What are some of your favorite books?
My top five list is pretty eclectic. They are, in no particular order:
- Bird By Bird: Lessons for Writing and Life, by Ann Lamott
- 10% Happier, by Dan Harris
- In an Instant, by Bob and Lee Woodruff
- Eat, Pray, Love, By Elizabeth Gilbert
- It Was Me All Along, By Andie Mitchell
This eclectic list of books all have something in common—when I read the last page of each of them, I was left wanting more. Their words spoke to me, the pacing of the language hooked me, and I connected with their message.
These books also have another thing in common—their creation very likely started out with the author figuring out what they wanted to say, what message they wanted to communicate, and what story they were going to tell to do just that.
They did not, I can almost guarantee, start out with the design of their cover, or by arbitrarily deciding how many chapters or pages the book should be. I’d bet a good sum of money that the authors did not decide the shape, size, and look of their book and then write the story to fit into that box.
That is because a book is not a box. And neither is a website (or an any other part of your digital experience for that matter ). And they are all mediums for communicating.
YOU CAN’T CREATE ANYTHING UNTIL YOU KNOW WHAT YOU'RE TRYING TO SAY
For some reason, when we are creating digital experiences (DXs) we can often forget that the reason for their existence is—put very simply—to communicate a message to your audience.
And when we lose sight of this, we can end up following what is the equivalent of this process:
- We start off with a general idea of the book we want to write
- We design the book cover
- We decide the book is going to be 125 pages long and have 10 chapters that is each 12.5 pages long
- And then we begin to think about the actual content of those chapters and that book
The result? We end up cramming the message into the predetermined box. And that...is not such a great thing.
Can it be done? Yes. Any good writer can write based on the parameters they are given.
Does it make for an excellent experience for your users and customers? Absolutely not.
What ends up happening is the ultimate goal of the experience (reminder: to communicate with an audience for a purpose), ends up being restricted by the pre-designed box. And without being based on the story you want to tell and the message you want to communicate, this approach, I’m sorry to say, amounts to filling out a really fancy form with predetermined fields.
And we can all agree—forms are terrible. That goes for both filling them out, and reading them.
HOW TO CREATE CONTENT THE RIGHT WAY
So how do you avoid this? Well the answer is both really easy, and so incredibly difficult.
You need to decide what you want to say before you decide how you want to package that message.
Figuring out what you want to say is hard. This one is really worth repeating, FIGURING OUT WHAT YOU WANT TO COMMUNICATE IS DIFFICULT.
I’m sure if we asked any author, they’d tell you writing the book is actually easier than settling on the overall message they were trying to communicate.
But difficult is not bad, it’s just difficult. So it’s best to roll up your sleeves and work on figuring it out.
That being said, focusing on these these fundamental questions can really help you develop a solid content strategy that clearly communicates your message:
- Who is (are) your audience(s)?
- What do you want them to do?
- What information are they looking for or do they need to do what you need them to do?
- What are you trying to communicate to them?
- What is your brand narrative?
- What is the goal of the message?
- How does this goal map to your overall organizational goals?
- How do you want to make them feel?
You may be saying, “Great. I’ve answered these questions. Now what do I do with them?”
I’m glad you asked.
The next steps are to synthesize that information and create a strategy from them that includes:
- Creating a messaging framework that identifies the core information for each audience, the key pieces of information these audiences are looking for, and the overall narrative of the site that all of these messages map back to
- Defining and applying the brand voice (this may already be determined depending on your organization) to these messages and all audience-facing content
- Identifying the desired calls-to-action you’d like people to take when reading the content
Now this is an oversimplified version of the steps involved in creating this content strategy, and this process should involve audience research, collaboration with UX, SEO, design, and communication teams, and would then go on to inform the structure of the content on the site. But at the very least, before you start designing (really, anything) for your site, you need to create those key elements listed above. Doing so will provide you with a roadmap that then allows you to design a site that is suited for your brand’s digital customer experience.
AND REMEMBER...DESIGN IS A FORM OF COMMUNICATION
Don’t get me wrong: design, in all its forms, is incredibly important. In fact, it’s an excellent form of communication. A book would not be a book without a beautifully designed cover, or chapter breaks, or font selection, strong binding, paper weight, and the many other elements that contribute to the overall experience. These elements help turn a message into a masterpiece and all part of the reason that 67% of Americans have read a printed book in the last year.
But in order for that masterpiece to be created, you have to know what you are trying to say in the first place.
If you need help figuring out what you want to say and developing your content strategy, reach out to me.