Mobile & trust – content strategy revisited

A while ago now, I wrote about the fact that “content strategy” isn’t a document but that sometimes we are asked to produce one. My response was to bring together the range of documentation, research and other elements that might inform your content strategy and satisfy the frequent organisational desire for quires of printed paper.
More about content strategy documentation

More recently the need to define and codify what content strategy looks like has been described as content strategy modelling. So it made sense to look at this in more detail and how the model might relate to the documents without getting in the way of the strategy itself. You can find a new blog post from me about this on the emarketeers website

But the more I looked at this area the more it became apparent that the content strategy model is increasingly a trust model. I first started looking at trust models for digital content back in 2007! Then my model looked like this.

heirarchy-of-trust

I should stress that this is trust between the two human sides of the equation rather than trust in the underlying technology. The tech – whether it’s a desk top behemoth or a state of the art wearable, is merely an interface which brokers the relationship.

Factoring trust into content strategy

A its simplest, your content strategy should be comprised of a collectively understood system and process designed to take content from conception to delivery point. It is defined by both business objectives and user needs and evidenced through a range of elements in marketing/communications, product and service delivery.

Content means business

To create a robust content strategy model you need access to, and an understanding of, 3 areas:

  1. Business objectives – as defined in the business plan (or similar) and often refined in light of annual targets, launches, seasons pushes etc.
  2. User needs – not only what they want from you but how these needs reflect broader social expectations and emotional states.
  3. Content process – from idea to publication and including all the boring stuff such as back end functionality and sign off processes.

Some of you will be nodding smugly at this point but it doesn’t do to get too comfy. Walk with me…

Evolving content environments

One reason we all need to stay on our toes is the frightening speed with which users and their content environments evolve. An environment can be anything from a website, to a social media platform, to point of sale messaging, both online and instore.

We all responded to the demands of mobile – in some shape or form – and “responsive design” has transformed the look and feel of content on the web. But that was just Phase 1.

Phase 1 was very much about about size/length and shape and the media queries that define what goes where dependent on the device being used. More about media queries

That was the start, my friends. Just the start…

Enabling trust as part of Phase 1

The fact that we now absorb the bulk of our content via mobile devices has influenced everything – from the way we entertain ourselves, to the way we shop, or even absorb news.

The recent brouhaha around fake news is, in my view, an example of how profound the mobile influence has been. Would it have been such an issue if we’d all had to sit at our desk top computers or unzip our lap tops to get at and then to share it?

And mobile wifi is now more important to people than sex, alcohol or chocolate, revealed a recent survey by iPass.

A study by the Mobile Marketing Association in 2010 indicated that, back then, just 6% of consumers purchased products or services via mobile, and 6.5% of retailers offered mCommerce sites. By September 2016, retailers were seeing up to 50% of sales coming through mobile, according to a research paper from Bijou Commerce.

Bijou also talked about trust being a key factor in the dynamic. This is hardly surprising if you accept that interacting via mobile is a much more intimate experience. The more intimate the experience the more important trust is.

Plus mobile, while bringing many benefits, is also stress-testing trust. Cyber bullying, sexting and online fraud have all been better enabled by mobile. A new report – the UK Millennial Study: Privacy vs. Customer Experience in Retail – indicates that UK’s millennials have growing security concerns around sharing personal information with retailers, even though they continue to shop online. Read more about this report on the Internet Retailing website

Data breaches suffered by brands as diverse as Yahoo, Talk Talk and JD Wetherspoons – to name but three – all put the trust dynamic under tension. Mobile access via banking apps, tap and pay etc, exponentially increase the number of occasions when things can go tits up.

So what does that mean for content strategists?

Most critical is the need to establish an emotional context for the user journey so we can establish and address the trust pinch points. So when we map user journeys we need to think about 3 things:

  1. The timeline.
  2. Steps/stages and actions along that timeline.
  3. The emotions the user is experiencing while undertaking (or considering) those steps and actions.

