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.


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…

Content strategy isn’t a document but…

sledgehammer nutWhen Genghis Khan wanted to invade somewhere he went looking for his Mongol horde. He didn’t brush off the folder labelled “Invasion Strategy” and make sure his spreadsheets were in order.

But there is need for content strategists to produce supporting and defining documentation, even it it does take them away from the battlefield. Hence this blog.

When it comes to consultants and freelances, these document deliverables are often in support of project pricing, defining delivery scope and isolating the success measures by which they will be judged.

In the case of inhouse teams, the requirement to produce documentation may additionally be driven by the need to attract csuite attention and curry budget favour, as well as help raise the importance of content and its strategy internally.

The neeed for content strategy documentation

Content, particularly digital content, can seem amorphous to those not directly engaged in its oversight and creation; happening somewhere out there in the wild and woolly internet, while other business departments, such as sales or HR, operate more evidently and with a more direct link to business profitability and KPIs. Paperwork, like it or not, helps make content strategy more real.

Underneath it all there may be some fairly hefty spreadsheets and Word docs, but keep in mind your document readers, their interests and attention spans when it comes to who gets to see what (and why). A 10 page document may have more impact if its top level recommendations are actually delivered using a few punchy slides.

A lynchpin content strategy document can then pull together the top, top level overview, key recommendations, major resource impacts and the BIG risks from the underpinning documents, research and analyses. In terms of what the structure for this might look like, I’ve created the graphic below, along with a glossary of content strategy deliverables to help you Carol Vorderman your approach.

Content strategy documentation – graphic

CS documents

 Content strategy documentation – a glossary of document types

  • Business plan/objectives Content strategists should be familiar with the business plan and objectives for their organisation and have a version of this document, which maps the objectives to content initiatives and ambitions.
  • Calendars An ongoing content or editorial calendar should list key dates and events and what content is required and when, as well as where and how the content should be used. A good calendar rolls over 13 months so that learning from the current month can be captured and adjusted for a year hence (many events are annual, such publication of annual reports and accounts).
  • Card sorting A usability specialism but can be carried out more simply using Post-it notes and a blank wall. Often content projects founder because organisations have not reached real consensus about what content is required, where it should go and user friendly naming structures for navigation and headings.
  • Content audit/inventory A good way of assessing existing content before embarking on a new content project or existing content refresh. There are crawling tools that will allow you to catalogue web pages etc but you also need qualitative (human) evaluation.
  • Content gap analysis Can form part of a content audit or card sorting exercise. Based on your understanding of your users and their needs, what are you not facilitating for them with your content? A really good tool for developing this is the Core Model from Are Halland.
  • Content management system guide This is a CS produced document designed to give a top level guide, under which sits more detailed CMS documentation. It acts as a bridge between machine and human content creation processes.
  • Content ownership/ responsibilities Who does what and why? Chain of command and where the buck stops.
  • Content style guide Easy to use and to the point; covering style, tone of voice, key messages… Should work for all delivery platforms – web, email, social media; be very aware of ‘mobile first’ and content management systems, as well as internal processes, such as compliance.
  • KPIs/success measures What we measure and why we measure it. Should cover more than Google Analytics and should join the dots between content, profits and resources.
  • Personas & Scenarios These use pictures and pen portraits to look beyond the data, bringing to life audiences/audience segments and understanding what they want from your content.
  • Stakeholder surveys/ interviews As with user surveys/interviews listed below but applied to internal stakeholders such as sales teams and external stakeholders such as partner organisations and referrers.
  • Timelines Well developed timelines for projects should include duration, start and complete dates and time required for specific activities such as writing (one activity) and sign off (another activity). Should be constantly reviewed.
  • User surveys/interviews These can be anything from a quick down and dirty online survey composed of a few questions, to a major incentivised questionnaire and focus groups.

I’ve also created a guide to my Top 5 Content Strategy Deliverables –  with links to some good examples and templates. You can find this guide on the Emarketeers website

Why Rembrandt knows more about monetising content than the Premier League

On consecutive pages of my favourite newspaper there were recently two stories that for me, at least, flagged up the conundrum (wrapped in a contradiction) faced by content owners; both in terms of how they control and how they monitise.

On page 7 of the paper there was a story from the National Gallery in London , which had lifted its ban on photography. Want a selfie with Rembrandt aged 63 – knock yourself out.

