Strategy Behind the Brand, Digital Content, and NASA

Sue L. Blanchard, recently spoke with Mark Heard, Director of User Experience and Content Strategy for Evans Hunt.  As the strategist behind branded content for clients like ATB Financial, Agrium and NASA, Mark alludes to the content he plans to present during CMA’s luncheon on June 25, 11:30 to 1 pm, at the Fairmont Palliser Hotel.

Mark, tell me about your work in digital user experience and content strategy.

I came to digital user experience and content strategy by way of journalism and communications. I spent my 20s doing overseas development communications gigs with the UN around Asia and writing Travel Guidebooks. Best job in the world, but tough to pay a mortgage on the proceeds.

Travel writing parlayed well into user experience and content strategy work: it’s all about creating the information customers want and need, and making sure they know where to get it.

At Evans Hunt, I work with our clients to help them understand their customers’ journeys and the content those customers need along the way.

You create strategic plans to manage digital content.  What factors do you consider?

The most important ones are customer needs and wants. One of the biggest challenges organizations face is getting themselves out of their own internally-focused mindsets. Many have a base set of assumptions about their users or customers that may in fact not be true. The result is that they spend a lot of time on content and marketing that their end customers may, in fact, care little about.

The other component is guiding organizations to become great content creators. Content Strategy isn’t rocket science (aside for NASA’s, I guess): it’s all about understanding your organization’s strategic goals. Once we do that, some restructuring is often needed in order to create the content team. On the governance side of things, many organizations are missing a few key roles that are required to create great content.

What nuggets of wisdom do have for marketers about managing their digital content?

  1. Know your customers’ journeys. How did they find out about you?  What do they want to know about you? On what channels? At what times? Use primary research if you can – if not analytics, and secondary research; and craft your end-to-end customer journeys.
  1. Designate or hire an editor-in-chief and a managing editor; preferably with journalism backgrounds. The key is to have people who know story-telling and publishing, to lead your content initiatives.
  1. Measure, measure, measure. Someone needs to be looking at the analytics, so you know what’s resonating with your customers and what isn’t.

Tell me about your work for NASA?

My first large-scale content strategy project was for NASA in 2003, while I worked at a local agency called Critical Mass. At the time, NASA.gov was a very plain, static and grey governmental website, while there were literally thousands of individual websites within the organization. Kennedy Space Centre had their own site, Jet Propulsion Laboratory had their own site, and individual astrophysicists had their own sites. It was a bit of a mess. In conjunction with designing a new Nasa.gov portal to capture and present all of the amazing NASA content in existence, we helped the organization create an editorial governance model. It was no small task as you can imagine, involving editorial board design, roles & responsibilities for everyone involved with the portal, and specific workflows.

One element of the site’s content strategy was put to the test on February 1st. We launched the website the previous evening and the following morning when the space shuttle Columbia crashed upon re-entry the new site received millions of hits, and fortunately stayed up.  A dark site strategy ensured users could access latest developments (for example, what to do if you found shuttle debris in your back yard, etc.)…

Intrigued…. Register for the June 25 Lunch presentation Right Now!

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