Sears Roebuck was one of the very first large corporations. It was in the mail-order business. It used content to make the sale.In 1906, Sears Roebuck opened a mail-order plant in Chicago. It was the largest business building in the world. The Sears catalogue stated that the plant was using "every known mechanical appliance for reducing labor." It was said that Henry Ford visited the plant.
Richard Sears "was a copywriter of genius" according to The Company, a book by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. So, Richard Sears was a writer. His corporation certainly excelled at many other things, but it was built on the ability to write well.
Content has rarely been recognized as being an important contribution to business growth and productivity. But it was the foundation upon which the first truly modern corporation was built. Richard Sears began as a station master in a small Minnesota town. Because he had an eye for content he was able to create a business empire.
Sears Roebuck was in the business of mail-order; the business of direct sales. This is the same business that Amazon, and every other website, is in. It is the business of using content to get a result. If you have a website-an intranet or public website-you are in the business of using content to get a result. What result?
Most managers do not respect writers. They don't believe that content delivers direct, measurable results. If a young Richard Sears was joining a web team today as a copywriter he would get paid much less than if he was joining that same team as a programmer. Why is that?
The fact that content is not respected today as delivering business value is not the problem of management. It is your problem. You, the content professional, need to solve this problem, and not wait for some mythical moment when management finally "gets it."
People who create content, unfortunately, are often their own worst enemies. They see writing a good piece of content as the objective. That is not the objective. The objective is to make a sale. The objective is to help a customer solve a problem. The objective is to help a staff member decide which health care plan is best for them.
What problem is your content seeking to solve? Richard Sears saw that rural America faced limited choice and high prices. Content was a key part of a wider choice, lower price solution.
You must show how your content delivers measurable value. You must use numbers to prove your case. Forget about number of visitors, page views, etc. These are all primitive metrics that are often misleading, and rarely indicative of genuine value.
If you are a government website, are you helping people renew their driving license? How much easier and faster have you made it compared to how it was before? It's all about the tasks.
A website that cannot identify real tasks and make those tasks easier and faster has no purpose because it delivers no value. Richard Sears might start off on a low salary, but within a year he would be the highest paid on the team. He would have proven how his words made the sale, delivered the service and built the brand.
About the Author
Gerry McGovern, a content management author and consultant
, has spoken, written and consulted extensively on writing for the web and web content management issues since 1994.