Dismantle Your Content

My favorite part of any do-it-yourself show is the demolition. "Get all your aggression out," the bubbly host proclaims just before the token newlywed fumbles with the sledgehammer. I'm not alone because every one of these shows dedicates a segment to displaying a plume of dust. After all, you can't appreciate the shiny new kitchen if you don't show the studs and decaying wallpaper first. 

Why don't we extend the same logic to the new content we create on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis? By the time I engage with clients, they have made the tactical decision to create a new website, app, or intranet. I'm careful to coach them about the value of looking at their current content to find practices that are working. Many want to light a match and find the closest metal barrel. Simply trashing your old content is not only shortsighted, it can cost you money. 

Let's take a look at a specific data sheet for a company. When reviewing specific content types, I'll ask the following questions:

  • What was the purpose of this content asset?
  • What was the intended audience?
  • Is it still relevant?
  • What isn't working for this asset?
  • What do you like, and-more importantly-what does your audience like about this asset?

Asking these simple questions garners honest and sometimes difficult answers to the importance and relevance of your content. However, it's very easy to view this as a somewhat negative exercise. The challenge is to spend time exploring what works with your content. Demonstrating the value of your content not only pinpoints strengths, it empowers you to dig deeper and replicate models that have worked in your content ecosystem. 

When remodeling a home, there is an inherent difference between a gut job and deconstruction. Many homeowners want to tear down everything, leaving only the studs and the roof. Others judiciously remove the wood paneling and carpets. You know what they find more often than not? Ornate railings and gorgeous wood floors-gems they would have missed if they haphazardly tore everything apart. The same principles apply to content. For example, I recently worked on a project in which I could immediately tell the content was 5 years old. I can tell its age based on practices that were in place from 2007 to 2010 in which the trend centered on a singular adjective for each of your branding pillars: "Innovative/Trusted/Secure."

If you're gutting your content, then you trash every piece with that messaging. However, in doing so, you are throwing away valuable content. Oftentimes, you need to dig two to three pages into the site experience to see exactly how those branding pillars are exemplified. 

Recently, I was digging around a client's original digital experience. The company hired me to create a content strategy that would demonstrate its expertise. It wanted case studies, but it was concerned about the time and effort it would take to build these out. However, after working through the site, I found dozens of pages in which satisfied customers were talking about their experience. There were even videos. The content was buried in a third-level navigation where no one could find it. If I simply threw out the old content and started from scratch, we would have missed these valuable assets. I was able to save my client tens of thousands of dollars by not producing video that already existed. Simple postproduction editing work revitalized the content and made it relevant and useful. 

As more and more companies look to do more with the content they create, the power of deconstructing content holds even more value. If you are looking to gain more traction with a blog article or repurpose a white paper into a video, the best way to accomplish that is to break it apart. Just ask Karen McGrane and Sara Wachter-Boettcher, who have two brilliant books on the subject. The key is to break apart your content, not trash it. By breaking it apart, you can see how it works. Locate the tacky wallpaper, but-more importantly-uncover that white oak hardwood floor. 

By deconstructing your content, you not only save time and money, but you maintain the character of your brand and its supporting digital experience. Peel back that carpet, and you might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.