As a unique coaching exercise, a year ago Chris Lema and I worked together to create the “Branding First” brand, user experience and design strategy process I now apply to all client projects. During the coaching process I began transitioning from delivering concrete things I’d built (like logos and website comps) to less concrete deliverables (like strategic thinking and planning documents).
Part of creating this new process meant looking at how I could let clients know what they’d be getting at the end of a project, and how it added value to their business. I’ve used this project as an example behind the scenes for the last year, and thought it was time I put together a public case study to share on my blog.
What’s the story?
The first step of any brand refresh is to stop, take a breath, and look at what story you’re telling your audience now. The first thing I did was look at Chris’ 2013 home page (it’s up at the top of this post). I also took a look all his other promotional sites, including his Clarity.fm page and About.me page. After analyzing every single page about Chris I could get my hands on, I made a list (I love me some lists) of the top five things Chris was telling his audience about himself, in order of the importance he was giving them.
In July of 2013 Chris Lema was all about:
- Managing Virtual Teams
- High Performance Teams and a “Done Done” culture
- Software as a Service
- Startup Product Development
- Building software on top of WordPress
Now, I’d been in the Cult of Lema for a while at this point. It’s why I approached him for business coaching in the first place, and why I was so excited to develop a three-part strategy process with him. I wasn’t reading ChrisLema.com daily because I was managing high performers or creating enterprise software products. I was going there for his WordPress and business experience, and I suspected a lot of other people were, too.
Doing the math
I started crunching some numbers. Yes, research. I even made graphs and spreadsheets! I wanted to find out who his actual audience was and what type of content they were interested in. Then i could compare it to the story Chris was telling about himself. I looked at a year’s worth of Google analytics reports looking for the answers to two questions:
- What was Chris writing about most?
- What was the audience reading about most?
Actual vs. Perceived audience
Like I suspected, the data showed that Chris was telling a story that didn’t match up with what his audience was really coming to his site for. When we look at those top five narratives, this is what we found:
There wasn’t a single blog post in the top 100 that talked about managing virtual teams. In fact, it was only mentioned one time on the entire site.
Blog posts about high performers made up less than 1% of page views in the top 100 most viewed blog posts.
STARTUP PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT/SAAS
Again, this was something Chris talked about a lot, but wasn’t showing up as being viewed a lot.
BUILDING SOFTWARE ON TOP OF WORDPRESS
This is where we started cooking with gas. 54.4% of the top 100 posts were from WordPress related content.
Draw some conclusions
So if Chris didn’t do all the stuff he’d been talking about, what did he do? Going back to those top 100 blog posts, I made a chart of the most frequently accessed content and drew conclusions about what people thought Chris was all about.
There was a lot of interest in his posts about how to do things for your business using WordPress. He got a lot of traffic from posts about building membership sites with WordPress, using WooCommerce, comparing plugins and theme frameworks and talking about eLearning systems. He also got a lot of crossover traffic from people who owned WordPress businesses that were interested in all that as well as his business and coaching advice.
Chris Lema does two things
- Help companies leverage WordPress
- Help WordPress companies find leverage
Bringing it all together
Once we knew what Chris was doing for the audience he already had, we were able to start crafting a story for him. I wanted to make sure we continued to let people know how Chris did those things. He passed on knowledge about helping companies leverage WordPress and WordPress companies find leverage by being active in the WordPress community as a coach, speaker, author and daily blogger.
But I wanted to tell more about him that just what he did and how he did it. I wanted people to get to know what kind of guy Chris was: how generous he is with his time and expertise, how engaging he is on stage, and how his enthusiasm for what WordPress can do makes *you* want to be better at what you do.
I’d heard a quote from Mika Epstein that I felt summed up Chris’ story in a simple and emotional way. “Chris Lema doesn’t sell himself. He sells you on yourself.” That became the crux of the story that people could connect with. Chris isn’t a snake oil salesman trying to sell you five simple steps to success. He believes in hard work, discipline and dedication. He doesn’t just sell you an ebook or a coaching session or a how-to blog post—he sells you on the idea that you can be better if you’re willing to try.
Now that we had the story sketched out, it was time to move to phase two of the process; the user experience strategy. Tomorrow I’ll talk about our audience analysis and personas and setting up wireframes and content hierarchy that help create an outline for visual storytelling.