Content Strategy for Food Services of America

Food Services of America is one of the nation’s largest broadline food-service distributors, serving customers throughout the Midwest, West and Alaska. The intent of this content strategy engagement was to create an omni-channel content distribution platform (starting with their website) to provide value to FSA’s customers and to reinforce that their brand brought more to the table than just food delivery.

Standing Out from the Industry.

After analyzing FSA’s direct competitors and some of the up-and-coming younger players in the industry, it became clear there were two primary trends in use in the industry. The first trend was the use of large, mouth-watering imagery to drive the primary messaging around quality of product. The second was pages of text to drive messaging around why a company was the better choice, in the traditional “about us” format talking about the company itself.

When you talk with anyone at FSA, it becomes immediately clear that while they have quality product and offer numerous services, neither of those are the driving factor that restaurants choose to do business with them. Food Services of America is family-owned. They live, work and are involved in the communities they serve. They are not simply a company you hire, they partner with you to help drive your success. The customer’s success is their measure for success. This is the core topic that needed to be communicated by the project as a whole.

Who’s Consuming and What They Want.

A content strategy engagement is obviously about creating content, but you need to know who you are creating content for, before you start creating it. FSA had some existing personas that we were able to leverage, but the scope of who content would be written for exceeded those personas. Earlier in the project a gap analysis was done with the engagement stakeholders to determine what areas of the content consuming demographic were not currently covered. Within this project, personas were created for three new user types.

To gather the data that would be used in creating the three personas, phone interviews were conducted with 3-4 actual customers per user type. To add additional perspective and context, phone interviews were also conducted with several FSA customer reps as they could provide holistic insight on the trends and patterns for each user type based on their interactions with them.

Large Business Chef

The Large Business Chef user type described individuals that typically come from a formal culinary education.

Small Business Chef

The Small Business Chef user type described individuals that “grew up” in the industry and learned the ins-and-outs of the kitchen on-the-job.

Owner / Operator

The Owner / Operator user type described individuals that not only owned the business, but also ran the day-to-day operations. They were accustomed to wearing many hats and keeping the ship running.

The Viewpoint of the Brand’s Voice.

Knowing who we were writing for and the types of content they wanted to consume, it was time to work out how the brand’s voice “would” communicate. What does the voice know about? What is its attitude towards the reader, the product, the market, the competition? What vibe or emotion does it feel? What does it want?

In an ideation session with the engagement stakeholders, we started to answer each of these questions, creating some initial definition for the collective voice of the brand. From there we chose words that described the language the voice would use. Was it formal? Relaxed? Quirky? Confident?

Once we had identified three key voice characteristics, we expanded upon them with related words, defined them with descriptions and drafted guidelines around things to do and things not to do, to give clear boundaries on approach for future content writers.

Organizing and Structuring Content.

An initial internal pass was taken at the information architecture to eliminate redundancies and create a baseline to work from. From that baseline the content organization and initial wireframes were created collaboratively in an ideation session with the engagement stakeholders.

As each part of the organization and structure were being iterated on, the team continuously referenced the key voice characteristics defined in the voice & tone ideation session to ensure the path we were walking was consistent with the boundaries that were defined earlier.

This session started by iterating on the content organization using a wall of Post-it Notes to move around, rename and discard if they were found to not add value. Based upon the a solidified understanding of the content that would be created, we worked through a list of template types that would need to be created in the CMS, consolidating where possible to keep the engagement scope in check.

Ted Potter, Visual Designer, iterating through wireframes

The last portion of the ideation session was creating rough wireframes on the whiteboard. These wireframes where later translated into a digital format and expanded upon to illustrate how the content would respond across various device sizes.

Communicating Through Design.

Much of the design process was run in parallel with other activities in the engagement, to keep the timeline tight. As brand positioning and key voice characteristics became defined, mood boards and style tiles were created to experiment with visualizations.

In contrast to the primary trend found in the analysis phase of the engagement, the use of mouth-watering imagery was limited to where the content topic was specifically about food product. Everywhere else imagery focused on people, eating, engaging and enjoying themselves. The goal in choosing imagery was to reinforce that FSA is not a food delivery company, but rather a partner that provides services targeted towards their customers achieving success. Our approach to visualizing success was through imagery that depicts success in the eyes of FSA’s customers. Tables full of happy people enjoying their experience, food and beverages.

The focus of this engagement was the content, the design’s purpose was to support that content. That being the case, the design exploration when it came to the high-fidelity designs, was kept tight. We did not have the budget to fully explore multiple unique design paths, but I feel it’s important to still provide more than one option to choose from. Working with the time available to us, the options we presented the client with were three variations of the same underlining design direction.

Crafting a Unified, Omniscient Voice.

FSA is made up of several regional locations in addition to their corporate offices in Arizona, all creating content for different parts of their audience. A unified, consistent voice is important for a company to be viewed as a brand, rather than a collection of individuals. When content creation spans across many locations and individuals, many who are not career writers, it is especially important to have a documented guide for everyone to work from .

The content style guide created for FSA included an overview of their brand positioning, guidelines on applying the key voice characteristics and the appropriate tone for the context, extensive grammar and formatting preferences, style preferences for commonly used FSA-specific terminology, and guidelines for writing different types of content such as static content, blog posts, etc.

A Plan to Keep the Machine Running.

Creating content can be a complicated process, especially when a lot of people are involved and those people are spread across the country. It’s also important to have a documented plan of action that balances clearly spelling out who is responsible for what, and on what timeline, while keeping it as simple as possible so there isn’t unnecessary friction and the people involved actually keep following the plan.

As I did in other parts of the engagement, I created a baseline governance plan as a collaborative starting point based upon what I had already learned about FSA’s business and team structure. I find you can skip past a lot of the necessary “a-ha moments” required to get to the result that best suits the client’s needs, if you come to the table with a starting point to discuss, even if that starting point ends up being flat out wrong. Thankfully that was not the case this time.

The final governance plan was designed to be something FSA could grow into, but also something that could be achieved by a smaller team, with single individuals assuming multiple roles. The swim lane diagram pictured here included the roles involved, the various stages content went through and color-coded which of those stages happened in Sitecore (their CMS) and which happened outside of it. Along with this diagram, there was an accompanying matrix that spelled out in detail what each task was, it’s estimated timeline, who was responsible for it and what the expected input/output was.