Wednesday, November 28, 2012

An Intoxicating Tale of Content Strategy


An effective content strategy bridges the critical gap between online and offline worlds, and the gaps between departments. When a content strategy is put in place, business goals will be met more easily, and people’s expectations with the brand will be fulfilled. I’ll drink to that.

A new product, a new opportunity

There it sat, on the shelf in the liquor store. An unfamiliar whisky housed in one of those fancy, boutique-style bottles. It wore an already-iconic label. I was intrigued.

This distilling company put some careful thought into this whisky. They even created some delightful point-of-purchase pricing signs echoing that label design. The text at the top of those tiny pricing signs reads “Just Released”–an announcement to the world, proud and urgent.

They want people to know about the whisky. They want people to buy it. But, as of this writing, THAT’S THE END OF IT.

The portable web changes everything

Like any other whisky nerd, I searched the web from my smartphone for any mentions or reviews of this whisky. To my surprise, there was only one relevant listing. And it wasn’t a helpful listing, either: an online retailer that offered only a price and size of the bottle.

The label on this bottle includes the company’s website. Unfortunately, it, too, was unhelpful. The whisky was not listed anywhere on the site. Searching for the whisky’s brand name on the company site brought up a page full of PHP errors. (That’s another matter altogether.)

Lots of whisky enthusiasts would have stopped right there. Despite the lack of information, I purchased a bottle.

(I shan’t mention the company name, lest this post become the only thing about this whisky on the all of the Internet.)

The gap between online and offline strategy appears

Time and money were spent on the product design and retail accoutrements, but the online presence? NOT A DROP. A chasm between the distillery’s new product strategy and the online strategy quickly became apparent.

This distillery has a product, a niche whisky. They want to sell it. Lucky for them, people want to buy distinctive whiskies. But they don’t buy them blindly. They want to know all kinds of things before making that purchase: age, blend, whose grandpa distilled it in the hills 100 years ago, etc.

If that information is not presented at the point of purchase or on the item itself, they’ll seek it out online. Possibly right there on the spot.

When companies present anything less than a complete and unified presence online and offline, people notice. Really, they do. Those people may shrug their shoulders and carry on with their tasks on your site (albeit with less satisfaction and ease.) Or, in the absence of any info online, they may give up and go to a competitor.

Each item and brand, especially in a retail environment, should have a corresponding presence online. That presence needs a solid strategy to inform its messaging, target audience, distribution, workflow, and maintenance.

Instill your projects with content strategy

I’ve heard online content strategy described, at its most basic, as the alignment of business goals and user expectations:

  • Company provides a product or service
  • People complete tasks related to that product or service (e.g. learning, purchasing)

The closer we align the meeting point(s) of those business goals and the user expectations, the better. Both sides need to be addressed. The one-way, broadcast model the distillery put in place, either actively or by omission, will no longer cut it. They missed the mark entirely in this case. No pun intended.

A toast to your future content projects

Part of the burden (or joy, I mean) of content strategists is keeping up with an organization’s new initiatives and changes to ongoing efforts. The launch of this whisky is a fine example.

To avoid a similar situation, get a seat at the table early in the process to engage with all staff involved on a project:

  • Ask lots of questions
  • Consider the implications of new company endeavors in the short and long term
  • Filter each and every situation through your core online content strategy
  • Be ready for changes that will inevitably come up along the way
  • Make sure that new efforts are sustainable

Content strategists can have a great impact, but they are not a cure-all. Some projects may suffer from scalability issues, unwise decisions, or legacy organizational baggage.

What content strategists can do, however, is follow the standards for making great online experiences. They can ensure that the right audiences are addressed in the most effective way. And, they can guide the process with an overall strategic vision in place.

When your project is (hopefully) successful and all things are operating in sync, I have but one more bit of advice: pour yourself a glass of whisky.





This material first appeared on a post I contributed to the Follow the UX Leader blog. (Minus the Muddy Waters tune.)

2 comments:

katfrench said...

And now I really want to know what that whisky was. Also, whether it was any good or not.

Clinton Forry said...

It was quite good. As for the brand, I shall never tell. :)