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Book Review: Content Strategy by Bailie and Urbina

February 17, 2013

It’s not every day that I’m extensively interviewed for a book. And it’s even more rare that I thoroughly approve of the book in which I am interviewed. So I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to read and review Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand, and benefits  by Rahel Bailie and Noz Urbina.

A picture of several content strategy, UX, linguistics and search books on a shelf,

My updated bookshelf with Content Strategy taking its rightful place.

The book is a comprehensive approach to corporate content strategy from the perspective of two seasoned consultants, with decades of hard-won content strategy experience between them. (Full disclosure: I am a friend of Rahel’s and her publisher sent me the book for review.)

The best part of the book is its collection of case studies, which show how companies large and small have used content strategy to improve their businesses. The message that comes out of these stories, and is reinforced through clear and compelling prose, is that content is one of your most precious corporate assets. Investing in good content strategy doesn’t just help companies save costs over time, it helps them drive revenue, build brand loyalty, and manage risk and compliance. And the alternative to good content strategy can be disastrous.

One of the biggest challenges for content strategists is convincing their executives to invest in the people and tools they need to produce, publish and maintain quality content for customers. The authors do a great job of building effective business cases based on the often under appreciated value of content. After the jump, I’ll outline three ways the book helps content strategists demonstrate the value of their work.

Cutting costs

Of course, content is very expensive. Good writing is one of the few things that can’t be automated. We can use tools like Acrolinx to automate some of the editing and translation efforts. We can implement governance to ensure that we are not creating duplicate content. We can figure out ways of building responsive designs that enable more automated content sharing and curation. We can reduce call volumes at the support centers by answering customer questions with better content experiences. All these efforts will help you cut costs, and so pay for themselves over time. But there’s no substitute for client-centric, clear, concise, compelling, credible, conversational, and clean content.

Quality content is expensive to produce because it requires a lot of smart people with excellent writing, editing, and content strategy skills. If the only way you can get funding for content strategy is through cost savings, one key expectation is that you will reduce head count for writers and editors. This can ultimately hurt the business by reducing content quality over time. That’s why I’m pleased that the authors spend so much space on other ways content can generate return on investment (ROI).

Driving revenue

I’m especially pleased that the authors gave our practices at IBM so much space in the book (pp. 107-109). It all started with a meeting with Rahel over breakfast at Intelligent Content 2010, in which I explained how we get funding for strategic content initiatives at IBM–revenue. The way we grow our business with content is by mining the search and social behavior of our target audience (mostly prospects), and building content experiences for them. If these experiences help them complete their information tasks in a pain-free way, they start to develop loyalty to our brand. This loyalty results in completed response forms on our site, which results in new leads for our business. When new leads result in sales, we grow our business.

Of course, we also need to close the loop with existing customers. This means improving the customer experience with content for the entire customer journey, from learning to solving to comparing to purchasing to installing to optimizing to getting support, and looping back to learning again when it’s time to upgrade. Every customer who has an excellent content experience with the dozens of assets she touches in her journey becomes an advocate for the brand.

Building brand loyalty

This is really where the book shines. It is unique in stressing the long view when it comes to building content strategies that result in ROI. On the ever-more-social web, customer loyalty is expressed through content. It is the way that clients and prospects help each other make better purchasing decisions. In this environment, bad content experiences not only do damage to that one customer’s loyalty, but to everyone in her network. Quality, findable, sharable content is no longer optional. It’s table stakes. If you want to win, you need to invest more than table stakes. You need to differentiate yourself from the competition by building excellent content experiences across the whole customer lifecycle. The book makes a compelling case for this, and helps content strategists tailor this message for their executives.

Conclusion

That’s only a small snapshot of a book, about which one revue could not do justice. It’s not just about ROI, it’s about best practices and governance and content management and taxonomy and SEO and translation and…. If I had one complaint, it’s that the book is a bit overwhelming. I found myself skipping and skimming a lot over aspects of the book that don’t apply to my work. And that’s OK. Good books help readers get what they need out of them. This book does that for a wide range of readers, in start-ups and large enterprises and everything in between. So I will leave you to the task of getting what you need out of the book.

I want to close with one admonishment:  if you’re serious about content strategy, this book is not optional.

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