How content design can put your B2B tech content marketing into high gear
Content design has been a growing trend in content circles over the past several years. The term was coined by Sarah Winters, CEO of Content Design London, and to define it in its simplest terms, it is a concept that conveys the idea that content design professionals don’t just write words, but also design experiences with them.
On Content Design London's website, there is an in-depth definition of the term. But it's important to note that while the concept has some cross-pollination potential with content marketing, it is not a replacement for it. Rather, at a time when content marketing is becoming increasingly saturated, content design principles can help content marketing bring back the focus on producing purposeful content that puts target audience needs front and center and helps you accomplish your marketing goals as a result.
In this post, we will look at some specific ways content design principles can augment your existing B2B tech content marketing efforts.
Audience versus users versus user needs
Content design is, in the words of its protagonist "a user-centered approach to solving problems."
This is already a different way to think about content than you would as a traditional content marketer or copywriter, where you would normally write for a target audience rather than a target user.
But think about it this way. Your target audience consists of several different potential user groups with varying needs and interests. For example, if you are marketing a payments solution, you may need to be targeting user groups including CX, ecommerce managers, risk, and finance. These users are looking for something they need. They use search engines, your on-site search, or other channels to find what they are looking for. The goal at that very moment is to find the best piece of information or tool that satisfies their specific "need” and helps accomplish the task at hand. So, when we refer to the “user need,” you can think of it as the primary goal a sub-section of your target audience has in their mind at that moment.
Solving user needs is what content design is all about
Bob, a B2B executive, wants to solve a complicated workflow problem. What he needs “right at the moment” is a ready-to-use template. Bob searches for the answer on Google and clicks on one of the results only to find a complete video series with easy-to-follow steps to implement the agile methodology and simplify the daily workflows. No doubt watching the video lessons will solve his problem forever. Perhaps the company producing the video series has a chance to showcase its product in action.
But here’s the thing. Bob might not have the bandwidth to watch these videos right now. What he “needs” is a ready-to-use template. So, it comes down to not what the person wants, but it is what they actually need right at that moment. Fulfill the user’s needs, and that’s how you build trust. That is how you show that you respect their time and attention.
Content marketing and content design – two subtly different - but complementary - ways of looking at content
Both a content designer and a content marketer have similar goals, but they come at it from different sides. Essentially, content marketing is a type of communication that involves creating and sharing online assets like blogs, white papers, videos, and so on. The aim is to stimulate interest and nurture prospects through the sales and marketing funnel. The product or service itself is secondary to benefits that the target audience can realize with the product.
Content design, on the other hand, focuses on specific user needs. It is a team sport with designers, product managers, and strategists chipping in to solve user problems. At its most basic level, it’s about offering answers that are both useful for them as well as enjoyable. It is about delivering the right content at precisely the right time and in a way they expect.
Allowing your content marketing to underpin the basic content design principles will make it more inclusive and persuasive. You can focus on the users and how they can understand something and fulfill their needs. Because if they cannot understand it, they cannot act on it, which is the aim of all content marketing.
With that in mind, here are three ways content design principles help the users act on your content:
#1 - Understand user needs and solve their problems
Start with what “need” and “problem” you’re trying to solve. This can be through desk research, interviews, surveys, brainstorming, or others. One of the core content design principles is to ensure that you settle on the format only when you’ve completed your research and understand their need and the context of the problem. It’s different from the conventional content production process, where a format is pre-decided most of the time.
For example, you can solve the problem by presenting an easy-to-use infographic or data illustration. That means there’s no need to produce an ultimate guide about clearing student loan debt when you can potentially get better engagement by creating a “repayment calculator” that helps them manage their monthly savings.
The repayment calculator would help solve the key problem your target user has. That builds
trust, and maybe they opt-in to get the ultimate guide at a later stage. So first, we understand their needs and address the problems that matter to them at the moment of contact.
#2 - Create content with accessibility in mind
Many content marketing teams are serious about accessibility. But the concept of accessibility is baked into content design principles. It’s a priority right from the planning stage.
And content accessibility is not just limited to making the text more visible for people with visual impairments. It’s also important to think of what you can do on a particular channel in a format that works best. The aim is to open your information to anyone interested in consuming it. Here are a few practical ideas to get you started.
