Editor’s Note: The Content Wrangler is presenting a weekly series of twelve articles that provide useful insights and practical guidance for those who produce customer support websites. Columnist Robert Norris shares how to overcome operational challenges related to harvesting, publishing and maintaining online knowledge bases. His fifth installment alerts us to the pitfalls of a myopic content strategy that focuses almost exclusively on marketing to potential customers to the detriment of actual customers, staff and partners.

By Robert Norris, special to The Content Wrangler

Let’s imagine that our company is rolling out a new version of a key product or service. The Board and C-level leaders have been privy to the program manager’s presentations for months. The marketing team has been hard at work and there is snappy new copy and artwork for the public website and sales materials. Expectations are high and almost everyone is enthusiastic as the launch approaches.

Perched on the outside looking in are the content managers for intranet, extranet and customer support. Though they operate on the front lines supporting colleagues, partners and customers, they’ve been stiff-armed on much-needed content for their knowledge bases. Though burdened with many unanswered questions—due to the predictable crush of last minute tweaks—the product and marketing teams have no time to spare on support content. Oh sure, there will be a last-minute demo to the customer-facing personnel and a breezy e-mail from our vice president of sales heralding the new item, but this is just info-lite. No one has yet collaborated with the experts to develop the in-depth guidance and instructions needed to assist customers in troubleshooting, much less the nuanced information needed for non-standard installation, compatibility and customization.

Left with no choice and no time to edit, test, and tweak content for their target audiences, an ad hoc effort ensues to publish the minimum guidance needed. Presentations and sales materials are culled for reusable content that is cobbled together in a rush. Despite contributors pedaling as fast as they can, the launch is initiated absent much-needed and vetted high-quality problem-solving content resources. From a quality control perspective, no one has taken the time to flag and cull existing resources that will become outdated nor modify those resources that ought to alert users to the new solution.

Image: Sign that reads "typical"
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For the old hands, it’s business as usual.  Worse yet, this pattern is likely to repeat until leadership recognizes that piecemeal content development results in increased cost, rework, missed opportunities and damage to our brand due to:

  • Undiscovered errors
  • Gaps in coverage
  • Inconsistent messaging
  • Confused users

This article contends that the term, “Content Strategy,” has been misappropriated by our colleagues in marketing and sales to narrowly focus upon the messaging to attract new customers.  One need only peruse content strategy related job descriptions on LinkedIn to confirm the premise.

Director, Content Strategy: 

This position within Marketing organization will be responsible for content strategy and marketing across our corporate website as well as other digital channels.”*

Among the many problems stemming from a myopic content strategy is that leadership is misled into assuming that the organization is focusing heavily upon producing the very best content, when content other than marketing suffers from the lack of a professional publishing process and executive support in the Boardroom.  For those readers not yet sure if their organization has instituted a truly enterprise content strategy, characteristics of an ineffective content strategy include:

  • Disproportionate investment of time, effort and expertise into one target audience to the detriment of others, e.g. significantly more energy was invested into one-off leadership briefings than was spent preparing the customer support team for the launch.
  • Large variances in quality due to inconsistent production, e.g. copy for troubleshooting resources contains errors a professional editor would spot and correct.
  • Uncoordinated publishing and gaps in coverage, e.g. announcements are released before key resources are available and/or the support team is prepared.

Image: Return on Investment
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Put more affirmatively, the return on investment (ROI) for knowledge base content increases when all of the various audiences for information related to the new product or service have access to timely, high quality content oriented to their needs. Factor in increased efficiency and productivity along with enhanced risk mitigation and one can make a compelling business case for an enterprise content strategy that streamlines how the organization develops, publishes and maintains content for all target audiences.

Major content initiatives require a spectrum of related content to serve target audiences ranging from the boardroom to the call center and beyond. Absent a content strategy that emphasizes quality, consistency and usefulness, some audiences will be short-changed resulting in avoidable problems. Moreover, low quality content is a significant risk to the organization’s brand that is surprisingly difficult to mitigate. A content strategy that invokes professional production and coordinated publishing for all channels offers opportunities to optimize outcomes and sidestep risks.

Last Week: In case you missed it, here’s a link to “(Im)-proper Care and Feeding of Subject Matter Experts,” part four of the twelve part series.

Next Week:  Robert’s sixth of twelve articles, “Devising a Content Strategy for All Audiences” examines the essential characteristics of an enterprise content strategy which drives our content operations toward serving the needs of actual customers, staff and partners along with those of potential customers.

Image: Content Strategy
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*Top content strategy job in USA LinkedIn search result for 1 March, 2016