The day I came up with the Content Requirements Document (CRD)

By Limor Shiponi

“I want you to rewrite the content,” said the branding agency manager, “make it a little moister.” I picked up a cup of coffee resting nearby and poured what was left of it on the printed document. It was after too many rewrites that indicated the person wasn’t holding a brief anywhere. “Here, a little moister,” I said uninterestedly and walked out. I’ve had enough of that arrogant, unprofessional attitude.

Today, I work with B2B companies as a content and social media strategist, which I find much more interesting. Still, frustrations exist, mainly around the fact most content professionals don’t get to contribute what they could if only processes and organizational culture were decent. There are exceptions, and those places give me the opportunity to suggest, plan, develop, and test processes and tools that move work forward.

Some people see content as art, some people see content as information, and both those people have their matching attitudes. Content is art, information and much more. In a business environment it’s also expected to function in favor of the bottom line. This last requirement imposes some serious issues; hence, I cannot call it “storytelling”. Nevertheless, there are storytelling devices that can apply to marketing communications or what others call – content marketing. Same thing, by the way.

Storytellers work with requirements all the time

Have you ever been to a storytelling event where the storyteller seemed unable to match stories and audience? It can happen but you won’t see it very often. What if the program is set and only when you’re there you realize the story is not adequate? You’ll have to find a way to answer new requirements through the same story, because that’s the story they are expecting.

If you are a storyteller, you might know that many storytellers would rather give organizers some nice vague name for a program instead of committing to an exact list of stories. That is because they want to meet the audience first, and understand what is required. For storytellers, managing audience requirements is core to success.

Paraphrased to business

Have you ever been to a conference where a lot of marketing material was lying around abandoned in the cafeteria and lobby? It can happen. What if you have a pile of brochures and only when you’re there you realize the content is not adequate? You’ll have to find a way to answer new content requirements with the same brochure, because that’s what you have.

If you are a sales person, you might know that many sales people would rather ask marketing for something they know they need or get it by themselves, rather than receive content and tools they’ve never asked for. That is because they want to meet the lead first, and understand what is required. But in business, although managing audience requirements is core too, for some reason, a lot of content doesn’t hit the mark and eventually finds its way to the garbage can or stays dormant on servers.

The day I came up with the CRD

“Limor,” said the concerned voice on the other end of the line, “I think I need your help”. The voice belonged to the MarCom manager of a software company I was consulting to at the time. “They want me to prepare a brochure for an event and I think it’s a waste of money. It’s a big event, we are not going to be represented there because it’s very costly but we can send something for the conference bag. A brochure won’t do it. These people are from top international brands, and we need to catch their attention.” “What’s your budget?” I asked. “5,000 US$,” replied the miserable voice.

Obviously, it was time for creativity, but first, we had to stop the brochure idea. “Do you know how many brochures you sales people returned home after previous events?” was my next question. She returned after five minutes with an answer from sales, “90%. They felt stupid they had to carry them back, too.” “Can you survey among five of your counterparts in other companies?” “Will do,” said the voice, a little more cheerful.

She phoned back the next day, “85% returned brochures in average,” she said, triumphantly. “Now go to your VP, give her the information, tell her your opinion, and let her decide.” The decision discarded the brochure idea but had nothing to offer in return. In addition, the MarCom manager started feeling the stress attached to offering change, “what am I going to do? I mean, how will I know I’m doing the RIGHT thing?!” I told her the story about the branding agency manager who wanted the text moister. She laughed bitterly, “I wish I could give that answer every time people toss a remark about content. They never give you enough information to start with, but they have a lot to say.”

Suddenly a bulb lit-up in my brain. I promised her to be back by the end of the day, sat at the computer, and started constructing a document. The idea was:

  • Get enough background information
  • Sketch-out the requirements
  • Get an approval

Only then initiate the content creation process. That’s how I came up with the CRD – Content Requirements Document, which is a counterpart of the PRD – Product Requirements Document.

The Content Requirements Document

The Content Requirements Document (CRD) is a document written by a content planner – call him whatever you want. The document defines content requirements for any sort of marketing communications content unit. A CRD results from a content request. It is designed to allow content creators to understand what a content unit should do and how it should function. It should define the need the content must answer, without defining the actual creative process and solution. This allows content creators to unleash their creativity, keep content fresh, and reach higher quality levels.

The CRD is not suitable for very small content units like single status-lines. However, it is suitable for status-batches for instance, among many other content units requested internally and externally in your company (in case you were wondering “what?! write a CRD for every single Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook update?!”).

