In Content Strategy, Your Customers are Users  


In the second post in this series, I outlined why your governance model, or the “How do I do this?” part of your content strategy, is a good place to start planning. Over the next 4 weeks of this series, we’ll go through a full content strategy, and this week we’ll tackle the most important person in the content strategy room: your customer or as you will come to call him or her: Your User.

Content Strategy and User Experience Design

This week I attended a User Experience Design Conference, and I was struck by something that is important to consider as we embark on this month’s installment of your content strategy road map.  As the speakers at the conference described projects they had been working on and case studies of both successes and failures, I was struck by how there has been a real renaissance in the world of business over the last few years.  Now, so many businesses are taking a Design-Thinking approach to business planning and strategy.  And the lines between designing a business strategy, a content strategy, and a website are becoming very blurry.

Traditional business planning has often started with the product or the brand.  Now more and more businesses are taking a very customer-centric approach and taking pages from Design Thinking as they start their planning and strategy with the customer, or as we say in Design Thinking, with “Empathy for the User”.

Understanding the cares, context, capabilities and captivating factors of your User are the building blocks of a great business plan, and a great content strategy.

What is a “User”?

I am going to use the word “User” and not customer as I proceed to describe how we identify who they are, and create messages for them, in our content strategy.  Why do I use the word User and not customer?

It used to be that when we said “User” we meant only those customers who were going to your website.  But in his Book “Users Not Customers”, Aaron Shapiro makes the point that nowadays, every customer is a User, and thinking about them as Users allows us to always remember that they are coming to us for their own reasons, not ours:

“Users are defined as anyone who interacts with a company through digital media and technology.  There are lots of different types of users, and while they each have their own distinct interests and objectives, they all want digital tools to easily and quickly give them a leg up”, Shapiro says, “Today, a customer must be thought of in a new way: as one segment of users, one of the many types of people who interact with your company through the digital version of your organisation.  And they all want digital technologies to make their lives easier and better.”

Users aren’t just browsing, shopping, surfing.  Users are seeking value, utility, and help.  When we develop a content strategy based on empathy for that User, we need to understand who they are in a three dimensional portrait that we call a persona.

Personas: Not Just Demographics

Personas are detailed portraits of your users: usually you choose at most 3 or 4.  Personas are both an art and a science to create, because they are based both on facts or what your know about your Users AND they come from your imagination.  In order to create this three dimensional portrait of your User(s), you need to understand who they are across these 4 areas:

Care: What do they care about?  What are their pain points? What matters to them the most and what are the minimum expectations you’ll need to meet for them?

Context: In what context will they be when they find your website or social media?  This is not only a question of what device they might be using (for example, they might find you while using their smartphone on a crowded streetcar, or at their desktop computer in a cubicle at work) but also what time of day, what is their mood, their situation?

Capabilities: What are their technological capabilities? Are there any physical constraints they might have that will impact on how they are able to interact with you online (for example, are they older and therefore will very small text be hard to read, or might they have physical tremors that would make hitting very small buttons difficult?  Are they colour blind, as many men are?)

Captivate: This is the most elusive, but possible the most important area of focus.  What will really surprise and delight them? What are their secret desires that, if tapped into, will bring them un-matchable value and engage them in a real trust relationship with you?

How do I get to know my Users?

You can find out a lot about your users by looking at the analytics on your website, market research your company may have done, by speaking to your sales staff, or by examining competitor sites to “reverse engineer” who they are speaking to.

But to take a page from Design Thinking, the best way to get to know your Users is through observation: getting out there and meeting people, asking them questions and listening carefully to the questions that they ask you.

Can you observe your users using a competing product or even better your product?  Watching someone navigate your website is often a harrowing and eye opening experience.

And listen to what they say: jot down quotes and use their words, base your content strategy on their questions and their language.

Persona Templates

Having personas developed is not only critical for the development of your content strategy, you need them if you are going to have anyone else writing product pages or emails, blogging, or engaging in social media communications on behalf of your company.  Have them memorise the personas, and post the personas at their desk so they are always aware of who they are speaking to!

Here are a few sources for templates you can use to build your personas:

The Analytical Engine Persona Template

Your personas can be detailed or brief, but the main thing is that they are, for you, real: you want to have a clear picture in your head, and on paper, of who this person or these people are, because one of the biggest lessons to learn from the school of Design Thinking is: you are not your user!  You don’t want to design your content strategy for yourself, you want to design it for your users, to deliver value to them, to speak to them, to meet their needs at their level, and if you’re lucky and skilled, to surprise, delight, and captivate, and convert!

For more resources and information on Content Strategy and to download a detailed description of what content strategy entails, go to or download a Content Strategy Info graphic at

Christine McGlade is a Business Analyst, Content Strategist, and Usability Consultant.  With over 25 years experience in the media business, Christine helps small business, social enterprise, and Not for Profits how to leverage the power of the Internet to grow their business.  Learn more about Christine at

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2 thoughts on “In Content Strategy, Your Customers are Users  

  1. […] the third post in this series, I discussed why you need to consider your customers as “users” and how you go about creating a […]

  2. […] with this content (and where do I find them)? Have a look at post number three, which is all about understanding your target customers as users, and post number four, your social strategy […]

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