A Back to School Style Guide for A+ Content

An image of an echidna, dressed as a teacher, in front of a blackboard.

For many people, Labour Day not only marks the end of the summer, but the start of the "year." After all, for a quarter of our lives, we head back to school. And if we have kids, that experience is extended for a few more years.

September brings a feeling of a fresh start -- a new beginning. In business, summer vacations are generally over and people are refreshed and ready to hit the ground running. The work-day routine is normalized (and most people are actually in the office), so it's a perfect time to reflect, review, and renew.

Going back to school, it's a great time to try out a new look or a new haircut (let me tell you, I have a Rogues gallery of bad high school hairstyles to look back not-so-fondly on.) So as it's the start of the new "year," why not take a few moments to see if you're on the right track -- or if your messaging needs some remedial work.

And by focusing on three Ds, you can help ensure your messaging is an A+!

Define

This one appears to be the easiest, but it's often the hardest because your corporate messaging may get in the way of honesty. How so? Because likely your statement revolves around helping people live better lives (this goes for not-for-profit and profit), but the reality of your website is that it's main goal is some sort of conversion -- either a purchase, a subscription, or another call to action to get more directly involved.

Defining what your true goal is can help ensure that your structure and messaging are in alignment with reaching that goal. And it's extremely important to remember that a website (or a social feed, or a publication) is just one tool in a much larger toolbox. All of these tools and tactics should align to your ultimate goal. For example, your goal may be helping people live better lives, but to get there you need to raise funds, or have them buy a product that will help them do it. Your ultimate goal may be altruistic, but the tool (say, a website) may be strictly dedicated to the conversion.

Deconstruct

What is it you're trying to say in your messaging? Is your information architecture aligned with your primary market and primary goal, or are you trying to be all things to all people? Essentially, can you align everything you're doing to a key corporate goal?

Blogging, since we're here, is a good example. What's the ultimate goal for most companies? To get more work. So how does a blog help? Well, it's a good way to get your name out and it helps show the diversity of your knowledge and your organizational expertise. The hope is that people read the blog, trust who you are and what you know, and then look favourably upon you when it's time to hire.

(Sidebar: That's why ego blogs don't work. Having a blog because your CEO wants to write his or her thoughts will fizzle out quickly. But if you have a blog that's targetted, focused, and keeps the ultimate end goal in mind, it's far more sustainable.)

So look at your content, it's structure, and its intent. Is it all aligned with where you want your visitors to go? More importantly, does it meet the needs of your customers, as defined by them? Have you asked or are you just assuming you know what your customer wants? This is a great opportunity to solicit feedback either through a survey, focus groups, or structured UX research.

Deploy

Now you can create content, update your information architecture, and deploy a strong content strategy that's built upon a much firmer foundation. It's easy to get distracted and focus on the deliverables -- that's the fun stuff: the content writing, the creation of multimedia elements, the advertising, the campaigns... But they're all doomed to failure if you're not aligned with the ultimate goal.

Much like with requirements management, you want to ensure your content activities align with the key goals that you've identified in the define process. If they don't, then don't focus on them. And don't try to shoehorn a tactic into meeting a goal -- again, it's likely not going to have the desired effect if it's not properly aligned.

Of course, undertaking the three Ds can be beneficial at any time of the year. Whether you're undertaking a new advertising expenditure, looking at a content refresh, or considering a wholesale update of your website, you want to make sure that you're taking the right steps and following the right path towards success.

After all, understanding your goals and aligning your content efforts to meet those goals never goes out of style -- unlike that sad little ponytail I tried to grow during my second year at university...

An image of the author, with a terrible mullet-esque hairstyle, from the mid-90s.

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