Thursday, April 24, 2014

You Don’t Have to Throw Virgins into Volcanoes to Create Great Content

Creating great content is NOT easy. But, there is a proven methodology to creating fantastic content that converts your website visitors into customers.
It’s about answering certain questions and developing tools that you and your entire team can use to create and manage inspiring content.

Proven Methodology

Content is a conversation. You’re acting as seller in a marketplace, and you need to convince your prospect to buy.  Therefore, you must answer the following questions with team-developed tools that drive consensus and get everyone working off the same page in the strategy.
1.   Who are we speaking to? Create personas to answer this question. Rich detail will create empathetic connections for your content creators, who will dive directly into solving your customer’s pain points.
2. Who are we? If you don’t define your brand, you will drown in a sea of sameness. Create identity pillars to sharpen your brand in the marketplace.
3. What are we trying to say? A messaging architecture will create priority for your messages.
4. How do you say it? How you say what you want to say is almost as important as what you say. We’ve developed voice and tone for dozens of brands and find it’s the critical lynchpin for creating content that jumps off the page.
5. When and where do you say it? If you don’t have an editorial calendar, you’re drowning. 
Want to create content for your brand? Afraid you have information that's too technical, or a not-so-sexy subject matter that no one can understand? Or worse, your stakeholders think they have to write every web page like it’s an academic journal? That’s our area of expertise. Email Ahava today.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Content Strategy: 4 Different Types of Content Teams

Creating an effective content marketing campaign means that you may have to draw content and subject matter experts from all over your company. Doing this requires massive organization, and a deep pocket of patience. Understanding how to keep information bubbling out to your target audiences means understanding how to organize and structure your content teams.

There are many types of potential content teams. The makeup of your workforce will influence your workflow. You may have any one of the following types of content teams:

  • Siloed
  • Distributed
  • Centralized
  • Rogue

Siloed Content Teams

When companies don’t communicate in an organized fashion about their content, they create siloed content workforces. You can see the effects of siloed communication when you find FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) on one part of a global organization’s website, and a PDF file containing the exact same information, but in long, boring paragraphs, on another part of the site.  This begs the following questions:

  • When did Department A create the FAQs?
  • Did they know Department B was creating the PDF Guide? If so, why didn’t they collaborate?
  • Who is updating the FAQs when things change?
  • Who is updating the PDF Guide to reflect those changes?

Chances are neither Department A nor B knew about the other’s content. It could be that Department A read Department B’s boring guide and decided to break it up into FAQ web pages. That team didn’t let Department B know. In any case, consumers are very confused; they are having two different conversations with the same company – and they do not know which conversation to trust. 
While content silos frustrate content professionals, they do more to hurt the customer—therefore, hurting the business—sometimes to the tune of millions of dollars.


Distributed Content Teams

“Distributed” in this case simply means that your content teams do not sit together in one place. Rather, they are scattered throughout your organization, like so many leaves in the wind.
Distributed content teams typically are the hallmark of large, multinational corporations or institutions like government, higher education and healthcare.  Sometimes the different teams exist for political or budgetary reasons – but whatever the reason, if these teams are not well trained and motivated, the content suffers, the consumer suffers and so the business suffers.
In the model of a distributed content workforce, different departments are given access to certain publishing powers within the content management system (CMS). Depending on workflow, they can hit “Publish” and have the page go live when they are finished. In some cases, there is an extra checkpoint, where presumably, a trained editor is looking at the content to ensure it fulfills all of the organizations’ standards for web content.
Distributed content teams are usually a necessary evil and they present a variety of challenges. However, they can be incredibly useful in situations where you just don’t have enough manpower on your central content team to keep all of your content fresh.


