Naming an Editor-in-Chief: The Master of Your Fate, the Captain of Your Content

Remember being assigned group projects in school? The painful hangnail of academics which made up 20% of your final grade? No one knew their role. Efforts were overlapped, or worse, neglected. No one knew when to gather for a meeting, or who should call the shots. Someone almost always ended up in a panic 24 hours before the due date, finishing it for the group and putting everyone's name on it. Your professor knew who put in the hard work and who showed up...with Dorito dust on his shirt.

A publication without an editor at the helm is falls into the exact same predicament: a delicate group exercise that requires the attention and commitment of every participant in order to be successful.

Without an editor, you're a ship without a captain. To imagine, create, produce, and distribute excellent brand stories, we always ask our clients to name an editor-in-chief so we know exactly who we're working with, and the relationship they have with the content. Sometimes, large brands we work with have a clearly defined role for this. Other times, we take on the role of editor, working with a single individual who can communicate their needs, goals, customer journey, and planning with us.

Lacking an internal point of contact – a single content compass – efforts to create content fall apart, due in part to a lack of vision and understanding of both mission and message. Bad content rears its ugly head. Good content sits in the queue. Ideas and topics lose priority. Without an editor, something always gets in the way, people are confused, and initial pushes for content publication dry up

The process of naming an editor-in-chief is a collaborative one. Ideally, this person already holds a leadership role or senior position within the company, perhaps as a visual merchandiser, co-founder, or marketing manager, dependent on the project's goals and objectives. The editor-in-chief has a colorful vision from the top, and an ability to communicate multiple story angles to the right writers, videographers, and designers that can then bring them to fruition. An editor-in-chief that can marry messaging with storytelling, mission with promotion, and imagination with integrity is the right fit. 

Naming an editor-in-chief solves multiple problems: 

  • They offer structure by appointing those who will create, edit, publish, govern, archive, and manage content
  • They prevent too many cooks from entering the kitchen, and give direction to teams large and small
  • They break silos and encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration, making sure content supports each division's messaging and goals
  • They set boundaries for agile decisionmaking and flexible changes in scope
  • They have a clear understanding of all customer touchpoints – both online and offline
  • They possess the ability to orchestrate multiple teams, i.e. writers, PR experts, photographers, videographers, social media
  • They triage urgent content needs and provide a single point of contact in case of emergency
  • They can hire new talent as necessary, and make recommendations for changes in team structure
  • They can give first glance and final review to all outgoing content
  • They can plan for future content while managing current content output
  • They can become the sales contact for all new business, giving a name to a face behind an otherwise anonymous publication

Who is your editor-in-chief? We'd love to hear about your experiences (good, bad, or ugly) in the comments below.  

Lexicontent Loves: Thanksgiving Edition

Happy Holidays! As we head into Thanksgiving, we’re sharing an old favorite Thanksgiving story, and a new one we learned about the holiday’s history this week.

Cranberry Fields Forever

First, my favorite Thanksgiving-related story, as anyone who’s ever sat at the table with me on Thanksgiving knows. It’s an old Delaware Indian legend about how a war against an army of mastodons led to the creation of the cranberry.

I like to go into libraries and pick random books off of the shelf to flip through, and that’s how I found this one. Since the book is out of print and in the public domain, I’ve included photos of the story below so you can read it for yourself!

Mary Had a Little Turkey

Speaking of old stories, this week we learned that the same woman who wrote Mary Had a Little Lamb also fought for seventeen years to make Thanksgiving a national holiday, proposing the idea to five different presidents before her letter to President Lincoln finally convinced him to support the movement:

Sir. –
Permit me, as Editress of the "Lady's Book", to request a few minutes of your precious time, while laying before you a subject of deep interest to myself and -- as I trust -- even to the President of our Republic, of some importance. This subject is to have the day of our annual Thanksgiving made a National and fixed Union Festival.
You may have observed that, for some years past, there has been an increasing interest felt in our land to have the Thanksgiving held on the same day, in all the States; it now needs National recognition and authoritive fixation, only, to become permanently, an American custom and institution.
Enclosed are three papers (being printed these are easily read) which will make the idea and its progress clear and show also the popularity of the plan.

Here’s the full letter, and here’s President Lincoln’s proclamation officially establishing Thanksgiving as our third national holiday.

That’s all for this #LexicontentLoves. Hope you have a happy, safe, and delicious Thanksgiving!

Seduction and Justification: Why Emotions Need Content to "Tell and Sell" the Story

We may be seduced by our left brain, but we justify with our right. 

"The red Corvette is sexy. But, it also has great gas mileage and a decent tax writeoff. Where do I sign?"  

