In Search of Content Sanity

Outstanding experiences are few and far between, especially on the web, in ebooks, and on smartphone apps. I know it. You know it. And, so do your customers. When I make this proclamation to clients and peers alike, I often get significant pushback.

“Hey, we do a good job on the web,” they say. “We’ve had 23,000 people download our app. That’s a win!” And, “Our clients don’t complain about our ebooks, so we must be doing it right.”

I doubt that.

As Stephen Fishman points out in a Jan. 4, 2012, column in CMSWire, “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but if you are not delivering exceptional experiences, you are delivering mediocre ones.”

He assumes you’re creating mediocre experiences—experiences that are, by definition, neither that bad nor that good—ordinary, passable, pedestrian. But, that’s not accurate. If you’re not delivering exceptional experiences, then you are delivering bad experiences, not mediocre ones.

We know instinctively that bad experiences frustrate, confuse, and repel customers, while great web experiences leave visitors fulfilled. Bad experiences make customers regret doing business with you. They cause them to complain. They cause them to tune you out.  In our socially enabled world, those negative feelings get shared with others. In short, bad experiences are damaging.  They cost you money.

Some argue that bad digital experiences are so commonplace that your customers have come to expect them. This is not good. When you create easy-to-use, easy-to-navigate, well-designed websites loaded with great content, you clearly differentiate your efforts from the competition. The same is true for ebooks and apps. When the experience you provide is great, customers tell others about you and act as unofficial evangelists for your brand. In short, exceptional experiences earn you money.

Websites, ebooks, and mobile device apps are experience containers. How you structure, categorize, organize, and present the content in these containers determines the type of experience your customers will encounter. That’s why it’s important to realize that experience matters just as much as the content itself.

Yes, you can—and should—create better content. You should make it clear, concise, social, shareable, and available in multiple languages. But, it’s not enough to focus on content. Far too many content strategy gurus overemphasize the importance of the content while glossing over the most important part of a content-driven experience—getting the right content to the right people at the right time and in the right format and language on the device of that person’s choosing.

Yes, you can—and should—format your content so it automatically adapts itself for display on mobile devices. You should consider publishing it dynamically in enhanced ebook and app formats. But it’s not enough to focus on the presentation layer. Far too many user experience and information architecture folks overemphasize the importance of adaptive technologies and interactive tricks while glossing over the content needs of the consumer. Who cares if the content reformats itself to the iPhone screen if it’s irrelevant, incongruent, or incorrect?

In order to dazzle your customers with a great experience, you can’t just re-engineer your content and put it in a pretty package.  Content creators, managers, and strategists can no longer focus solely on content. It’s not enough to focus on what we know and to ignore what we don’t, because we came to the party as content experts. To succeed in a mobile world, we have to step outside our comfort zone and start thinking about the business value of content experiences.

Yes, we have to understand how content is created, reviewed, updated, approved, stored, retrieved, repurposed, delivered, shared, archived, and destroyed. And we have to understand how our customers use our content, when and where they use it, and what it is exactly they need, as well as what they don’t.

We also need to understand how the computers, systems, standards, networks, and mobile devices that are involved in the entire process work. In order to provide flawless digital experiences, we must provide our content in ways that computers can understand and use, most often without our manual intervention.

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but that’s just the way it is. If you want to succeed, you don’t have any other choice.