by Tosca Fasso, guest blogger
Many blog posts and conference sessions have been dedicated to the content audit: what it is, why it’s so important, and the best ways to do one. But as our industry becomes more familiar with audits and competent in conducting them, we’ve advanced to a new set of challenges.
To content strategists and others in user experience, the value of an audit is obvious. To some of our co-workers and clients it may be less so. Audits can seem mysterious, expensive, and time-consuming. Yet we sometimes bring them to the table as though everyone already understands them, cares about them, and wants to sift through them. Additionally, some content strategists have one flavor of presentation for every audience: the unfiltered display of all the interesting information they found.
The trouble with information is that’s just raw data. In itself, it’s not insightful, or strategic. It’s just information. And as our profession evolves, we’ve started to conclude that our job isn’t solely to present information—it’s to turn that information into insight.
Of course there’s nothing wrong with data. We couldn’t do our jobs without it. But data is just the beginning. We’re increasingly being expected not just to report the data, but to interpret it, analyze it, and turn it into something meaningful.
So, what qualifies as meaningful? The answer depends on who our audience is. When we’re creating content, we’re focused on the needs of our audience. Maybe we have personas, or maybe we have client research, but we use whatever background materials are at our disposal to get inside our audience’s heads so we can customize our message for them.
As the Content Insight article The Qualitative Content Audit states, “When you understand who you are speaking to, how they like to be addressed, and what they are coming to the site to do, you can effectively evaluate how well site content meets their needs and speaks their language.”
Yes, the subject of the article is site content, but the message still applies: if you’re trying to persuade an audience, you need to understand who they are, how they want to be spoken to, and why they’re listening to you.
For example, with an executive audience, it usually makes sense to avoid too much background or detail. Get to the point, quickly, and keep the focus on conclusions and recommendations over just showing “findings”. Go straight to the “so what?” Instead of simply presenting how many conversions occurred during the first quarter, place that data in context—what does this finding mean in the history of site performance? Is the first quarter always better than the fourth? Did something change on the site that can account for this metric?
For a marketing audience, on the other hand, we might focus our presentation on campaign-related metrics, such as percentage of traffic that can be attributed to email marketing or banners. In other words, we interpret the data for our target audience. We don’t just show a complicated spreadsheet and expect that everyone will understand or care.
Which begs the question: if we’re not just showing data, what are we showing? Those of us who are “word people” are likely inclined to lean on our writing skills to explain and interpret the data we’ve uncovered. But is this the most effective way to persuade our audience to follow our recommendations?
As much as words are a safe place for many of us, research has shown that people process visuals 60,000 times faster than text, and in a busy work environment, that makes a difference. The fact that images are processed so differently has even been given its own name: PSE – Pictorial Superiority Effect. Tests have shown that people can recall—with 90% accuracy—more than 2,500 pictures several days later and with 63% accuracy a year later. So if you’re trying to make an impression, words alone will fall short.
At SUBTXT, my consulting agency, we use “The 3 Cs” to provide strategic insight that helps persuade our audience. We rely on a combination of text and visuals to:
1. Captivate our audience (grab their attention)
2. Crystallize our insights (make information easier to grasp quickly)
3. Compel our audience to follow our recommendations
Now, if you’re not a visual thinker, finding a way to express yourself graphically can feel daunting. But it doesn’t have to be. We just have to become comfortable with a different language—the language of visuals.
If you’ve done an audit report, you’ve probably written something like this:
This is a straightforward reporting of the facts, but it’s not captivating, it doesn’t crystallize our thinking, and it doesn’t compel. When we present this sort of dry, factual statement, we’re asking our audience not only to process multiple concepts, but we’re trusting that they will read between the lines.
In contrast, with a combination of visual and verbal persuasion, we turn a statement like that into an argument like this:
All of the original text is still there. But it’s presented as supporting information. Instead, the focus is on our interpretation of that information, our bold statement of what that information means to our client. This insight is the true value a content strategist provides—not the ability to dominate Excel.
No matter who we’re trying to influence, visuals grab an audience’s attention in powerful ways. And with the powerful information that content strategists are uncovering, that’s a combination that’s hard to ignore.
In the second post of this two-part series, we’ll give you some concrete tools for creating infographics quickly and easily, even if you’re not a visual person. And I promise, we won’t make you use Photoshop.
Tosca has worked with clients like Nike Women, Intel, and Wells Fargo to put the right content in front of the right audience at the right time. She and her team take a collaborative approach, basing recommendations on SUBTXT’s collective experience and research, but always recognizing their clients’ own unique expertise. She’s particularly passionate about infographics, storytelling, and the magic of metadata. Tosca also managed an international style blog and has the shoes to prove it.
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