glenn Beck, an itinerant radio shock jock, was trying on a new persona, “Limbaugh Lite.” Today, Fox News is an evil empire and Beck just led a messianic Washington rally. America’s politicians, willingly or not, often seem like they’re actors in scripts created by cable producers.”



Indus River Outsider, New York Times Magazine

“Some weeks ago I flew from New York to Islamabad, Pakistan, to experience summer in the country where my parents were born and where I lived as a child. I love summer in Pakistan: the mangoes, the monsoon and, this year, Ramadan, the mystical month of the Islamic calendar, all came in August. A week after I landed, the monsoon clouds arrived, but this time the Indus River swelled and burst its banks: my vacation coincided with the largest natural disaster in Pakistan’s history.”


(Photos: Lawrence Wright with some of the people he interviewed for The Looming Tower, his history of al-Qaeda, Courtesy of Larwrence Wright; Schoolchildren with flag photo from Foreign Policy Magazine; Jon Stewart photo by Danielle Levitt; Tent image by Holly Wales.)

How Active Listening Can Make You a Better Interviewer

For me, the hardest part of an interview is listening back to the recording. I’ve had enough practice not to hate how strange my voice sounds, but no matter how great the content is, I’m always disappointed by the overlapping “mmhs” I always add in solidarity with my source. And the crinkling paper. And the pen drops that my handy-dandy Zoom never fails to record.

But, maybe there’s more to those “mmhs” and little interruptions than we all thought? I’ve been reading Storytelling for User Experience, and finding a lot of great parallels between storytelling and listening for UX that can be directly applied to interviewing.

“Good listening can be addictive,” writes Quesenbery and Brooks. “If you have ever been really listened to, then you know its power. We then want it, even crave it and seek it constantly.”

Even though listening to someone speak seems simple enough, we’re more used to not being listened to. We’ve developed “highly effective defense mechanisms”—like raising our voices or pausing at the threat of interruption—which detracts from really listening. Or really telling the story we want.

Those paper crinkles and pen drops, however subtle, are interruptions that prevent you from really listening, and might ultimately prevent the source from sharing her deeper thoughts.

Here’s a list of five tips on learning to be a good listener via Mind Tools and Storytelling for User Experience:

  1. Pay attention. Give the speaker your undivided attention and acknowledge the message.
  2. Show that you are listening. Use your own body language and gestures to convey your attention.
  3. Reflect back. Show that you understand what is being said by paraphrasing and summarizing periodically.
  4. Defer judgment. Allow the speaker to finish. Don’t interrupt.
  5. Respond appropriately. Be candid and open in your response.

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Sounds easy enough, right? But if your audio sounds like my audio, you’ve got a little bit of work to do. Your source—and your story—will thank you.

—Wendy Joan

(Photo by Melvin Gaal)

Friday Photo Essay: What’s the Best Photo You’ve Ever Taken?

“A few well-chosen stories might be just the thing to get everyone to put down their Blackberries and join the conversation.”
Storytelling for User Experience

Photo by: Britta

Where taken: Connecticut

Camera used: Sony Cybershot

It was the last summer before we all had babies. Eat Media was less than a year old, and we took the business “on the road” for the month of August. This was our first stop: our friends’ lake house in Connecticut. We would work until 4pm or so, go water skiing and then go back to work. This photo captures the freedom we felt that summer. The freedom to invent the business and the life we want.

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Photo by: Wendy Joan

Where taken: The Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple), Amritsar, India

Camera used: Sony Cybershot

I spent most of 2007 living in Pondicherry, India, with eight rowdy American girls and one French guy. That May, three of us travelled more than 1,700 miles north to Amritsar. Shortly after arriving, I quickly snapped this photo outside the gates. The sun was shining straight in my eyes and I couldn’t see a thing. We spent the next few days exploring the temple and Punjabi countryside before heading for the Himalayas. I so close to Pakistan I could have touched it through a chain link fence, and would have done so if the border patrol didn’t have such big Kalashnikovs and so much ammunition.

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—Wendy Joan

Want better editorial? Reel in your review process

It seems every publisher has an ironclad policy when it comes to letting sources review stories pre-publication: either they forbid it, or they require it. These policies were set in stone some time around the Mesozoic era and any troublemaker who tries to alter them clearly does not understand A) journalistic integrity or B) the business objectives of the publication in question. In fact, these policies are taken so seriously, anyone who violates them faces grounds for immediate termination.

A post on UMagazinology, a blog about university magazines published by the editors of Johns Hopkins Magazine, tackled the subject of pre-publication review in a recent post (the bolding is mine):

“Why not? What’s the harm?

The harm, I think, is to our standing as professionals, and that is not a minor thing. University magazines produce the highest-quality work, and thus best exemplify and promote the excellence of their parent institutions, when they are allowed to approach the work as professional journalists. And it is part of journalistic professional practice to not show stories to sources before publication. No matter how strongly you stipulate that you are showing a piece to a source only for verification of accuracy, you are implicitly inviting everyone who reads the story to approve it, advise on how it should be written, and grant permission to publish it, and all those things undermine our standing as professionals. That in turn undermines our ability to argue for the freedom to publish substantive, credible stories that will be read because they matter and because our readers trust how they were produced. We don’t advise chemists, physicists, surgeons, literary scholars, historians, biologists, or mathematicians on how best to do their work. If we genuinely believe that what we do merits professional respect and an essential measure of autonomy, why do we so willingly accede to non-journalists telling us how to do our jobs?”

Yeah! Like they said!

Print-to-Web integration and the Advent of New Devices has Shaken Up Production. This coupled with the adoption of more user-friendly CMS systems and device driven publishing taxes most organizations on the production, project management and change management fronts.

“Publishers have got to do things that are richer, more dynamic and interactive, not just transfer a static page from print to digital.”

Steve Grande, VP of Sales for Fry Communications

This is exceedingly difficult when many publications originating as traditional print based pubs are now transitioning (see struggling) to move to digital. Excessive stakeholder reviews and print based project management/review processes are dinosaurs in today’s digital world —a world where news is immediate, influence is measured by trust and originality expands with devices and technology.  Brands that want to be successful need to embrace speed and adopt the concept of being nimble, whether they inhabit 500sq ft or 50 floors. It’s not just about undermining an editor’s expertise or dragging out a project. It’s about the final outcome. It’s about your brand.

—Britta