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…

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.