User-focused content and its importance in the creative landscape

In the latest episode of The Lighthouse Podcast, Tom was joined by Laura Jackson from creative content agency Not Actual Size to talk about content, a topic that often gets forgotten about and not given the focus it deserves. NAS design content and manage communities for some of the biggest brands in the world and their words are seen by millions.

She filled us in on what a content team working for global enterprise organisation get up to on a daily basis and how they maintain high standards in a fast-paced environment.

Along the way they talked about…

  • What content actually is and why it’s so important to people
  • What teams can do to bring a more rigorous content focus to their workflows
  • Useful frameworks for content success and the importance of accountability

Enjoy the show! 🤘


Tom (00:07):
Hey, welcome to the Lighthouse Podcast, where we dive into UX design, all things digital product and the ins and outs of running a modern creative agency. Lighthouse is a UX and UI design specialist based in London, working in digital since 2008. We partner with ambitious businesses from all over the globe to help solve their toughest problems, grow their product teams, and strengthen the future of their digital products. I’m Tom, one of the co-founders here at Lighthouse, and I’ll be your host today. And today we’re talking about something slightly different content. it’s a topic that as a UX design agency is pretty close to our heart. We’ve been championing the importance of good content for years now and the power it holds to engage with users rather than me bang on about it. no one wants to hear that at all. We’re joined by Laura Jackson from not actual size, who is much better placed to tell us about the topic. Welcome. Hi. Let’s start with a bit of background about you and NAS for our listeners.

Laura (00:59):
Sure. Hi, nice to be here. I’m Laura. I lead the strategy team at not actual size. We are a creative agency with really strong roots in content strategy, design and editorial. we work with global brands, really such as Dove and the Unilever family. and in that capacity we work with both kind of product and, and capability teams as well as their marketing departments.

Tom (01:23):
Nice. I know you do some really big and great work, but let’s take a step back now and I wanna talk about content as a, as a broader topic before we dive into the detail. Could you tell us a bit more about what content actually means for a team like you?

Laura (01:36):
Yeah, sure. So I think we can probably all agree that content is basically everything everywhere. So that makes for a pretty busy time at work for our team. but really getting it right is, is much more complicated than that. And I guess about the balance between scale on the one side and then meaningful connection to audiences on the other. And that really starts with understanding who you’re speaking to and what they want from any experience or interaction with a brand. Paying attention to this just like UX or product team would means that we can retain that human connection but still work at scale which we find is what global brands and organisations really need. So what is content today? for many of our clients in the brand marketing comms world, content is simply the adaptations of big advertising campaigns or maybe the lo ssom techs in a new digital product.

So even today it can really still be a bit of an afterthought seen as the, the finishing touch when actually it’s, it’s the crucial component and should really be more of a starting point. in reality, well, we believe anyway that it’s the thing that keeps everything else going. and that’s really the difference between an okay product experience or, or brand campaign and a, and a truly excellent one that connects with people on that human level. So we could be briefed on Instagram, YouTube, e-comm, a web chat bot, an app printed collateral all in one week. So when you think about it, it means that content teams are really responsible for most of what you see online. And, you know, despite of that, we are often a very small fraction of any marketing or or product team as we mentioned, our intros, the skill of good content is really about understanding what your audience wants from any interaction, whatever platform you might be on.

So if you’re opening your TikTok app for example, you’re probably looking to be entertained or, or taken away from reality in some way. If you’re reading a, you know, your favourite blog or publication, you’re looking to learn something or stay informed. and if you’re opening Amazon, you’re probably just looking to find something quickly, choose a product and buy it. So what content is coming back to your question, what content teams do is really about connecting with this state of mind in different platforms, different stages of a journey with the right messaging, the right words, and visuals that are gonna be helpful and relevant in the moment, which I think is, you know, probably very similar to how UXs think and, and how you guys work with flows and layouts and visuals. And to me there’s always been a lot of blurring really between those two, two specialisms.

Tom (04:12):
Yeah. huge parallels there of how any, any UX team would work, any product design team. So very interesting to to see that you think about it in the same way. So where do you guys fit in and what are you typically brought in to do on a project?

