Speaking the client’s language

I attended a great Content Strategy MeetUp in San Francisco this week. The speaker was Melissa Rach of Brain Traffic and she was sharing with us the top ten things she’d learned about working with clients on content strategy projects over the last four years.

Brain Traffic have a great graphic that they use to demonstrate that a content strategy project encompasses four areas that have to be kept in balance to make sure content strategy pays off for clients – workflow, governance, the strategy and the substance or content itself. In itself, this is a good way to remind us that effective content can only be produced when a company pays attention to ownership and how and by whom that content will be created.

Moving on from that point, two things that Melissa talked about really struck me:

1. You have to get really precise around the language. The words “Content Strategy” mean different things, or raise different expectations in different people and it’s really important to make sure that client and consultant are on the same page.

For instance, Melissa’s view is that the “strategy” is not so much a plan, but actually more of a vision, a signpost to what the content needs to achieve for the business. Below that are tactical projects that move a company towards that vision but have specific shorter term and measurable goals. So when clients ask to see an example of “strategy”, they’re quite often really asking to see an outline of the projects that will move the company closer to that vision.

Understanding the potential for confusion around “strategy” and “plan” makes it a whole lot easier to talk to clients about the different phases of the project and to spell out the value of working with a content strategist.

2. We have to get a lot better at using numbers to demonstrate progress and the need for change. The effect on readers of informational content is traditionally hard to measure but trying to draw a line to customer behavior can be helpful.

Melissa gave an example of revising content on the homepage of a hotel’s booking site. If you can say, for instance, that by refining the content and focusing it on clients, you assume the hotel gets one more customer booking a room each week.

Then turning that into a cash number and providing the assumptions that allow a client to play with the figures, increasing the number of customers to two or five or whatever, provides reassurance to clients and gives something tangible to talk about.

Rating content according to its currency, usefulness, appropriateness to primary audience etc. can be one way to help clients understand what pieces of content need more attention.

The reason these two examples particularly stuck with me is that they demonstrate what I feel is a fundamental about the work that I do for clients and the way I want to do that work. I see writing and communications as a service to clients.

In Melissa’s talk, I was reminded that the role of content strategists and writers more generally, is to help clients better express their business values and meet their business goals. In order to do that most effectively, we have to understand people’s concerns and learn to talk in the language of business – even when that means reframing terms that we commonly use or demonstrating our value in numbers (not always the most natural approach for word nerds.)

It’s not about imposing something on a company, or providing content in a vacuum, it’s a totally immersive communications process and in order to be successful, it has to be a partnership between consultant and client. Which is just the way I like it.

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