10 reasons content strategy is essential when designing a holistic customer experience

Next week I’m attending (and speaking at) the first Content Strategy Forum in Paris. I’m intrigued by the discipline of content strategy because I believe that now, more than ever before, content strategy is critical for designing a holistic customer experience. No longer will content be thought of as a necessary evil (technical how to information) or blatantly promotional (I’m so great, buy me).

Before listing my 10 reasons, I’ll share some definitions for the terms I’m using:

Customer: The person who’s needs you want to satisfy and whom you want to delight. In other words, the person you’re designing for, whether you’re a:

  • Organization designing product or service experiences for customers or clients
  • Government agency designing programs or services for citizens
  • Hospital or health unit designing health experiences for patients
  • Educational institution designing learning experiences for students
  • IT, HR, Finance, or Legal department within an organization designing application or service experiences for internal customers

Customer experience: “Perception that customers have of their interactions with an organization.” I like this definition by Bruce Temkin for two reasons. First, by using the word perception, he hits on the emotional aspect of what a customer experiences and the memories these perceptions create. Second, it focuses on interactions. Interactions imply a dialog, extend across time, and occur across a wide variety of moments and touchpoints. All these moments of interaction and the perception that forms combine to shape and form overall holistic experience.

Holistic customer experience: Hmmm, could just reuse Bruce’s definition and scrap the holistic part. But every organization tells a story, either by design or as an afterthought. So I like holistic customer experience as a phrase to express how we can influence the total experience through interactions that are crafted and coordinated by design. Magic occurs when we hide our back end systems, processes, and silos and craft engaging, memorable, and meaningful interactions that work together in harmony across touchpoints throughout the customer lifecycle. As Rahul Sen so concisely states, it’s “perfecting the craft of thinking and doing as a whole.”

 holistic customer experience and magic

Exposing inner workings results in a fragmented customer experience. Designing an overall story across interactions and time, adding a layer of magic on top of internal systems and processes, leads to a more holistic customer experience. (Diagram from Brandon Schauer’s The (Near) Future of Designing Experiences.)

Content strategy: The design of content experiences. “Content strategy is an emerging field of practice encompassing every aspect of content, including its design, development, analysis, presentation, measurement, evaluation, production, management, and governance.” – Jeffrey MacIntyre

10 reasons content strategy is essential when designing a holistic customer experience

  1. A holistic experience requires an overarching frame or story to shape choices. Content strategy can serve as the story’s blueprint for an increasingly diverse set of content creators.
  2. Customers are looking for meaning. By telling a story, great content conveys meaning.
  3. To tell a story, you need a voice. A voice requires a personality that emerges through each interaction. Content needs to express that personality.
  4. Content is a social object. Social objects stimulate conversations and as a result form social networks. Social networks help build relationships.
  5. Because of the increasing complexity of the conversations happening across social networks, we need to design content for emergence: “CS is about mastering the tiny—the power of data, contained and defined in those XML containers to bubble up via SEO and SEM—in the realm of the massive. As destination websites and traditional brand marketing give way to the artful arrangement and deployment of billions of nuggets of containerized info that can be reused, recycled, retweeted, reblogged, and otherwise recirculated in the vast data anarchy of the Googleplex, content strategy is the only measured response marketers and media companies have to get their stuff out there.” Craig Brombery
  6. Designers shape behaviour. Content is one of the critical elements for shaping behaviour. Great content nudges and influences.
  7. Traditional forms of push marketing and advertising are dying. A purchase is just the beginning of an experience journey that can start well before a purchase and extend into a relationship that lasts for many years. Content marketing turns organizations into publishers.
  8. Content has its own journey. Birth, childhood, rebellious teenage years (leading to raging debates), retirement, and finally death. Without a plan for this lifecycle, a mess disrupts the experience.
  9. There’s a mountain of content behind the scenes. This supporting content and backstage crew  are essential in delivering the front end experience.
  10. <ok, I ran out of steam before I got to a 10th reason… any takers?>
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    5 Responses to “10 reasons content strategy is essential when designing a holistic customer experience”

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    1. It took me two hours to understand half of your post – but it’s good brain exercise and it kicks off some new ways of thinking. However what I’m wondering is; Who should be responsible for the holistic customer experience and can companies afford it? I know customers could be a little bit upset without having a holistic view, but at least they get something today.

      The Content Storm is increasing every minute through wikis, blogs, documents, e-mails, webpages both through companies own tools but lately also through tools outside the company. Is it practically possible to control this and create the Holistic experience? Belonging to the Document Organization and Control Society I like the idea. However, only trying to create a light Holistic experience around documents is sometimes almost impossible. How is it then possible to cover the whole Content area?

    2. Joyce Hostyn says:

      Hi Sten,
      Glad you stuck with my post for so long!

      Partly, it’s a company-wide mindshift. A mindshift that puts customers at the center of how a company thinks instead of product or technology. Often you see Marketing take ownership of the customer experience, creating new roles with Customer Experience in their title. Other times it’s Customer Care, or even a new role reporting directly into the CEO. Fields such as interaction design, experience design, and content strategy are critical to designing the interactions across touchpoints and crafting the overall theme for the desired experience.

      But every employee needs to understand the organzation’s vision of the desired experience, understand how they impact the customer experience, and be enabled to take initiative as needed to deliver on the experience. And then we need the back end supporting technology and redesigned processes.

      As to whether companies can afford it… the question will become can companies afford not to? Some organizations are mastering the art of delivering great experiences and as a result building strong customer loyalty and doing extremely well. For some examples, check out “It’s All About Experience” http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/apr2008/id20080411_491286.htm.

      Agree the content storm is increasing, which is why it’s more important than ever to get a handle on it. This is why content strategy is so important. Search google on content strategy and you’ll find a lot of interesting conversation happening in this area.

    3. Tom Graves says:

      Quick response to Sten:

      That’s the role of the enterprise-architect. At present most EAs are still down in the basement, dealing with detail-level IT; but increasingly they are more likely to take a true whole-of-enterprise view, extending beyond the organisation to the whole enterprise, and that would definitely include customer-experience.

      More on this in various presentations on Slideshare
      and also in my books, especially “Doing Enterprise Architecture” – sample-chapters etc at

      Hope this helps, anyway.

      (And a quick thanks-you to Joyce – another really helpful post, many thanks indeed!)

    4. Joyce Hostyn says:

      Hi Tom, thanks for the feedback!

      Is there a dual role… one responsible for crafting front-end customer experience and another for architecting the infrastructure required to make the magic happen?
      – the Customer Experience Architect, if you will, who crafts the story and stage show experienced directly by the customer
      – the Enterprise Architect who crafts and architects the backstage infrastructure to deliver the magic

      …working hand-in-hand to deliver the desired experience (with a large supporting cast)?


    5. Hi,

      Thanks Tom, very interesting perspective. I’m very new to the EA area (however i’m attending a course in EA for professionals at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm) so it’s excellent to have some material to read as preparation.

      And Customer Experience Architect sounds like a very nice position to have.


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