Flash versus substance

My new friend Kristina Halvorson, CEO/founder of Brain Traffic and author of the the highly regarded Content Strategy for the Web came by today for an IRL conversation about web content.

Given that many companies are now coming to realize that their thousands of web pages, dozens of microsites, multiple blogs and numerous social accounts actually have to be organized, maintained, governed and monetized, content strategy is rapidly becoming the new black.  At least in the digital space.

Brain Traffic has a pretty straight-forward, hard-to-argue-with approach to content strategy.  You put up nothing if it isn’t useful, usable, purposeful, productive and profitable. That means even those really cool, award-winning, flash-based micro sites have no real reason for being if they don’t satisfy the above criteria.

Don’t get me wrong, I like shiny metal objects on my bookshelf as much as the next person.  But let’s face it, if you’ve ever installed a tool like SEO Book and taken a look at the traffic and ranking for some of those sites, it’s obvious the only people visiting them are people in the advertising business. Not customers. Not prospects. Not users.

Me with Kristina Halvorson and Appropriate Inc's Margot Bloomstein after a scintillating round table discussion about content strategy for the web

Kristina urges us to focus on four areas:  substance, structure, workflow and governance — all of them guided by a core strategy. I must say the choice of the word substance rather than copy, or content or information is, in and of itself, a fresh way to think about what a brand does online. Too often we focus on what we want to say. We put up content for no other reason than we can; cheaper storage space, faster servers and better search engines (not to mention YouTube, Twitter and Facebook) all invite us to populate the web with endless bits.

Substance implies meaning, utility, and purpose. It’s less about what we can publish and more about the value our readers and users get from the words, videos and images that define us online, whether that value derives from information, advice or pure unadulterated entertainment.

So before you ever get to the IA, wireframes and overall eco system (structure), before you figure out who does what to whom and when (workflow), before you set up all your approval procedures and assign responsibility for maintenance and fixing those broken links (governance), ask yourself:  Got substance?



  1. […] Brands are doing it differently. Some campaigns have a super-focused (Coke “Open Happiness” – creating a campaign centered around the idea of “celebration“, Nike “Next Level“) approach while others activities are housed under a big, overarching idea (Visa “Go Fans“, Anheuser-Busch InBev “Budweiser United” – with a “Bud House” reality show) and others are taking a more fragmented system (Adidas “Every Team Needs” – heavily investing in new ball, footwear and apparel launches tied to the tournament, McDonald’s “Taste the Glory” is deploying its activities at the games differently in each market.) As brands continue to up the ante for on and off the field sponsorship global soccer market-share, look for the real winners to be the ones who can successfully gain access to raw consumer emotion by linking brand messages to an increase in performance/quality of life in ways that are fun, shareable full of substance. […]