Just a few short years ago, I had almost figured out how to explain what content strategy is to friends and family when the term “content design” burst upon the scene, upending my world. But the linguistic confusion didn’t stop there.

To make things even more complicated, now there’s product content strategy. Job descriptions for product content strategists have started to pop up everywhere, leading someone like me, who struggled to call herself a content strategist when there was no formal training, certification, or secret handshake ushering me into the practice, to question what product content strategy is and whether I could do it.

The good news, at least in the way I’ll define it, is that product content strategy isn’t all that different from the content strategy and design we’ve already been practicing lo these (not so) many years. Creating a content strategy based around a product (rather than looking at all content for a particular organization), involves identifying a business goal and user needs, as well as defining a strategy for the content to meet that goal and those needs. And many of the other processes and tasks along the way, such as doing research, benchmarking and measuring success, and defining content voice and tone, will be very familiar to practitioners in our field.

The difference is, instead of turning all that strategic work to a panoramic canvas, ensuring that all content in an enterprise is consistent and everyone in the organization is cultivating content that blossomed from the same root, in product content strategy you’re applying a focused lens to the content supporting a particular product. The content forms an integral part of the experience the user is having with the product and thus, is critical to its success.

What’s an example of product content?

Most of us interact every day with the content on the screen of our phones. We couldn’t use our phones without those words and images. This is true for any other type of software product, whether it’s a wearable fitness device that measures your energy output or a program that helps a small business provide customer service.

Is product content strategist the same thing as UX writer?

Who’s doing which role depends on the context. On some product teams, the content strategist will also write the UX copy, but that may not always be the case. What is true is that product content is often what we think of as UX writing, i.e. content you see while you’re using the product: 

  • UI text, 
  • error messages, 
  • call-to-action button text, 
  • notifications, 
  • onboarding screens, 
  • forms, 
  • and anything else the customer might interact with. 

It does not include marketing copy, a website, or a banner ad touting the benefits of the product. Nevertheless, the content within a product must deliver on benefits marketing has used to sell it: content in a banking app must make it easy to manage your money, or B2B content for customer service must help an organization reach its business customers and help them resolve any outstanding issues, if these are the benefits promised in the marketing copy. 

How is UX writing different from other writing?

When you’ve only got the tiny space of a mobile phone screen or some other constraint, you need clean, concise copy that packs a powerful punch. By writing content that’s easy to understand, intuitive and doesn’t cause friction for the user, UX writers have incredible power; they can make a difficult or so-so experience into an easy or even delightful one. 

How can you be successful as a product content strategist?

Start, as you would with any content strategy by:

  • Creating a mission statement about the product and what you hope to achieve: what does the user need and how will your product deliver that? This is key to getting alignment from other team members like product managers, designers as well as stakeholders. If you make it clear at the beginning how content will support the vision or mission of the product and the crucial strategic role it will play, stakeholders and other key players will value your work and make room for it at the table and you won’t find yourself standing outside the glass walls of a conference room holding up signs that say “But content strategy is important!” The more you can document what you’re going to do and why with solid research-based data, the stronger your argument will be. This is just as true in product content strategy as it is in any other subdiscipline.
  • Drawing a roadmap for the planning, design, development, and maintenance of the product content, including audio, visual and video. Taking a larger view, here’s where you would include everything from the benchmarking at the start to the metrics you want to achieve, as well as who’s writing the UX text, how it’s formatted and in which platforms it appears. Creating a voice and tone guide will empower UX designers to know how to write their own content, if need be, or to allow what you’re trying to do to “scale,” so that all the content within a product experience sounds seamless, as if it was created by the same source. To craft the voice and tone, turn to any branding or product principles you or the marketing team might have already established. If this material is scanty, you can conduct content messaging workshops with stakeholders and product owners to define it, just as you would in other forms of content strategy.
  • Building a tight net of collaboration between you (as product content strategist), the product owner and the user experience designer. This is definitely not the time and place for silos where you work independently and later sync up to see if you’re aligned. The closer you work together on the product and think through the user journey, and how content will—through design and development—support it, the more successful your product will be.

Also, the more you educate the designers and product owners you’re working with about what you’re trying to achieve with your content and how it will serve their strategic goals, the more likely it is that they’ll support what you’re doing and fight on your behalf.

“Product content strategy” might be a relatively new label and seem like one more thing you have to learn as a content strategist, but don’t let it intimidate you. Don’t fear your content strategy chops are irrelevant here. Despite the lack of a secret handshake, you can learn product content strategy the same way you might’ve learned how to thrive in other areas of the field—simply by working in it. By absorbing research, partnering closely with designers and product owners, and being willing to iterate to ensure the content stays useful, usable, relevant and accurate, you’re doing product content strategy. And the success of your product will attest to that.

The Author

Cynthia Gelper is a content strategist, content designer and UX writer based in Chicago. As a consultant, she has worked on user experience teams for a variety of clients and industries including healthcare, higher education, real estate, finance and food.

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