The gallery’s reasoning was that it couldn’t distinguish between visitors using their smartphones (and the gallery’s free wifi) to find out a little more about Rembrandt (Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, born in the Netherlands in 1606 and whose self portrait at the age of 63 was one of his last works) and those taking a crafty snap to post on Facebook.

Turn to page 8 in the same newspaper and there’s a story about the Premier League warning footy fans not to post smartphone videos of goals online. Obviously they don’t forsee their staff facing a problem telling the difference between the goal posters and someone simply texting a mate: “Our centre forward is a w**ker – get the beers in”. (To be fair, they are also clamping down on goals recorded from televised footage and then posted onlien, as well as developing a range of technologies to spot this type of copyright infringement.)


You can see where the Premier League is coming from. They make billions from selling the rights to such footage. Why should Sky or BT Sport part with ridiculous amounts of money (you can tell I’m not a footbal fan) if fans can share the highlights on Vine for free?

But the National Gallery must face a similar challenge, surely? Copyrighted images of priceless artworks are what keep galleries like the National running. If big business stops buying the rights to such images – “we want to use Rembrandt aged 63 as the cornerstone for a new male grooming ad campaign” – and visitors no longer pick up postcards and posters in the gallery shop, because they’re content with the picture they’ve have on their iPhone 5, the revenue loss is significant… catastrophic.

  • So, which approach is the right one?
  • The answer could be neither.
  • Both are husbanding content in a very traditional way.


The National Gallery made a judgement call based on resource (staff and best use of their time). It’s also a decision that brings it into line with other major galleries, such as the Tate (or, as I would put it, the National’s competitors).

The Premier League has made a decision based on its existing revenue model, relationships with its big spenders and the very human reaction to losing one’s grip on something, which is to grip tighter.

Both stories demonstrate how the ways in which people engage with an experience – a priceless art work, or a vital goal in injury time – have expanded.

The old master selfie and the six second loop of video uploaded to the Vine sharing platform are natural extensions of the National Gallery shop postcard, or the commiserative post-defeat pint.

Where next?

The BIG question is how do, or should, you monetise? On the face of it what you have is more opportunities to make less money.

Somebody recently gave me a copy of The Curve by Nicolas Lovell, a fantastic book that looks to make sense of the rapidly expanding opportunities to publish (and share) things digitally; audiences reluctance to pay anything for them and the need for those who own and control content to make money from it.

Much of his argument focuses on the need to harness the digital content landscape, not as an opportunity to make money (in the first instance) but to build relationships. Not the tweety, creaky relationships that evaporate in an instant but a bridge of two-way dialogue, trust, mutual respect and reward between the creator/curator and audience.

It is from the more robust platform that the process of identifying both what might be paid for at what price and who within this broader audience might pay what for it begins. I know, it’s a complicated sentence. Let’s put it into a bell curve.
  1. Get to know and engage with your audience really, really well.
  2. Look at what you have to sell digitally and how you might find exclusive elements within it worth paying top dollar for.
  3. Find the segments within your broad audience that will pay these top dollars.

It is both very simple and extremely difficult but Lovell has some impressive case studies.

And let’s take a leaf out of Rembrandt’s book. He may not have had a Vine account but he knew a thing or two about building relationships with patrons, which he did extremely successfully in the early part of his career (bar the odd cock up). He also used apprentices to produce lower priced copies and etchings.

What seems to be missing from both the National Gallery and the Premier League approach is serious (plus thoughtful and fresh) consideration of the mass market audience. (Well, you could argue that staff no longer telling gallery visitors to put their phones away removes a small source of irritation from the visitor experience perspective, but I don’t believe that was a major driver).

What it really smacks of is a desperate desire to keep the current model running smoothly. I think Rembrandt would be disappointed.

Content strategy – your future is calling

Time was digital content was a modest little thing – some lines of text, a few hyperlinks, a picture or two… We spoke in terms of email, websites and ‘above the fold’. SEO was a dark art and the big guns in the boardroom concerned themselves with turnover and market share.

But times, as they say, are a changing…

mobileIt’s hard to put your finger on when digital content first required a strategy; an overarching and constantly updated battle plan (and battle planner), that ensured all content was effective, current and measured in a way that delivered defined success objectives and attracted attention at director level.

Certainly the growth in digital content types and deployment opportunities (including the exponential growth of rich media and social media) were critical.

More types of content deployed in more ways.

