There’s nothing new about content marketing.
Storytelling, as we know, is as old as humankind itself. Brands have been weaving stories around their goods and services since time began.
Or, at least as early as 1732, when Benjamin Franklin began publishing the yearly Poor Richard’s Almanac to promote his printing business. This link shares many other examples of content marketing strategies that have been implemented through the ages.
But time moves on, and with it, our strategies and tactics need to as well. What worked well a few years ago might not be the ideal way to gain results now. When it comes to content, the “content is king” chestnut just isn’t going to cut it. Content marketing is no longer purely about telling a story and boom, job done.
Storytelling is, of course, still paramount, but it needs to be done with design thinking principles in mind. Specifically, content strategists need to be paying attention to UI & UX if they want the content they create to resonate with their audience.
The experience a brand thinks they are building is not always the experience a customer has. Understanding how to craft and order content with the user in mind immediately bridges that gap.
What is the difference between UI & UX?
While the terms UI & UX are used interchangeably quite often, each term stands for a different discipline and it’s useful to understand the nuance between them. Both fall under the broader discipline of design and work closely together to create a product that people will love. But that’s where all similarities end.
UX means User Experience.
UI means User Interface.
At its most simplified, UX looks at all aspects of a user’s experience when dealing with a company, its products and services. UX is analytical and technical in nature. Large swathes of data are often interpreted and consulted as UX professionals build a brilliant UX.
On the other hand, UI looks how humans and computers/devices interact, and seeks to design an interface to enable the interaction to be as frictionless as possible. A product has successful UI if the interface is intuitive, and doesn’t require the user to undergo training to use. While UI does lend itself to graphic design, it is more complex than that.
If you’re interested in finding out more about UI and UX, the top 20 blogs to follow is this space can be found here.
Content and the user experience
It’s usually the look and feel of an interface that will engage the users you want to attract to your product or service. This makes sense since apart from a landing or sales page, the interface is probably the first experience a user has of your product.
While UX design is now a mainstream term, UX designers have been around for a few decades. Initially though, the role of the UX designer was to get different elements of a product to work. UX principles have changed since the first iPhone blew open the doors of design possibility.
But there’s more to a user's experience than the visual appearance of a product.
People are on your website or using your product or service, to solve a problem in their lives. The primary way they do that is through content. Your words matter big time when it comes to the UX you plan to provide to your users.
As a content strategist, you should conceptualise and refine your brand’s content strategy before your fellow team-members start building wireframes and screen templates. It’s critical that you understand the role your words will play to enhance the design work and create a pleasant and meaningful user experience.
As an organisation, you’re never going to create a great UX around shoddy content. Even if your brand communicates succinctly, just think of how many words you have on your website. Likely it’s thousands. That’s a large number of opportunities to delight or annoy a customer. Your customer.
To get the words just right, you need to:
Create a message architecture that defines the voice of the brand and reveals an understanding of your audience (messaging tone of voice and clarity has to be maintained consistently across all pages, channels and devices)
Determine how to organise the content you’re creating and choose the best technology platforms to use as collaboration tools with your development team(s)
Manage the process to get copy created; e.g. ideation, content writing, edit, proofreading
Ensure content is mapped against when users need it
Establish a set of guidelines or policies that identify and explain how content should be created and managed within the team
How content strategy and UX entwine
Harnessing the power of high quality content and good UX is a roadmap to creating a clear vision for your product - one that your potential and existing customers will love.
User flow that does exactly that, flows, and user interfaces that immediately engage the user for their clarity are the hallmarks of successful UX. Brands with recognised high-quality UI and UX include, among others, Medium, the online publisher, AirBnB, the holiday rental startup, and Dropbox, the online file storing and sharing platform.
On the matter of Dropbox, it’s a subjective opinion but Dropbox’s blog has one of the best blog designs live right now. The blog is designed with usability in mind, and the UI is made up of colour tones and illustrations that highlight creativity. Easy on the eye, the reader is immediately tempted to jump into the (multimedia) content on the site.
Bring the same considerations your UX team are asking themselves with regards to layout and product build to your content creation process. This means crafting content that is readable. Readability is a metric that can be objectively measured; the US Navy came up with an algorithm in 1975 that rates how easily a piece of content can be read. Today a number of tools are available that will help you understand how readable the content you’re writing is. Hemingway, Readable and VT Readability are just three examples of these tools.
Readable content is understandable and quickly able to be scanned. Creating scannable content is critical to the success of your product or service since all your users will be pressed for time and we read differently online. As early as 2008, Jakob Nielsen, User Advocate, claimed that most users only read 20% of a web page. In 2019, that figure has probably been diminished further.
Furthermore, relevant and clear labels will help users accomplish the tasks they need to complete quickly and easily. And a great deal of brand affection, and possibly loyalty, will grow in users if they perceive that their lives are being made easier and their time respected by clear UI and UX.
Structure is a content strategist’s best friend. Information that is ordered in a logical way makes it easy for a user to understand how best to solve their problem - and that’s why they’re on your website or app in the first place. Structuring your content is one of the biggest tasks to collaborate with your UX team members on. Quite simply, how your organise your content will lay the foundation for whether the site’s entire UX is successful or not.
Any content strategist worth their salt will know that before anything else you need to build your customer personas. Yes, way before you build a content calendar, and even way before you do your keyword research. In no small way, the customer personas process is classic UX. Any UX designer worth their salt will ensure that they have an excellent idea of who the end-user is for the product they’re creating - and they’ll keep that user front and centre while they go through the design process.
When you’re looking to deliver a seamless user experience to your existing customers, and seeking to attract new ones, it’s imperative to focus on the requirements and expectations your users will have.
All of this counts for nothing though if the messaging is horrible misaligned with a stunning aesthetic. Content should also meet the user’s expectations across whatever channel and device they’re using.
Your job, as a content strategist, will be to ensure that you optimise for the right keywords and write content that engages humans (and not just search engines). Your UX colleagues will be focused on finding the best way to align messaging and design. Both of you are working with the same goal in mind.