In Margot Bloomstein’s book, Content Strategy at Work, she does an excellent job of weaving together the philosophy of content strategy with real-world examples. Rather than being purely instructional, Margot paints a picture of how content strategy works through detailed company stories, while also incorporating samples of deliverables. In other words, she makes the concept tangible—particularly for those new to content strategy.
Margot also offers another important perspective: she demonstrates how others from various disciplines collaborate with content strategists—from information architects to software developers to account managers. Every person who touches content, whether they’re selling it, creating it, developing for it or maintaining it, would benefit from reading this book and learning about the different relationship dynamics.
Margot so graciously took time from her busy schedule to answer some questions about her new book and provide helpful insight for B2B marketers introducing content strategy to clients.
After reading your book I wanted to shout, “Eureka!” because I felt like you truly lifted the curtain and captured the heart and soul of content strategy. So please share with me, what inspired you to create a book with this kind of perspective?
Content strategy has come of age: over the past few years, practitioners have found each other (thanks, Twitter!) and we've deployed practical, accurate definitions of the work. We were the web’s gangly teenagers who found surer footing and gained a greater sense of self. Now, we need role models of success—those case studies and examples of how to integrate content strategy into projects of all sizes and across a range of industries. That's what I set out to explore.
Coming from the agency side of the business, one of the challenges I’ve encountered is knowing where roles begin and end, and collaborating with the right people at the right time in the content strategy process. Your book provides great insight into defining what that looks like. Was that something you personally had to navigate as well? How did that inform your experience?
Great question. We can discuss deliverables and documentation, but content strategy is as much about people as it is about process. I often find work products are only a small part of my activity on a project; as the popular "hive" diagram illustrates, a content strategist has to translate between parties and roles so that everyone is on board with a project's communication goals and how to tactically manifest them through copy, design and information architecture.
Now, we have collaborators, as well as advocates. Both serve to clarify content strategy and the outcomes of our broader work, the end-user experience. It's not always easy to identify who to bring into the conversation, who to engage in collaboration and who to reserve as an advocate and champion—but with open communication and practice, you can get better at navigating even the most challenging corporate cultures.
What advice would you give B2B marketers, whose clients often have long and complex sales cycles and struggle with internal processes, such as approvals (which in turn, can make timely content creation a challenge)?
Communicate early and often! When I work with clients in highly regulated industries, I often hearken back to my third grade math class. As Mrs. Dunn would remind us, accurate answers didn't count if you didn't show your work, and that's where frequent, proactive communication can help.
B2B marketing consultants can learn from Mrs. Dunn, whether they're working with clients in financial services, healthcare or other industries: show your work. Share your process early with your client stakeholders so that they can bring in their legal review team. Can they identify any potential challenges that may demand more time and attention in the project plan? As work begins, continue the open communication; consider walking the legal review team through your editorial calendar to secure their buy-in on more sensitive topics. If client stakeholders can educate you about contentious topics or terminology, you may be able to avoid them and facilitate the approval process before it even begins.
What is the biggest misconception you’ve encountered about content strategy?
Every time I hear people brush off content strategy as something they can't afford, I wonder: how can they afford not to invest in it? There's a misconception that content strategy is expensive. Really? It's not nearly as expensive as inconsistency, off-brand messaging, stale copy and channel abandonment, and organizations large and small plow time and money into those things every day.
Of course, if you have money to waste on blogs that you launch and fail to update, or if you can waste time undermining your organization's brand with outdated and trivial information, you might not need content strategy. Does Scrooge McDuck need a strategy for retirement planning, or will he always have more than enough gold in which to paddle around? If you're not Scrooge McDuck—if you must confront constraints of time, budget and creativity—you need a strategy to make every content decision the right decision. In Content Strategy at Work, I gather approaches from organizations that face constraints and use smart content strategy to achieve their goals.
So what’s next for you? And what do you think is next for B2B content strategists?
For me, contextual relevancy is the new challenge. Adaptive content offers approaches and ways of thinking about how we're delivering the right decision-support content to our audiences at the right time and in the right place. Karen McGrane, Sara Wachter-Boettcher and others are leading the charge to innovate in that area, and that frontier offers opportunity for both B2B and B2C marketers.