Brands who can seduce first and justify second are in a strong position to win the everlasting battle between heart and mind. This is why the brand story – the first point of contact – is so vitally important. In Debbie Millman's series of interviews, "Brand Thinking and Other Noble Pursuits", Phil Duncan, Global Design Officer of Proctor & Gamble calls this "the first moment of truth", or, the moment when a consumer decides to purchase a particular brand, to invite them into their cupboard, or medicine cabinet, or glovebox. Maybe the first moment of truth comes from a covetable form of product packaging, or through words of mouth that later manifests as brand recognition. Either way, these 60 seconds are make or break.

From point of purchase onwards, Duncan says, the relationship evolves in unison with whether or not the brand meaningfully speaks to the customer's values and aspirations, however static or dynamic they may be. 

Emotional appeal + rational justification = a match made in heaven. 

Marketers know that disrupting habits is a daunting task that must be orchestrated at just the right time and place. Why would I decide to choose cinnamon flavored toothpaste over peppermint on any given Tuesday, anyway?

Turning point life events like births, deaths, graduations, moving, or retirement are all cause for disruption, a way to appeal on an emotional level by providing cause for security, novelty, or trustworthiness at a time when everything else is uncertain or in stasis. This "golden moment" or "moment of truth" can chart a course for brand loyalty for decades. That is, until the next turning point worthy of disruption.  

Emotion tells the story. Content sells the story.

If emotional targets are the "hooks" that seduce our left brain, then intriguing content and magnetic storytelling are the "lines" that justify our right. And, if emotional targets are the first glance that gets our attention, then stories are what keep it focused. Orchestrated in harmony, and it's clear why – and how – prospects convert to customers.

If a product or brand can make our hearts flutter, but bring us back down to earth with tangible benefits worth the asking price, customers will see a product worth inviting into their homes. One method of storytelling, such as message triangulation – or brand benefits told from three empathetic points of view rather than the top-down – can help customers toe the line between head and heart. 

But brands, a word of caution before we get caught up in the moment. 

Note that Duncan calls this the moment of "truth" for a reason. We must appeal to the emotions through authentic stories that focus on an emotional targets. Otherwise, attempting to make an emotional appeal through inaccurate, inauthentic, and impersonal hooks can leave a trail of terrible backlash, resulting in feelings of resentment towards a brand they trusted at first blush. Is embellishing the truth at a pivotal moment worth the risk of losing out on a potential lifetime of "moments" together?

In the end, it's how you make them feel that determines whether they fall in love – but it's why you make them justify the act that determines whether they bring you home.  

Content Under the Hood: Where It Lives and Why It Matters

When it comes to creating content that's attached to interfaces, or as Cap Watkins calls them, the "dark corners of your UI", we're often dealing with opportunities to rectify negative emotions that come along with task completion. In fact, offering an excellent turnaround strategy during a sub-par experience not only has the potential to boost brand loyalty, but the efforts at redemption may just buy you a customer for life.

Unpleasant feelings of frustration, anxiety, anger and despair run rampant when we try to get things done. In these instances, content may be the only "human" link between the user and the website or app interface – the only chance to speak to your users in a way that talks them off the ledge. "Pretty" content might as well take up room in the basement.

When it comes to working under the hood, if it's not useful, usable, or helpful, your content is simply not doing its job.

For this reason, our team works in sync (that is, simultaneously) with user experience designers and developers as they're building out the product and never ex post facto. Content's objective in these situations is less about making you look pristine, and more about supporting the user in what they set out to do, helping you feel more empathetic, and making them feel better for having trusted you in the process. 

Some questions we like to ask as we consider these "under the hood" messages include: 

  • What task is the user attempting to accomplish?
  • How quickly are they trying to get the task done?
  • What environment might they be in right now? 
  • What could have brought them here? 
  • What is the user's current emotional state? 
  • What can we do to help resolve the situation? 

Welcome Messages 

Welcome messages are a cause for celebration. They typically appear upon a user's first time on a site, when they sign up for your newsletter, of if they've joined an exclusive community. This is an opportune time to keep it short, yet remind them of the benefits of connecting with you. Reference your positioning to tell your new fan about what your brand excels at, what they can expect from future communications, and what becoming a member of the community introduces them to (i.e. a network of likeminded pet parents, a community of beauty experts, access to insider info and secret sales). 

Error Messages

Error messages may range from "Sorry, something has gone wrong on our end", to "Oops! Our servers are down at the moment – try again soon?" They don't need to be unnecessarily apologetic because it's a system error, but their tone should be authentic and sincere. These messages often occur when payment processing is declined, hosting is having a hiccup, or a field wasn't correctly filled out. Never leave your customer hanging. Avoid placing blame on their use of the page or app, and instead, direct them to another action that can resolve the issue, like refreshing the page, providing a support contact, or asking them to come back. 

404 Pages

404 pages are like your self-deprecating best friend, the one who lightens the moment and bears responsibility for the awkward mixup. In fact, designing entertaining 404 pages has become a bit of an art form, the one place where brands can show off an "easter egg" or hidden piece of content. Instead of a dry message, make your 404 page chuckle-worthy, or even cute. (Pandas, anyone?) Creativity aside, you'll want to help direct your user to another next step, like a link back to the homepage or relevant content (i.e. blog posts, similar products). 