  • Once forlorn items such as sign up forms for long forgotten initiatives and email programmes, conceived when the ark ran aground, were given intense scrutiny, alongside increasing awareness that their structure and vocabulary could revitalise their use.
  • Plus, managers and directors found themselves measured and an incentivised in ways that allowed the vast array of online data capture and analysis to be used as almighty carrots and sticks.
  • Tactical and consecutive approaches: first we’ll build the website, then we’ll start an email programme, then we’ll ‘get a Facebook’… had to be replaced by strategic, concomitant and integrated programmes predicated on customer behaviours and business results.

Those involved in husbanding digital content raised their game or found themselves marginalised from both the key decisions and key meetings.

Content strategy as a path to the boardroom

There was also a generational thing at play. The baby Boomers grew up and… grew old. Many relinquished their hold on old style IT gladly. Generation X got to grips with the digital revolution but it’s Generation Y that’s figured out that content strategy, and digital content strategy specifically, can help pave their way to the top.

GenYers, aka Millennials, children of Baby Boomers, younger siblings of GenXers and born somewhere between 1978 and 1995, are a totally different workplace breed.

They’re ambitious and want their rewards fast. To get both, they need to be strategic – not tactical. Careers are being forged by saying the right, insightful stuff to the right person, not by remaining hidden behind a computer screen, bashing out the copy for the new social media push, or loading witty bons mots on to TweetDeck. So content strategy grew up – and it’s still growing.

But it’s also getting smaller… and flatter… and altogether more interesting:

  • PC, laptop, notebook (briefly)
  • smartphone, tablet, app, gesture, touch
  • welcome to the new world.
The new revolution – and the power that comes with it

At the beginning of this article I mentioned when digital content first required a strategy, but that revolution is liable to look like the small coup in a teacup compared to what’s happening now.

It’s not just the nature of hand held devices and their touch and gesture interfaces, or the fact that users and their behaviours segue through multiple contexts during a single day:

  • smartphone in the commuter crush, catching up on work emails
  • office and PC (now loaded with OS 8.1) but with a lunchtime mobile sidebar in the park to check Tinder and order the groceries
  • followed by wine and sofa watching view on demand telly (at least two shows on the go) via a TV screen/tablet combo.

It’s the fact that we’re increasingly integrating devices seamlessly into our lifestyles.

Time was, content strategists focussed on delivery mechanism. Now, it’s all about receptivity.

And it’s also about ambition.

Not only are your customers going hand held, but so is the board, senior management, HR, your line manager. They’re interfacing with digital in a way that they never have previously.

Boards are dishing out tablets like sherry and dispensing with paper. Digital KPIs are a critical part of the business plan. And GenY is closing its collective fist round the keys of the (his ‘n’ hers) executive toilet.

Your future is coming – and it’s getting small and more powerful by the minute.

We’ll discuss at least some of this in the revamped content strategy course I’m delivering for eMarketeers

Panda, Penguin, Hummingbird and… Jessica Rabbit

I don’t know how much you remember about the the 1988 live action and animation blockbuster, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? One of the lead characters was a sultry cartoon femme fatale, Jessica Rabbit, voiced by actress Kathleen Turner. Curves in all the right places, as the used to say in cheap detective novels.

Jessica, on the other hand, resented the way people made assumptions based on her contours. “I’m not bad,” she breathes… “I’m just drawn this way.” Which brings me on to my first metaphor (well, you must have known there was one coming).

It’s the same with attractive content. In digital terms content can only be truly attractive if it draws both people and machines but until relatively recently content has been drawn to be more appealing to machines. This was hugely important. In digital terms Google’s views were to search what Mr.Disney’s were to animated cartoons. We tended to accentuate our content contours to make it more appealing that way.

“I love Mickey Mouse more than any woman I have ever known.” Walt Disney

Google grows up

But things have changed… are changing. And that’s because the Google algorithm is growing up. Stand by for metaphor number two.

You can get terribly bogged down in how the Google algorithm has changed over the years. But what it boils down to is something that is becoming infinitely more human and nuanced.

Imagine building a robot that was extremely intelligent but socially naive. Now imagine teaching that robot how to become more and more human.

That’s what I think is happening to the Google algorithm. We’re currently somewhere between spotty teenager and young adult – a rough grasp of the principles but still a little awkward in certain situations. But give it time.

So… what does it mean for content?

When you’re talking to a robot or even  a very young child, you keep things simple. If you wanted early Google to pay attention you spoke in in simple terms. Early search optimisation was employed simple formulas. Multiples and key words and phrases in given densities etc.

