“Content strategy is to copywriting as information architecture is to design. I find this analogy to be especially encouraging because six years ago, as the crest of the first wave of the web was about to break, people had no idea what “information architecture meant.” – “Content Strategy: The Philosophy of Data” by Rachel Lovinger
“Content strategy refers to the planning, development, and management of content—written or in other media. The term is particularly common in web development since the late 1990s. It is a recognized field in user experience design, but also draws interest from adjacent communities such as content management, business analysis, and technical communication.” – Wikipedia.
These two mind maps double as modeling graphs to help visualize the thinking behind a brainstorming exercise. The objective being content distribution and promotion of a new digital asset.
Both charts present a variety of concepts to facilitate a discussion on defining goals, utilizing tools and channels and, most importantly, outlining options and related trade-offs.
In this particular case, the asset was originally created in an experiential marketing project. It, therefore, involves interactive content successfully consumed in face-to-face conversations, which engage target customers and key influencers.
At the time of writing this, we are looking at content adaptation and augmentation for online distribution. Addressing self-service prompts questions on the right content mix to generate new leads. This now entails the development of additional content accounting for the needs of a different experience.
Your comments and feedback are very much appreciated. Feel free to email and/or contact me on LinkedIn as you see fit. Thanks again.
By the way, in case you wondered, the title of this (as well as other posts) is “high tech marketing” only because that’s the industry I work in, but the above insights are relevant to other sectors.
“To envision information –and what bright and splendid visions can result- is to work at the intersection of image, word, number, art […] the principles of information design are universal – like mathematics.” “We envision information in order to reason about, communicate, document, and preserve knowledge – activities nearly always carrier out on two-dimensional paper and computer screen. Escaping this flatland and enriching the density of data displays are the essential tasks of information design.” – “Envisioning Information” by Edward R. Tufte.
“In today’s data driven world, professionals need to know how to express themselves in the language of graphics effectively and eloquently […] the ability to create effective charts and graphs has become almost as indispensable as good writing.” “Yet information graphics is rarely taught in schools or is the focus of on-the-job-training.” “With computer technology, anyone can create graphics, but few of us know how to do it well.” “Ultimately, it is content that makes graphics interesting. When a chart is presented properly, information just flows to the viewer in the clearest and most efficient way.” – “The Wall Street Journal Guide to Information Graphics” by Dona M. Wong.
This week I attended Edward Tufte’s “Presenting Data and Information” in Chicago. E.T. is teaching at Yale and is a leading expert in information architecture whose books are worth studying. It is worth noticing that information theory was first discussed by Claude E. Shannon, an MIT grad working at Bell Labs, Alcatel-Lucent’s research arm, in the 1940s.
I am now taking time to process my own thoughts and get new discussions on this topic going. From a marketing angle, advancing quality content is key to positioning thought leadership in the advent of emerging technologies. Strategy wise, the working assumption is that topic authorities and first movers can leapfrog competitors and capture significant industry mindshare. This eventually converts into actual market share in capital intensive industries such as network infrastructure and platforms in the telecommunications sector.
As more vendors join a nascent technology space, more voices prompt a pressing need to collaborate, share terms and constructs, as well as making an honest individual difference to rise above the pack. Technology evangelization programs and marketing efforts fostering the diffusion of things to come and innovations are only as good as the information and the intellectual leadership behind them. Success stories involving customers and partners (early adopters) and game changing breakthroughs solidify that narrative with added credibility and reputation.
Instead of just a slide with bullet points, text boxes, or a checkmark table for that matter, I created the above map as an abstraction to help visualize, plot, brainstorm and discuss what I think are key attributes of quality content. Note a sweet spot right in the middle. We can envision elegant content as [a] captivating and engaging, as well as thought provoking and worth [b] consuming, immersing, sharing and referring to. Elegant content results in high response levels and outperforms.
This last statement couples two sets of [a] leading and [b] lagging indicators given the need for defining success metrics based on cause-effect correlations, so that we get to know what works and what doesn’t. Leading indicators are understood as predictors of success (or failure), while lagging indicators become evidence. In this particular case, both [a] and [b] sets talk to the end user’s experience.
As an example, “immersing” entails depth of engagement and interactivity, which includes a feedback loop: a virtuous circle where the end user not only gains new knowledge of interest, but can also annotate, enhance and build new content upon what’s provided.
Reading the above map’s horizontal axis:
- extreme left – oversimplification defeats the purpose of synthesizing content as not enough meaningful information is delivered or the message is just too cryptic
- sweet spot – simple messages that are crisp and condense memorable insights as well as sophisticated ones that appeal to the recipient’s curiosity, personal discovery and intellectual excitement
- extreme right – overly complexity fails to educate, dilutes messages and creates confusion due to diminishing and even negative returns from information overload
Regarding the map’s vertical axis:
- extreme top – time wasters negate any benefits as there is no interest, which triggers a desire to abandon the session and harms reputation in the process
- sweet spot – information that is relevant to the audience and consumable in an user friendly and progressive manner, users can browse and get what they need when they need it on demand
- extreme bottom – time consuming exercises translate into overhead, that is more work than needed to infer information, causing detrimental fatigue and rising opportunity costs
At this point, if you are wondering if my map is just stating the obvious, you will be right. The objective is to deliver a construct we all can easily agree with and a workable framework for measurements. Beyond that point, this exercise has more to do with plotting where any given content marketing project would fall, then discussing observations on best practices, as well as evolving and changing the above visual as needed. Once populated, it becomes an infographic.
