July 25-27, 2018 / Vancouver, BC

An Interview with Margot Bloomstein

Written by Steve Fisher

January 24, 2017

Building a brand-driven message architecture

In our first interview of 2017, Steve chats with Margot about her upcoming workshop at the Design & Content Conference. Margot shows us how brand-driven content strategy complements user-centered design and empowers visual design. She also gives us a quick preview of her product, BrandSort.

Come to this workshop to get up to speed on the philosophy, questions, tools, and exercises to implement brand driven message architecture.

Margot's Workshop


Video Transcript

Steve
Hi and welcome to the first interview for the Design and Content Conference in 2017 and I'm really excited because we've got Margot Bloomstein with us. Margot, why don't you introduce yourself to the DCC crowd?

Margot
Sure, hello, I'm Margot Bloomstein, as Steve just said, of Appropriate, Inc. where I focus on brand and content strategy and how I can use conferences and other opportunities with colleagues to really meet them and see their dogs.

Steve
Excellent. Yeah, that's a good strategy.

Margot
It's working out pretty well for me so far, I have to say.

Steve
Yeah, well I know that my dogs are excited to meet you too. But so is everyone that's coming to the Design and Content Conference. Maybe you could tell us a little bit more about what you've been up to, what you do, your company, a product that you have.

Margot
Sure, so I focus on brand driven content strategy, and as I always like to tell my clients and the agencies that I partner with, content strategy is a pretty broad umbrella, and under it there are people that focus on more, say meta-data driven content strategy, more around CMSs and CMS specification, and then there are people that focus more on the editorial side of things, or on more traditional information management and whatnot as well.

I tend to focus more on the brand driven side of things, so in that capacity, I work with organizations to help them figure out, what are their unique communication goals? How will they set themselves apart from other organizations within the same industry, with whom they compete? Because ostensibly, they share the same target audience, but they don't want to simply put all the same stuff out there, or necessarily use all the same content types and all the same features, or even necessarily the same tone of voice. So as we kind of pull back from having content that is strictly user-centered, but also figure out well, what's our own space within the conversation? What's the distinct voice in which we can communicate? And the distinct content types we can use?

That's the opportunity for brand driven content strategy and that's what I focus on, with a pretty wide range of different types of clients and organizations of different sizes, some start-ups, large financial institutions, small retail companies, some large manufacturers, higher ed institutions of all different sizes, so yeah, pretty broad variety, all of which wrestle with those kinds of challenges.

Steve
That's excellent. And that leads us really well into the workshop that you'll be running at the Design and Content Conference, building a brand driven message architecture. Maybe you could tell us a little bit more about that specifically and why people should come, and what they can expect to take away.

Margot
Sure, so the message architecture is really where I tend to start a lot of my work. It's usually my first deliverable back to a client after a kick off workshop. And that deliverable, as we all know, deliverables merely punctuate the conversations that we have. In many cases, they're summarizing all the nitty gritty details that we've already brought to the surface.

So typically in a kick off workshop, or workshop closely afterward, I'll be working with my clients to help them figure out, what are the qualities that they most want to communicate to their target audiences? Who do they want to be, in a more aspirational way, in the hearts and minds of those audience members? And then we also have to talk about, well, who are they not? And what are the qualities that they feel maybe are better owned by a competitor or just that they wouldn't want to have associated with their brand?

And then, what are the qualities that they currently own that maybe they want to leave behind? Like, maybe they've always been thought of as a really kind of tactical investment, but they want to be seen as something more strategic. Or maybe they've always been seen as very traditional and conservative, but now they want to be seen as more modern, or hip, or cutting edge, or bleeding edge, and what's the difference between those two? So in order to get at that kind of information, and help them prioritize it, I take them through an exercise, a brand attributes card sorting exercise, and in the workshop at the conference, I'm going to be focusing on how you can learn that exercise as well, how to facilitate it with your clients, or if you're internal to an organization, if you're in like the marketing department, how you can bring it to maybe the quote unquote clients within your organization, how to facilitate that exercise, what questions to ask of it, how to move your way through it, and then, how to create a message architecture based on that.

From that point, after you've established the message architecture, then you can move on to creating a content audit, and using it as sort of a qualitive metric, or creating a content model and making sure that the new content types help manifest those communication goals, or editorial style guidelines, that also help bring about the communication goals that you and your client have already discussed, and where everyone is already then on the same page.

The exercise that we'll be going through, the card sorting exercise, that's based on an exercise that I've developed over the past, I guess over the past 15 or so years working with clients in a wide array of industries, and as I said, it's a type of card sorting exercise. I've documented it, and all of the guidelines, and kind of examples that help it in the brand sort deck that I've produced. And we'll be looking at how that fits into the process as well.

Steve
Oh that's great. Maybe, do you want to talk a little bit about the brand sort deck? 'Cause that's a product you released last year.

Margot
Yeah, yeah, so it was last June or July I think, the first edition came out. It has since sold out and we're now at this point on January 18th, 2017, we can put a pin in it there, now recording this, we're looking at producing the second edition of it, but yep, when you order brand sort, you get a lovely little box here, emblazoned with the logo, and then inside you'll get cards that explain how to use it, kind of some examples, and then different categories that you can put those cards into as you're moving through the exercise with your team, and then another 80, 90 or so cards that have adjectives that come up with organizations of all different industries and sizes.

And I often times talk with clients, and sometimes they'll say afterwards, like, well how do you know that we're using terms that maybe here in this large biotech company, how could we possibly be using the same terms that a manufacturer does? The thing is whether it's an organization that has been producing, I don't know, like if we want to start with biotech, like I've worked with organizations that are producing synthetic cartilage substances as well as organizations that are producing housewares and organizations that maybe run large supermarket conglomerates, as well as start ups that are focused in the media and publishing spaces, and they all use the same terms to describe their brands and their goals. The difference is, kind of how we navigate those terms and how we prioritize them and how we define them too. So that's where I'm looking to really focus and help us get to the heart of those conversations and those definitions.

Steve
So you're coming to Vancouver, we're very excited about that. I know that you've been here once, but it was very short. You didn't get to stick around for very long. So tell us a little bit about what you're maybe excited about, coming to Vancouver this summer.

Margot
So obviously I'm excited to come back for more poutine, that has to go without saying, although I'm gonna say it. And I'm also excited just to meet with the broad variety of people that are coming in for the conference. I think in bringing together such a diverse group of speakers, I think that helps to attract a more diverse audience too, and demonstrably on stage, you're showing like, this is our broad community, you are all welcome in our broad community. And I'm excited to be a part of that community, both for the people that are coming from within Vancouver specifically, as well as all the people that are coming to Vancouver in kind of our broad industry community.

So I'm really, really looking forward to that. And as I said, and probably as the slogan goes, and I'm sure the tourism board there is listening, come to Vancouver for the people, stay for the dogs, all of the dogs that you could possibly meet, so, looking forward to meeting yours at least.

Steve
Yeah, well we'll try to get out for a dog hike, or something. You'll get to meet the dogs. Well, Margot, thanks so much for chatting with me today, and we're really excited to have you come out to the conference this summer.

Margot
Likewise, I'm really looking forward to it. Can't wait.