Content Strategy: the Art of Engaging Your User

by NextMontreal on November 21, 2010

Today’s Technology Positions for Tomorrow — Part One: Content Strategy

Kirsten WeisenburgerThis is the first article in a series about emerging positions in technology, which explores the philosophies behind the creation of these positions, how they inform our futures, and practical ways their principles can be executed in any organization to better position it for the future.

Kirsten Weisenburger is the Content Strategist at stresslimit design, the young Hochelaga-Maisonneuve web design and digital media agency where good work is the result of good play. Sitting at her desk in the unassuming residence-style office space on the edge of town, Kirsten sits at the precipice of developing web technologies, surrounded by young faces, fresh ideas, and a new attitude toward work that is shaping up to be the future of innovation everywhere. We sat down over tea to discuss content strategy, how its principles help anyone writing content anywhere, and the philosophy behind the rise of this field that is part of the larger shift in technological development forcing all of us to change the way we design, deploy, and dream.

“Oh my God, it’s all about the people.”

With over ten years working in the web, and a recent two year stint at Mitch Joel’s Twist Image, Kirsten is no stranger to innovative digital marketing and advertising. And however fascinating this space has become with our unrelenting advancements in web technologies, Kirsten still describes herself as a facilitator and enabler of people, not technology. “The Internet is all about human relationships…what we often find is that the human touch is exactly what’s needed to take a project to the next level. We’ve got the infrastructure, and we’ve got a client that has needs, and we’ve got ideas, but how to actually get that to a point where human beings can play with it and enjoy it? Creating that engagement is what makes all the difference between an interface and a community.”

“The Art of Engaging Your User”

Content strategy ensures that “business goals do not interfere with what the customer wants to experience.” This includes all points throughout the content lifecycle, from conception to birth to development to care to post mortem. Behind the scenes, content strategists can be responsible for the development of personas, which is a way of further segmenting a targeted market by creating imagined characters to visualize the different types of users who would engage you in a like manner. Content strategists can also lead or consult interface design, the tone and manner of content, and how content is integrated throughout a campaign. And as she runs from post to post conducting audits, rewriting copy, or even specing new sites, she sees her plight under a unified mantra: “what I really do is just get inside the head of the user.”
While most of us may never have the opportunity or the stomach for this kind of work full-time, the ever-increasing majority of our community has to create content somewhere. Good content strategy teaches us to remember the real reason we are creating that content in the first place. Here are Kirsten’s three biggest roadblocks to achieving the real objective of engaging today’s user.

Roadblock 1: Narcissism

“The number one problem I still see all the time is a website that’s all about itself. It’s all about this is what we do and this is what we make and this is what we have. Nothing about you. Nothing about what you want or what you’re interested in, or even why you’re here at all on the website. People are self-involved, but what’s more, they want a transparent experience. They don’t want a whole bunch of stuff between themselves and what they want.”

Copy. Images. Navigation. Is it all user-facing? Is it easy for and does it speak to the need of the user that is on your website? However amazing you find yourself or your product or service to be, whatever content you are producing for whatever means to whatever audience, it’s always one website (or other medium) talking to one human being.

Roadblock 2: Content Overload

“If you’re a business, or even if you’re a social media website or a community, people are not going to read much. They are going to scan.”
Take a bulk of copy, break it into bits, put it on multiple pages, make it scannable, and flip it around so it’s talking to the reader instead of just about you. “That’s exactly how you respect your user, by taking a web property and turning it into an experience that’s pleasurable and interesting.” And as far as search engines, quality copy will always trump quantity in the long run.

Roadblock 3: Isolation

“People build a website. They put it on their server. And they maybe promote it a little bit at first, and they just leave it like a ghost ship floating out there in the middle of nowhere. There’s no effort. Even a blog sometimes … there’s no back and forth. It’s a very small subset of the web community that understands the community side of things. 80% of people involved in marketing or the web pay lip service to social media, but they don’t actually use it.”

“If you can put a face and a name and a character and a voice behind your organization and make it sing and talk to everybody, it’s lovely. Otherwise your website is just this cold thing that you have to update every four years, and it’s just a chore when it could be a living entity that’s actually communicating and listening.”

“It takes more effort to talk in your fake marketing voice.”

“In the internet marketing community, there are people who are actually out there having conversations and having really meaningful experiences, but there is a whole other subset of the internet marketing community that is pretending to have conversations for the pure marketing value of it.”
It hasn’t clicked yet for many marketers that speaking truthfully is the new way to market yourself. Tell us something real about who you are and what you care about.

Trust = reliability + delight

In his book, The Brand Gap, Marty Neumeier talks about delight as half of the formula for building trust, the key factor in influencing a person’s buying decision. Stresslimit design, Kirsten’s employer, has made a living off of this principle. Beauty and playfulness are the main objectives for this team of nearly a dozen, many of whom are both full-time artists as well as full-time web people. Innovation stemming from Montreal’s artistically-inclined culture is what will give this city the leg-up on the next wave of web development. As technology pushes our culture into a more open, collaborative, and instantaneous era, we know everything already. Differentiation is in delight. Delight is in beauty, inspiration, and engagement. Art.

“Play.”

Before they’re old enough for school, kids are learning the most essential elements of existence, such as motor skills, spatial awareness, and communication through play. At some point the knowledge became too complex for us to teach it to our offspring playfully, and school was invented. (Or at least, that’s my theory.) The real point is that technology is reaching a position where we can educate ourselves and our children in a way that truly engages the curiosity of the human spirit: through play. Customers are starting to realize it too. And the organizations who are not able to truly grasp this massive shift in culture and the way it is changing the face of business processes such as marketing (especially social media!), will continue to find themselves keeping agencies like stresslimit in business.

Next article: Evangelism

My name is Christopher Pineda and I am determined to change the world. I am a part-time consultant for Embrase Business Consulting and a full-time knowledge sponge. I want to identify the bigger pictures and find the truth in our society, because it’s the only way to understand the human spirit and innovate business into something that truly addresses what we need. Now welcoming suggestions.