Laura (04:24):
Yeah, so we’re often brought in to execute and extrapolate a campaign idea across a brand’s digital world. So we find ourselves working with a really wide range of agencies and specialists from the tech teams all the way through to more traditional advertising and media agencies. So it is an amazing opportunity really for a content team. We get to work on taking some of the greatest campaigns out there and then make sense of them for digital, whether that’s through social content series, email communication, editorial website, content, video, you name it. Really. And because of that kind of multi-dimensional role, the importance of communication and collaboration really can’t be stressed enough in that process. Content teams have to be part of the brand creative and digital strategy and decision making, and we find it really only works when we are brought in at that stage. What we see as a future though, is that more and more brands will start to hopefully, you know, start with the content, seeing it as a much more important and central part of getting, you know, your communication with your audience. Right. And probably the only way really to keep up with your digital environment.

Tom (05:31):
Yeah. So that, I mean, that really resonates with our experience. So as a UX design agency we’re often in there at the start showing teams what the product platform or website might do or what changes we might make. It’s really common. The content is, isn’t thought about at this stage. you know, throughout my career I’ve always seen that even though I’d argue that it, it’s so important success that it needs to be thought at really, really early on. And we find that lots of value is unlocked when this is thought about strategically at product level two, not just for kind of brand stuff that you’re talking about you’re talking about there, you mentioned concept for social media included. There’s a huge amount of this being generated by content teams around the world. What’s different about this to what people might think of as a more traditional kind of words on page creation? I imagine there’s big differences.

Laura (06:16):
Hmm. Yeah, so I think firstly the sheer volumes of channels and specifically the introduction of TikTok has really changed the game here and almost changed what content means I suppose. But designing content in this kind of endless channel era really just takes extreme attention to detail and a willingness to kind of immerse in the details of every environment that you might be working in. Whether you are designing content for TikTok or Instagram, or even be real for a brief moment there knowing how your users interact on that platform and what they expect and how they behave there is really essential for getting the tone right. those differences might seem small. I think lots of people might assume you can use the same piece of content for TikTok on as you would on Instagram, for example, but actually that platform nuance really impacts our content.

So captions on TikTok, for example, will be much shorter. We might tap into specific hashtags or cause that really only exist on that platform. So for our team it really means living and breathing the platform that you’re creating content for and, and really being willing to immerse yourself in that space and, and kind of create content that feels natural and wanted. And of course going with that is the fact that, you know, content production is getting more complex but quicker at the same time. So we move from planning to production to getting content live in a matter of days for social, which I think is quite a, a different production process than, than we see in other channels. And obviously that is only going to continue and, and volume is a real constant challenge for our industry to be honest. Generative AI is of course a huge conversation right now, but I think the key thing is, is focusing on how we continue to retain that craftsmanship in, in great content, whatever platform you’re on. And, and even when delivering high volumes,

Tom (08:14):
It’s super interesting to, to hear about the differences between platforms and how that can affect things. And you know, anyone who’s ever used a social platform will experience the kind of amount of rubbish on there that people are just churning out. So yeah, it makes total sense that you need to understand the platform in detail to be able to put out stuff that will engage.

Laura (08:31):
I think it’s often, you know, missed by our clients and by a lot of content teams to be honest. And the desire to just kind of create something quickly. Yeah, put it out beat, jump on a trend kind of means that people forget that art of actually connecting and, and creating something right for the platform.

Tom (08:59):
I think people will be interested in your, your process, which I know you’ve spent a lot of time on. do you think you could run us through what your team does to create content that engages and fits the bill? I think there are some great parallels there with, with how product teams also work.

Laura (09:13):
I think anyone can really put words and images on the internet, but crafting content is so much more than that and there is a kind of process and a skill to it. I suppose something I find interesting is when you ask people about their favourite brands, they often point to those small pleasing details about their interactions. And nine times outta 10 that is just beautifully crafted content. whether it’s a brand tone of voice that connected with you or a campaign headline that made you laugh an insightful interview, it’s all just content and it’s that little bit extra that really takes craftsmanship and it’s not something everyone can do. So for us, we think there are three elements that we keep in mind when we are approaching a content brief, and those are listen, craft and nurture. So I will talk about each of those in a bit more detail.