Just to provide some examples: content depicting highly technical subjects can easily fall in the lower right if complexity is not adequately addressed; some of the vaporware, smoke and mirrors can populate the upper left quadrant; seemingly simple yet cryptic content finds a home in the lower left.
Meeting Edward Tufte at “Presenting Data and Information” in Chicago, April 2014.
I would also like to take this chance to comment on the fact infographics have grown in popularity. This is also exposing deficits as quite a few happen to perform poorly and others drive misleading insights, confuse the issue, appear gratuitous and become a disservice. The same applies to a fair amount of slideware. Nonetheless, we shouldn’t overgeneralize because presenting data benefits from good graphic work.
Additionally, it makes sense to shift from “presentation” software to “discussion tools” on many occasions. Presentation formats assume a scripted narrative conveyed sequentially slide after slide. Existing technologies allow more options and possibilities. Earlier in the year I created a discussion tool allowing for interactive narratives based on a modular storyboard. Each live customer conversation was actually customized on the fly, as the discussion progressed in real time.
Instead of working with conventional slideware and text box or bullet point style charts, the tool allows instant access to any item by means of an Internet browser, all featuring eye friendly informational graphics as well as relevant photography (no stock photos). If interested, I will be sharing more on this in future articles.
“An experience is not an amorphous construct; it is as real an offering as any service, good, or commodity. In today’s service economy, many companies simply wrap experiences around their traditional offerings to sell them better. To realize the full benefit of staging experiences, however, businesses must deliberately design engaging experiences.” – “Welcome to the Experience Economy” by by B. Joseph Pine II and James H. Gilmore. Harvard Business Review.
“Special events have become increasingly important as competition forces organizations to look for new ways to get their messages across. Companies recognize that only so much work can be conducted via phone and online. Along with increased demand for special events, and perhaps because of it, the industry has become much more sophisticated.” – “The Event Planning Industry.” Entrepreneur.
A couple of weeks ago I shared my take on a social media paradox where the more we communicate over online platforms the faster the growth of business events where we end up gathering in person.
Today’s reality is looking fairly different from that mostly reclusive world, which some envisioned when looking into the advent of digital communications early on.
I am researching and working on my talk for an incoming IEEE conference while putting together the plan for a corporate event taking place in a couple of months here in Chicago. So, as the day progresses I’m finding myself going back and forth between what I need to get done on either side of an event experience.
In parallel, I am also reviewing notes on behavioral economics and neuroscience making compelling points about the role of emotions and information theory, which I am adapting to what this means to “content delivery and consumption.”
As Alan Alda of Stony Brook University’s Center for Communicating Science would put it, there is a need to “think about the person listening to what [we] are saying; this is not a question about what I know and how do I say it, it is about what’s happening in the receiver’s mind and how they are getting it” – PBS interview. Impactful presentations go beyond what’s just intellectually appealing, merely logical and “on message” to excite and create lasting experiences.
My talk’s storyboard for the IEEE conference includes what I think are memorable references (some anecdotal) that most in the audience will be either able to personally relate to or sympathize with. These are selected glimpses of real life dilemmas faced when innovating and launching emerging technologies. Basically, crisp stories around hot topics, which I portray as emphatic first person experiences in a conversational style.
I am also designing a backdrop of arresting infographic style charts and photographs, which I take pride in crafting. I will immerse the audience in a dynamic demonstration experience designed with a wow factor, stopping short of going overboard. Last but not least, there is the question on how to best engage in meaningful and mutually rewarding conversations before, during and after the event, as well as sharing content.
Switching back to the corporate event, an opportunity presents itself for a company meeting in Chicago. Given cloud technologies’ inroads and the pervasive impact across product lines, it makes sense to scale this to an event hosted at our Naperville Conference Center, which will double as a live webcast followed by any Alcatel-Lucent employee worldwide.
As a result, the agenda now features customers and partners speaking about their journeys in a changing telecommunications industry as well as how we can all best work together to move forward. We are also leveraging the company’s social media and online collaboration platforms to foster conversations (before, during and after the event). This is seeking a Town Hall meeting experience that embraces participation and transcends the event’s time and location constrains.
Our team is also looking into a set of assets generated by and around this event (e.g. blogs, photographs and videos to begin with) as well as new ones building upon them thereafter.
Some years ago I came across “vivific” a Latin word, which I think that can be translated into either “vivacity” or “vividness.” In any case, these are words that convey a feel for engaging and lasting experiences and a metric to go by.
The result should be messages that outlive the location and duration of the event, and meaningful conversations that carry and grow equity. In this context, marketing wise, equity can be measured in terms of confidence levels (credibility and reputation), captured mindshare (relevance) and perceived leadership position (recognition).