Centralized Content Teams

Centralized content teams are typically marketing or editorial departments that have complete control over any content published to any of an organization’s digital media properties. While complete control sounds like a really fun fantasy, in actuality, centralized content teams can suffer from any of the following:

  • Not enough resources or staff to cover all of the content
  • Massive backlogs of content because of bottlenecks in workflow
  • Confusion over priority on creating and publishing content
  • Lack of clarity about who owns certain types of content
  • Lack of subject matter experts who will help clarify content

Centralized content teams are also usually comprised of a motley crew of individuals: Former journalists, marketing managers, data analysts, and designers and developers. This can typically lead to in-fighting about who is more important (you all are!) or whose projects deserve priority. Also, depending on the size of the organization, centralized content teams may be exhausted all the time, because they just have too much content to manage.

Rogue Content Teams

Of all of the different types of content teams, rogue content teams are my favorite because I love rebels. Did you know that Thomas Jefferson said, “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing”? However, in the case of rogue content teams, they can cause a tremendous amount of trouble for you if you are responsible for the brand and content floating out there on the currents of the web.
Rogue content teams typically surface in organizations like hospitals and higher education. Doctors want their own Facebook pages, faculty members want to publish research on their own websites – and who can blame them? The web is a self-publishing medium and the doctor wants to get the word out about his services. A professor doesn’t want to hear that she can’t directly publish her research to her site—it’s “publish or perish” (pun intended here) in her world. Why should she be at the mercy of your governance standards? She doesn’t necessarily care about the brand of the university; she cares about her own personal brand.
In my experience, you can actually learn a lot from rogue content teams, and turn those lessons into a positive experience. Consider the fact that they had the gumption to go out there and create their own digital properties. This means that they:

·       Are extremely motivated to converse with their target audiences

·       Understand the innate importance of communicating using digital technologies

That makes them potential advocates in helping you persuade your senior leadership for better publishing standards within the organization. It also means that you may have to give them extra attention by giving their content priority in the beginning of your seduction process. However, if you manage it right, they will reward you by letting others in the organization know they should trust you.

Which Content Team is Right for Your Organization?

The truth is, any of the above models (except rogue) may work for your organization, and you may have to use a blended mix from all of the above three. You can have a distributed content workforce that has access to some minor parts of the CMS, and a centralized content workforce that does most of the heavy lifting on content. You may have rogue content teams that you need to get under control. Here’s a table to sum up our comparisons:

Type of content team




·       A lot of content gets created because there is no over-arching process to go through

·       Departments do not communicate with each other
·       The audience is confused
·       The Departments are confused


·       Can be useful in situations where you don’t have enough manpower on your central content team to keep all of your content fresh
·       For multinational organizations, can deal effectively with language, culture and other differences

·       Difficult to govern
·       Difficult to achieve consistency
·       Need careful, thorough training


  • Have complete control over content

·       Not enough resources or staff 
·       Massive backlogs of content  
·       Confusion over priority
·       Lack of clarity about ownership
·       Lack of subject matter experts 


·       Are extremely motivated to converse with their target audiences
·       Understand the value of web content
·       Unhampered by political concerns

·       Almost impossible to govern
·       No interest in adhering to workflow
·       No stake in overall quality or consistency

This article first appeared as a book chapter in Ahava Leibtag's book, The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web.  Download the first Chapter for free.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How to Stop the Content Marketing Naysayers

If you’re doing content marketing right in your organization, you’re going to ruffle a few feathers. I’ll say it again—if you’re doing content marketing right in your organization, people are going to feel uncomfortable. That’s good news for you, because it means that you are truly affecting change.  It may be challenging, though, because the naysayers and the Debbie downers may influence others to doubt your efforts.

I’ve found three ways to inspire a content marketing culture in any organization—no matter the industry, size or people involved. I use the word inspire deliberately because you should be excited about using this methodology to spark and sustain conversations with your target audiences. Inspiration is a word that suggests momentum and dynamism, and I want you to feel inspired.

I also know that it can be difficult to be the one in the organization constantly beating the drum; always reminding people of the Big Hairy Audacious Idea (BHAG) to attract and engage audiences with valuable, secret-revealing digital content. 

