Harmony, purgatory and everything in between: seven quick takeaways from Confab Intensive


Last week, I had the privilege of going to Portland for Confab Intensive – Confab’s deep-diving, workshop-based younger sibling. It lived up to its name – all three days were completely packed with learning on every aspect of content strategy.

As much as I’d like to, I can’t cover everything I learnt in one blog post. Instead, I’ve collected seven quick takeaways.

1. “Content strategy creates harmony, not cacophony”

Margot Bloomstein got right to the heart of why content strategy is so important, in her talk on message hierarchy. In many organisations, getting content right is a struggle, because it’s political and so many people have a stake in it. Content strategy can create harmony in this cacophony. A message architecture (which you might have heard us talking about at Brilliant Noise as message hierarchy) is a vital part of this. It has a unifying effect by providing a prioritised set of common communications goals that reflect a shared vocabulary.

> Brand-driven content strategy: developing a message architecture

2. “Content strategy is change”

In her session on content strategy in 2015, Confab host Kristina Halvorson talked about the evolution of the discipline. Kristina is currently using models like Roger Martin’s integrated cascade of strategic choices, John Kotter’s Accelerate! and the kernel of strategy (diagnosis, guiding policy, coherent actions) from Richard Rumelt’s Good Strategy/Bad Strategy. She explained that for her, content strategy is about change, and is increasingly focusing on the ‘whys’ and ‘hows’, rather than the ‘whats’.

3. Film and TV companies want to influence Netflix’s taxonomy

Taxonomy can be hard to understand as a concept, and even harder to contextualise beyond the obvious applications like driving related content. Stephanie Lemieux provided great real world examples of the power of taxonomy. For example, Netflix is seeing upstream film and TV companies try to influence its taxonomy and tagging because of the impact it has on the browsing experience, and in turn viewing figures.

> Using taxonomy to manage content sprawl

> How Netflix reverse-engineered Hollywood

4. “The space between silos is UX purgatory”

Kim Goodwin’s fantastic talk, Right content, right user, right time emphasised just how close UX and content strategy need to be if you want to provide a great user experience. If siloed teams break down the customer journey into different sections, it can create cracks for users to fall into. Bringing content strategy and UX together, using techniques like user interviews, journey mapping and personas, closes those cracks.

5. Design ≠ visual

Scott Kubie and Michael Metts urged content strategists to think of themselves as designers. They want people to consider visual methods for content planning and production, and take a step away from the spreadsheets once in while. Their talk had a wealth of practical, easy-to-implement ideas for visual storytelling, persuasion, problem-solving and more. (Anyone on the receiving end of one of my spreadsheets will be glad to hear that I plan on using some of these ideas soon!)

> Visual tools for content planning and production

6. “If you want people to follow the strategy, invite them to build the strategy”

Sara Wachter-Boettcher focused on how to leave the role of ‘expert’ behind and step into a coaching role with colleagues, stakeholders and clients. She explained that content strategists can’t tame everything alone (as much as we’d like to). It’s better to do things ‘with’ other people, rather than ‘for’ them, and work on finding a collaborative solution together.

> Coaching content strategy

7. Silos are necessary

I’ll end on a bombshell from the governance panel, Cleve Gibbon, Kathy Wagner and Lisa Welchman. Many content projects have the objective of breaking down silos in organisations. But the panel provided a pragmatic reminder that silos are necessary – large organisations can’t function (in an operational sense) without them. The objective shouldn’t be to destroy silos – it should be to work with them.

If you want more detail on any of the sessions, or the conference in general, drop me a tweet at @La_Pope or an email at lauren.pope@brilliantnoise.com. You can also find many of the slides here.