New Thinking: Brain Traffic’s Content Strategy Quad

The content strategy quad has been the guiding cornerstone of our practice for years. But as with anything, thinking changes. Here is Brain Traffic’s new take.

The practice of content strategy has evolved a lot over the past few years. We’ve seen several newly defined specializations (like UX writingcontent engineering, and product content strategy) popping up all over in blog posts and job descriptions. In fact, there are literally thousands of content strategy jobs in the marketplace today! Love it.

But with change comes, uh, change. As conversations have progressed in the field, we’ve found that our original content strategy quad hasn’t quite held up in terms of capturing what content strategy is today and where it plays in both project processes and operational frameworks.

For example, it’s next to impossible to separate out workflow from governance—one can’t (or shouldn’t) exist without the other. We also recognized that we needed a component that demonstrates the need to integrate content planning along the user journey (versus assigning it as a static component of, say, a web page or PDF). And so on and so forth. So much thinking.

And so, here is our new content strategy quad:

Brain Traffic Content Strategy Quad 2018

Let’s take a closer look.

What is content strategy?

After all this time, we still define content strategy as guiding the creation, delivery, and governance of useful, usable content.

As a practice, content strategy helps to define, prioritize, integrate, systematize, and measure content.

What is content design?

We’ve embraced the term “content design” as “the process of using data and evidence to give the audience the content they need, at the time they need it, and in a way they expect” (coined by Sarah Richards of Content Design London). Content design as a thing has already taken over in the UK. We look forward to the craze continuing stateside.

The two areas of focus that intersect in content design are editorial strategy and experience design.

Editorial strategy answers the following questions:

  • What is our editorial mission?
  • Who are our target audiences?
  • What is our point of view?
  • What is our voice and tone?
  • What brand and language standards do we need to comply with?

Experience design answers the following questions (among many others):

  • What are our users’ needs and preferences?
  • What does our content ecosystem look like?
  • What are our customers’ journeys?
  • What formats will our content take?
  • How will design patterns shape our content on mobile and beyond?

More than anything else, effective content design requires knowing your audience—their needs, preferences, and expectations. When you balance these with your business goals, you can identify content design requirements that deliver that useful, usable content people love.

What is systems design?

Systems design is the process of defining the architecture, modules, interfaces, and data for a system to satisfy specified requirements. We’re interested in creating repeatable systems—both for machines and for people—to ensure content integrity over time and allow us to create, deliver, and manage content according to consistent standards and meaningful outcomes.

The two areas of focus that intersect in content systems design are content structure and process design.

Structure (or, content engineering) addresses the following considerations:

  • How will we organize content for browse-and-find?
  • What tags are most intuitive for users?
  • How will we categorize content for efficient management?
  • How will we structure our content for future reuse?
  • What are the requirements for personalization, dynamic delivery, AI?

Process design answers the following questions:

  • How will content move through its lifecycle?
  • What tools will we use to create, deliver, and maintain content?
  • Who is responsible and accountable for content? Who needs to be consulted and informed along the way?
  • What standards and metrics will we use to measure our content quality and performance?
  • How and when do we care for our existing content?
  • Who gets to say “no”?

You’ll see that we’ve rotated the quad 90º so that systems design can sit in the lower half. This was a conscious choice, as we believe content systems provide the foundation for successful content design.

What do you think?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the new quad. What’s working for you? What did we miss? Leave a comment below or talk to us on Twitter

Kristina Halvorson is CEO of Brain Traffic, founder of Confab Events, coauthor of Content Strategy for the Web, and host of The Content Strategy Podcast.

Intro to content strategy workshop

Want to dig deeper into the core principles of content strategy? Join Kristina's workshop at Confab 2019, coming up April 23–26 in Minneapolis. Tickets on sale now!

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