“Just tell me the answer”: the challenge of stakeholder engagement

Recently, a client declined the opportunity to review some work we were doing. When we submitted the project, we did so with the caveat that the taxonomy needed to be validated and that we needed a half day from the subject matter experts.

The client said “no, we can’t do that – they don’t have the time”.

I explained that we had to make a number of assumptions about the taxonomy and how it would be integrated into content strategy. We needed to discuss these issues and talk about the choices that could be made and the alternatives available. This still met resistance. They said “you are the experts – just tell us how to do it. Rather than asking us, just tell us the answer.”

It’s hard to say where to begin with a response. This is not about us making a judgement and simply deciding. It is about how people think about their information and how the client wants to present their solutions.

Saying “just give us the answer” is like saying “just give us a web site”. “You guys are the web site experts, right? Don’t waste our time by asking us silly questions about our business and goals and customer needs and products and solutions and market differentiation and message and competitive advantage and…”

“Can’t you just give us a web site?”

What some clients don’t know is that part of the answer is doing the work. Developing content strategy and taxonomies to support that strategy is about working through the process and solving problems. There is no way someone can make those decisions without directly impacting the business and deciding business issues.

Distinguishing between ‘market’ and ‘solution’ is a simple example. Does the marketing organization need to understand target markets so they can organize information with a specific message for certain types of customers? If they serve both consumer and business segments the answer may seem obvious.

What if it is a matter of “utilities” versus “transportation”? Is there enough of a difference in materials and message to organize information for each of these? What about the “Federal” sector versus “Life Sciences”? What if the target is a federal research lab? That falls into both categories. How would solutions for these markets be defined? Do they simply cut across markets or are they truly different solutions for different markets?

So the challenge of defining these categories is not a matter of simply ‘categorizing’ information or defining the categories. This is really about how the business is run – how markets are segmented, how messages are differentiated and how the organization wants to deliver their message.

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