3 Ways to Inspire an Effective Content Marketing Culture

Here are three effective solutions for inspiring a content marketing culture AND keeping the naysayers at bay:

  1. Set expectations: Any strategic, sound content marketing pilot project is going to take six to nine months to show measurable results. If it takes shorter, celebrate the wins! However, most companies will see that it takes time to move the needle. Let people know you’re in it for the long haul, so they won’t stop proselytizing apocalyptic digital doom too soon.
  2. Define roles: In absolutely every publishing organization (and if you’re doing content marketing, you’re a publisher), everyone who touches content needs to understand the role they play in the process.  So, follow the chart below to define everyone’s roles. The people in supportive roles should feel direct influence over the success of the content marketing campaign, as well as a general sense of satisfaction that comes from taking part in a larger undertaking.             
Creates Assignments
Sources Content
Writing & Sourcing
Final Approval
Prepare content for distribution
Distribute content
Analyze content performance & behavior

  1. Define emotional roles: This one is most important, I think, but I leave it for last because it’s hard to understand until you try tactics 1 and 2.  There are people who don’t want to be visionary and embrace a new, strategic approach to digital communications and content. For the people who are excited, and who do want to beat the drum, you need to provide a place in their head to file the professionals slower to change.
  2. Everyone needs to know where he or she falls in the details vs. vision, content creator vs. keeper of the brand roles.

Understanding the Emotional Content Marketing Matrix

Look at the “emotional content marketing matrix” below:

·       Enterpriser: The person who isn’t involved in the daily weeds of decisions but keeps everything moving at the 10,000-foot level. He or she can see the entire branding/marketing puzzle.
·       Producer: This professional keeps the project going and moving—the master juggler. He or she understands coordinating with the artist.
·       Artist: The creative personality, this person is always coming up with new ideas. But he or she may get tired of the people in the organization who are constantly questioning content marketing efforts. That’s why the artist turns to the keeper of the flame for inspiration and encouragement. 
·       Keeper of the Flame: He or she answers the question, “Why are we doing this again?” This is the drum beater—the owner of the BHAG—who cheerleads and keeps everyone focused on the vision of what you’re trying to do with content marketing.
(Hat tip to Neeraj Bhagat for showing me this matrix in a different context).

Where are you on the chart? For some content marketing professionals, you may be serving all four roles. That’s too many—so you need to bring in the people from your organization who are going to help you sustain the vision AND get the work done.
Again, if you’re content marketing the way it should be done, there are going to be people within your corporate culture who may not be 100 percent supportive. That’s ok. Set their expectations, define their roles and identify who they are on the emotional content marketing matrix. You will set up an inspirational culture destined for content marketing success.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Why your Brochure-First Approach is Killing your Marketing

So many of us start by saying something like:

“We need a brochure.”
“We need an ad.”
“We need a social media strategy.”
That is the WRONG place to start. Don’t start with the content.

Don’t fall over in shock. That’s right—I just told you not to start with the content. Instead, start with something much simpler: “What are we trying to say?"

Start in the Right Place: Four Potential Fixes

I have been so lucky to consult with some of the largest brands in the world, and I see all of them making the same mistakes you probably make. They think about how they want to say their messages, before they think about what they are trying to say.

Starting with a brochure, or a microsite, or a Facebook page just means you are perpetuating this mistake. For many of you, changing this approach is challenging. You are positioned in siloed departments that don’t allow you the freedom of integrated marketing. Communications sits outside of PR, which sits outside of marketing, which leads to workflow that doesn't work, data that doesn't make sense and a lot of head banging everyday (and not the fun kind, either.)

Here are some suggestions to combat your organization’s issues:

1.    Focus on the RIGHT START: Start with what you are trying to say. Work with your colleagues, no matter their department, to begin defining your message.

2.    Pilot an integrated project: Convince your execs that better work comes when all heads are together in a room. Try an integrated project that shows what magic can happen when you wave your wand at an idea, instead of a piece of content.