Firstly, listen is really just about understanding your audience first and foremost, which again, very similar to many other disciplines, whether you are working in UX product or marketing more kind of on the creative side, we really look to first uncover the insight and approach all of our content in that way so that we are finding an emotional connection that the content can speak to basically. And on the other side of that is really listening to our client and, and the brand. So creating content for consumer brands means really understanding what a brand wants that content to do and ensuring that we are laddering up to support bigger brand objective without doing that. Content is just sort of stuff and that’s why people don’t value it, I suppose. So yeah, listening to what the brand is trying to achieve is a big first step.

Craft is simply about beautiful execution and obviously that just takes a huge amount of talent and there’s not really an a magic answer to that. but it’s about rigour, expertise, powerful storytelling, exceptional tone of voice, and attention to detail. and yeah, executing with a bit of pride and, and really creating things that people want to spend time with. I think a word that we love to hate in the content world is repurposing, you know, the idea that you can take one piece of content, have it live everywhere, that it’s easy or, you know, efficient. Yes, there are some efficiencies to be made, but content craft is really about understanding that every piece of content is unique and important and you know, you can’t always skip over those details. The final press area to our approach is nurture. So by that I just mean getting your hands on analytics and not stopping till you have it really it can be really difficult to understand how content is performing, especially if you’re working with complex organisations who maybe don’t know who owns that data.

It’s quite frustrating as a content team to not know how something has done or if it’s really connecting, but without that understanding you can’t always, you know, make a case for more of it, improve it, et cetera. And I think as is true for the product cycle, content should never be seen as complete. And this idea of nurturing is really about understanding that audience feedback, the performance, and then continually making incremental changes to the content strategy and execution. It also allows us to be really reactive to content opportunities. So part of content today is, is responding to cultural moments, putting the brand in spaces where it’s gonna be relevant with the right message and the right content. So

Tom (12:44):
I’m sure we can all think of examples when cultural moments have been gone quite badly with people trying to hop onto that on social media and and things like that in the past. Right. So it’s getting the balance right absolutely. Seems

Laura (12:54):
To be a big challenge. Yeah. And, and really understanding what’s right for your brand based on what your audience is responding to basically. So not trying to be there for everything that for things that matter. Yeah, exactly.

Tom (13:07):
I mean it’s all great hearing all that, but I suppose there may be people out there who are thinking, well, we don’t have any of that, or maybe we don’t have the expertise that we’re talking about here. Do you have any advice for people who want to think about how content can be a bigger focus for in their, within their teams?

Laura (13:22):
Firstly, make a point of it. So make it the first question that we’re asking with any new product campaign or experience. So even if you’re not the experts in content, just always having that question at the forefront of your mind, when are we bringing content in? Are we briefing them? Is it the right time now? Yes, it probably is. it’s just a good way of, you know, reminding everyone that content needs to be part of this process whenever you then decide to bring it in. And I think alongside that, making someone in that team accountable for it. So even if they’re not a content expert and they maybe need to bring in someone external to help execute that, make it someone’s job to, you know, where’s, where’s the content? Ask the question. and hopefully that means, again, it will always be at the forefront of the process and not just this kind of last minute scramble that we often see.

Tom (14:11):
Oh yeah,

Laura (14:12):
. and if you’re lucky enough to be able to have a writer on the team, whether that’s a UX writer, a copywriter, wherever the kind of background might be, these people we find are the ones that usually see the opportunities quite naturally to connect with people through words and messages and can be super valuable in the strategic development of a project. Don’t just see them as, you know, there to tack the content on top at the end. One thing I think we can learn from maybe the advertising or creative agencies more so is to also just make time to look at good content, hold creative reviews giving everyone in the team an opportunity to look at the power of good content. And we all know it, we see good content in our lives all the time and we know what we like. So analyse that, see what you can learn from it.

