Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Content Strategy - Why?

I used to get this content strategy question all the time, and I still hear it more than I would like - "Why do I need a content strategist on my project?"
The quick answer is easy -

"Because without a content strategist your project will be late, because content is hard. There are things you don't know, and you won't know what you don't know them until it's too late. You'll recover, but you will be late."

A straight, simple, confident answer based on my experience with dozens of projects. But it's often not a satisfying or convincing argument, so here's another way to respond.

"So let me answer your question with a question. Why do you need content?" You'd be surprised at how often that stumps people. Once you dig through that conversation a bunch of other questions come up:

  • "So how do you want to talk to your customers, conversationally, professionally, sarcastically?"
  • "How do your best sales people talk to customers?"
  • "Who are your best sales people? Are they male or female? How old?"
  • "You have a link to White Papers in the wireframes. Do you have any white papers? Have you ever written a white paper? Has anyone in your organization ever written a white paper? What goes into a white paper? Are you sure you want white papers and not case studies? In your mind, what is the difference?"
  • "You plan on re-using some existing print content. Does it need to be edited for the Web? Do you have the source files. Do you even own the source files? Do you know where the source files are? Not just the final flattened version in a Quark or Photoshop file, but the actual text that can be copied and pasted?"
  • "Who is going to be writing and reviewing all the content? Do they know and have they agreed? Don't they already have full-time jobs?"
  • "Do you have legal or regulatory content governance issues that must be evaluated and planned for?"
  • "Do you have all the content development milestones in your project plan? Who made the time estimates? Have they ever created content? When will you know if you are running late? Is it too late then?"
  • "Do you have a style guide for Web content? Do you say "website" or "Web site," and who gets to decide?"
  • "You say you want to translate the site into Spanish. Which version of Spanish? Mexican, Puerto Rican, South American, Castillian?"
  • "How complex is your Web Content Management System? Or are you going to be using a new WCMS? If your WCMS is hard to use or, heaven forbid, brand new - just go ahead and double are your content development times now."

To a good content strategist, these are not even hard questions. But the wrong answer to any one of them could delay your project for months.

The point is, if you don't know the answers to all these questions, and a hundred more, before you start development on you project, you can't create an accurate project plan. Without an accurate project plan you are just running on wishes and hopes. "Faith-based" projects rarely finish on time.

So that's the long answer.

Here's another short answer - How excited are you about paying your programmers to sit around and surf the Web and watch YouTube videos while you are waiting for your content? If the the answer is "not very" then find a content strategist.

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