How to create a 5-star content strategy: Tips from Juliette Olah of Booking.com
Olah recently spoke with us about creating high-value content, getting organization-wide support for change, and the advice she has for other leaders driving editorial strategy.
Keep the focus on the customer
When Olah joined Booking.com in 2020, the editorial content was mainly used for paid social media ads. She quickly saw an opportunity to use these long-form articles in a much broader way to support the brand’s own social, organic and email channels.
“I wanted to show that potential but, at the same time, keep focus so that it didn’t seem like I was trying to solve all content challenges through editorial,” Olah said. “If you go too broad, too quickly your message can start to become lost.”
A key part of defining and keeping a focused content strategy is taking a customer-first approach — creating a roadmap and choosing themes based on what is most valuable for your audience and then figuring out how to tightly weave business objectives and marketing goals into the plan instead of the other way around.
“A customer-first approach is essential; otherwise you lose relevance and value very quickly,” Olah said. “Audiences are incredibly sensitive and perceptive to anything that is slightly off or slightly irrelevant. If your content and your messaging isn’t coming across seamlessly you’ll lose attention immediately, and you’ll also lose trust.”
Maximize the value of each piece
“Editorial content does take a lot of resources to produce,” Olah said, discussing the research, writing, visuals and translation work required. “So if we’re going to do this, we need to make each and every story work to serve needs and fill gaps so that we’re supporting the brand rather than just adding more content.”
Maximizing the value of content starts in the planning phase. For Olah and her team, this includes working with in-house researchers to identify travel trends, with localization specialists to make sure ideas are culturally relevant and with the social and email teams to create pieces that can serve the strategies of multiple channels.
It’s also key to set up content for long-term value. This can include structuring content on the back end in a way that makes it easy to reuse across different channels, or enhancing the tagging and taxonomy of your archive to get more out of the content you’ve already invested in.
“Editorial at Booking.com has been going on for many years, so we have thousands of pieces of content,” Olah said. “Surfacing that content in a relevant way, being able to curate it, to search through it and filter it efficiently is now really important for audiences to be able to get the most value out of it.”
Build a 360 business case for technology change
To reach their multichannel ambitions, Olah knew the editorial team needed a technology solution that would let them create, curate and optimize content more efficiently than would be possible with their incumbent, homegrown platform.
Having worked with a headless content management system (CMS) in previous roles, Olah started exploring if this approach was a right fit for Booking.com. Through many discussions with tech and product leaders, as well as the creatives on her team, she built a business case that looked at the technology justification and functionality needs, as well as the impact on efficiency and editorial strategy.
“The business case is part showing a comprehensive, 360 view of the technical benefits of the platform and part showing that you’ve done your homework on a robust content strategy,” Olah said. “From examples of execution, to tying in brand storytelling and campaign amplification, to details around distribution and channel use cases of the content.”
Presenting an aligned, measurable plan for change was key to getting different stakeholders to understand the potential of editorial content and to get the buy-in needed to make the change successful.
“Advocacy is needed at all levels and functions, from a leadership level that signs off to the people that are actually involved in using the products and the systems day-to-day,” Olah said. “They need to be happy and settled and feel confident that this is going to make their jobs easier and more efficient.”
Don’t change for change’s sake
To ensure the move to the new content solution went smoothly, Olah was careful to avoid a common stumbling block she’d seen at other organizations.
“When companies launch a new platform, there’s a tendency to launch 10 other things at the same time— a new platform plus new brand guidelines, or an entirely new content strategy, or a refresh of everything that’s associated with the particular platform,” Olah explained. “I was very conscious of not doing that because that is extremely stressful and, in my opinion, unnecessary.”
Instead, change was rolled out in stages and, where possible, tied in existing ways of working to make people feel comfortable during the transition.
For example, the editorial team was very happy with the workflow that was created around the previous content platform. While a headless CMS might be able to support more efficient processes, Olah decided it was best for the team to first roll out the new platform in a way that worked with the existing workflow.
“Don’t try to change everything under the sun at the same time,” Olah advised. “If something is working, keep it, and keep the business case focused on the current challenges that need to be solved.”
Plan for potential
Breaking transformation into independent steps, rather than a big-bang approach, is also an opportunity to create a content and technology framework that supports continuous change.
“Once we launch, there’s still a lot of potential for editorial at Booking.com, and what we’ve been able to do with this platform is build for that potential so that the structures are in place,” Olah explained.
For instance, with an API-first approach Booking.com is able to structure content so that it isn’t locked into only being presented as a static long-form article on the site. As the team explores new channels, third party syndication, testing tools and further optimization for local markets they can adapt existing content and processes to meet new needs.
“This is a huge benefit of headless,” Olah said. “We don’t know what we will necessarily need in another five years, but we absolutely need something that is flexible and adaptable enough to accommodate that.”
“There’s only so far ahead that you can possibly plan for,” she continued. “You need a system that helps you to flex and change in this environment.”
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