With deference to Roshi Kapleau’s classic, The Three Pillars of Zen, it occurs to me that many discussions about content keep coming back to three essential pillars. While the ideas are easy, implementing them are not. Let’s talk about what the pillars are, and how to build them to support more effective content storytelling.
Much of the lexicon of branding, from mission statements to company values, and from visions to manifestos, suggests terms from religion, philosophy, and politics. What do brands have in common with these more typical examples of belief systems?
A trip across the ages from the beginnings of content strategy to the present. We’ll start all the way back when tablets were, well, tablets…
“Brands” in the most frequently understood sense of the term (especially among laypeople) refer to well-known, everyday consumer products (often including the companies that make them). From surveys like, “What brand of toothpaste do you use? What brand of car do you drive? (Or maybe: What brand of cigarettes do you smoke when no one is looking?), a brand, and the value of one, would appear to largely sit in the B2C, business-to-consumer space.
So why would branding be relevant to a business-to-business product or service?
Is a brand a sign, or is it the destination? Or is it both? Or is it something greater than either one?
How you answer that question may well depend on where you sit professionally, in-house in a product or sales group, as a strategist or communications expert in or outside the organization, or at an external design or branding agency.
In an earlier post we talked about how brands are, essentially, languages, with ‘grammar rules’, a lexicon, and ways of speaking that pattern very much as they do with natural languages. In fact, brands, as communicative media, are something even more: they’re semiotic systems.
If the brand is the message, content strategy is how it gets delivered: the sum total of the activities to enhance the written and spoken expression of a company’s brand.
The term ‘content strategy’ is best known in its digital context: the structuring, development, and management of content for websites and digital applications. However, in a broader definition that includes all channels and contexts, content strategy would come closely on the heels of brand strategy (the identification of a company’s unique positioning and personality). Much as with a graphic design brief, the brand strategy becomes the basis on which communications can be built and a ‘strategy screen’ to determine if those communications continue to be on-brand.
My day job (that takes a few nights as well) is helping companies connect to their customers through ‘verbal branding’: that is to say, positioning, messaging, corporate language, and brand voice. It’s somewhat unusual in that to many people, brands are visual constructs, consisting of logos, color schemes, visual vocabulary, and guidelines. However, that’s not the end of the story.
What makes a successful brand is the combination of the visual and verbal: a visual presentation that captures the spirit of what the brand is about, combined with the right messages, crafted in the right tone. Without key messages, a piece of brand communication is a beautiful box with nothing inside.
It’s clear why business-to-consumer companies are frequently also ‘content’ companies. Telling a meaningful story about a product or service requires a narrative everyone can follow and engage with. Does a software or technology firm need to do this? Don’t they just need to showcase the technology and let their readers put it together themselves? And can a technology, tool, or component many end users never see in the finished product really be a ‘story’?
Does our understanding of brand and user personas derive, at least partly, from the classic personality archetypes we read about as kids? Even the names you see in a typical customer segmentation, such as “Sally Social Media” and the like, suggest a possible source: Peanuts characters.