Content Design London

Content sprints – matching user needs with business goals

Published 4 December 2018, by Hinrich von Haaren in Content Process Content Strategy.

In our content sprints we help organisations figure out a solution to a particular content problem. A sprint is 2 weeks. Sometimes it takes one sprint to tackle a content problem, sometimes it can be 2 or 3 sprints. It really depends on how complex the project is. We’ve recently delivered a sprint for the financial service provider, Equiniti, and thought it would be a good idea to talk about the experience which was fantastic.

Things you can do in just 2 weeks

We worked with a mixed team of content, marketing and communications people.

In just 2 weeks we changed the way the team thought about and worked with content.

Their focus shifted from what the company wanted to tell its customers to what customers needed to make a decision about the product.

As we went through the sprint, we documented all the steps and turned this into a guide for Equiniti. It’s tailored to their company needs so they can use it to run future sprints themselves.

Collaboration is the most important thing

By the end of the sprint the team had produced a set content that was simpler, easier to understand and therefore easier for customers to act on. Over the coming months, Equiniti will measure how this will translate into increased user engagement, one of the goals for the project.

Involving people from different parts of the company meant that we had a wealth of experience in the room. They listened to each other’s ideas and worked collaboratively to find the best solutions to the problems we were trying to solve. They also hugely enjoyed getting out of their usual team silos.

Stepping into the user’s shoes

We started by stepping into the users’ shoes. Sounds obvious? Yes, but it often isn’t. And it’s hard. When people work on a product for a long time, they can lose sight of what their users want.

It happens to all of us. Instead of giving users the information they need, we tell them all the things we, the company folk, think are terribly important.

Walking with the user

First of all, we mapped the journey people go through when they engage with the product. We did this in great detail:

  • What’s the first point of contact?
  • How much brain power do users have to spend to understand what we want from them?
  • How difficult do we make it for them to make a decision?

And so on.

We mapped all the steps with post-its on a wall. We then added possible pain points along the way.

Next, we mapped the user needs along this journey. We identified these from previous research, surveys, analytics and the expertise in the team.

Finally, we mapped the current content along the journey and identified where it doesn’t meet user needs and why.

Wow, there’s so much!

There were several realisations in the room during the 2 days we did this:

  • The journey is much more complicated than we thought.
  • We’ve never thought about our customers this way.
  • There’s so much content.
  • So much of that content doesn’t cover any user needs.

These insights aren’t uncommon. When content grows organically over many years, it often takes on a force of its own. It mushrooms. We call this content creep.

3 things the user need to know

Next, we prioritised our user needs. This helped us to understand what was really important to users.

What it boiled down to was 3 things:

  • What exactly is the product?
  • What’s in it for the user?
  • How can they get it?

Simple, right? And simplicity was exactly what we were aiming for. Simplicity focuses our mind and forces us to really bring out what’s important about our product.

It’s easy to tell the user everything. But it’s really hard to get 3 clear messages across.

New content, new formats

Our next steps were to run some sketching sessions. We focused on the 3 top user needs and the whole team literally drew images of how the page, the tool, the calculator etc. they had in mind could look. This was a fun exercise and really got people thinking.

We weren’t too bothered how realistic these initial ideas would be. We just got them out quickly. This stopped us from overthinking.

Afterwards, we chose the solutions we wanted to take forward immediately. Things that needed more development time went into our backlog.

Writing with an open mind

At the end of the first week, we had everything we needed to start writing. Sounds like a lot of preparation time? It was worth it.

We now had absolute clarity who our audience was and what they needed from us. This made the writing much quicker.

Still, writing good content is hard. First drafts were still pretty close to the original content because it’s not easy to let go of what you’ve known for years.

However, a couple of content crits really opened the team’s mind. They began to understand how to write from user needs and how that meant simpler, more straightforward content.

The second and third drafts were a world apart from the original content.

There was a great moment when Emily, one of the team members, said: “We were told for years how complicated this thing is and now we’ve shown in just 2 weeks that it can be simple.”

Sprint learnings

We learnt:

  1. Stepping away from what we have and into the user’s shoes is hard but hugely worth the effort.
  2. Having upfront clarify about your audience makes producing content much easier.
  3. Working collaboratively instead of in silos means you have 2, 3, 4 or 5 brains to solve a problem which, in turn, means you’re bound to come up with a better solution.
  4. You can get a lot done in 2 weeks.

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