Designers of user experience adopted a content-first approach some time ago. After all, form follows function. Or, as web and interaction designer Jeffrey Zeldman said, “Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design; it’s decoration.”
But isn’t this also true vice versa? What is content worth without design and without the appropriate form? Am I the only one thinking about the endless discussion of “marketing” vs. “advertising” right now? Why are today’s content strategists not also concerned with UX design? Creating outstanding experiences requires more than just design thinking. It has to bring together content, design, and marketing executives because all of them impact the user’s experience.
Content, no matter if it’s text, sound, image, or video, has the potential to influence consumers—both positively and negatively. A comprehensive content strategy is necessary to tie all the individual areas together. “Content strategy plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful, usable content,” said Kristina Halvorson, CEO and founder of content strategy agency Brain Traffic.
Content And Interaction
One of the most important success factors of “content experiences” is, according to UX designer and strategist Corey Stern, the right balance between content and interaction. While content should be easy to consume, offering additional content has a positive effect on the user’s experience. Stern added the respective goals of users (as consumers) and companies (as producers) to this equilibrium and came up with the following model:
User Experience Model by Corey Stern, CUBI UX Model.
The intersections represent the process by which users navigate through the content by means of provided interactions. The resulting “action cycle” consists of the following four stages:
1. Attraction/incentive: Any content, regardless of its form or the platform it was published on, is an opportunity for brands to get in touch with consumers (or vice versa).
2. Reaction: This first contact is followed automatically by a reaction—the user’s evaluation of the content relevance, at this specific moment. In most cases, we make such decisions spontaneously and unconsciously, seldom reconsidering them based on rational reasoning.
3. Action: In any case, the consequence of this evaluation is an action. This can be either intrinsic (satisfying one’s own needs) or extrinsic (triggered by the brand, for example, a concrete offer).
4. Transaction: From a business perspective, this action is, at best, a “business transaction,” i.e., a purchase, subscription, or anything similar. For this process to run smoothly and create a positive experience, content must be comprehensive, useful, usable, and branded. Stern integrates these well-known user experience factors into the second-level intersections.
User Experience Factors, according to Corey Stern, CUBI UX Model.
1. Comprehensive experience: You want to make sure that the user comprehends what you are providing and that his experience is extensive. The latter relates to a sense of completeness. If the consumer does not feel that he “knows everything there is to know” after experiencing your content, he will be dissatisfied and not run through the cycle to complete the transaction. This is one of the reasons why holistic and, thus, long-form content has proved to be more effective both in terms of search engine visibility and on transactional pages such as landing pages. The former, creating a comprehendible experience, relies on a good structure, language, and appearance. Drop any slang and jargon, make sure users can scan your texts, and try to adapt your wording to the user’s way of speaking.
2. Useful experience: The utility factor aims to satisfy the needs of the user, enable him to take the “next step,” and bolster his self-confidence. For this, it is essential that the company providing the content experience knows its target audience very well. Empathy is key to success, and it has been an essential component of user-centred design approaches right from the start.
3. Usable experience: The usability factor implies intuitive operation and interaction, which can be achieved by applying well-known usability guidelines for content production. Think about it: From the company’s point of view, content the user cannot use is no use to the company either.
4. Branded experience: If the brand is involved, any user experience is a brand experience, and it is defined not only by the corporate design but just as much by the language, the tonality, and, above all, the values that form the core of a brand. They might even be the most important unique selling point a brand has to offer. According to Stern, the brand experience should also present the company to the user as credible, reliable, and reputable.
To fulfill all these functions, many different jobs need to be mastered. Stern sums these up in the “outer ring” of his model. The work of designers and marketers overlaps since market research, competitor analysis, persona building, or customer journey design is something they all do. So would it not make sense to work together and combine internal resources? The process that UX designers follow is also suitable for content marketers:
A typical UX design process.
This not only applies to content production, but also to the entire content strategy—from planning processes, through internal organisation, to marketing operations. The basics are always the same and apply to the entire value chain. “Content” is finally omnipresent.
The synergies created by collaboration and common structures and processes, according to Aristotle’s motto, “The whole is more than the sum of its parts,” are nice side effects.
Anyone who adapts the UX design process in content marketing wins in the long run, not only in terms of authority and trust. The whole point of all this theory is that here we are not talking about individual, i.e., departmental (finite or one-time) projects, but about collaborative (infinite or cyclic) processes, such as we already know from marketing—for example, from the conversion optimisation—but do not yet apply in our daily work.
Using a content strategy, you can optimise content faster to the needs and desires of the user without losing sight of your own business goals. Ultimately, however, it depends on the user whether you achieve your goal.