This can also be really valuable if you’re working with clients to do that, you know, competitor analysis on what good content looks like out there to just help them see that as well. And finally, I would say, you know, g case studies and success stories. we’ve touched on this a little bit, but we’re only gonna get people to, you know, invest in content more if we’re able to prove the success of it, whether that’s looking at the before and after and how a small content change impacted your results. Just, yeah, always have those case studies ready cuz , we need people to take it more seriously. I think,

Tom (15:35):
Again, I think the parallels between this and how product design teams work is, is really obvious, but I think the accountability issue is one that really resonates for me all the time. I’ve seen a lack of ownership of content’s going back to our web design days when content is, you know, really important. It always led to it being forgotten about and not having the focus it needs. So the, the outcomes almost always were poor because no one’s actually looking after it and no one’s putting their hand up and saying, I’ve got this sorted. So yeah, I think we need a lot more of that. Definitely. So what about the future? I mean, we’ve seen a lot of change in the design world recently, UX and product design and even graphic design is changing at a rate of pace, which it’s frankly scary. What do you think the future holds for content teams and, and how they’re gonna fit in with the kind of wider digital world?

Laura (16:27):
I think everyone is very focused on the future right now, which is probably just the speed of technology is evolving, as you say, but I have a feeling that generalists are probably the future in our space. It seems like an odd thing to say and I think we critique generalists as non-specialists often, but I think in content specifically, we really need people with a bit of an understanding of multiple merging disciplines to be able to create good content, especially as those disciplines are just getting closer and closer to together. So I don’t really like the the saying jack of all trades, master of none. And actually I think the full saying is, jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one. which I think speaks well to the sense that we need to bring different skills together across marketing products, content, ux, and, and really not worry too much about job titles in that mix. Yeah,

Tom (17:20):
I agree.

Laura (17:21):
And yeah, we find that’s constantly the, the key skill in, in good content people really an ability to lean across those disciplines and yeah, we, we might have people in our team who would be called UX writers in another team or social creators in another team. So yeah, not, not worrying too much about the semantics of of titles, but really focusing on what it means to create something that connects to an audience. Obviously specialists will continue to have a place, and particularly I think with specific platform knowledge, but as we enter this new very new territory in both how, in how we create content, so generative AI being the kind of looming presence and where we create content. So Metaverse, web three ar whatever, we’re gonna need to be very adaptable in that, in that kind of evolution and journeys. And I think as the communications mix gets more fragmented, brand teams are really gonna rely on people who understand a brand tonally inside and out and can translate that to any digital experience. A key characteristic of a good craftsperson is, is really willing, being willing to learn about new things and then improve your own skill based on that. So I’d like to think that’s where the future of content is, is going.

Tom (18:43):
That was super interesting. Thanks for joining and telling us a bit about this world that I hadn’t thought about in that detail before.

Laura (18:51):

Tom (18:51):
You. Any summaries or takeaways for the listeners?

Laura (18:53):
Yeah, I’m try and summarise what we’ve spoken through. I think firstly, content is obviously here to say it’s kind of part of everything and can’t be seen as this, you know, separate team or, or department. So there’s a quiet power in that for content teams. I think keep pushing to have a space at the table and make sure the content is really thought about upfront. secondly, feel free to borrow our, our mantra of, of listen craft and nurture. But yeah, really just working through that methodical process is, is really all it takes to, to create good content as long as you’ve got good people in the team behind you. Finally, I think content people have that power, as I say. So reach across those divides, ask questions, make you know, be in the conversations even if it’s not immediately clear that content is needed, cuz it often is .

Tom (19:45):
And where can we find a bit more about no actual size and all the work that you

Laura (19:48):
You can follow us on LinkedIn or you can visit our website, which is just not actual size. Go uk.

Amazing. Thanks so much for taking the time to join us today. I’ve learned loads that about wraps it up for today. Thanks very much for listening. Check in next time for more in-depth products and UX discussions, explorations around how we run an efficient collaborative digital agency and stories from the frontline of digital design. Subscribe, give us a like or drop us a review wherever you get your podcasts. Find more about At We Are Lighthouse on the socials. Until next time, that’s it from me and the team over at Lighthouse. See ya.