This shouldn't have to be said
Content and the professionals that create it shouldn't need to justify their role or prove their value.
Sadly, content professionals are asked to do this on a regular basis. This post by Sara Wachter-Boettcher was a reminder that me and my team's experience isn't completely unique. In fact, it's more likely the rule than it is the exception.
This content conundrum
This all too common conundrum is due to content strategy still being misunderstood by most individuals and in most organizations. Content Strategists and frankly any role with "Content" in the title, are often relied on for all copy writing needs for any project, deck, or communication being created. Sure, writing is part of content strategy, but it's the ability to understand the data and entire content landscape and build a strategy that adequately cares for the creation, delivery, governance, and upkeep of useful, usable content that is the difference between strategy and execution.
I see it far too often. A project team jumps straight to tactics under the guise of "strategy" without taking the time to do thoughtful discovery. Thoughtful discovery includes researching the marketplace, understanding the internal data available to you, conducting and an audit of any existing content relevant to the strategy you're trying to build, and assessing and curating helpful external content related to the strategy, at a minimum. Skip any of these steps and you have nothing more than half-baked ideas that might solve the problem. That of course assumes you took the time to adequately and accurately define the problem to begin with.
If we're being honest, many organizations have scant few people who can translate a strategy into actionable and measurable tactics and execution. That's where content strategy and content analysis come in. Content Strategists and their Content Analyst partners in crime are made for this type of work. While the two roles are often merged into one in many organizations, the collective output results in the creation of a strategy that is aligned to a well-defined problem, backed by data, translated into tactics, and supported by a plan for ongoing oversight and upkeep.
Content Design and UX Writing take center stage
I'm not making light of the role of writing in this process. Content Designers and/or UX Writers are uniquely qualified to understand a content strategy, the data supporting it, and use that information to define content structure and information architecture, and write copy that helps users complete their tasks - while simultaneously meeting the goals of the business.
Sure, this can be done on a shoestring budget, by skipping steps and asking content's peer disciplines to write ux copy, but you wouldn't ask a writer to provide the visual design for a page, app, poster, or data visualization and expect them to do as good a job as a trained designer, would you? That question should be answered with a "no." So why is it that designers, or project managers, or digital producers, or other disciplines not trained in the art of content strategy and content design are so often tasked with delivering the content in their designs too? It typically comes down to budget, or lack thereof, or a lack of understanding of the art and craft of content.
That too is why so many content designers, content strategists, ux writers, content analysts, and content engineers (you thought I forgot about that discipline, didn't you?) feel like they need to justify their existence. Everyone is a writer. At least, that is often their perception. Everyone has written a term paper, or an email, or a text message, or a tweet, or a press release, or a blog (ahem), or a presentation, or a speech, or whatever. Those singular acts of "writing" seem to empower many individuals to feel like they have enough experience to be able to do the job of a trained writer acceptably well. Can that be true in a pinch? Sure. Some of the best writers I've worked with or even hired didn't come from traditional writing backgrounds, but they worked incredibly hard to hone their craft. Creating the best, most effective, thoughtful, and strategic content and information architecture consistently takes training, education, and repetition, like any other skill.
Defending with data
Now that I've finished my rant, let me descend from my soapbox and offer some assistance that could help if you ever get put in this situation. First - read this post again and heed Sara's advice. It's all good advice, but this closing especially resonated with me:
If you get put in the position where you must defend your practice, or sell content strategy, design, analysis, or engineering as a key differentiators and you've taken the first step of changing your definition of success, make step two using data as your ally.
In February of 2022, I was interviewed by Content Science about how to stand up a content measurement and evaluation practice. The thing is, you don't have to invest that much time and effort into defending your role. You can be scrappy and choose from a number of tools available to you. Google Analytics, Microsoft Clarity, Pendo, and a number of other tools are available for little to no cost and provide good web and engagement analytics that you can use to validate your work. I'm personally just getting started with Clarity and connecting it to my Google Analytics account, but I can see where it will be really powerful.
My budget is unlimited. What are my options?
If your team or your partner teams have access to enterprise tools like Content WRX, Quantum Metric, Adobe Analytics, Crazy Egg, Semrush, or others, you have a veritable treasure trove of data to back you up. You can build a case with traffic data, engagement data, heat maps, and more complex integrations and visualizations that tell you what the customer journey really is and where you should be focusing your efforts. Using that information to inform your perspective and validate your role and function can showcase your value and hopefully avoid future similar conversations. Then you can make that part of your process and use the data to continually improve your product and experience.
You are not alone
Content can feel like a lonely business. The skill and craft required to create, apply, and maintain a content strategy are often misunderstood and underappreciated. Know that you shouldn't have to prove your value, but if you're asked to, you have a number of tools at your disposal to provide the data you need to back up and sell your strategy. There are also a number of individuals like me who are willing to help with your pitch. Feel free to schedule some time with me on ADPList. I look forward to chatting with you.