Content: Where UX and PR meet
Written by Russell Lindsey
What are the ingredients for a successful marketing campaign?
Knowledge of your audience.
Messages created for maximum impact.
People finding genuine value in the things you serve them.
It’s a strong list. But, mix those same ingredients together, and you’ll find you can also make yourself one heck of a user experience strategy.
Cringe-inducing analogies aside, the disciplines of public relations and user experience (UX) may initially seem to be unlikely companions. In many organisations, I highly doubt the two functions rarely, if ever, actually speak to each other.
This seems strange to me, as a B2B PR practitioner that has also specialised in UX. To me, the similarities between the two are striking; I think PR could learn a lot from the UX world.
A UX approach to public relations
There is an oft-repeated mantra in UX: You are not your user”. Essentially, it means designers shouldn’t design products based on their own tastes. It’s a futile approach; if you base your design decisions around personal likes and dislikes, you’ll only achieve a design that works for you.
And same goes for PR. “You are not your audience”. Create content and press releases that only talk about things that interest you, journalists and your customers will quickly lose interest. Yes, it’s possible that your content may have driven clicks and given you nice stats to show off to the board. But did anyone think to ask your audience, your users – the people who the content was created for – what they want and need? Would that have given you better performance and engagement? Most likely, yes.
Over the past five years or so, I’ve been surprised by the amount of content that is created without any real cohesive data and insight that informs why it was created. Is your white paper actually going to be useful to your audience, or is it just adding noise that will lie forgotten on your website a week after the initial push ends?
Did your content help them? Did it answer their burning questions? Did it reach them at the time they needed it most in their customer journey?
I’m not convinced many marketing teams know these answers. I wager it’s because in-house marketing and PR managers are simply not being aware of the huge amounts of user data that their wider organisation may be sitting on.
Do you know what your audience wants and needs?
I’ve worked on many a PR campaign where content was created based on conversations with comms and sales teams and other senior stakeholders about what messages the organisation wants their audience to hear.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with creating content in this way. It’s perfectly valid and a tried and tested method of serving up content since the web era began. In fact, it’s something that we here at Eulogy are experts in. Just see our work creating a Brand Loyalty Report with tcc, or the editorial programmes of content to support sales we worked on for Kantar. As Sarah Winters lays out in her excellent book on Content Design, these are examples of what she calls ‘push’ content. Pushing information out to draw people in.
But there are alternative ways, influenced by the world of UX, to make expand our content potential. What if, before we create anything, we find out what our audience wants and needs from us? That way we can create content that can *pull* them in. Take, for example, this ebook on retail pricing we created for Flintfox, putting into simple terms a complex topic which their audience had admitted in research was difficult to parse and connect with.
Of course, this sort of content requires research, from simple desk research using web analytics to actual interviews with actual users of your website. It all provides data and evidence of what an audience wants and needs.
I mentioned a UX mantra earlier. Here’s another that UX teams use to build successful products – ‘Be useful. Be usable. Be enjoyable.’ This seems just as applicable to PR content as it does to apps and websites to me. And it seems to be the perfect recipe for content: audience insights, slick, user-friendly design and needs-driven, punchy writing.
Between us, our PR and content teams have grilled hundreds of subject matter experts to work out how to write good thought leadership, or build brilliant content. We know how to ask, “How shall I write this?’. Putting a UX hat on can help offer data-led answers to another, just as important, question: “What content will best meet your needs?”.
Brand communications should not always be about what a brand wants to project at customers, but also about what those customers need to know. Content that focuses on the latter has a value that aids user experience and conversions, and will be all the better for it.