Editor’s note: We recently hosted a webinar with content strategist Margot Bloomstein. If you didn’t get to join in, catch the high points below and find out how you can download the recording.

The key to successful marketing is having a content strategy that orients all of your activities and gives you direction. When you don’t have a well-crafted strategy to help you maintain a consistent user experience visually and verbally, across channels, it’s like being the captain of a ship without a rudder. Sure, you can still propel yourself forward, but it’s impossible to guide the ship toward your destination.

There are lots of different facets to a content strategy and one of the most important is your message architecture. As Margot described, it’s a hierarchy of communication goals that reflects a common vocabulary. Put another way, it’s simply an internal framework that you can use to define the most important things that you want to communicate through your company’s voice.

If we were to examine Apple’s message architecture, for example, it might look something like this:

  • Confident but approachable; accessible
  • Simple (minimal detail, streamlined, and anticipatory)
  • Inviting and friendly (supporting but not fawning)

The bullets above communicate some of Apple’s most important defining characteristics. Apple translates these characteristics into all of their content, including their website, apps, products, interface design, and even the channels that they use to engage their audience.

Since content marketing isn’t just about what you say, but also how you say it, taking the time to develop your message architecture is crucial. Ultimately, you want to use your content to create the right user experience for your audience both verbally and visually. Defining your message architecture will give you a roadmap for creating a consistent and appropriate user experience in three main ways:

  • Through your content, by making you think about things like what nomenclature and calls to action you are going to use. It will also get you questioning what types of sentence structure, diction, and tone of voice are going to set the stage for the type of experience you are trying to create.
  • Through your design, by making you consider the images that you use, the subject matter and styling of those images, the color of your backgrounds, your use of bold headlines and various line weights, and your choice of fonts, all of which contribute to the user’s visual experience of the content.
  • Through your choice of features and content types, by making you determine the best formats for your content and any special capabilities that allow your audience to interact with it.

As your company’s voice emerges and is supported by content that reinforces it, you will be able to start differentiating your brand in the marketplace in a way that is far more tactical than, for example, trying to communicate your company’s vision, mission, and values, which are often more inspirational than actionable. After all, it’s not exactly clear how to communicate a nebulous idea like ‘excellence,’ which is so often counted among companies’ values.

So how do you establish your company’s message architecture? By engaging stakeholders in conversations to unpack marketing goals (see Content Strategy at Work for more information). After you’ve got a message architecture in place, what comes next?

  • Start off by formalizing your voice by creating editorial guidelines around style and tone that document your use acronyms, contractions, and punctuation, as well as your use of active and passive voice, sentence length, and diction.
  • Then work on translating your existing content to match the new guidelines. In the process, you might discover that you need to phase out certain types of content or introduce some new ones.
  • Finally, figure out how all of this content fits into your editorial calendar so that people can plan for it appropriately. You may also find that you need to reallocate your budget to support it.

But before you do anything, you need to understand what you are trying to communicate and why. To find out more about the role of developing a message architecture in creating your content strategy and defining your company’s voice, check out Margot’s recent Webinar with Acrolinx.