This paper briefly explores the topic of content strategy methodology, including justification for establishing a formal methodology, attributes of good content and how these intersect with the methodology. The concept of content as conversation is examined. New brain science research on the dynamics of conversation is presented as a framework for considering the attributes of good content. Pitfalls of an inadequate methodology of content strategy are discussed in conjunction with the attributes of good content, variables that are more likely to be present in content that is produced according to a comprehensive, thoughtfully developed content strategy methodology.
The discussion commences by focusing on definition of terms and the reasons why the approaches presented matter Experts in the field of content development have a propensity for referring to content as conversation. Content is not, in and of itself, conversation. Rather, content -- good content -- invites users to engage in conversation, while aiming to influence the users by providing relevant, quality content over time. A conversation requires two parties: in literal terms, a speaker and a listener. Recent studies by neuroscientists indicate that communication can occur regardless of the mode or media used (Stephens, et al., 2010).
The new science of storytelling. A new line of communication research has emerged that derives from the work of neuroscientists and cognitive psychologists. The gist of the research is that, when they are engaged in storytelling, the brain activity of a listener mirrors the brain activity of the speaker. This neural connectivity also holds true when two people are viewing a movie. While the relevance factor is inarguably important to engagement at this level, something else is afoot. Using fMRI technology to record the spatiotemporal brain activity of speakers and listeners who are engaged in natural verbal communication, neuroscientists have shown that the spatial and temporal activity of the two people is in sync -- neural coupling occurs. Studies conducted by cognitive psychologists have shown a relationship between the extent of neural coupling and a quantitative measure of story comprehension. In other words, the more the listener's brain showed anticipatory coupling with the speaker's brain activity, the more they actually understood the story.
The new science of storytelling is articulating the content bulls-eye that good methodology and content strategy must aim to achieve. To come close to the mark neuroscientist have drawn, understanding, developing, and executing content methodology is crucial. Having opened the door to an exploration of what good content entails, we turn now to an objective look at the concept of methodology.
Methodology refers to the formal documentation and execution of a set of fundamental processes for a given scientific or academic endeavor. On a very basic level, methodology provides a map that can be followed by the stakeholders in an endeavor in order to economically achieve particular objectives. Methodology fosters economy in several ways: 1) Methodology facilitates communication by establishing a lexicon particular to the tasks and procedures in which stakeholders will engage. 2) Methodology ensures redundancy where it is needed -- for consistency of process and procedure, say -- and diminishes unnecessary redundancy. 3) Methodology provides a structure for marketing and a means of presenting the benefits of an offering such that clients may differentiate services. 4) Methodology establishes a framework that should be referenced over time for auditing fidelity, for trouble-shooting and modification, and for alignment with current and future objectives. 5) Methodology increases the probability that content creation will be sufficiently relevant to consumer needs and preferences to be compellingly attractive and influential.
Creating and Curating Content
While the objectives of content creation are several, the core objective is the development of a conduit for influencing people. Regardless of the particular message being delivered or the channels used for distribution of the message, content is intended to be influential: to change what people think and to change what people do (Jones, 2014). For content to be influential over the long-term, it must be trustworthy and executed responsibly. Here, the terms trustworthy and responsibility mean that the content must be sufficiently framed so as to be transparent with regard to intent, and produced by individuals who acknowledge accountability for the content they produce.
Content development is inextricably tied to current marketing and advertising frameworks -- and much has changed over the past several decades. Categorically speaking, these ideas can be segregated into two frameworks: Conventional marketing and contemporary marketing. The conventional marketing framework is characterized by the following attributes: Targeting customers, planning marketing campaigns, delivering the message, blasting the message through interruption marketing, pressuring or using non-transparent methods of persuasion, using uncoupled and non-contextual campaigns, and measuring only consumer actions (Jones, 2014). Contemporary marketing shows parallel attributes within a more customer-centric frame: Attracting customers, establishing ways to have relationships with customers, showing and walking the message, revealing only facets of the message across channels, nudging consumers toward product or service differentiation, providing contextual marketing campaigns, and measuring customer action and customer attitude (Jones, 2014).
Linking Methodology to Content Creation
When content is deemed "good," it is considered to meet a set of criteria that has been found to achieve the stated and implicit aims of producing content. The following section will briefly address each criterion and link it to the need for an associated, overarching methodology, roughly as outlined by Kissane (2011).
Good content is appropriate. An important component of content strategy is a process for identifying content that is right for users and right for the business. Clearly content must support the overarching business goals and must be aligned with marketing. Appropriate content will be matched to users in terms of substance, style and structure, and delivery methods (Kissane, 2011). Indeed, content strategy is the process and practice of deciding which attributes are most important to achieving business goals and how content, among other things, can move the process from wherever it is currently located to where it needs to be in order to achieve those goals (Kissane, 2011). Determining whether a plan for content creation is good for the business include making decisions about the sustainability of the plan as outlined (Kissane, 2011). It is critical to constrain a plan so that it is not so ambitious that results in the publication of poor quality content in order to meet goals, or that it unreasonably taxes business resources, creating unmanageable fiscal ripples or crippling employee morale (Kissane, 2011).
Moreover, user-centric content helps users accomplish their goals. To achieve an excellent match between user goals and the content provided to users, it is necessary to delve deeply into users' needs -- and then develop content in just the right form to meet those needs (Kissane, 2011). As a content strategist, Daniel Eizans asserts that a meaningful analysis of users' goals must include an understanding of their behaviors: knowing what users are doing, feeling, thinking. Users' actions, cognitive conditions, constraints, and emotions all function like vectors converging on the interaction between the user and the content with which they engage (Kissane, 2011).
Good content is useful. Strong content methodology will define processes for identifying clear, specific intent for every piece of content created and for measuring the content against that declared purpose. Publishing poor quality content does more than confuse or irritate users; it wastes resources and is a catalyst for the development of a dynamic between users and the business that is counterproductive (Kissane, 2011). Poor quality content is incapable of contributing to positive relationships with users. Indeed, poor quality content creates an enduring chasm between a business and its customers.
Good content is user-centered. User-centered content is intimately related to the market segmentation and customer personas that are developed as part of marketing and advertising efforts. By focusing on user-centered content, the cognitive framework of users is kept front and center. What this means in practical terms is that content production will meet actual user needs and fulfill their expectations and desires (Kissane, 2011).
In his book, The Psychology of Everyday Things, cognitive psychologist David Norman outlined the importance of identifying and understanding the mental models held by consumers as a condition for user-centered design. He asserted that good design will "make sure that (1) the user can figure out what to do, and (2) the user can tell what is going on" (Norman, 1988).
A strong content methodology will drive user-centered to the hilt of creation by ensuring that the creators assume the users' frames of reference and lenses -- ways of perceiving (Kissane, 2011). Methodological processes will gauge the use of language, voice, and tone in the content against the users' frameworks.
Good content is clear. Content methodology includes processes for ensuring that content is clear, communicating to the various audiences in ways that convey the intended message without…