I first noticed that SXSW really does have 14,000+ people coming when I was at this session. 15 minutes before it started, there were no empty seats and 130 people waiting outside.
It was clear why, these people are smart, and we had a lot to learn. This was a panel discussion all about content strategy, which is to content like Information Architecture is to Design. It provides substance and structure. It is a plan for content creation, delivery and governance of content—it answers the “why” of content.
What is content, really? Content is the information that is consumed by your target audience. This includes iconography, images, video, as well as words. When it comes down to it, they’re all language.
Content is a business asset, but its real value comes to light when it smartly managed by a well put together content strategy. As a result, many businesses (not Mutual, right?) see content as an unfortunate byproduct of doing real work. Many times, we’ll put together a wireframe and just throw some content in there when we really need to pay attention to what the visitor actually needs. We can talk about making an excellent User Experience (UX), but in the end we must have an excellent UX culture. This means that we turn things around, first asking ourselves (not just through introspection, but also through research), “What problem does the visitor have?” and “How can we solve their needs, rather than the company’s?”
Who owns the content?
Ultimately, it is the organization, meaning the executive-level on 12th floor. They must buy in to having a content strategy—really see its value. One recent example about this is the FDA’s site redesign. Before, there were 11 siloed sites that appeared to have little to do with each other. The head of the FDA ended up mandating that everything come under one roof and armed with this vision for one cohesive content strategy, the 11 websites were brought into one single brand. That’s great for them, but what about a typical midwestern Fortune 500 company?
How do you convince people content strategy makes a difference?
The panel suggests beginning with small wins and using those to leverage your position. If you can show the value of a solid content strategy on smaller projects, you can build a case for a master content strategy encompassing all company communications, or at least the main website. Using real data showing improved metrics will help sell the case. However, there has to be a point where content strategy is valued as an art.
The somewhat famous example of this is Douglas Bowman of Stop Design who was one of Google’s top designers. At one point, Google could not decide between two shades of blue, so they tested 41 shades against each other. Another time he was asked if he thought a 3, 4, or 5 pixel border would be better—and then wondered what data he had to back up his opinion. At some point the designer should be trusted.
What this means for Mutual of Omaha
At Mutual of Omaha, we already have the power to control the website, so why not begin using a content strategy? In some ways, I believe we already have. With the redesign last year, we audited much of the content and re-wrote a portion of it. However, I think we can do better. With upcoming usability tests and the A/B box scheduled for this year, we will be better able to listen to our visitors and what their needs are. From there, though, we must find how the data we see might be extrapolated to the entire site and how patterns we see might be baked into a content strategy and our standards and guidelines. We’re just now at the beginning stages, let’s do it well.