Submission Confirmations 

This is your chance to champion the customer. Copy here should confirm that the user's task was completed, such as payment, signup, or form submission. Be sure to provide some next steps or clarity about what to expect, like a tracking number or receipt number for their records. Also, provide a link for the next task, whether it's logging out or going back to the homepage.

Unsubscribe Confirmations 

It's a yin and yang thing: if you're sending newsletters, be sure to spend some time thinking about what it's like to unsubscribe to those newsletters. Not very happy (or sexy), but it has to be done. When users want to unsubscribe, they check a box and are sent to a page that asks them a second time if they're sure. This is your chance to jump in and provide a voice of reason, reminding them of what they'll be missing if they choose to check out, things like access, exclusive deals, insider news, freebies or special offers. Since users that unsubscribe are often frustrated by the frequency of your newsletters rather than their content, offer a field where users have control over the number of times per week they receive your messages. Even if they do want to unsubscribe, provide them with a few ways of staying in touch, like social media profiles. And never – seriously, never – tell a user that it will take 7-10 days for their name to be removed from the listing. It's an instant gratification world, and we all know that response is a lie.

Forms and Fields

Self-explanatory and with less room for creativity, forms and fields can often prompt the user to think about their responses. "Can you describe what went wrong?", and "Please provide as much detail as possible" encourage your users to give helpful feedback that you can use to enhance their experience next time.

Direct Messages 

This one is tricky. Direct messages have a tendency to sound impersonal and, well, canned. But if you do it correctly, you can make new Twitter followers feel welcomed, or you can offer an exclusive freebie that provides real value. Thank them for connecting with you, and link them up with a free eBook or discount code. You scratch their back, they'll scratch yours.

Auto-Responder Emails

Welcome new customers, convert customers based on recent activity, offer relevant products based on shopping history, reward your best-of clientele, or email about an upcoming event. Auto-responder emails are the best way to offer up your best content, in the order you'd like them to see it, no matter when they become aware of your presence. Don't abuse the auto-responder, though. Make sure you're putting your most helpful, useful, or insightful content here. The goal is to turn interest into curiosity, and curiosity into conversion.

Help Documents and Troubleshooting Pages

Help documents and troubleshooting pages should be so thorough, a caveman could do them. In all seriousness, if a customer has landed in your Help section, it's time to provide nothing else but clarity and a clean set of steps to help them get from Point A to Point B. Screenshots and illustrations of actions can help break up dense text. Use bold text to help identify which tabs and buttons the user should be looking for. When it comes to the Help section, get out of the way and and help the customer get on theirs. 

FAQ Pages

The best advice about writing content for an FAQ page? Don't write content for an FAQ page. Instead, collect enough (real) customer feedback to support the types of questions that should be there. If several people have asked the same thing, then it's time to consider it "frequent" enough to put on the page.

App Feature Walkthroughs

If you've ever downloaded a new app, you've likely been subjected to a feature walkthrough, or a step by step instruction guide that defines what certain buttons and functions do. These can be helpful, but be sure to do a few things first: map the user flow, and don't offer more than 3 pop-ups. By first mapping the user flow, you'll understand what the user's hierarchy of needs are. What needs to be explained first, second, and third? What order do they go in? Does my explanation interrupt their task? When it comes to feature walkthroughs, there's a fine line between being helpful and being annoying. Above all, the pop-ups you settle on should clarify why a feature is important, what it does, and how it behaves within the app. Providing context, rather than a textbook definition, will prove more valuable. And of course, don't forget the "got it!" screen. 

Product Descriptions 

Sell me this pen! This is your chance to go into intense depth about the product. How was it made? Where were the materials sourced? What does the color look like? What does it feel like? How will it make the customer feel when they carry it, wear it, or take it out of the packaging? Product descriptions enhance and support product photography, and serve to convert window shoppers into proud owners. Brownie points if you tell a real-deal story about the product, like the folks at ModCloth, who are particularly talented at injecting the description with emotional triggers, with words like "comfortable", "sophisticated", "flirty" and "endless happiness". Better yet, include some product pairings that help customers see the potential in accessories or relevant matches.

Legal Policies 

The dead zone. The chilly, barren wasteland. Where big words go to die. But it doesn't have to be that way. While users often skip over terms of agreement, contracts, policies, and other small print, you can change how the message is received. The legal pages of your site offer greater detail into what users are signing up for, whether its storing your data to help the site offer relevant products via email, or connecting their app to Facebook. You'll be working with a legal team, but you can soften the content by treating it like a meeting where you're explaining the processes of your site. Plain language can go a long way, even if it's (most often) skimmed. 

These are the dusty corners of your website that are often given the least amount of time and appreciation. But with careful planning, well-placed messages can extend a hand of empathy to frustrated customers, winning them back – perhaps – for a lifetime.