2 years ago

Winning Business on the Back of Content Strategy

I’ve participated in a couple dozen pitches over the last year, and would like to share the most effective tools I’ve used to help the team win them.

I’ve found that the most enlightened brands tend to look for the same things when evaluating pitch work:

  1. A deep understanding of the brand & its users
  2. An evaluation of existing content with recommendations for improvement
  3. An evaluation of communications channels
  4. Proof. Trust-building elements

Obviously there are a number of different ways to address the above criteria during a pitch. The most effective tools I’ve used are outlined below. They’re the most effective for two main reasons: they clearly articulate the authors level of understanding (therefore if the author doesn’t have a clear understanding, or has a misaligned understanding, the tools will reflect that.); and they don’t suggest any visual design, leaving the concept open for interpretation*.

Document 1: Content Usage Matrix

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Purpose: To show audience segmentation and content categorization. To prioritize content, and ensure all content is fulfilling the requirements of each user-type.

Enhance With: Navigation & way-finding options

Document 2: Content Distribution Map

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Purpose: To show why different types of content exist, and how they are distributed across the various properties utilized by the brand.

Enhance With: User Journeys

Document 3: Taxonomy Quadrant Map

(full size)

Purpose: To show hierarchy of content, as well as identify gaps/ opportunities for new content.

Enhance With: Opportunities



Ok, so any pitch can be lensed under a creative concept, UX concept, strategic concept. The most successful pitches I’ve been a part of, focus on a strategic concept; and tend to utilize a content strategy as the glue that holds the pitch together.

The reason: regardless of what the pitch is for (i.e. a Facebook app, an iPhone app, a new site.) a unified content strategy will illustrate how the result of the pitch will work with an over-arching content strategy. I’ve actually participated in a few pitches where the client was looking for something specific, but ended up buying something completely different because we approached the pitch from a define-content-first standpoint.

If you have any questions, or want vector-based copies of the examples I’ve shown. Please reach out.


*Statistically, there is a better chance of loosing a pitch based on creative than focusing on the possibilities and leaving more to the imagination.

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2 years ago

Resonance, Relationships & User Experience

I remember being 5 years old, sitting in front of the T.V. and listening to The Count on Sesame Street tell me that 1+2=3. It was the first time I remember thinking about the abstract concept of numbers. Prior to that moment, I always associated numbers with objects: one apple, plus two more apples, gives you three apples; but that day, I realized that numbers are inconsequential in comparison to operator. 

What i was beginning to realize is that relationships define the elements of an equation. 

It took another couple decades to figure out the importance of this insight when I realized there’s a link between relationships and resonance. I started thinking about how I could score a relationship. This is the equation I developed.

The score is intended to be a rudimentary tool to find brand advocates; but it does a lot more. I’ll explain this in more detail in a future post; for now I’m going to discuss the importance of understanding the link between resonance and relationships.

Most brands have quarterly marketing pushes that are intended to establish or nurture a relationship through a specific medium. This schedule of activity is generally financially driven (i.e. driven by dividing up a yearly budget) rather than being market driven (i.e. driven by market forces like the release of a competitive product.) I think all campaigns should be driven by a market trigger. The reason this doesn’t happen very often is that it requires proactive research on the part of a brand.

That said, relationship mapping is a useful technique I use to visually establish long-term and short-term goals. This same technique can be used regardless of whether a brand has a strict communications schedule or no schedule at all. The point is to get alignment on a communications calendar and map it back to the relationship the brand would like to have with its users.


The relationship map is a simple concept that maps resonance over time. This should include a current time marker, so readers can easily see historical experiences v. planned experiences.

Consistency & Resonance

In order to get a brands relationship to resonate with a user, relevant communications need to be delivered to the user on a consistent basis. The longer the user receives consistent communications, the stronger the brand relationship will be. 

Many brands have become schizophrenic recently; launching new campaigns, utilities and communications platforms without considering the past and future relationship spectrum. (Note: Considering the relationship spectrum doesn’t require CRM data but when paired with a CRM strategy, relationship planning can reveal the secrets to communicating effectively utilizing the various data points.)

Sometimes a brand will have such a poor relationship (or no relationship) with a group of users, it will need to rebrand in order to build a cognitive separation between the previous relationship and the potential for a new relationship. There are a few ways to create this separation, but rebranding is the most common way and requires that a lot of attention be given to the new relationship. Just like starting a new romantic relationship, a brand needs to devote a lot of time and effort to re-engage its users.

The let-down is one of the biggest pitfalls in relationship management. One of the most recent examples is Apple’s launch of the iPhone 4S. There was a lot of hype about it, but it turned out to be a minimal upgrade. If a particular experience (or message) doesn’t meet the users expectations, it’ll be some level of let-down. A brand will need to gauge audience reaction to factor in how the experience will affect the relationship continuum. If a brand doesn’t address the cause of the let-down, and continues with the communications calendar without any change; it risks relationship degradation.

Repetition & Relationship

There are two states of most relationships; active and passive. Active relationships are relationships that have been exercised recently. Although each individual will have a different threshold with regards to when they consider a relationship to be active v. passive, active relationships generally become passive after a certain amount of time has passed. Depending on how resonant past experiences have been to the user, passive relationships are generally easier to re-activate than establishing a new relationship.

