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16 Apr 2011

When Content Strategies Collide Pt 3: War. Huh! What is it Good For?

2011-04-08 002This is Part 3 “When Content Strategies Collide – MarComms vs. TechComms”.
Today we’ll look at how the gap between communications departments (specifically Technical and Marketing) persists despite the damage to customer experience.




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Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?


Like many neighbouring nations, we get very excited about our little differences instead of focussing on our big picture commonalities. In my mind, the usual suspects that separate people are:
  • Language
  • Culture
  • Geography

Let’s take a look at these areas and the impact they have on the people we’re all in the end working for: the customer aka, the content consumer. 

Language: We’re All “Content Professionals”


Whatever it says on your business card – your passport in the world of content – we have many words we share. We all talk about:
  • Consistency of…
    • Language
    • Style
    • Structure
    • user-orientation
    • taxonomy / metadata
  • Localisation
  • Customer-specific content and understanding what the customer wants or needs
  • Content management
  • Content audits
  • and now of course, Content Strategy.

Where we differ is in some of the details. MarComs and Tech Comm are the way that the organisation communicates with the outside world. The only other “Communications” group is “Business Communications” Take this list of words and see how many terms hit home with you:

Brand Values / Brand Management XML Information Architecture
Social Media DITA CX
Socially Enabled CCMS Personas
SEO CMS UX
Single Sourcing Context Sensitive Monetised
Syndicated Reusable Modular
Messaging Style guide Structural Templates
Analytics / Metrics ROI Content Modelling

I read Kristina Halvorson’s “Content Strategy for the Web” and in the margins of each page put little markers about whether the statements and language were applicable and understandable off the web and outside the marketing team. My markers indicated three things: “Yes (this idea is applicable off the web)”, “No”, “Maybe”, and “Not usually, but it should be!”

There were lots of each category, but the “No” items were in the vast minority, i.e., most content best practices don’t differ between channels. Let’s take an example which any content professional can immediately understand (or should):

“If your CMS metadata is inconsistent or poorly managed, your content’s going to pile up, and information will be buried. You’ll also end up creating redundant content, waste money on inefficient workflow, and generally rack up unnecessary content-related expenses and headaches.”

And then a bit that would leave other content professionals making a sort of slanty grimace:

“During the analysis phases, you collected all of your messages – the pieces of information you want the user to learn or the user wants to see. In the content strategy phases, you make recommendations about how the messages all work together to form useful, usable, enjoyable web content.”

So, we share some words, but not all, and those we do, we don’t always mean the same things by them. “Messages”, “Messaging”, “Messaging hierarchy” are all pretty marketing-specific for those in other departments. When defined as “the pieces of information you want the user to learn or the user wants to see”, then it’s more relatable. It’s not that different.

People outside the web team get shocked and offended by quotes like:

“The content strategist may collaborate closely with a web editor or web writer to oversee the creation, revision, and approval of all required content. In the absence of a web editor or writer, the content strategist may also be called upon to create all necessary content.”

... “All”?

Come again?

Naturally anyone in the Land of Tech Comm would be hurt and dismayed to hear that “all” content on the website, which probably includes tens of thousands of their words in HTML Help, How-To, FAQ, Release Note, and downloadable PDF form, and more, was being so totally left out of Content Strategy thinking.

I think it’s obvious, however, that Kristina, or any leading web content strategist saying something like this is talking about the new and website-specific words, probably in the context of only the web project in question. There are loads of words which only exist on the web and serve to gel together, relate, enhance, and support all the other content created by other sources that needs to go public via online channels.

So… chill.

In Part 4 we’ll go on to discuss the Cultural divide – the different way that MarComms and TechComms tick. 

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