Rahel Bailie – The Content Strategy Paradox

On Monday the Cambridge Usability Group welcomed Rahel Bailie, all the way from Vancouver, to give a talk titled ‘The Content Strategy Paradox’. There’s been a lot written about content strategy recently. I’ve read articles and books that promote content strategy (too many to list here) and some articles that question the existence of content strategy as a standalone discipline, like this recent one. So I was keen to hear what Rahel had to say.

The first part of Rahel’s talk addressed confusion over the definition of the term ‘content strategy’. She highlighted that recent workshops and events have promoted a number of seemingly paradoxical interpretations of the term ‘content strategy’. But in reality, whilst there are a wide range of specialisms that involve content (including web, social, mobile, editorial, brand positioning, marketing, support and technical), there is only one discipline. In other words, it’s all content strategy!

Rahel then covered some of the processes and approaches to researching, planning, developing, publishing and managing content.

One of the main takeaways for me was that “Consumers use all types of content to make buying decisions”. Customers don’t differentiate between marketing, support and social content, so neither should you.

Rahel provided some excellent ‘do’ and ‘don’t’ examples of how content affects our purchasing decisions. I think everyone who uses the internet has experience of struggling to gather and compare product information before making a purchase. Companies that fail to focus their content on user needs and tasks or provide sufficient, detailed support information and leverage user generated content are missing a trick!

However, having great quality content is not enough. Rahel outlined that you also need to know how and when to deliver your content, and to which audience. Think about whether all your content is relevant to all your customers. Chances are it isn’t. This tweet from one of the audience summed up the amusing example Rahel gave us!

Overall it was a really entertaining and useful talk. I was busy sketching away throughout (something I’m trying out to improve my skills in sketching and summarising information), so here are my sketchnotes:

Sketch notes from Rahel Bailie's talk on Content Strategy

And here are Rahel’s slides from a previous presentation of the same talk:


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5 thoughts on “Rahel Bailie – The Content Strategy Paradox

  1. Love the illustration and very appropriate when it comes to talking about content.
    Did Rahel define what counts as content? I’ve heard people become quite sensitive about their work described as content

  2. It’s a good question and I’m not sure I have the answer. Rahel’s interpretation of what counts as content was quite broad. For example marketing text/editorial, technical support and social (i.e. user generated). I’m curious as to what the potential stigma is with regards to ‘content’!

  3. Tim, I wanted to address your question. I define content as human-usable, contextualized data. In other words, if it’s a code or a number, it’s probably not data because there is no context; it’s a value in a database. Once you create some context (such as 12 = December), then it’s content. Content is the coffee inside of a cup; it’s the music inside of iTunes; it’s the videos on YouTube; it’s the blog posts on a blog. I’m not sure why people be sensitive about their work being labelled “content” – it’s the gift inside the box, the cake under the icing! It could be a little one upmanship, I suppose: content isn’t cool. so while I agree that the framework of IA and design and other UX elements are important, I also recognize that when you can’t find something on a site, you aren’t likely to stay and admire the wonderful framework. In a nanosecond, you’re doing another Google search to find the, ahem, content you want to find.

    Sorry for the rant. Well, it’s not really a rant – a response is content, too. :)

  4. Thanks for the very clear answer Rahel! I’d love to see that description represented visually :)

    Because content is so pervasive in digital media, it’s sometimes easy to forget how much planning and consideration goes into making sure the right content is in available when, where and how people need it.

  5. Thanks for the post Michele – love the sketch! This sounds like it was a really interesting talk and I can certainly see how it reflects some of the conversations I’ve been having recently about content strategy in local government.
    Thanks also Rahel for your definition of content. I’ll definitely be using the ‘it’s the gift inside the box’ line when trying to explain content to people! From my experience people tend to think of content as text and they find that a bit dull and run-of-the-mill. I agree with you that it’s far more than that (although personally I’m also excited by text and the skill it takes to get it right).
    It’s the easiest thing to push loads of content (of all types) onto the ‘net but getting the right content to the right place and the right people at the right time is something else entirely – I’m glad that content strategy is starting to be talked about more to try and get this discipline and all it’s specialities into more ‘content managers’ skillsets.

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