With over two decades of experience, Margot Bloomstein has been a pioneer in the content strategy space. She is the founder of Appropriate, Inc. and the author of two books, “Content Strategy at Work: Real-World Stories to Strengthen Every Interactive Project,” and her most recent publication, “Trustworthy: How the Smartest Brands Beat Cynicism and Bridge the Trust Gap.” In addition, she provides consulting services, workshops, and a technique consisting of a client-tested card deck to facilitate a brand attributes exercise. Bloomstein’s presence and outreach also expand internationally, where she is a professor in the content strategy program at FH Joanneum University in Graz, Austria.
Trust: The Bigger Picture
How Did We Get Here?
In Bloomstein’s book, “Trustworthy,” you’ll find example after example of how companies and civic organizations are renewing the bonds of trust with customers and citizens alike. She discusses the cycle of how information has evolved. From expertise and homophily to narcissism and cynicism, no stone is left unturned. Homophily is when we are attracted to ideas and opinions that are similar to our own. We find comfort in the information that confirms our thoughts through a social media algorithm or social circles we are in. However, when we realize that the groups of people we thought once aligned with our own beliefs are now expressing dissenting views or exhibiting signs of hypocrisy, we tend to no longer trust them.
When we begin to believe that those we once surrounded ourselves with didn’t have our best interests in mind, the next stage, narcissism, can develop, eroding the ability to trust how we evaluate information. This can impact how we make purchasing decisions and the political stances we take. We might lose the feeling of choice because we are unable to trust what we identify as choices. Narcissism can lead us into a sense of cynicism, which ultimately affects organizations across the board regardless of their field of interest.
How Do We Navigate Our Next Moves?/ Where Do We Go From Here?
Bloomstein does offer readers and clientele hope—alleging that there is a distinction between cynicism and healthy skepticism. “Trustworthy” is organized into three sections, addressing Voice, Volume, and Vulnerability, arguing that by addressing these three “V’s,” organizations can help empower users by enabling them to build their knowledge about your brand.
The ability to put the power of choice back into the consumer’s hand could mitigate issues whereby cynicism can become a trickle-down consequence of a person lacking trust. To empower a person to become a loyal consumer of what your organization is offering and become an advocate for what your organization stands for is an effective way to maintain a successful business and expand it.
Ways that this can be accomplished, such as consistency, communication, and transparency, are some of the techniques that Bloomstein discusses.
What is Content Strategy?
Content strategy can consist of planning the creation, the aggregation, the governance, and the archiving of content, that creates a seamless, consistent, and coherent experience for your audience. Part of the planning process consists of how your organization refines its brand’s identity, and how to create content that is useful, usable, appropriate, and in accordance with your organization’s mission.
For startups that must be mindful of budget restrictions, sustainability is essential for content strategy. For instance, it is helpful to keep in mind where funds are allocated and the additional expenses for any maintenance on particular services or software used.
Content Strategy: When To Start
Content strategy should be considered before launching. Consistency is critical because it demonstrates a level of loyalty and devotion that is exemplary of your organization’s internal structures and values, as well as your potential user’s values. As a result, the user can see what your brand represents and how they relate to it.
Content Strategy & How It Creates The Overall Experience
Bloomstein has astutely observed that, although airlines offer the same service, we sometimes prefer one over another. What differentiates airlines from each other is the experiences that they create as a result of content strategy. Airlines speak in different voices through content strategy, use various color schemes, and use different content types. Some airlines might have a more consistent, friendly voice, whereas others do not.
Content Strategy: Where Consistency is More Valuable Than Cash
Ultimately, your organization is investing in giving trust, which could lead to receiving trust in return. So, by making strategic investments in comments, continual content, and reliable information, the trust your organization receives results in customer loyalty and, ultimately, customer advocacy.