A classic example of such a pinch point is a website that suddenly whisks you off to an e-commerce platform, with a different look and feel, right at the point of purchase. It may have to be done but how it’s done can make the customers more or less apprehensive.

Other trust pinch point examples include users confronting unclear, or hard to find or use, size guidelines; or poor colour rendering in fashion and furnishings content prompting returns or dissatisfaction (you might want to read this blog post on the colour issue).

You can also add to the list jargony or overly wordy Terms & Conditions, inconsistency (anywhere), overly florid language or sales hyperbole, offers and discounts dependent on a lot of (hard to meet) small print – even 404 pages (not just how many but how they are worded).

And while broken links and missing pages may be easy to fix, when viewed as content issues, the impact on trust and therefore on brand are far harder to remedy.

TalkTalk allegedly lost 100,000 customers after data that included credit cards, bank account numbers, names and phone numbers was revealed to have been stolen. Chief amongst the criticism was its slowness to inform customers and the relevant consumer watchdog. How a digital content strategy might communicate such a breach response might be an interesting addition to more traditional disaster and content modelling.

Regaining trust starts with admitting scope and culpability in the problem, but how much better if the breach of trust does not happen in the first place? You may not be able to fend off every single cyber attacker but you sure as heck can do something about those Ts & Cs and the dreadful colour rendering on that pashmina in your online catalogue.

Maybe I should do some more work on that pyramid…

Branded content – clients, power, talent & focaccia

cat with breadBack when I was a girl bread came as white, brown, sliced or in a loaf. Now… gluten free spelt focaccia anyone?

So it is with content. Back in the day there was print. Then there was digital. It was words, some pictures… then a little podcast, some video. Now, let me talk to you about… content focaccia.

The Drum’s Content Marketing Breakfast

I attended a content marketing breakfast organised by The Drum last week. It was the panel that drew me; Kaylee King-Balentine, director at The New York Times, ITN Production’s Head of Branded Content – Simon Baker, Justin Pearse managing director of The Drum Works, digital social director of MOI Joe Edwards and Clare O’Brien senior industry programmes manager of IAB UK. Let’s call them “the bakers”.

But I was also drawn by the focaccias, the ciabattas, the bagels and the brioche. The sourdough and the spelt. Or, to bring this metaphor back into the room: the branded content, the marketed content, the native content, the sponsored editorial, the branded entertainment and the promotional content.

Understanding the ingredients

If, in 1975, say, you’d asked me to distinguish between focaccia and ciabatta, I would have politely explained that I wasn’t that type of girl. Now I both understand the ingredients and have very strong views about which is the most appropriate to serve with Genoa salami. I’m confident when it comes to bread. And I’m confident when it comes to content.

As was the Drum panel.

Orange is the New Black

Lets take Kaylee King-Balentine, who worked on the branded content created to promote Netflix’s Orange is the New Black. To all intents and purposes this is journalism at its best. But its reason for being is to promote, that is to say commercially spotlight (aka sell), Netflix programming.

The branding is subtle. Netflix were, apparently, keen to explore just how branded the content could be made to be – for example, by, possibly, adding interviews with cast members. In the end, apart from the relevant idents and credits, the on-screen tie-in is  restricted to a relevant interview with the author of the book upon which the series is based.

But, would the outcome have been the same if the two forces squaring up had not been Netflix and T Brand Studio, The New York Times’ branded content unit – emerging behemoths both – but a small agency and a big client? Or an inhouse marketing team faced with board members screaming about dwindling sales and the need for cut backs?

As content becomes more complex and more nuanced across the inform/sell – editorial/advert divide, where do you draw the line? And even if you know where to draw the line, will your client or boss let you?

Church & state

Justin Pearse of The Drum Works confidently describes a church and state divide between The Drum editorial team and The Drum Works team. But it’s not simply a question of real-time teams and decision making. Take The Economist, among others, which is coming up with interesting ways of re-presenting its back catalogue.

