Your content strategy is brilliant and hopeless

I don’t believe there’s anyone out there who has put two words together that have been published on a web site since 1993 that hasn’t at some point sat at their desk and typed into a strategy document ‘write once, publish everywhere’ or ‘centralised writing, distributed reading’ or ‘write once, publish many’ or ‘global content, local readers’ or ‘one repository, many devices’ or ‘my CMS brings all the boys to the yard and damn right it’s content framework means it’s deployed on multiple platforms and viewports with coherency and efficiency and is better than yours by which I mean maximises ROI and provides the ideal user experience about which I could teach you but I’d have to charge’ or something like that.

Defining a content strategy that maximises ROI on publishing for a business isn’t difficult. Once you’ve distilled the distribution components of a publishing system into the dark matter of a CMS then everything else kind of gets sucked into the inevitability vacuum. You just need to draw some concentric circles around it and randomly place some google image swipes of devices and screens and that stock photo of a globe with a URL wrapped around it that says THIS IS WHAT THE INTERNET IS and you’re away. If you like, you can project the cost benefit to the organisation of rolling out said strategy by Q4 and streamlining your processes, synchronizing your publishing and automating your workflows. In the long term the ROI is massive. Like, a huge number.

Trust me, I’ve written that strategy a few times. It’s brilliant.

But it’s also hopeless. Content strategy, however perfectly formed, nearly always necessitates business change in order that is delivers on its promises. And businesses don’t like to change. They like to save money. They like to be efficient. But they rarely actually honestly have the ability to change the way they operate around a strategy that makes their content delivery scaleable, manageable, responsive, adaptive, data-driven, intelligent, profitable, better. Not because they don’t think your strategy isn’t brilliant and that it will indeed bring all those boys to the yard, but because they’re simply unable to overcome the festering delineations within their own business that preclude agility. I mean, if you could just change your strategy to make it work for the product division, because, you know, I think they have data or something, then maybe we could do a pilot, you know, phase one, but we don’t have anything to do with the service division, I mean, they’re a separate part of the business and we don’t even know who they are, although Mike in corporate does know the manager over there and Mike owns all that corporate stuff, like, um, I dunno, press releases and things. Can we do press releases? They already have a CMS. Maybe we can use that, etc…

Defining a content strategy is rarely a problem. Facilitating business change nearly always is. If you’re not talking to the person who can truly bring about that change, you’re quacking into a void.


2 Responses

  1. Interesting piece. Often, it would be better for people to start from what's achievable, then define their aspirations, rather than the other way around. That's what fixers like me do. But we're never the ones setting the out-of-reach targets that you probably need if you're actually going to change something.

    I wrote about a similar phenomenon a while back – the failure to impose tone of voice across every area of the organisation. I think it's probably impossible to achieve the sort of uniformity that people like me find it easy to talk about in blog posts. Because an organisation isn't a person – it's lots of people. And lots of those people don't talk to/work with/like* each other. *Delete as applicable

  2. Wanting to change everything for the better is a lofty goal, and it's often that vision that sets targets. Systems thinking talks about the trouble with deploying against a vision like that being that people make things messy. There is a point at which the balance between achievable and aspirational can be maintained, but that's different from defining it at the outset. Pragmatism is an ingredient that designers, amongst others, often don't have in the cupboard.

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