But, slowly, the quality of content, its usefulness and its freshness began to take the high ground. The algorithm and its iterations started to grapple with this.

Just as growing up is not a simple process so the algorithm caused havoc along the way and people lost as much sleep over trying to understand what it was up to as the average parent does trying to understand the chaotic mumbling and random actions of their offspring’s puberty.

Hummingbird, the latest algorithmic interation may seem to be all about speed but to me and my metaphors it seems to be as much about a young adult paying more attention to the other people in the room and their needs (context and consequence). It’s more… outward facing and helpful. It listens to and can understand more complex (more human) questions.

I know all the search specialists are currently rolling their eyes and sticking pins into wax effigies of Jessica Rabbit as they read this but stick with me. I’m certainly not attempting to undermine the role that SEO plays but I think that we all have to brush up some of our more intuitive skills when it comes to content creation.

In essence, what does this involve?

Intuitive and attractive content

Well, I think the emphasis is on answering questions, showing people ‘how to’ and using marketing research, not just keyword research, to create information-rich content. It’s about keeping it relevant and keeping it conversational.

The good news is that what’s good for people is increasingly good for machines. Just in the same way that teenagers don’t respond if your patronise them so the Google algorithm is getting better at spotting whether the tone of your content is genuine or not.

The other great advantage with all this is that individual skill sets – search, content creation, strategy, technical communication and expertise… can work synergistically and in better balance.

In my head, this is how it all looks…

There have been three major phases to the Google algorithm since about 2011 and they were called Panda, Penguin and most recently Hummingbird.

Just like child development, each one of these contained a host of changes but broadly speaking, Panda was what I now describe as the initial growth spurt out of late childhood and covered the obvious stuff such as sites with really weak, cynical content. Good bloggers who updated regularly suddenly found Google was paying more attention.

Over the various iterations of this algorithm the major thing for me was the increasing emphasis on quality over quantity. It’s a bit like pre-teens discovering and enjoying food experiences outside of a box of Pringles.

Which brings me to the later iterations of Panda and Google’s pre-teens proper. Just like a pre-teen gets better at reading people ( tone of voice, attitude etc) so the algorithm just became better at reading websites and capable of simple value judgments such as detecting trustworthiness and absence of bias. It started to set more store by what other people thought (user feedback). The updates themselves seem to become more thoughtful and phased.

The algorithm’s teens take us to Penguin. This was a huge period of change. Not always very attractive (remember teen spots and smelly feet), but it took Google a long way.

The algorithm started to look up to certain types of website (beyond peer reinforcement) and recognised the authority good website content could command.

Google also learned that different communities had different voices and being helpful was a good thing and didn’t mean you were a dweeb. Link quality became ever more important.


Finally we come to Hummingbird, which I’m still getting my head around. The obvious change here is, in theory, how it allows people to search in a more human way eg “What would you like for supper?” as opposed to “Eats chips for tea, yes?”

It also gave some helpful advice to content owners about how to refresh older but nonetheless valuable content (not only what is being said but the authority of the person saying it) and the deeper reading users are willing to embrace as part of deeper engagement. This is being referred to as content greening.

Of course the algorithm’s journey into adulthood is not without it’s backward steps. The news that Google is encrypting searches in such a way that sites will not be able to use key word data to track visitors, is an example of this.

To me that’s a bit like a young adult putting Do Not Enter sign on their bedroom door. The evolving Google wants a bit more privacy. Where it goes next… you tell me?

In terms of what we do with all this, I’m placing increasing emphasis on content confidence and building training and workshops around allowing people to create content more intuitively and only then check it against things like analytics.

So with clients I’m talking in terms of cross-organisation content engagement workshops, language exchange workshops, content confidence builders, virtual water cooler opportunities (where people can easily trade insights across demarcations) and talent scouting for content champions and new voices outside of the traditional marketing, content strategy and search skill sets.

Attractive content, for me, is all about answering questions, showing people ‘how to’, market research (not just keyword research). It’s all about information-rich, evergreen content, as well as good descriptions and titles. The tone is of the real world and very conversational.

But, unlike Jessica Rabbit, you can draw your own conclusions.

congility-logo-147x50This post is based on a webinar which took place on March 12 in advance of Congility 2014.

Congility 2014, 18 June Workshops, 19-20 June Conference, Gatwick, UK