Web content strategy: the rhythm method

The other day one of my clients briefed me for a new launch. After discussing the product’s features, technology and selling points, we set about coming up with a shopping list of collateral needed to support the launch. When we turned our attention to web content, I could tell this part of the conversation was going to be shorter than the part about collateral. The gist of his input was: “Take the specs and selling points from the brochure and drop them into the product page. Make the brochure available as a downloadable PDF. We’ll put a banner on the home page for a few weeks and include the press release in the newsroom feed.” End of story.

Well, not quite. At the start of the conversation he had taken me through the origins of the product. He explained the fascinating technology they used to design it. He spelled out the cost savings that customers could realize if they used it. All very interesting stuff. While some of it would make it into the brochure, I knew that there was no room for it in the product page template. Some of the anecdotes would be told verbally to prospects during sales presentations. But someone visiting the website would never hear them.

This experience isn’t unusual. I regularly run across mid-size companies that are struggling to meet the existing need for collateral and serve increasingly demanding web users. They think it’s an “either-or” situation because of resource restrictions. And because they are more comfortable producing printed collateral, it’s what drives web content creation. They think of the web as collateral. They try to replicate the appearance of the content in collateral on the web. Like a younger sibling, the web gets to wear the older sibling’s hand-me-downs.

Web content isn’t a hand-me-down

It doesn’t have to be that way. I highly recommend another approach. Instead of trying to replicate collateral on the web, look into the product’s lifecycle and your organization’s business cycles for inspiration.

Think lifecycle

The launch of a new product isn’t about the launch – it’s about the product. The launch is just an event on a timeline. Of course, you need to make sure to make it an event on the web. But remember from that point forward the product’s lifecycle will create opportunities to develop web content.  All you have to do is find ways to exploit these moments…read on.

Look inside your organization

Most organizations develop sales support tools that go unseen by the people in communications. The sales team uses them during one-on-ones with customers. You know what I’m talking about. That ugly Excel ROI calculator. That boring technology overview that the guys in R&D wrote. With a little lateral thinking many of these tools can be adapted to the web. Turn the calculator into a web app. Rewrite the overview in a shorter, more readable format.

Staging your web content

During a launch everyone is in “moon shot” mode. Common wisdom says that everything has to be ready on D-Day, right? Wrong. Sure, some web content needs to be ready when interested parties start heading to the company’s site. But does it all have to be online?

I’m convinced some of it can – no, should – come later. Why? Because one of the best way to get people to come back to a restaurant is to change the items on the menu. Try it with your web content. For example, have the press release and web page ready to go on Day 1. Ditto for a banner announcing the launch. Give the product page it’s own feed. Promote subscription to the feed. Then a few days later put a ROI estimator online and announce it in the feed. A couple weeks later, publish photos and a write up from a tradeshow. And announce that. Wait a few days and then publish links to product reviews. Announce these. When you sign a new contract, publish a write-up of the win, but also make sure the customer agrees to be the subject of a case study. When preparing the case study, film the interview of the client. Then write up a case study and publish a shorter video version of it. I hope by now you get the idea.

Work less, sell more

This product lifecycle-based approach to content strategy has three advantages.

  1. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. By spreading web content delivery out over a longer period of time you can spread out the resources needed to create it. Repurposing existing internally-generated content for external consumption saves time and money. Events in the product’s lifecycle become content items. Finally, the announcement of the publication of new content becomes content in and of itself.
  2. Stay on radar. Not everyone is lining up to buy your iPad product the day it is launched. What you should he aiming for is to be on the customer’s radar the day they start actively pinging for a new product. That’s where the feed comes in.
  3. Mirror, mirror. All of a sudden you’ve got a living, breathing website, with lots of fresh content and no cobwebs. You’ve done it by aligning your content strategy with your business strategy. Your website reflects the energy of your organization.

When done well, you can avoid D-day hangover, let the business cycle drive content creation, make the content you produce more relevant and maintain customer engagement over the lifecycle of the product. Not bad for a day’s work.

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