3.    Back to your customers: Focus on your customer’s needs. They may need all different types of collateral—not just a brochure, not just a website, not just a postcard. By thinking through their needs, learning styles and communication patterns, you will produce better end collateral.

4.    Hire a consultant: Content strategists and process engineers can help you learn where you are leaking efficiency in your workflow. Perhaps you think you already know. When we consult on workflow issues, we always find there's a combination of the obvious and the hidden that are causing workflow problems. A consultant can look at your issues with a different point of view and bring fresh solutions.

This first appeared in our newsletter, Content Ahas, which you can sign up for in the upper-right hand corner of this blog.

Confessions of a Content Strategist: Melanie Phung


Raise your hand if you're frustrated by the way content gets treated in your organization.  Ok, now that we all have our hands raised, what are we going to do about it?
Read Melanie's story and find some real solutions and thought-provoking ideas around making content better, and more importantly; making it safe for organizations to make it a priority. 

1. Tell me about your background and how you got started in content strategy.

I started my career in publications management before moving on to SEO and then eventually discovering the world of "content strategy." In a way, I think I've always been a ("wanna be") content strategist at heart; I just didn't realize until a few years ago that this discipline had a name and a whole community of practitioners behind it that was dedicated to the same issues and best practices I've been thinking about for years.
It wasn't until Kristina Halvorson invited me to CONFAB that I saw all the pieces come together and I started to understand all the work the community had already done to address the common questions and issues related to content. I really love how content strategy spans so many sub-disciplines, which all come together to bridge the needs of organizations and their users.  I certainly still have a lot to learn from content strategists who've been at this longer than I have!

2. What is a major challenge you've experienced with content and how do you solve it?

A few issues that come to mind all relate to a theme of content not getting the respect it deserves. In many organizations, the planning, creation and governance of content very often take a back seat to technology or design considerations. I'm sure we've all heard "just write something" or "we'll fill that in later" when working on a project, as if anyone with passable language skills can create content out of nothing after all the other pieces have already been completed.  A strong content champion can help people understand where in the process content strategy can work its magic. 
I don't think there is a single tool or deliverable that suffices to address those types of issues. However, they are not insurmountable. Communication and teamwork are key.  You'll accomplish much more by:
  • Clearing roadblocks
  • Providing requirements before decisions are already set
  • Coming up with solutions (even before anyone notices they are needed)
... than by just pointing out problems or forcing people into processes that feel unnatural to them.
You can't just hand people documents, or even data, and expect that to change behaviors, but you can move mountains if you help people solve their pain points.

3. What, in your opinion, is the biggest challenge for content professionals currently in the marketplace?

In a marketplace where organizations can swing from chasing the latest trends to trying to prove bottom-line "ROI" for every activity, content strategists are under pressure to show a lot of value for things that may not be directly measurable. Figuring out how to prove value, again and again, to those who control the budgets, even if it's not directly obvious in a P&L (Profit & Loss) analysis, will continue to be a key challenge for content professionals.  

4. What do you think the next “big” thing in content will be?

Would it be a cop-out to say, "I have no idea"? I'm not one to chase "the next big thing". The latest tactics come and go, but high-level strategy tends not to be very trend focused. Some trends obviously have a huge impact on solving our audiences' needs (e.g., mobile usage) while others arguably do not (e.g., "we need to change all our content to be in X format to be relevant on Y social platform in order to go VIRAL!"). 
We need to keep the focus on bridging the needs of the business and the needs of its audience. So many organizations aren't doing the basics right that I think there is plenty of work for content strategists who can keep clients focused on doing the right things for the right reasons.

Melanie Phung is an online marketing and content strategist from Washington, DC. She believes great digital strategy helps bridge the divide between content, technology, and user experience. You can find her at or @melaniephung on Twitter.

Are you a content strategist in need of a confession? Let us know in the comments below, and don't be surprised if we reach out to you.