Three ways to supercharge your content strategy

Phil Lindsay By Phil Lindsay

I really enjoyed Tracy Playle’s recent ContentEd blog. Have you read it? I especially liked her second point, where she reminds us that design shouldn’t come before strategy and planning – not under any circumstances.

Hearing a partner of a creative agency surrendering design to strategy might make you raise an eyebrow. But 15 years’ experience working in partnership with clients from across the education sector has shown me how a rigorous content plan is the essential underpinning of great design and copy.

I’ve learnt three key things that you should bear in mind when you’re working with agencies – three ways you can turn your suppliers into brilliant collaborators in your content strategy.

1. Embrace creative empathy

Your content strategy needs to be meticulously tailored to your audiences, serving them communications they genuinely want.

Your agency should make sure every piece of content execution does that – and empathy is the key.

Empathy comes from the Greek meaning ‘feeling with’, referring to a truly fundamental understanding of others’ motivations, and how they perceive the world.

Agencies should be using their specific expertise – whether design, copywriting, digital or strategy – to create content for your organisation that meets these motivations.

My team are big advocates of human-centred design as an approach to solving briefs (for a 2-minute explainer, check out this video). In short, this design principle describes the de-centring of the designer or copywriter: they step away from their own ego to try and perceive what their end-user, reader or customer needs and wants. It’s an exercise in empathy.

One of my favourite recent examples of empathetic design is the mobile-only bank Monzo, encompassing everything from product design to tone of voice, visual identity and content across digital channels. Forget user-generated content – Monzo is a user-generated product and experience. Exploratory research and close relationships with their audience helped the design team shape their content strategy to hidden needs. And it works. The proof’s in the fact that sign ups have skyrocketed.

My advice to you? Ask for more human-centred design from your agency. Make the most of their creative disciplines, and aim for content as compelling as Monzo’s.

2. Collaborate early

Over the years, I’ve learnt an important lesson: getting your content strategists in the room early with creatives – designers and copywriters – gets you better results.

That’s why I firmly believe it’s high time we ditched the supplier-client relationship of old. We’ve all experienced the frustrations of poor communication and briefs that aren’t quite answered. Proper collaboration, which means bringing your agencies into your projects as early as possible, is one of the surest ways to avoid miscommunication.

Getting suppliers involved with your content challenges early will enhance your strategy, because you’ll be taking advantage of a diversity of thought. Not only do agencies hold experience working for clients large and small in your sector, but they’re full of people who will look at your problems from a different angle. Quite simply, the earlier you incorporate these diverse perspectives, the easier it will be for your projects to adapt.

That’s why organisations across the world are beginning to appoint Chief Design Officers, bringing creative minds up to the board tables. Companies as varied as Apple and Johnson & Johnson are realising that the unique perspectives of people who live and breathe creativity are making strategy more effective.

Tech companies are now hiring more designers too. Uber, for example, has grown their design team by a staggering seventy times since 2012. Of course, the education sector is distinct from Silicone Valley, but we should take heed: quite simply, the organisations taking design seriously and embedding it within the earliest stages of projects are succeeding.

Your university, college or school deserves the most creative outputs from your agency – and open, early collaboration with them gets you it.

3. Stay curious

Let’s face it: creativity is risky.

You don’t get a globally-recognised student recruitment campaign or a brand that truly cuts-through without taking the plunge into territory you’re a little uncomfortable in.

Trust your agency to explore new routes for your content. The more curious you are, the better you are as a client – which is to say, the more you’ll free your agency to delight you with interesting executions of your strategy.

In today’s education environment, your content strategy can’t afford to miss a trick. Challenges like the impact of Brexit on your funding and student recruitment are on the horizon, and the increasingly disruptive world of education marketing, means we need to cleverly reimagine everything from our alumni fundraising strategy to our digital content.

To authentically inspire the next generation of students, educators and alumni in this context, you need the most from your suppliers.

That’s why I’m so excited to be at ContentEd with my fellow Consider founder, Ben Leeves. We’re looking forward to hearing about how you’re tackling the big problems facing the education sector today – and how agencies can help you.

Phil Lindsay

Phil Lindsay

Co-founder & Managing Partner

Phil is responsible for the overall operational and financial efficiency of Consider. Originally our Technical Director, Phil now looks after our amazing team, keeps a keen eye on our finances, and is helping develop the structure and tools we need to grow. You can read Phil's latest thinking on our blog.