Content strategy, as I’ve written before, isn’t a magical document you can hand over to a team and expect results. It takes time to create one, and you’ll need to take several people along that journey with you. Here’s how to get started.

Rachel McConnell
Rachel McConnell
21st April 2020

Strategy is a combination of things which together will help you achieve an outcome. When it comes to content strategy, these things could include (but may not be limited to):

  • Process
  • Tools and systems
  • Resource and skills
  • Measurement
  • Content foundations (such as guidelines and voice and tone)
  • The drivers (business goals and user goals)
  • It’s a combination of the ‘what’, and the ‘how’ that makes a strategy successful. But how do we work out the ingredients that will go into our recipe? I like to think of this in 5 steps, 4 of which you may be familiar with if you work in product design teams.

    pink staircase
    Photo by Max Ostrozhinskiy on Unsplash

    Step 1: Identify your co-designers

    You can’t create a strategy in isolation. Well, you can, but it will be very difficult to get buy-in from those who will need to sponsor and implement it. Believe me, I’ve tried.

    Think about the co-designers of your strategy as the key stakeholders you need onboard: these could be content team members, senior team leads, directors, product owners, or even the CEO. These people will be involved in your workshops and will help shape the output, so make sure you have a broad enough selection. You should also identify the stakeholders you’d like to interview about their current perception of content (more about that in a moment). These should again be a broad mix: think about your customer experience team, marketing, product owners, design leads, etc. You’ll be discovering the view of content in your organisation, as well as who you might need to spend more time influencing.

    Step 2: Discover

    Discovery is about getting to the root of the problem to find out where your opportunities are. So in the case of content strategy, it’s about understanding which of those ingredients listed above you’ll need to focus on. To do this, you need to understand the current content landscape: what’s happening that shouldn’t be, what isn’t happening that should be, are the right people, tools and processes in place, and how can content be made much more effective to meet user needs and achieve business goals? This will involve:

  • Stakeholder interviews (what they think content is, what they think about the content customers see, but also their perception of internal processes, current strategy, skill gaps etc)
  • Process and tools workshops (mapping out current processes and workflows, roles and responsibilities and understanding current tools and their limitations)
  • Data and analytics reviews (what is performing well, what isn’t, where are customers coming from, what are they doing on site?)
  • Collating brand and marketing strategies (to understand their goals)
  • Collating business goals and strategy (what targets does the business need to hit?)
  • Understanding users through testing (how do they behave on site, what are their pain points, what do they need that they’re not getting?)
  • Mapping out the current content journey (to understand what users see from the brand, and in what order)
  • Step 3: Define

    Now it’s time to take everything you’ve learnt, and look at it with your core strategy ‘designers’. I recommend a workshop (or series of workshops) where you look at the alignment between business goals and user goals, then where your current content needs to be improved to help both achieve their goals.

    I then recommend creating a ‘north star’ for your content, and some guiding principles. You’ll then have some criteria to judge existing and future content against.

    Identifying where your content needs improving will result in a number of actions. The next stage is to determine what needs to be in place to make this happen. Do tools, templates, systems, or ways of working need to change?

    Step 4: Develop

    You’ll now have all you need to develop your strategy and roadmap. Taking the workshop output, use your own judgement and knowledge to outline your recommendations. Develop your north star and principles into some kind of tangible artefact — posters work well.

    Turn the actions into a roadmap (what can be done now, and what needs more time? Are there dependencies), assigning owners to each if you can.

    Think about how this work will be shared in the next phase, and pick a format appropriate to those people you’ll need to influence. Most of them should have been on this journey with you, but there will always be a few outliers. How do they best receive information, are they visual or do they like a lot of detail?

    Step 5: Deliver

    Now is the time to start sharing your strategy and roadmap with your wider business. How you do this will depend on the stakeholders (and the number of them). One-to-one sessions might be more useful than group show and tells for those who may need a bit more background on your process.

    Be sure to provide context, and share the journey you’ve been on, so the rationale for your recommendations are clear. It’s also a good reminder for those that were on the journey with you that this is as much their work as yours!