Most streaming platforms offer captions for video content. The idea is to make videos more accessible for people who cannot hear. But captioning also has a greater effect than its original intent. It opens up your content and improves the experience of watching them with others (like users in busy places without headphones.)
Fit your content within a clear layout. Breaking written content into small digestible chunks opens up your content to a growing number of non-native readers. That way, you make the content functional and usable—for everyone.
In a quest to be more interactive, many companies use colors in the presentation. But it helps to remember that several users are color-blind. So do not overlook such minor things and always add alternative text to images.
Audio description provides additional audio commentary about what’s happening on screen, making it ideal for people with visual disabilities. You’re giving people the option to consume the content the way they want, in the way that suits them best.
Here are some good resources for producing accessible content:
Everything you need to know about captioned videos
Dos and don’ts on designing for accessibility - Accessibility in government
#3 - Improve readability
Enhancing readability is an important technique you can use to structure written content. That’s how you increase the chances that people will stay on the page and be compelled by what they’re reading, rather than scrolling through looking for something interesting or important. Here are three attributes.
Clarity - Your message should never be diminished because of distractions. Big banners, weird fonts, or gaudy colors can reduce the effectiveness of your content, leading to a lower conversion rate.
Word choice and user sentiments - Words can shape how others feel about you, your beliefs, and your emotions. Using inappropriate words will alienate readers instead of engaging them in a conversation. This may cause users to distrust everything else that comes out of your mouth (or fingers.)
Maybe you can create a “words/phrases to avoid” list. Understanding user sentiment is another crucial factor. For instance, find out if there has been any negativity towards your product to address it accordingly.
Inverted pyramid style of writing - Being one of the well-known standards of conventional journalism, “inverted pyramid style” is a useful writing method in which information is presented in descending order of importance. It is always better to offer the most crucial bit at the top, fulfilling reader intent and then letting them read more if they want to. The inverted pyramid method also permits efficient searching and scanning of information. This further helps to give users what they want right away – which is in line with what content design is all about.
Adopting content design principles does not necessarily mean your existing content marketing strategy needs an overhaul
Content marketing campaigns conducted by experienced professionals should be grounded in research conducted by expert marketers who know what will work best. So, content design is not about content marketing strategy, which is the actual process that outlines what you are publishing, where, and why.
Rather, it’s about the content that sits within the marketing strategy and how to ensure it solves user needs, and be even more helpful, accessible, and relevant.
At a moment when content marketing is maturing and becoming saturated, adopting content design principles means you can differentiate your efforts and provide greater value to users. This effectively means content design helps you improve the substance (what you say) and structure (how to say it) and aids your overall content marketing strategy.
Here’s a real-world example in action
Being a known website marketplace, Empire Flippers already had data on the factors that influence a website’s pricing. The company decided to create a free website valuation tool as a way to capture leads.
It is easy to use as well. Just enter the traffic figures to generate an estimate, and the tool will automatically send a valuation report directly to the inbox. People looking to buy or sell their website can use this report to fix issues and boost profits down the line.
It’s an excellent example of content design principles in action as Empire Flippers decided what marketing collateral should be used based on actual user needs. Imagine if the company had decided to produce yet another ultimate guide on “how to estimate your website evaluation.” Is that the right approach? Take a guess.
Where exactly should content marketing and/or design sit in the organization?
By definition, content marketers sit in the marketing team and create journeys that attract prospects and nurture them to conversion and retention.
On the other hand, if content designers can be seen as a catalyst for creating useful content, they need input from a range of departments. This means that rather than belonging to a specific department, a content designer should arguably have a cross-functional role where they sit with marketing, sales, product, and more, to design journeys and create content that serves user needs throughout the customer lifecycle. At Deliveroo, for example, content designers are embedded in the Experience Team, sitting alongside engineers, researchers, product managers, data scientists, and product designers.
With so many minds and disciplines involved, a content designer can explore different ideas while maintaining cohesion across all aspects of content marketing strategy. These logistics require some coordination, but the benefits are bound to be worth it. It means your B2B tech organization can go from producing large volumes of content to “producing whatever it takes to serve the user needs.”
My take is that especially for larger organizations, content design might just be the missing part of the content puzzle. The right investment in content design can enable the organization to give internal and external stakeholders - including staff and customers as well as prospects - the right content in the right format at the right moment.
If you’re looking for fresh ideas on how content marketing and a content design approach can help your business, don’t hesitate to contact us.