The Picking Problem
People have a picking problem.
Publishing is so easy we don't see a need to prioritize. With temptingly simple web tools, we're now equipped to post any and all content, aiming for any and all people. Instead of choosing to say what matters, we choose to say anything we please.
Meanwhile, our websites balloon into blimp-like monstrosities—filled with hot air and floating aimlessly through the webosphere, blown about by willy-nilly whims. (Full disclosure: I just wanted to write the phrase “willy-nilly whims.” See, I'm doing it too—publishing for the sake of publishing.)
As Richard Rumelt writes in his book Good Strategy/Bad Strategy, “Strategy involves focus, and therefore, choice. And choice means setting aside some goals in favour of others.”
If we aim to be truly effective in what we do—in business, as individuals, and on the web—we need to pick what to do well.
This starts with:
- Knowing what you do best
- Knowing what your users need most
- Giving very special attention to the places where those two areas meet
- Reducing the priority on everything else
Above, I drew a terrible little notebook sketch of this idea.
A website can, of course, deliver any message, to any audience. But the best ones are those that deliver what users actually need, and what you're actually good at delivering.
How do we get there?
In our strategy process, we start with listening. We want to discover the truth of who you are as a company; to know you as well as you know yourself.
We also want to know, embrace, and love your audience. We want to get to know them so well we can both speak on their behalf.
The whole point of this is to discover your area of true, real, actual, mandated, unwavering focus: where your services meet user-thirst. Right there, your business becomes a salve, not a sell.
That's what content strategy aims to accomplish—help you know yourself, prioritize your content around your audience's needs, and find true focus.
Does content strategy solve the picking problem? Does it prevent websites from bloating into oversized, directionless blimps?
Not always, but it's a start. Carrying it out still requires ongoing discipline and hard work.
In his book Rumelt concludes a case study about a client who was unwilling to make the hard choices of where their business would focus, by saying: “…they avoided the hard work of choice, set nothing aside, hurt no interest groups or individual egos, but crippled the whole.”
Saying no is sometimes hard. But it has further-reaching ramifications when we're unwilling to do the hard work of picking.