If you’re like many brands I know, you have ambitious goals for your content in 2016. You want to scale your impact, grow your results, or something similar. So you might wrestle with this question, “How will we reach these goals and achieve these results?”

The secret to this answer might surprise you. It’s not better content tactics. It’s not even better strategy. The answer lies in defining an effective content vision. Once you define a compelling content vision, the strategy and tactics fall into place much more easily. More importantly, you create a gravitational-like pull that attracts the right people and resources and motivates everyone around you to bring the vision to life. Instead of your teams feeling like they’re pushing arduously for progress, they feel drawn to the vision and can’t help but focus on making the vision happen. You awaken your content force.

What do I mean? Have I watched the new Star Wars one too many times? Maybe, but I’m so convinced that I predicted content vision would be the secret to content success in 2016.  Let me share a personal example–how content vision transformed the way my firm, Content Science, publishes content.

The Situation: Diminishing Content Effectiveness

Heard of cobbler’s child syndrome? Content Science suffered that. We helped organizations around the world plan and implement content systems not only for marketing but also for technical support, customer service, product strategy, and more. But, when it came to our own content, we had a lackluster presence. We offered a blog with a post every 1-2 weeks and a small storefront with several reports and tools. That would be mediocre for any organization but was especially wanting for a company claiming content expertise.

About a year ago, I realized I didn’t really look forward to planning content for the blog or even thinking about the blog. I would procrastinate dealing with it because I knew it was simply sustaining mediocrity, and I was ashamed. And this attitude was starting to affect the team as well as show in our results. One ironic result was our ContentWRX KPI, a measure of content effectiveness with users, was dropping. If you haven’t heard of ContentWRX scoring, it’s a measure of content effectiveness across six dimensions (such as usefulness, relevance, etc.) based on data from a monthly content survey and content analytics. The ContentWRX KPI is a score on a scale of 1-100. 100 is perfectly effective (really hard to get that), 0 is not at all effective. Our score was going from the high 80s to the 60s. 

Why did I say this result was ironic? Content Science invented the ContentWRX KPI. We were failing our own measure of content effectiveness!

On top of that, our team also realized our reports were difficult to discover, and we were losing motivation to create new ones–even though people who bought our reports said they found them useful.

The Solution: Defining Content Vision

So, a little more than a year ago, I decided we needed to change. We either needed to stop creating content ourselves or to completely reimagine how we were doing it. After much consideration of our long-term vision and mission as a company, I decided to continue publishing content but reinvent our approach.

I confess, I did not start the reinvention process by defining content vision. I took a more circuitous route. First, I tinkered with strategy and considered some high-level tactics, just to verify which strategy options were feasible for us. As I talked with the team about the strategy, I realized it was taking a lot of effort on all sides to discuss. It was feeling like burdensome work.

Serendipitously, about this time the results from the survey part of our research on What Makes Content Teams Thrive? were rolling in. I was floored at how frequently vision came up as a critical success factor. If you were with me while I reviewed the results, I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw the image of a light bulb pop above my head and heard me say “Aha!” I realized instantly we needed to define a content vision for ourselves.

After exploring options and talking with the team, we decided to offer an online magazine aspiring to be the Harvard Business Review of content. We would bring together practical and inspirational insights and resources related to content topics for content and business professionals. We defined our vision succinctly as “The HBR of content.” This definition is not unlike Marriott declaring their aspirations to be the Red Bull of travel.

Once we defined our content vision, talking through the strategy, roadmap, and tactics to achieve it became much easier and more efficient. Everyone involved “got it,” so we could focus on how to bring it to life. Perhaps even more importantly, everyone, including me, was excited about it. Working on our new approach felt less like a burden and more like meaningful, uplifting work.

So, save yourself and your team a lot of hassle and don’t do exactly what I did–start your ambitious content efforts by defining content vision. Now, let’s talk about results.

The Results: Daring to Make a Difference

Guided by our content vision, we launched the online magazine Content Science Review at the end of April 2015. The content vision accelerated our progress to launch–planning and implementing our new approach took less than four months. I’m quite certain we would have experienced delays had we not defined the content vision.

CSR design

You can see Harvard Business Review inspired the name, but we did not mindlessly copy its content strategy and tactics. For example, Harvard Business Review offers both a storefront and a subscription. We decided to do away with our storefront completely and offer only a paid subscription to premium content such as our research reports and toolkits. Of course, the content types and topics we cover are quite different, as is the design.