As your organization finds its voice, investing in helping it thrive is an effective way to make sure your organization stands out from its competitors. For example, Bloomstein discusses the Banana Republic’s immersive experience, such as providing different kinds of terrestrial turf in its stores for people to try on shoes and experience walking in similar environments. Banana Republic also offers detailed summaries of traveling experiences in its catalogs. Although this became an extension of the brand over time, it is helpful to be forward-thinking how your organization can invest in having diversified channels for storytelling while keeping your brand’s identity consistent.
How Do You Find a True North That’s Valuable For Your Business?
Cohesion amongst all communication platforms can significantly diversify storytelling channels to earn a user’s trust. Cohesion is found in the form of a message architecture—the type of editorial voice your startup has within and throughout your communication channels, such as your organization’s website and social media platforms.
Managing and Maintaining Your Brand’s Message
According to Bloomstein, the right messaging includes “a clear vision that leaders can articulate with vigor, whether they’re motivating potential investors or prospective hires.” The correct messaging also has “a clear vision that leaders can articulate with vigor, whether they’re motivating potential investors or prospective hirees.”
Voice is classified as one of the pillars for Bloomstein because it helps to provide a unique way to distinguish your brand from other brands that offer similar services, information, or products. Secondly, it is a way to humanize your brand, giving it an identity that users can be receptive to and ultimately become advocates for over time. Finally, as Bloomstein explains, there are two types of communication within a business: verbal and non-verbal. Non-verbal content consists of images, while verbal content consists of available research, whether short or long, that should instill confidence in the reader about the organization.
The non-verbal voice for your brand might include things like color schemes and fonts. When the same thematic logo is used consistently on all platforms, the user can visually orient and distinguish your brand from others and feel empowered by seeing a dependable depiction of your organization. The ideal scenario for your brand identity might include a logo that is easily identifiable and compliments your overall tone of voice in verbal communication. If your organization decides to expand, the visual indicators can act as an iconic part of your brand’s identity, which can help reassure users that, although there will be changes, the organization’s values relate to the present user’s values still the same.
Verbal communication can include the type of vocabulary you use, such as jargon specific to your brand and ultimately identifiable by your users. This can range from conversations that stem from the copy on your brand’s website page to how matters are addressed in response to commentary on social media platforms.
Voice Can Be Toned-Up Or Dialed-Down
When it comes to both forms of voice, consistency is key. For instance, the general tone of your brand should remain similar, and perhaps indistinguishable, throughout your modes of communication. For example, suppose your brand has a witty and informative tone and is seamlessly expressed throughout the social media pages, customer service, and packaging. In that case, this curbs customer confusion and can promote trust within your brand.
Sometimes your voice may vary depending on the topic that is being addressed. For example, suppose the goal of the communication is to explain an expansion of services. In that case, it might be best to talk in the familiar, informal tone that your organization has provided for its previous users. On the other hand, using a passive voice to communicate information to viewers can imply a formal seriousness to your message, which might be more appropriate when your organization addresses an issue and takes accountability for a mistake.
Regardless of the tone of the message, if transparency and humility are evident within the message, users will likely be more receptive to that information than not being informed about it at all. In light of how voice, both verbal and non-verbal, help to communicate your brand’s message and are both integral parts of content strategy, let’s now turn to Volume and consider inquiring how much information should be communicated via your company’s voice.
When it comes to communication, your organization’s amount can be contingent upon what information you relay to the readers. As Bloomstein notes in “Trustworthy,” less is not always more. Although simplicity and brevity might be part of your organization’s voice and ultimate brand identity, there are some scenarios where transitional or structural changes are being made that require a longer explanation than usual. This can aid in preserving the trust of your users by making sure they feel knowledgeable and empowered in times of change.
Additionally, some people would like to merely have the option of accessing more information if they want to look further into a topic. Therefore, it is crucial to eliminate any ambiguity that could arise and simplify information to keep the user’s attention.