As usual, I will welcome any comments, emails, calls and opportunities to meet to further discuss.
“Because on-line search databases typically contain only abstracts, it is vital to write a complete but concise description of your work to entice potential readers into obtaining a copy of the full paper (…) in a business context, an “executive summary” is often the only piece of a report read by the people who matter. An abstract must be a fully self-contained, capsule description of the paper. It can’t assume (or attempt to provoke) the reader into flipping through looking for an explanation of what is meant by some vague statement. It must make sense all by itself.” – How to Write and Abstract by Philip Koopman, Carnegie Mellon University.
“These summaries, sometimes as much as a few hundred words but usually somewhat shorter, appear at the beginning of an article and are generally offered without cost to subscribers and nonsubscribers alike (…) some abstracts are supplemented by targeted key-words intended to increase visibility to search engines. The content of an abstract is extremely important because it can influence decisions.” – The Chicago Manual of Style by The University of Chicago Press.
Every paper, talk, video, brochure, catalog, contest and writings for webpages that I have involved in required the delivery of abstracts or brief descriptions. Interestingly enough, when looking at metrics, abstracts can end up being the unit of content that gets the higher readership as well as search traction. A publication’s “editorial style guide” sets guidelines on how to prepare, write and publicize information. However, many of them overlook the value and impact of short-length assets such as tag-lines, abstracts and brief descriptions and pitches.
We should be proud of having developed communication technologies that democratize content creation. We are making it even easier to publish, repurpose and cross-syndicate, as well as conducting all kinds of conversations on multiple online platforms. By having lowered barriers to communicate we are also experiencing some side effects. Information overload is an issue of concern, where many experience what I like to call “digital hoarding disorders.” High signal-to-noise ratios that clutter today’s channels can dilute and degrade our messages.
In this context, we are pressed for ways to conduct content curation and filtering for relevance, reputation and impact. Semantic technologies working with quality metadata and good abstracts become more and more valuable to marketers in high tech industries.
Good abstracts abstract out complexity and are not exercises on content compression. This is not about crafting collages of short but cryptic and even harder to understand sentences either. Good abstracts are more about synthesizing and clearly delivering the essence of one’s work to enable speed reading, grab the audience’s attention and generate interest in the item that they actually promote.
When discussing products and services, this becomes an exercise in targeted advertising, crisp storytelling and ease of consumption (reach and readability). In a way, writing abstracts can borrow “elevator pitch” techniques where the storyboard can be comprised of:
- A valid concern – a need and a gap that is worth addressing and that becomes an opportunity.
- A wow factor – a specific solution with compelling value, making a credible difference with a tangible and meaningful impact.
- A call-to-action – an immediate next logical step set on a “path-of-least-resistance” to move forward.
One other thought, we tend to think of an abstract as an asset that is delivered at the back end of a process… a marketing afterthought. However, abstracts can be written and deployed at the front end in ideation exercises and, therefore, in creative briefs. As an example, I have worked on innovation projects where I delivered abstracts to get the team thinking through what the project’s end goal would and should be. Basically, this helps with screening and testing concepts and, equally important, envisioning and defining success frameworks. This also aids to building consensus and setting a given course and speed for the project. This kind of abstracts also feed executive summaries.
Generally speaking, agility is driven by a continuous improvement mindset and is comprised by a series of both planned and unplanned iterative steps. Moreover, we can reap the benefits from unplanned serendipity not just as a happy casual accident, but as an eureka effect resulting from a workstyle as follows:
- Sketching – jotting down structures, concepts, key words and, if need to, also short sentences.
- Post-it clouds – these are collages using stickers that can be easily reorganized anytime, taking quick pictures of any groupings.
- Drafting – writing a strawman to get a first feel for what it takes to deliver the message in complete sentences.
- Prioritizing – re-writing things as needed for brevity, credibility, persuasiveness and impact.
- Rightsizing – keeping stuff down to what’s actually needed in terms of length (e.g. word count).
- Wordsmithing – seeking clarity, enabling speed reading and search engine optimization.
- Testing – proof reading and validating the abstract’s ease of readability and effectiveness.
- Cycling – iterating any of the above steps in any order to get needed improvements.
- Capping – saving oneself and the team from over-engineering the deliverable.
Sharing my updates and content on LinkedIn gives my work greater visibility and also supports what’s stated in my profile but, most importantly, creates opportunities for discussing and exchanging views with a number of other LinkedIn members, which helps me with gaining new insights as well as growing my network with relevant contacts.
Taking advantage of content visualization in my LinkedIn profile empowers me to convey facts, ideas and abstract concepts, which would otherwise be harder, or even next to impossible, to share. LinkedIn enables me to communicate in ways that are visually appealing and more effective beyond what’s stated as part of my profile. This is very rewarding when I receive messages that discuss my work and propose new opportunities.
My experience is that LinkedIn works as advertised and keeps getting better. Adding content to my profile makes it far easier for anyone to quickly see what I am about. The more open, the more compelling the results. My believe is that showcasing your thinking and work demonstrates talent, illustrates what makes you relevant and displays your potential.