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Content Strategy: Can we just make it up?

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  • October 11, 2011

“Just make it up,” I advised a client — actually the whole project team — when they were stuck and debating on how to proceed with part of their campaign.

Silence. Uh-oh. The looks I got, I might as well have said, “Just throw your money out the window.” I laughed, but I couldn’t back down, because I meant it. I plunged on, “That’s what I do.”

The Power of Invention: The Magic Layer of Content Strategy

No Bibliography Required

This fear or resistance of invention — of making something up — is holding a lot of us back. It’s as if we’re looking for a book or resource or expert to point us to page 428, second paragraph, for specific and correct directions on what to do. (Then we can annotate it!)

But how did that resource come up with the solution in the first place? They made it up. Sure, they tested it and shared it and revised it. They may even have come up with the idea from a range of sources and experiences. But some individual had to invent it and write it down.

That Magic Layer

This business of “making it up” is part of the Magic Layer I mentioned here, and I don’t really talk about it to many people. For obvious reasons. Invention is welcomed in the art world, but within business strategy, it’s much harder to accept.

I do understand.

Clients are paying my content strategy company for time-tested expertise, skills, and knowledge. And we do — we bring that. At the same time, every company I’ve worked with in the last 11 years has, at some point in the content creation or content strategy, needed a creative solution. Something unique and different and … inventive.

Dive In Head First!

All of us working with content or content strategists will reach a point where it’s unclear which path to take. Sometimes it’s in the very beginning. Sometimes it’s in the middle. My suggestion is to climb on one of those diving boards — those gems of knowledge you know to be true — and dive in from there. Just make it up.

The result may be unexpected and initially rejected. In fact, the first ideas are often rejected — or at least, questioned. But it’s exactly the thing the team needs to clearly see what’s needed. This, in fact, happens every time. A proposed path is much more effective in directing an effective solution than an open discussion.

You are smart. You know your company. You will know genius when you see it. So start making it up — or let someone else (preferably an experienced content strategist!) make it up — then use your team’s know-how, instincts, and testing to help shape your solutions.


Agree? Disagree? Would love to hear your thoughts.

Author Shelly Bowen

Shelly Bowen, Pybop's chief content strategist, has led teams of writers and creatives to develop websites and interactive content for more than 15 years. Read more about Shelly.

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Join the discussion 4 Comments

  • Shelly,

    I’ve encountered many time clients who want to be guided by the illusive “content best practices.” There are definitely things that work, but our work is in a constant state of evolution so seeking pre-packaged solutions can be dangerous.

    I think a key part to your comments about being inventive is to never forget to test. This allows us to come up with innovative new solutions without throwing out the current system that is “working” in some capacity.

  • Shelly Bowen says:

    Hi Josh, I like the way you think! It’s true, pre-packaged solutions (if they even exist) are hardly ever one size fits all. On the other end of deliverable options, I’m finding that some people feel that more is better. As if buying everything on a potential content strategy deliverable list will provide a better result. But really that would result in busy work and frustration.

    Testing … I should talk more about this. It’s definitely part of smart governance!

    Thanks for the add,

  • Hi Shelly,

    Thanks for saying this out loud – it’s a welcome reminder and one I find really inspiring.

    Re: Deliverables, I’ve also found a review of a client’s legacy documentation around strategy, governance and process (or lack of it?!) very enlightening–and it usually sparks lots of ideas for me (though I can see too that it’s important not to get bogged down in the current state of things; but this material usually reveals a lot about the client’s culture, which is indispensable).

    Keep up the good work!


  • Shelly Bowen says:

    Glad to hear it was inspiring, James! And thanks for the tips on legacy documentation. It’s true, it’s definitely easier to start with something than nothing. It also helps set (my) expectations on what the company believes their needs are.

    Thanks for the comment!

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