It’s obviously better to avoid having a relationship slip into passivity, which is why relationship mapping is such a valuable technique. It won’t just get alignment on what the brand would like to achieve, but will also provide a visual of how engagement points affect the overall relationship. This will allow the brand to add or shift engagement points in order to ensure the majority of their users consider the brand relationship to be active.

In a future post, I’ll do a deep-dive into the relationship score. I’m still working through some potential problems. If you have any questions, or would like me to walk through the relationship map concept, feel free to reach out. I’d be happy to provide some instruction.

As you can see, the template for the relationship map is pretty simple. I use Omnigraffle and get the map printed in large format, so it can be pinned on a wall. It costs about $200 from Kinkos, but well worth it. - I’ve also used this technique on white boards, so it can definitely be used in low fidelity, especially if you plan on leaving it up for long periods of time and will be making changes to it over time.


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2 years ago

What is UX (condensed into 10 slides)

I took everything I know about UX and condenced it down to an easy-to-swallow slide share presentation.

What is UX, in 10 Slides from Jordan Julien

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2 years ago

UX: The Key to Successful Social Media

When people ask me what I think ‘UX’ means, my response is generally pretty consistent: “UX is the synthesis of business requirements, content requirements, and users insights.”

In this post, I’ll explain why UX is the key to being successful in social media.

First, lets examine the 4 most common objectives of social media.

1. Get a user to buy something

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Although I really don’t think social commerce is going to catch on, I think social media is great for creating buzz around an offer. So, if you want someone to actually buy something, you should probably have a trackable offer. (i.e. a promo code, coupon, etc.)

2. Get a user to think something

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In order to think something, users need to be convinced to think that way. Generally, users don’t want to spend any time being convinced, however most social media campaigns try to convince users to think something. (i.e. We want users to think ProGlide blades last a long time.) In order to achieve this objective, brands need to create engaging content, geared toward their users and proactively seek out conversations with users about relevant content their posting. 

3. Get a user to tell you something

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All you have to do is ask. Users like talking through social media channels. If you’d like to know something about them, just ask. There are a TON of really slick tools out there to help monitor what users are already saying about you - so really, all you have to do is listen, and probe when you need more clarification.

4. Get a user to share something

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There are three guidelines when trying to achieve this objective: 1. Create content users want to share 2. Remove barriers to sharing 3. Ensure users know exactly whats being shared. - There are a dozen other guidelines I generally work into a social governance document (i.e. ask users to share, don’t create unsharable content, utilize different channels for different content, share others content. ect) but those are the big 3.


Understanding that these common objectives are at the heart of at least 80% of social media campaigns will help me explain how UX is the key to achieving these goals through social media channels. Remember, UX is the synthesis of content requirements, business requirements, and user insights.

I’m not saying that a single UX professional will be able to single-handedly craft an ongoing social media strategy, but I do feel that the following elements fall under the umbrella of UX strategy:

1. Content Strategy: I personally love content strategy, but don’t get asked to participate in its definition very often. This is definitely something that a UX professional would need to be asked to participate in, as its generally a big job. A good content strategy will help define how many channels you’ll be using, how you’ll be communicating, what memes you’ll be using, how frequently you’ll be communicating, segmentation, internationalization, etc. I think a good content strategy should be the force that unites digital strategy, social strategy and search strategy. 

2. Requirements Gathering: Is probably the most important first-step in achieving an effective social strategy. This will, not only help determine what the goals and KPI’s of the strategy are, but it will also help educate clients & correct any preconceived ideas.

3. User Research: I’m not sure why brands find comfort in buying research from other companies, but the best form of user research (in my experience) to inform a social strategy are focus groups and card-sorts. Focus groups will help determine what your users are really interested in, and card sorts (or something similar) will help you determine communications strategy.

And the real key is taking these elements of strategy & synthesizing them into an actionable design specification document that outlines user flows, ecosystem design, and rough layouts.

This might seem straightforward to most of you, but it really is surprising how infrequently UX strategists are asked to participate in social media campaign design. I’ve recently had the opportunity to work with a very well known PR company that positions itself as a social media strategy authority. Not only did they not conduct any user research, they didn’t spend any time on content strategy. Their approach was to ‘ride-the-wave’ of content that social channels create, and simply add more content when available. They created a half-assed social media governance document that was obviously mostly ripped off from another client (as there were places within the document where the find-and-replace missed another clients name). So, not only did they not care about overall UX & message fragmentation, across channels - they only examined social media from a community manager perspective. This means they’ve come up with a competent way of listening & posting updates to selected social networks, however they haven’t thought about what content is the most effective, what tools are available on each channel, and how to integrate messages across channels. The biggest miss was the lack of mobile-centric communications. 

If you want to elevate your social strategy & tactics - Please consult a UX professional. He may not be able to answer all the question-marks, but he’ll be able to help you define which questions need to be answered, and should be able to help evaluate the answer. He’ll also be able to synthesize the content, requirements and insights into a succinct social media plan.



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