Most content strategists love content, because we love words. But most companies ignore content because the link between words and revenue isn’t always obvious. At Confab 2011, the Content Conference was organized strategically so that attendees were first rallied and supported, then schooled in the business application of content strategy and how we can appeal to a company’s financial side when pitching the merits of better, more efficient content.

Why Ask Why?

For content strategists and marketing consultants to understand clients' needs, it’s important to ask as many questions as necessary. The most important one is Why. Why do you think you need a Flash website? Why do you need a Facebook page? Why do you hate orange?

Asking why is the therapeutic equivalent to So, how does that make you feel? It puts the client in a powerful position to explain himself. As a result, much can be gleaned from the answer. Because our competitor is doing it. Because our CEO likes it that way. Because that’s the way it’s always been done.

These types of answers expose the vulnerabilities of powerful companies and help content strategists find the right words that strike the balance between what a company is and what it wants to be.

Why Content is a Business Asset

Valeria Maltoni of Conversation Agent says that when content is treated like a product, it shifts the mindset so we are more concerned how we produce it. Yet content is unlike other products, in that everyone must own it and be responsible for contributing to its development. Maltoni considers it more content co-creation than crowdsourcing, but the outcome is essentially the same. Ultimately, when members invest in co-creating something, they inherently become a part of something bigger than themselves and feel engaged as a member of that community.

According to Maltoni, society, mobility and sustainability influence content. If content is a good product, then it will be able to affect the way users engage and interact, which means that it needs to be flexible enough to go anywhere and maintain itself in any environment. By developing content as if it were to be packaged, wrapped and shipped out to the consumer means that it ought to receive the same level of research and development that other more tangible products get. What language, skills, patterns, or behaviors generate sales? What does it take to make a connection and how do you sustain it?

Once you get past the Why, these are the other types of questions that need to be asked. Just as companies need to evaluate the efficacy of their widgets when being designed, the words they use need the same level of attention.

Why Words Matter

Fact: Humans don’t consume content the same way zombies consume brains.

But oh, how we wish they did. Then they’d be like content strategists, devouring every word, its meaning and how it can be applied to design and communication.

In her session, What are words for -- a holistic approach to content and language online, Erika Hall, co-founder and Content Strategy Director at Mule Design, didn’t have to convince us what words are for -- effective communication, of course -- but she have a lot of great ideas on how to convey to our clients and colleagues that words are essential to design.

Halls says that the result of great content isn’t content, but the thing itself. Whatever it is that you’re trying to sell, the right words help to create it. Yet to find the right words, you need to find the right story to tell. Most of the time, it isn’t that a company needs an overhaul of values and brand attributes -- it’s that they aren’t telling the right story. A successful content strategist ask questions, listens and uncovers the juiciest morsels of the story, which are often overlooked.

Why Message Matters

By now, content strategy is both a viable asset to and product of the enterprise. The right words hold strategic consumption value, but what about the way you talk about it -- internally and to the customer?

Thankfully, Margot Bloomstein of Appropriate, Inc. helped us distinguish between brand attributes and a messaging architecture. It’s clear that, before developing a company brand, you need to figure out what that brand is. Similarly, before you can find the right design for the brand, you need to define its attributes. But attributes are the journey, not the destination. Once developed, they help to develop and prioritize communication goals.

Content is not limited to the printed or digital page. It encompasses every piece of language the touches the consumer, as well: The "thank you" page, the package receipt, the FAQ, customer support. How do you talk to your customer once the product is sold, shipped or consumed? The words used set the tone for the company and work to reinforce the values it represents.

The message matters because it can quickly misrepresent. The company that boasts a commitment to sustainability sends out lots of paper. The organization with a dedication to transparency can’t be contacted. While the right words can’t fix a broken company culture, the wrong words can help ruin it.

As George Orwell wrote,

The enemy of clear language is insincerity…"

At Confab 2011, content strategy is about more than just words, it’s a commitment to honesty, integrity and sincerity.