Using Value Propositions in Content Strategy

11 Apr 2011

I learned about a really useful tool last week, and I wanted to share it with my content strategy friends on the interwebs. The class is "Information Services," taught by Bob Boiko, and the idea I'm about to explain--value propositions, or strategy triples--is all his. He teaches it within the context of information services and large-scale information systems, where it is equally useful, but I wanted to take a shot at applying it to the smaller subset consumer-facing websites and online media.

To set the scene: Imagine you're beginning a new project. You have a vague sense of what you're supposed to be doing, but you're not really sure where to start. Everything is possible. What should you do?

1. Define your project's business objectives. You are a content strategist after all. Your most potent magic happens when you can get the business people in the room to provide you with a helicopter view of their daily concerns, which in turn can be related back to your content. Ask them how you can help... but don't just roll over and accept "get more page views" or "put something up people will like" as your objectives. Can you find a meaningful, high-level goal that can be tied to a KPI? How about reducing the number of calls to your call center, selling more items on your ecommerce site, or increasing clickthroughs to a specific advertising partner (while maintaining editorial integrity, obviously)? Don't leave until you have something you can measure.

2. Define your audience(s). Next, consider the personas in play on your site. In an ideal world you'd be able to identify the information need for each one: George Gamer is always looking for statistical information about the new Megazord Pokemon that comes out every week, or Freddie the Frequent Flyer always forgets his miles number, and needs to get to it quickly from a mobile phone. Once you've identified your personas go on to the next step.

3. Define your triples. Most likely nothing I've said up to now is new to you... but I was glad to write it all out for myself! Now comes the really good part, the part I look forward to using when I'm out of school. It's so simple, yet cuts straight to the often difficult task of defining the intangible benefits of good content.

As Bob shared with us in class this week, a triple looks like this:

"By delivering info to audience we will make progress against goal because reason."

For example:

By delivering topic pages for high-volume search terms to search-first travel researchers we will make progress decreasing bounce rates from search engine arrivals because these pages will provide a centralized hub from which to begin browsing for hotels. (See The Guardian UK's USA Hotels tag page for an example of this).

I think this is a great way to evaluate the options you have before you, and formulate a strategy that flows logically from content, to audience, to business. It cuts through all the noise and intangibles associated with content work, providing a simple statement that either makes sense or doesn't. You save a lot of work by getting out of the world of abstraction as quickly as possible.

Back to our example. You're ready to return to the business side of your organization. Do/does your triple(s) make sense to them? Do they think your project is worth the investment? Show them that you're with them by bringing their concerns into your world.

4. Define your content types. Depending on how you formulated your triples, you may already have this part done. If you don't, step back and think about what the content part of your triple really looks like. Make it an easily deliverable, repeatable, unit that will your defined audience will care about and go start making a prototype.

5. Plan for the content lifecycle. This one has already been tackled in many different places. See Erine Scime's diagram if you need a refresher. With that your project is off and running.

I hope you find this idea of triples useful. You can learn more about Bob Boiko at or tweet me with your comments (or triples!).