Design teams: why use a content strategist?

When you're working on strategic design projects, it can pay to bring a content expert in at an early stage. This is why.

Chris Alden, freelance copywriter

If you’re a design-led team working for largeish clients, it’s natural enough to see “content” as something that happens separately from your strategic, design thinking.

Whether you’re busy interpreting a client’s thoughts about a logo, creating a brand book, or working on a wireframe for a client project, it’s easy to think of written content as a parallel world: the world of content writers, who might not get involved with a brand or content campaign until the design concept is done and dusted.

But, as many different types of agency increasingly realise, considering content too late can hamper design projects.

Creating a brand book without considering content, for example, means that elements such as colour, shape and form are all defined; but critical, related factors – such as tone of voice, message, style and content structure – are left to chance.

And just as content decisions restrain digital design choices, so digital design decisions limit what you do with content.

So next time you start work on a client project, it can pay to bring a content strategist in at an early stage. This helps you in the following ways:

1. You can own the whole branding process.

Tone of voice and a defined stylebook are vital branding elements, but some large clients – who might otherwise be strict about the visual use of their brand – can be relatively laissez-faire about language, leading to problems further down the line.

As a design agency, you can take responsibility for the whole branding process by bringing in a language expert from the start.

2. You can head off digital problems at the pass.

With the rise of content marketing, marketers increasingly want engaging, semi-journalistic web pages, often a thousand or more words long.

Content strategists can help digital designers tailor these pages to clients’ content needs, through the precise arrangement of page furniture such as headings, subheads, excerpts and sells.

Design with lorem ipsum alone, on the other hand, and you create problems for your client to fix later – or stressful extra hours for your agency when your project deadline is near.

3. You help your client map the customer journey.

Designers are often tasked with mapping a “customer journey” for digital users. But who better to help map that journey than an expert storyteller?

A content strategist can advise on common questions such as what type of content to place on each web page, depending on the stage of the marketing funnel a piece of content is at; where to place an all-important call to action (and why); and exactly how much or how little copy is needed to engage the reader in a concise, elegant way.

All these factors will have knock-on effects for your sitemap or project management, so they need to be considered early on in the design process (and often tweaked as you go along).

4. You can optimise for mobile devices.

When space is limited, it’s harder to write copy that engages your client’s customer. This is especially true of content for mobile devices, and of copy for content elements such as calls to action, menus, breadcrumbs, and so on.

An effective content strategist can advise on just how little copy you can squeeze in where.

5. You can produce better content audits.

If you’re a digital-focused agency and you’re making deep dives into a client’s content – in the form of a content audit – then a content strategist can give you the qualitative insights that help set your analysis apart from the rest. This adds value for your client.

Having a content strategist on board can also help stop your content audits running over budget, because the strategist can help the client work out what good-quality content should look like. The answers, of course, will be different for every client.

And there’s a bonus. Because a content strategist usually comes from a copywriting background, they’ll also be able to write the qualitative parts of your content audit in client-friendly language, too.

6. Focus on what you’re best at.

I’ve rarely met a content expert who admitted to tinkering much with design (beyond tweaking the odd bit of CSS), but I do know designers who’ve ended up writing content for websites, often at a client’s behest.

Leaving aside the wisdom of that, the reason it happens is often the absence of content strategy at the start.

But of course, it’s one thing to recognise that you need a content strategist; another to get your client to realise it, too.

Sometimes it might be useful to introduce a content expert to the client as a “strategic copywriter”; this demonstrates to the client that they’re getting someone with a strong writing background but who can help them with content strategy too.

Either way, next time you find yourself on a call with a client wondering what content goes where, mapping a client’s customer journey to a series of web pages, or making decisions about the suitability of a word, it’s probably fair to say that you’re operating in the space where content and design interact – and perhaps that’s the time to start discussing whether, in future, you need a content expert to help, too.

• To discuss a pitch or a brief, please call 01273 906 222 or email mailthe@contactchrisaldenhello.co.uk.


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