South of the Border Example: Efficiency is Not Necessarily Effective
Bloomstein has a classic example of South of the Border billboards regarding how volume, timing, and audience could be seen as less effective in certain circumstances. The South of the Border billboards are classically known for populating the landscape of I-95. Still, Bloomstein makes a point about how these billboards might not be the most effective way to attract people to South of the Border, especially if they’re headed to a planned vacation at Disneyworld. Although the billboards might keep children preoccupied and encourage them to ask if they could make a quick stop there, the parents are less likely to stop somewhere that is not planned. In this scenario, the intrigue of South of the Border is directed at the wrong audience, or at least at the wrong time, because you tend to be on the highway traveling to go somewhere already, such as Disneyworld, and people with children generally are not spontaneously inclined to make stops along the way. This illustrates how, even if a brand has a high volume of exposure, the decision-makers or users and the timing of when the information is offered are still two relevant considerations that could determine whether or not the people engage with your brand.
On the other hand, more content is not always best. Sometimes, too many details can overwhelm a user and cause them to ultimately disengage from the vital message hidden within a lengthy or disorganized passage. When an organization is in a position where it must translate information into simpler terms, abstraction can be a helpful process to avoid flooding users with too much to process.
Another factor to consider is content in general, meaning the frequency of releasing content or how much content is being spread onto how many social media platforms. This is particularly important with startups because, these days, maintaining a reliable presence is essential, although social media is necessary. However, if you’re investing one area of your business in one content type or platform, there may be some opportunities for rework and reuse.
When you look at the cost of content, social media isn’t free. It’s just a different kind of expensive. And that’s because to engage your audience through social media, your brand must have people who are investing their time and creativity in investing in governance guidelines. Such guidelines ensure that multiple people representing a brand across different platforms can do so consistently.
Social Influencing: Your Social Circle: The Company You Keep
Social influencing is another part of content strategy startups should consider. However, it is essential to keep in mind that you are the company you keep. Therefore, if you choose to contract with a social influencer or affiliate with other brands, consider looking into their missions, values, historical past, and present image.
Know What Your Brand Stands For, So That When Social & Political Events Arise, It Can React, Evolve, and Communicate Effectively
As mentioned before, your organization should take a stand on its content strategy before day one. However, it should be ongoing and dynamic because times change, and your organization’s voice might grow and evolve. Maintenance is a crucial factor here because when there is a disconnect within the organization, users don’t go unnoticed. Consequently, this could jeopardize the trust that users have given to your organization.
Although unfortunate but true, current events have polarized people. Transparency and vulnerability can bring your audience closer. It makes your audience much more informed about where they choose to spend their money. And, yes, it may turn off some people. But you’ll also be laying the groundwork to reach an even broader audience and an audience that identifies more intimately with your organization.
Additionally, those who find respect and empowerment within your political, cultural, or societal messages will be more likely to transform from loyal brand consumers to loyal brand advocates, who will feel confident in choosing your brand. As a result, brand advocates, provided with appropriate communication via transparency and vulnerability from your brand, will likely be able to educate others about your brand, providing even more significant potential for broadening your consumer base.
Looking Inward and Outward
When your organization takes a stand for a cause, it is just as crucial to look inward and search for spaces where it might have room to grow to reflect its position more powerfully and effectively. It’s not only about speaking out about social issues, but it is also about internalizing your brand and your workplace. Being transparent about internal issues will enable you to act as a role model for other businesses.
The ability to listen to and engage with your users is something that will take your organization far. As Bloomstein says, “to get trust, you need to give trust.” When an organization is receptive to constructive criticism and conversations that could be considered critique from its users, this could bolster the brand’s trust.
Holding Your Organization Accountable During Times Of Change
When you eventually expand or decide to focus temporarily on other things, make sure you utilize consistent communication skills that your loyal, present, and future users will all be able to depend upon.
Content strategy is more critical now than ever to help instill healthy skepticism back into users and to help bring the power back into others making choices in all areas of their lives. By considering Voice, Volume, and Vulnerability, an organization can implement Bloomstein’s words of wisdom to create a consistent brand identity. “If you meet people where they are, you can pull them to where they need to be.”
Cover Photo courtesy of Margot Bloomstein. Photo by Sharona Jacobs.