The CEO’s Guide to Content Strategy is the ultimate guide to content strategy projects for CEOs, Managing Directors and Managing Partners. It answers the questions: What is it? Why is it valuable? What makes it work? and What does it cost?
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Digital and communication projects have required stages, demand appropriate resourcing, and have a certain shape. Content strategy touches each area of your business. Your support and engagement of the most senior interested parties can make or break a project, as can the skills and capabilities of your team. Content projects of all kinds are time intensive up-front, with little visible output, if they are going to be effective. Your understanding and effective representation can make the difference between success and failure.
The CEO’s Guide to Content Strategy
The CEO doesn’t need to be familiar with the entire scope of a content strategy project. Instead, you need to understand progress, results, and outcomes.
Content strategy is a relatively new field. As a term that pertains primarily to digital projects, it is rapidly losing favour to the new buzzword, content design. Content design might be the what, but the strategy is how and when and why. You can consider strategy as a timing event, one that helps your organisation work effectively within strategic and communication paradoxes.
Content is not free from strategic paradox. Those strategic paradoxes can be as ‘simple’ as speed versus quality; agility versus systems; rigour versus competitiveness. They can also be as complex as supporting two conflicting audiences with wildly varying reading abilities.
At the level of the executive, the elements of content strategy with which you need to be be familiar do not include the entire scope. You need to understand progress, results, and outcomes. This guide gives you the capacity to do that.
What is content strategy?
A simple statement about the purpose of content strategy is this:
Content strategy defines and shapes the future of how your business interacts with other parties. It does this by helping you to to understand and craft appropriate solutions to communication-related challenges, while ensuring that your end-users are always front-of-mind.
The value of content strategy in your organisation
The purpose of content strategy is valuable to you because of the ways in which it helps you as the CEO to meet communication challenges. Those challenges could be:
- customer related (acquisition, retention, loyalty, happiness)
- innovation (systems, software, networks, digital application)
- market response and agility (adaptation, positioning, product, consumer experience)
- people (resourcing, capability, delivery)
- budgetary (insourcing versus outsourcing)
- systematic (workflow, approval, governance, risk).
In any business, relating to customers through the entire customer journey is largely communication based. Given many firms now choose to use digital channels because of the financial benefits, this is more true now than ever.
Any CEO’s goal, if it is retention or growth of market-share, therefore has a communication or content element. Every division of your business — from finance to delivery — has a content element. Therefore, it makes sense for it to be nurtured at a strategic level.
The firms that have the capacity and understanding to link content and communication into corporate strategy tend to be stronger and better performing than their competition.
A content strategist with a clear understanding of content, but without the understanding of corporate strategy, is therefore of little value to you.
CEO understanding helps projects work
As the CEO you are (most often) seen to be at the top of the chain, your understanding, behaviours and messages strongly influence whether projects do or do not work. This is one of the most critical factors to understand when your organisation is running major digital transformation or update projects.
The teams in charge of your digital projects require the engagement of what are widely called stakeholders. Properly understood, buy-in needs to be from all interested parties. It’s limiting to think simply of stakeholders who control funds, project extent, or resourcing. As potentially the only interested party with capacity to influence the board, your involvement and understanding is critical.
What’s in it for you is gaining understanding of timing, cascading effects of timing or resourcing, outcomes, and returns. You will also want to understand how decisions are being made. If the experience of your most loyal customers is likely to be affected by a change to how your organisation communicates with them, then you need to know that the decision was right. This means that enough research and testing proved it is going to make a positive impact.
To understand those decisions means that you need to be engaged enough to accept, even push for:
- time and budget for research so that the team knows what must be done
- time and budget for analysis and content-first design, so you don’t have any understandability or user flow issues
- engagement with other interested parties so that everyone is on the same page at all times
- data-supported decisions
- demonstration that the working teams understand and work to the corporate strategy
- (if necessary) involvement of key content strategy personnel in corporate strategy planning or adjustment processes; or key strategy personnel in content-related processes.
Expect to invest a minimum of $120,000 per year in your content strategist, contracted or employed
The content strategist occupies a unique role in any organisation. The content strategist will:
- direct and manage content teams within broader, multidisciplinary teams
- scope and direct content and audience-facing projects
- work in the difficult territory of strategic analysis, attempting to resolve the requirements of the organisation with the requirements of its clients and users.
Your content strategist will (hopefully) have broad skills. Their interaction spread includes developers and interaction designers, taxonomists and project managers, from board members and subject matter experts.
As the CEO or Managing Director (or Managing Partner for that matter), it is important to be clear that you’re really investing in the piece that makes digital projects work. Nobody would use the internet if it wasn’t filled with content. A set of electronic pipes doesn’t make a useful tool, and all the programming in the world is pointless if it doesn’t support the goals of your users and clients.
When you invest in the right talent, with the right blend of strategic and tactical skills, you are investing in your organisation’s communication sustainability. No matter how technology changes, the need for good communication will not.
Very often, Chief Executives misunderstand the required skills, and end up with juniors in key roles because they “grew up” with the technology. Just because you grow up in a country doesn’t mean you know how to farm it, and growing up with technology doesn’t mean you know how to use it to achieve a strategic outcome.
The content strategy project flow
As the CEO, knowing the project flow can help you understand why work doesn’t necessarily equal output.
The flow of any project will depend on a range of things. Some contributing factors to the flow of a project will include:
- the type of project
- the team assembled
- the project management framework
- the accountability and reporting structures
- the draft timeline for the project
- the scope of the project
- the budget.
Notwithstanding the above dependencies, a generic project flow will look something like this:
- scoping and risk phase
- inception phase and kick off
- research and analysis
- user experience
- design performance
- content strategy design
- content typing
The setup time looks like it takes ages. It seems to, but only because there’s no visible output. What is critical for you to understand is that all communication projects take the same shape when you plot the activity. It doesn’t matter whether you are editing books or planning crisis communications. All of them have a long setup and a (comparatively) faster deployment.
This means that you can predict when projects will fail to work effectively. With a shorter setup time, you can nearly guarantee that the deployment will happen but will not deliver the results you’re looking for.
 Marx, Wendy. 2015. ‘The new rules of corporate communications’. Forbes. https://www.fastcompany.com/3051881/know-it-all/the-new-rules-of-corporate-communications