Articles written under the editorial banner and retaining this integrity, are repackaged for second use and sponsored by a corporate or other third-party with its own, post-partum agenda for use. What, potentially, is the impact there?

cat with mouseIt’s a bit like Schrödinger’s Cat (ah, suddenly the image at the start of this blog becomes clear). If you box up content with one or two other elements that could have a deleterious effect on that content, how do you asses what that impact might be? I’m not suggesting there’s automatically something noxious about co-branding content this way; just how do we know – before we do it?

The consequences of getting it wrong can be fatal. And even major brands can mess things up. Microsoft and NME being two, but you’d be hard pressed to find the original content that caused the problem now (if the link the the article I just signposted you to is anything to go by).

Increasingly those who are required to oversee content need to deploy what is, in effect, editorial judgement, but without necessarily having had any editorial experience or training. It’s like asking an engineer to bake bread, to a baker to perform heart surgery, or a surgeon to fix an engine. It’s interesting how many of the serious players in branded content production now recruit from journalism.

Okay. Where am I going with this?

  1. Content can’t go backward. As new forms of content and branded content are redolent with good content, you wouldn’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water. Or the bread out with the tin.
  2. Rules can be written but are seldom read. Given the speed at which digital content, its audiences and delivery platforms are evolving, rules – even if read – best describe the past. Not the future.
  3. Which brings me to the third thing…

The third thing

We pay content creators and marketers for their skills, yes, but do we reward what is, in effect, their ability to exert editorial judgement?

Journalists constantly refine their “nose for news”, as getting the big stories brings both recognition and remuneration.  To both sniff out and develop a story requires an ability to work independently. Keeping a lid on your scoop until you’re ready publish and not being faced down by the politician/business/celebrity who would rather you didn’t, helps cultivate this independence and an essential editorial integrity.

Marketers and agencies acquire the ability judge and deliver on behalf of brands, as that is where their recognition and reward comes from. But these skillsets don’t regularly require the exclusion of the brand from the content, which really good branded content often does.

I’ve been involved in various initiatives designed to nurture digital talent and am currently a great fan of Amanda Davie’s Digital Talent @Work. The reality is that the digital pace is so fast that those who work in it are not necessarily given the learning and development support they need to hone core skills, never mind the list of new ones that branded content may demand of them.

I suspect that what it really boils down to is taking a far, far wider look at what skills you want your digital talent to exhibit; and accepting that those in charge of content need to enjoy a status and power base that would allow them to stand firm in a branded content face off.

So… if you’re a business or an organisation out there and you’re feeling a bit chuffed because you’ve just got a content strategist/web editor/marketer/copywriter to back down over something. It could be you, rather than they, that got it wrong.

Now that would be half baked.

Change the language, change the culture

There’s an English expression about letting the tail wag the dog. The inference is something lesser being allowed to influence something more substantial to a too great degree. Small things should not overly influence big things.

Within organisations there is sensible context for this. Sometimes silos can have a profound and unhealthy influence on organisational direction, ambition and culture. In such cases the tail may be controlled by strong personalities who wield power and influence. Or the dog is is in the hands of a hierarchy content to let things carry on much the way they have always done.

I have found such tail and dog dynamics at board and senior management team level, all the way down to (but not always including) the shop floor. IT was one area where, traditionally, such a dynamic might be found.

Take a scenario where the IT head honcho has been in post some time, running a small and similarly long-serviced team. Collectively they hold the IT infrastructure together and little has changed over the years. Everybody else is petrified that one or all of the IT inner sanctum will leave and the system will come crashing down. Tails traditionally wagged dogs using fear and mystery. If I don’t understand what’s going on how can I fix or change things?

Not all tail wagging is bad

Tails should sometimes wag dogs. Sometimes dogs have had their day for far too long. Dogs who refuse to be taught new tricks.

