This post originally appeared on my personal blog, which I’m retiring. It was one of my most popular posts.

When I talk to people — clients, UX professionals, interactive marketers — about content, I find an assumption often lurks beneath their comments. What’s that assumption? It’s content = copy. From that assumption follows many other unspoken assumptions that give me the willies:

  • We can scrounge the content together at the last minute.
  • Anyone who can write a sentence can develop content.
  • We shouldn’t invest money in content. We should invest it in technical development.
  • We don’t have to do much to keep content fresh or of high quality.
  • We need to worry about content for just one project, product, or channel at a time.

No, no, a thousand times no! Content is so much more than copy. Content is strategic. This perspective is critical to making the right design and investment decisions for a product or an interactive marketing effort. Here’s my stab at explaining why.

The Literal Explanation: Content Is Other Things, Too

Sure, copy / text is a big part of content…so are these things:

  • Photos and images
  • Data and numbers and related visualizations of them
  • Videos

What is more, usually these items have a relationship with the text, such as supporting or further explaining the text. If you think content is only copy, you’re probably neglecting these other types of content. And you’re likely not coordinating them well with the copy.

The Philosophical Explanation: Content Automates And Differentiates

Businesses are using interactive channels more and more for self-service, where customers can help themselves. Some folks such as Daniel Pink say we’re entering an age of more automation than ever. Also, Forrester reports continue to show that the trend toward self-service is only rising. That means interactive channels are not just conveying a message. They are replacing human interactions. They are providing the service. We can shop online, manage accounts online, pay bills over the phone, receive shipping notifications by text message, check in to flights with a kiosk. So our content needs to provide the “human” factor. It needs to speak like an ingenious sales person, a helpful customer service representative, an affable technical support expert, and more. The content needs to do everything possible to help customers succeed in using self-service.

I’d say that’s a big job you can’t throw together at the last minute. 🙂

Furthermore, usability and technical performance will be important to self-service — but not the differentiator. Thanks to the keen awareness of usability in the interactive and user experience world, everyone will be concerned about usability and technical performance. Your company, your competitors, everyone. It’s obvious a customer can’t get service from a hard-to-use, slow, or buggy application. But usability and technical performance only get you on the playing field. What gives you the winning edge is persuasive, useful content.

Sound far-fetched? Consider this. At the close of 2006, Forrester released a report entitled “Use Persuasive Content to Improve the Customer Experience.” This report calls for less emphasis on the technical aspects of content management systems and more emphasis on the content itself. To quote:

INFORMATION AND KNOWLEDGE MANAGEMENT PROFESSIONALS…CAN DRIVE SIGNIFICANT IMPROVEMENTS IN CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES. HOW? BY PUTTING MORE EMPHASIS ON USING CONTENT TO HELP CUSTOMERS — WHETHER IT IS PROVIDING RELEVANT INFORMATION WHEN CUSTOMERS BUY A PRODUCT OR DELIVERING EASY-TO-USE OR UNDERSTANDABLE CONTENT FOR CUSTOMER SELF-SERVICE WEBSITES — RATHER THAN SIMPLY FOCUSING ON HOW TO CREATE, MANAGE, AND SEARCH FOR CONTENT.

Let’s stop treating content like it’s crap work. Let’s get serious about content, for it’s key to helping customers and differentiating our companies, our products, ourselves. Content is more than copy!

Originally published on the now-archived Content Science blog in January 2012.

The Author

Colleen Jones is the founder and CEO of Content Science, a growing content intelligence and strategy company based in Atlanta GA. Content Science owns Content Science Review, Content Science Academy, and the content effectiveness software ContentWRX.  Colleen regularly consults with executives and practitioners to improve their strategy and processes for content. She shares insights and guidance from her experience regularly on Content Science Review, at events around the world, and in highly rated books such as Clout: The Art and Science of Influential Web Content.

Follow Colleen on Twitter at @leenjones or on LinkedIn.

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