The One Question Content Strategists Can Never Ask Too Much

Yesterday, I was in a tough meeting. We knew there was a problem. But we couldn't figure out the answer. (Sound familiar?)

We talked about capabilities, functionality, and process. Nothing was clicking.

Taking a recommendation from Switch, I asked a simple question that (for me) turned around the meeting:

If this problem was solved right now, can you describe what it would look like?

Immediately, the conversation changed. Once the goal was identified, all we needed to do was come up with a plan to get there. As strategists, this is our golden zone!

It wasn't until this morning that I realized why this was so important, especially in a creative agency.

Scott McCloud explains the six steps in the creative process in his (awesome) book Understanding Comics. The six steps are:

  1. Idea/Purpose
  2. Form
  3. Idiom
  4. Structure
  5. Craft
  6. Surface

For more details, just buy the book (you should - there's a ton of great theory in there). But creation process aside, just look at those words.

Remind you of an agency at all?

Account folks give form to our projects. Developers build the structures that hold our creations. Designers use their craft to create beautiful surfaces. (I'm taking some liberties with McCloud's list, but you get my drift.)

So where do content strategists appear?

We touch all points in the creation process, but our main impact is felt at the beginning of this process - shaping ideas from insights and determining how to satisfy users as well as the business objectives.

We all get stuck seeing only the trees instead of the forest from time to time. But strategists are required to see above the treeline and point the way toward the goal.

Asking someone to describe what a solution looks like in effect takes them from ground level where they worry about their position, their budget, their resources, their deadlines...and transports them to the end goal. Whew!

Once we imagine ourselves at the goal, it's much easier to turn around and figure out how we got there. There's less clutter. Less in-fighting. More solutions.

As the idea people - designers of the core content experience - it's incumbent upon us to guide the idea-creation process. And sometimes to take that first step, we need to just imagine being at the last step and then figure out how we got there.

What do you think?

Have you found that asking your teammates to describe success has helped guide your strategy? What hiccups have you faced along the way?

I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Image courtesy of Ha-Wee via Flickr