Enter the semantic tail…

Language is often indicative of organisational culture. It can have a practical role to play. I first began to study this in earnest when I was working within the National Health Service.

Language silos could be highly efficient – a surgeon and consultant discussing a patient in precise technicality, unhindered by soothing rhetoric or ‘layman’s terms’. This procedure would achieve this outcome with this likelihood of success or complications. No need to gussy it up for the patient.

But it could also be used to make something major seem less so. There was an over fondness for using words like ‘challenge’ to describe a ‘problem’, for example.

I became very interested in how risks (and risks are always part of organisational activity) are described. On the one hand, like the surgeon and consultant, the semantics of risk could be precise and used to discuss what could go wrong, its likelihood and consequence, in no nonsense terms. It could also, sometimes, make something very major seem very everyday and less consequential. The description of risk became formulaic.

I began to discern the same patterns in the financial sector and in those organisations who operations could have profound impact on the environment – such as in the chemical and petroleum industries. Here it was less about formula and more about trivialising, in much the same way as frequent transatlantic flyers might call the Atlantic Ocean ‘the pond’.

Language and in particular preferred vocabularies within any organisation could exert subtle but profound influences on how an organisation regarded itself and those that interacted with it – employees, customers, wider communities…

Habla customer?

A more obvious but nonetheless disturbing manifestation is within those organisations that like to bandy their internal terminology around wider audiences. You know the sort of thing; website navigation that uses the same business unit descriptors as appear in the annual report and accounts, even though these descriptions bare little if any resemblance to the terms a customer might use.

Why call a spade a spade when you can call it an an earth moving implementation device? Internal business unit/activity names can reflect budget lines, organisational history, even business hubris but not always the basics – customer need and understanding, or usefulness.

But what I’ve also noticed and been lucky to play some part in, more than once, is the shifting of organisational attitude and attainment by shifting the language.

On it’s own it’s a tough call but it can help kick start change.

It can be as simple using the word spade… or ‘problem’ more often, or asking more specific questions in meetings, such as “Who is going to do this?” rather than “How are we going to approach this?”

Sometimes there’s a need to bring several languages together. Sales terminology needs to be mapped back to product development and then rationalised with support/after sales services. Sometimes shareholderese has to be demoted from first language status. Sometimes language needs to be braver, less… apologetic.

Often there is a need to go out and listen to customers and port some of that language back into the organisation. I recently spent several days dealing with a call centre over a mobile phone issue and whomever developed their scripts deserved to hear some very specific Anglo Saxon and Norse terms from my own vocabulary.

I stress was some higher authority I wanted to get at. It was very obvious that the call centre staff had been rehearsed in responses that they also found difficult and artificial. Which is why I made the point earlier about: ‘all the way down to (but not always including) the shop floor’. Often, when you get to the shop floor, you hear things the way they are. Shovel makers do not mince their words. And a spade is exactly what it should be.

 

So… what are we waiting for?

I’ve just had breakfast with a very interesting businessman. Great proposition, which he’s refined over the last couple of years and which offers material business help specifically to third sector, charities and educational organisations. Help that can be felt in the bottom line. What’s not to like?

He freely admits his brochure is a couple of year’s behind the intellectual curve of his thinking and that his website has not progressed beyond a holding page.

I took him to task – obviously.

But on the way back to  my office I started to think… what gives me the right?

Yes, I’m a wash with experience about how to use digital to change your business but my blog is looking distinctly out of date. I’ve been so busy, you see and my thinking has been evolving at a rate of knots as I work with different clients in different ways.

So… what am I waiting for?

My website is not only my business card and a source of reassurance for those people who have already come across me but it’s also my playground. My blog, in particular, should be where I think out loud.

I recently heard Nancy Kline speak at a conference about thinking for ourselves and resolved to reflect more on how I think and how the way I articulate those thoughts is so often framed by external influences and codes. (Influences and codes which also inhibit organisational thinking.) While ‘speaking my mind’ might be tricky sometimes, ‘thinking my mind’ should be something I allow myself to do more often.