So, besides efficiency in launching, what results did we see? Results that exceeded my expectations. Here is a sample of the qualitative and quantitative results pertinent to our three primary goals:

  1. Awareness – Increase awareness of Content Science’s expertise and key content topics, such as content intelligence, with professionals at midsize and enterprise organizations.
  2. Scaling through Productizing – Package insights, tools, and more from our consulting and research as subscriptions to Content Science Review.
  3. Merchandising – Contextually promote our software ContentWRX and our workshops through relevant ads that are like useful suggestions, not pushy messages.

And I should note that we did no advertising and little promotion of Content Science Review. We took a “soft launch” approach so that if it failed, shutting it down would be pretty easy.

Increased Content Effectiveness

In our first month, our ContentWRX KPI returned to the 80s, signaling that our content was resonating with our users.

CSR content evaluation

Increased Traffic and Engagement

Our page views more than quadrupled, even without advertising on social and search. Users also spent double the amount of time with our content and viewed about 30% more pages per session. Now, these analytics tell us what users did but not why. To understand why, we relied on our ContentWRX KPI to shed light. (See above.) Because the ContentWRX KPI increased (see above), we interpreted these analytics positively—our users were finding and engaging more deeply with the content.

Quality Affiliations with Brands and Research Leaders

One shift in our strategy was to solicit articles from a range of outside contributors. We wanted to include leading practitioners at fascinating brands such as Alibaba and WebMD as well as scientists leading relevant research. Among my favorite pieces from 2015 is our Q + A with Professor Koen Pauwels of Ozygein University in Turkey about his award-winning research on the effect of brand on sales.

In our first month or two, I had to extend special invitations and make the case for contributing to Content Science Review. Now, we have a steady pipeline of contributors, and we even have contributors reaching out to us.

Solid Base of Registered Users and Subscribers

Content Science Review lets you register for free to personalize your experience with My Library and to subscribe for a fee to access premium content. In eight months we gained hundreds of registered users and are closing in on 100 paid subscribers. Again, this is all without advertising. Now that we have proven Content Science Review works, we’re implementing a promotion plan in 2016 and expect to grow these results.


Content Science Review has already earned two Davey awards, two W3 awards, and recognition at Atlanta Interactive Marketing Association. It’s also in the running for several other awards. (Fingers crossed!)

If you had told me a year ago that we would have achieved those kinds of qualitative and quantitative results from what used to be our mediocre blog, I would have laughed. You and your teams will achieve more than you thought possible when pulled by the right content vision.

Content Vision Resources

How can you make content vision work for you? Between our experience and our research, I’ve developed three resources to help.

3 Reasons You Need a Content Vision, Not More Content Strategy
6 Characteristics of a Kickass Content Vision

Content Strategy and Vision Essentials Workshop
Among other things, this workshop walks through activities to define your content vision and even involve your stakeholders in the process.

The Author

Colleen Jones is the author of The Content Advantage and founder of Content Science, a content intelligence and strategy firm that has advised or trained hundreds of the world’s leading organizations since 2010. She also is the former head of content at MailChimp, the marketing platform recognized by Inc. as 2017 Company of the Year. A passionate entrepreneur, Colleen has led Content Science to develop the  content intelligence software ContentWRX, publish the online magazine Content Science Review, and offer online certifications through Content Science Academy.

Colleen has earned recognition as an instructor on LinkedIn Learning, one of the Top 50 Most Influential Women in Content Marketing by a TopRank study, a Content Change Agent by Society of Technical Communication’s Intercom Magazine, and one of the Top 50 Most Influential Content Strategists by multiple organizations.

Follow Colleen on Twitter at @leenjones or on LinkedIn.

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Colleen, I notice that of late, you have been writing about Content Vision. For your agency, you could work on the Content Vision because you had the right skills and experience to do that. Many organizations struggle because they are not skilled or qualified to even think of such a vision.

Even when they hire a content strategist, I am not sure how they can start working together to *formulate the content vision*, because invariably, they call it *business/organization goals*. How do we separate these two – Content Vision, and Content Strategy Goals?

  1. Hi Vinish – That’s a great question. First, I’ll admit that Content Science should always put content vision first (and do so well), but we didn’t do that at first with our blog. We caught ourselves and had to course correct. In a way, that was more difficult than it would be for other organizations because we had to admit we did not take our own medicine.

    Second, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the power of even ONE working session to help translate business / organization goals into a content vision. We have facilitated content vision working sessions for organizations, but I also have heard of content strategists who are part of internal teams successfully facilitate such sessions.

    I’ll share some activities to support a content vision working session in an upcoming post. I also share a few activities in our Content Strategy + Vision workshop.

    1. Thanks Colleen, I will look forward to more posts where you share some directions on how to plan a “Content Vision Session”. 🙂

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