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3 ways to get content strategy funded

October 8, 2010

Sometimes I take the stuff we demonstrate in our book for granted. I’m reminded of these times when I have to present our approach to skeptical executives. For example, as an editor, it took me a long time to accept that some people don’t care enough about content quality to invest in editorial resources. For these folks, it won’t do to simply say, “high quality content reflects well on our brand, whereas low quality content reflects poorly on our brand.” Though I am firmly convinced of this, this message has not often fallen on sympathetic ears.Even when it has fallen on sympathetic ears, saying without proving it does not spur investment.

But I’m stubborn. So I have spent the better part of my 20-year career as an editor and content strategist trying to convince one executive after another of the veracity of my claims. Though these arguments have failed more often than not, I have learned a few things from my failures. I have heard every objection and formed counter-arguments for each of them. I am now more confident than ever that I can convince executives to invest heavily in content tooling, processes and resources. What follows is a three-part model I think can convince executives from just about any organization to invest in content strategy.

1. Good content strategy pays for itself in lower hosting and maintenance costs

A lot of organizations carry some bad habits into their web processes from their past print practices. The main thing is you can churn out print products at will without affecting the quality of any one of the products. The sheer quantity of published artifacts actually lends credibility to print publishers. Just add a few more shelves to the archives.

In web publishing, the more you publish, the less effective the whole mass of information becomes. Most companies specialize in a narrow range of offerings–their niche. There’s only so many angles you can write about related to your niche before you start repeating yourself. When you do, you start to compete with yourself for audience attention. This is when web sites start to go bad if they don’t have a good governance system in place to keep their content inventory to a minimum. When a user searches on some keywords, she is just as likely to find the old stale content as the new fresh content. That’s when you know you have a problem.  The trouble is, it costs money to clean up a site that has used the print practice of publishing something and soon forgetting about it as they and move on to the next (often redundant) experience.

How do you convince executives to fund these kinds of clean-up efforts? It won’t do to say “it will create a higher quality experience for our users”. No, you have to talk about costs. No matter how much it costs to transform your content management system into a lean and mean content machine, it will always pay for itself within a year. How? First you have hosting costs, which, as an industry standard, run around $10 per page per year. Then you have maintenance costs, which can run 30 times that in larger organizations. It is a myth that Web content is cheap or free. Web experiences might have a lower initial cost than print, but within a year, the cost of a Web page will far outstrip the cost of a print publication with the same number of words. Keep a Web page around for five years and it will cost 100 times more than a comparable print publication.

2. Good content strategy pays for itself in net new revenue

I have written before about the 30% improvement in engagement when content is optimized. In my company, a 30% improvement in engagement across the enterprise represents a $1 billion in new revenue over five years. Because content optimization pays for itself almost instantly in new leads into the pipeline, this model is very compelling to executives.

Now, I work for a very large company, which publishes more original content than any other company on the Web. So the opportunity is also a huge challenge. I can only work towards the 30 percent incrementally brand by brand and country by country. And I know I will only achieve 30% improvement in cases where there is a lot of room for improvement, such as the Smarter Planet redesign we document on pages 99-102 in our book. In that case, we went from re-using flat ad copy from print to creating rich interactive experiences with our best content team. That content transformation resulted in better than 30% engagement improvements. It was well worth the investment.

3. Yes, good content strategy improves your brand awareness and loyalty

If I have said this to executives once, I have said it a thousand times. Until recently, I didn’t really have solid evidence for my claim. Now I do. Like most companies, IBM conducts a brand health survey regularly. I can’t publish the details here, but I can talk about the study in general terms. In it, we find a representative sample of our target audience and show a portion of them some media assets while withholding those same assets from a control group. Then we measure the influence by giving both groups a survey.

For the first time, we used this methodology to measure the influence web assets have on our target audience. In this case, we actually had three groups: One saw nothing, one saw a mixed experience of content–some repurposed print content and some interactive content–and a third only the highest quality, hand-crafted interactive and social content. Not surprisingly, the hand-crafted content evinced strongly positive brand sentiments. The surprising thing was that the repurposed print content evinced some strongly negative brand sentiments.

For the first time, we have clear evidence that good content strategy has a positive influence on the brand; and bad content strategy has a negative influence on the brand. I have often said that a bad content strategy (such as those that lead to high bounce rates) are not brand-neutral things, but actually produce negative brand sentiments. I based this claim on the assertion that user time and attention is precious, so wasted time and attention is an annoyance to the audience. For the first time, we have quantitative evidence that my claim is correct. In the simplest terms, companies can’t afford not to invest in good content practices if they value brand health.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Janet Wallace permalink
    October 13, 2010 12:30 am

    Thanks for the intriguing article. I’m interested in the stat of 30% engagement improvement. Do you have any thoughts on whether this 30% could be replicated for small companies?

  2. October 13, 2010 2:46 am

    The easier it is for your audience to find content in the first place, the harder it is to improve on engagement. Users who know what they are looking for, and indicate this by searching for it, are far more likely to engage than users who don’t know what they’re looking for (and are just browsing). So if you have a good search experience for your users, you will see high engagement rates. Most sites don’t have good search experiences, so they get high bounce rates and low engagement rates. Whether it is a smaller site or a larger one, you can get 30% engagement improvement if you 1. Improve your search experience, and 2. Improve your content quality so that what your search experience displays entices engagement.


  1. A whole stack of content strategy links | Firehead

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