So sorry G, I had no right to take you to task when I should be using iterative, adaptable, powerful and accessible digital media more often. What are any of us waiting for?

 

Online marketing comms – rules tighten. Let the seller beware

From March 1, any communication on your website that sets out to tell users about goods, services, opportunities, freebies… but where the primary or ultimate  aim is to sell something, will be regulated by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).

The ASA is the UK’s independent advertising watchdog, responsible for controlling marketing communications in all media in the UK. (They work with statutory partners such as Trading Standards, the Office of Fair Trading and the communications regulator Ofcom.)

The March 1 changes cover the marketing communications of all organisations operating from the UK on their own websites and in other non-paid for space online under their control eg Facebook.

The ASA talks about copy a great deal in its guidance but their remit could easily extend to any type of content, for example a home page video or a viral campaign on YouTube.

Ready?

The ASA’s extended remit may come as a surprise to a lot of organisations (the ASA’s own cross-media advertising campaign was only launched at the weekend). As always the big question is who’ll get their knuckles slapped first, for what and how hard?

The ASA’s punitive powers already include obliging broadcasters to comply with ASA rulings but  it’s also brought in some new sanctions from March 1 including “an enhanced” name and shame policy. And paid-for search advertising that links to non-compliant marketing communications may be removed with the agreement of the search engines.

It’s also important to keep in mind that marketing content that falls under the scope of the ASA’s remit may not necessarily include a price or seek an immediate financial transaction. Let the seller beware.

The change falls under the scope of UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the Committee of Advertising Practice / CAP) Code.

CAP decided to extend the digital remit of the ASA in response to formal recommendations from a cross-section of UK industry, including the Internet Advertising Bureau. Nick Stringer, director of regulatory affairs for the IAB stresses that self-regulation must maintain pace with today’s fast-moving digital environment and changing consumer behaviour. “The ASA’s extended digital media remit aims to protect internet users and enhance their trust, as well as industry and political confidence, in the medium.”

What’s covered:

  • advertisers’ own marketing messages on their own websites, regardless of sector, type of businesses or size of organisation
  • marketing communications in other non-paid-for space under the advertiser’s control, such as social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

What’s not covered:

  • classified private advertisements
  • press releases and other public relations material
  • editorial content
  • political advertisements
  • corporate reports and investor relations.

User generated content?

ASA points out that generated content (UGC) that has been adopted and incorporated within an organisation’s own marketing communications could be covered. This will be considered on a case by case basis.

For example: “ASA is likely to take a very different view of a consumer’s positive comment that has been posted, by the website owner, in a prominent way on the front page of its website, than if that same comment appeared within the context of a consumer message board moderated for harmful and offensive language or images only”.

How to make sure you comply

CAP is offering guidance and courses. The IAB has also including some useful FAQs on its website. From a content strategy (CS) perspective the key thing is to make sure that all your content is fit for purpose and doesn’t fall shy of any regulation.

While the March 1 changes are the latest, many websites fall short of what’s required elsewhere – for example Part 3 of the Disability Discrimination Act which covers access and came into force back in 2004. Ringing any bells? It means your website must be accessible to blind and disabled users and this should be influencing everything from colour choices to meta data.

Content audits and the use of copydecks are just two of the CS tools where regulatory or legislative requirements could be captured and verified. Even without the weight of law, large organisations need to be running tight ships – eg who wrote it, when, who signed it off? Clearly defined and maintained internal content creation processes are a must. And let’s not forget content training that not only improves content creation skills but raises general organisational awareness of why all content, on’ and offline is so important.

Apart from anything else, if you can demonstrate you did your best to comply with this law or that regulation, the punitive response maybe be less harsh than in organisations where content is chaos rather than king.

Useful links

» More about the CAP guidance
» IAB Extending the digital media remit of the Advertising Standards Authority FAQs PDF