First, get enough background information

I sent her my idea and asked her to try out the first part with her VP and sales. “Just send her the 1st section by mail and ask her to fill it up by the day after tomorrow.” This is what she received back:

CONTENT REQUEST
Date xx/xx/xxxx
Product – yyy software
Source of request – sales
Contact person xxxx, email xx@xxxx.com, phone number xx-xxx-xxxx

CONTENT CLIENT
External, internal, title, persona?
External, COOs in alpha XX companies

THE NEED
What need will this content address? Can you justify the need in business terms?
External client need – to find a better business solution than the one they have already
Internal need – market penetration

WHY US?
Describe by means of added value we can provide.
Our product can provide the solutions they are looking for. It can exceed their expectations.

OPPORTUNITY
Why now?
Annual industry conference.

MONETIZATION
Can we sell this content?
No.

ALLOCATED BUDGET
How much?
5,000 US$

CONCEPT
Describe content’s purpose, function and how it will benefit the receiver.

  • The content needs to lead them to request a demo
  • It needs to be a simple step in a simple process
  • It needs to teach them something WE know about THEIR world

MARKET CONTEXT
What can you tell us about the market-segment/event this content is targeting?
High profile, alpha clients and vendors, annual meeting. Classy, dynamic.

CONTENT CUSTOMER CONTEXT
What can you tell us about the receiver?
They have seen everything but they will look at more if we surprise them with market knowledge. They need to be sure they are not wasting their time.

RESTRICTIONS, LIMITATIONS, ASSUMPTIONS
What restrictions & limitations would you like the content creators to consider? Please provide us with any assumptions you have that can affect the content, anything it’s important we know.
Restriction: we cannot afford a cultural-gap glitch – it is international.
Assumption: most vendors will have booths and presents. They have the budget.
Assumption: most clients and vendors know each other.
Limitation: none of our sales will be there. Registering for a demo is performed online.
Limitation: has to be a hard copy of something. They do not look at emails offering demos.

Second, sketch-out the requirements

“Very well, you have some important information here,” I said. “Now, try and fill-up the second part.” I explained to her a little about how to approach writing requirements for content without defining the solution and suffocating the creative process. Here is what she wrote:

CONTENT REQUIREMENTS

CONTENT SHALL PROVIDE
A teaser + information about where and how they can request a demo.

PERFORMANCE MEASUREMENTS
Number of demo requests, titles of registrants.

LANGUAGE, CULTURE, BRAND
Surprise them by showing them we know what they are bothered with and what business opportunities they can have, do not mention the product. Short intro about profitability, bullet points, reach-us info. Respectable and to the bottom line, no outsmarting. Work with brands values in mind, use keywords provided.

RESTRICTIONS & LIMITATIONS
Designated demo page on website. URL – short and memorable. Word count for content – 100 words max.

DESIGN, DISTRIBUTION & PACKAGING
Something they will keep out of curiosity and want to check. 2.5 US$ total production costs per unit max. 400 units.

SUPPORTING MATERIAL

  • Product’s main brochure.
  • Brand values.
  • Potentials’ brands values.
  • Keywords.
  • Link to previous event website.
  • Links to top competitors websites.

DUE DATE
Get to sales by xx/xx/xxxx

Third, get an approval

Now, all she had to do was join both parts, name the complete document CONTENT REQUIREMENTS DOCUMENT, and send it to her VP and to sales for comments/approval. The signed document, served her as a brief she passed-on to her content people. They came up with several suggestions and tested them in light of the CRD. Eventually they created a lightly branded postcard with brilliant copy. The better part of the 2.5$ per unit, were invested in a unique brand of paper which they chose to keep in standard shape, so the reader’s attention will not be distracted from the text.

The ultimate test

Media outcome – out of 400 units, 150 hit the website.

Conversion – 150 hits resulted in 15 demo requests made mostly by people from a COO office (they checked them out on the web).

Business outcome – from 8 demos performed eventually, 2 turned into customers.

Their wildest dream was – 1.

And, everybody was happy. The CRD helped them go through a painless process, with plenty of buy-in along the way, everybody got to contribute where they can contribute best, without stepping on each other’s toes. The questions on the content request part brought in the voice of the customer and the business people input, the requirements part showed them how their input translated into specific content requirements they needed to consider, comment on and eventually approve (their decisions…), and allowed the content people to do their best. The entire process helped re-position the MarCom’s part in the content process as media planner and it saved her a hell of a lot of time – which she could invest in planning other projects at hand. Obviously, she decided to use the same process, which after testing in several places I can only recommend to you too.

MAGIC HAPPENS and sometimes it happens in the most unexpected places…

 

3 thoughts on “The day I came up with the Content Requirements Document (CRD)”

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