Updated: Feb 18
By Lauren Thibodeau and Donna Weber. First published on the Customer Education Management Association blog.
If you build it they won’t come Part 1 of our blog painted a rather bleak picture of an overgrown content jungle, confused and frustrated customers, and duplication of cost and effort. Now it’s time to change the scenery. Rather than living in a dark tangle of content, consider landscaping a manicured garden with clear signposts and well-lit pathways to guide users on their journey with your product.
In our experience, there are five steps to build a content strategy with impact:
Bring people together. While it’s great that many folks across your company create customer facing content, most likely it’s not built in a coordinated way. Donna likes to negate a famous saying from the film A Field of Dreams by saying, “If you build it, they won’t come.” This means that just because you have content ‘out there’ somewhere in the ecosphere, your users will not necessarily find it or use it. Nor will it improve customer onboarding, adoption, and lifetime value just because it exists. To address this, we recommend finding all the folks are in your organization who create customer facing enablement content. Most likely they reside in the Customer Success Manager (CSM) team, Documentation, Support, possibly Professional Services, and even Marketing teams. If you have a Customer Education or Training department, definitely connect with them as well. The next step is to pull these folks together into a meeting. You might even form a content council with representatives from every group that creates content. Then, as a group, start by taking inventory of customer facing content. What exists, where does it live, and in which format? You will likely be surprised to find a jungle of overlapping effort and platforms. One company Donna works with has training modules on a learning management system, “how to” videos on YouTube, knowledge articles on the support platform, plus information on the community platform. She uncovered at least ten different platforms where enablement material is published.
Curate content. Once you know the current state, the next step is to determine as a team the content output required for each new release. When you know what needs to be conveyed to customers, then you can parse out who creates each deliverable and in which format. The main thing to consider is to divide and conquer, rather than duplicate. This means each team has to let go of ownership for the entire output. Instead, we recommend you curate content across the different outputs to create a prescriptive journey for customers. To help with the overall strategy and process, you might even appoint a “knowledge czar” or “content queen” to guide the change. As a team you can build a strategy across the company to provide consistent messaging to customers and to make sure everyone is pointing users in the same direction.
Focus on the user and their job. A common mistake most people make when writing about software technology is to focus on the software. Lauren has seen this instinct at virtually every company she’s worked with - it’s only natural for companies to want to explain how to navigate around their gorgeous user interface and point out all the cool features and things users can do. However, customers don’t care about your product. Customers care about how to be better at their jobs. Rather than fixating on your product, think about your users, the different roles engaging with your products, and what they aim to achieve. Then, build content and courses designed to make users heroes at their companies, not master button clickers in your software. Next, show them the progression of courses in context of a visual, role-based learning path, easily accessible on your website.
Standardize. Once you have a comprehensive plan to enable customers along their journey, the next step is to develop consistent styles and standards across the content council. This keep customers from getting confused. Donna likes to develop a style guide so everyone who writes technical content has the same writing approach and uses the same technical terms. Lauren encourages teams to define what constitutes “training” compared other types of valuable content like knowledge base articles and marketing Webinars. We also suggest you create templates for each output format for content developers to follow.
Tackle your technology stack. Once you have people and processes figured out, look at rationalizing your technology stack, and make sure you have one set of tools you need to help you scale. Your tech stack can include tools to single-source content, serve up and track usage of content, provide in-product guidance, and make it easier to find what you’re looking for using universal search technology. It’s helpful to think about your tech stack in three layers - what’s customer facing, what do you use for internal productivity, and what infrastructure elements do you have or need, for example to drive reporting and analytics. We dive into the technology stack in an upcoming blog.
While an untamed jungle is an essential component of a biodiverse world, it’s a hostile environment when customers can’t navigate through your content to get what they need. Building a glorious garden with shrubs, flowers, lighting, signage, and pathways makes life better for both you and your customers. Or to translate into the language of knowledge and training, delight customers with cross-functional collaboration, content curation, a job-role focus, consistent styles and standards, and a common technology stack. Then, stroll through the garden together and notice the sweet smell of success.