31. October 2023 - Jeffrey A. McGuire

Empathy, Clarity, and Trust: The Cornerstones of a Successful Communication and Content Strategy

A robust communication and content strategy isn’t just a box to tick in your business plan—it’s essential for building meaningful connections with audiences, establishing a unique brand voice, and fostering growth.

Navigating the labyrinth of modern-day communication is no small feat. Business leaders and decision-makers often grapple with creating compelling narratives that resonate with their audience. Content strategists and marketing professionals face the challenge of making complex technical information accessible and engaging.

The solution to these problems lies in three core principles: empathy, clarity, and trust.

By adopting empathy, businesses can step into their audience’s shoes and understand their needs, frustrations, and aspirations. Clarity serves as the bridge between your complex technical solutions and your audience’s comprehension, ensuring that your message hits home. Empathy and clarity build trust. Trust is paramount in fostering credibility and establishing lasting relationships.

At Open Strategy Partners (OSP), we specialize in helping tech companies overcome their communication challenges through a trust-centered approach. With a background in the open source community and many years of experience working with agencies and technical product companies, we understand the intricacies of technology and human connection.

We’d love to talk with you about transforming your content and communications.

Get in touch with OSP!

Watch our conference talk on this topic, and check out our slides! Jump to the video and slide download.

The purpose of a website 

A website is a tool for communication and connection. It is where a brand narrates its story, expressing its vision, values, and unique solutions to the audience’s problems. But this communication isn’t one-sided. The way a reader interacts with your website establishes a kind of dialogue. Your site needs to be able to guide the reader in their conversation with your content, offering them the best possible experience.

On your website, audiences form connections with your brand through various types of interaction—reading a blog post, watching a video, or engaging with others in a forum. It’s these connections, facilitated by effective communication, that create the audience experience. This experience goes a long way in transforming visitors into loyal advocates.

The cornerstone of this audience experience is “good” content—content that resonates with your audience, solves their problems, answers their questions, and caters to their interests.

Let’s unpack that in a bit more detail.

Defining good content

Good content involves a mixture of strategic messaging and communication, careful presentation and structure, and an enriching reader experience:

  • Messaging and communication: The foundation of good content lies in clear, accurate, and compelling messaging that genuinely connects with the audience. It goes beyond merely sharing information— it tells a story, answers a question, solves a problem, and, most importantly, fulfills its purpose. It involves asking the right questions: Who is your target audience? What are their pain points, and how does your product or service alleviate these? It’s about crafting technically accurate, engaging content in a language that resonates with your audience.
  • Presentation and structure: Good content hinges on how it’s presented. Is it well-structured? Are the visuals appealing? Are the text, images, audio, and video elements blended seamlessly to create a cohesive, engaging narrative? These elements work together to enhance the readability and comprehensibility of your content.
  • Reader experience: Good content is accessible, efficient, and reader-friendly. It doesn’t waste the reader’s time—it respects it. It uses language appropriately, delivering the message in a way that’s easy for the audience to understand and engage with.

So, how do we create good content? At OSP, we lean on three pillars:

  1. Technical truth: The foundation of content that communicates business value accurately and authentically is a solid understanding of your underlying technology. This truth also encompasses understanding your organization—its strengths, weaknesses, current priorities, and future plans.
  2. A strong content and communication strategy: Knowing what your organization stands for and how your content supports your business objectives—both immediate and long-term—is critical.
  3. Communication that connects: Our company motto, “Communicate, Connect, Grow,” captures our belief in the power of authentic communication. It is a sure path to growth as a business.

These pillars guide our approach to creating content that not only serves a business purpose but also creates meaningful connections with the audience.

Now, let’s look at each of these pillars in turn.

Technical truth: Your tech is complex, your message shouldn’t be

No matter how great your technology might be, if your audience can’t understand it, they can’t appreciate its value. But for those involved in business and marketing, it can sometimes be hard to understand the value of highly technical features. It’s one thing to talk about technology, but can you connect those features to their value or the potential business benefits they offer?

To bridge this gap, OSP introduced the Value Map, a tool designed to align technical truth with your business’s unique value proposition. The Value Map informs your strategic plan and communications strategy, culminating in clear, compelling, and accurate content that resonates with your audience.

The Value Map is complex yet highly structured. It is a living repository of accurate, agreed-upon product features, the challenges they address, and the benefits they offer your audience. It takes shape through a rigorous process involving interviews with team members and stakeholders, and an exhaustive examination of your existing resources. We catalog all your features, grouping them into broader feature areas, which are then further organized into feature categories.

Each category presents a unique value case comprising three components: a statement of the benefit, the challenge addressed, and the solution offered by that group of features. By doing this, we transform complex technical elements into a comprehensible, structured inventory of communication components or “micro-statements.”

You then use the components of the Value Map when constructing all manner of company communications—a bit like using Lego bricks to build towers, tunnels, or mountains. This systematic approach allows us to create diverse content like sales materials, investor briefs, blog posts, and entire campaigns (and lots more) efficiently.

Take as an example the product landing page we designed for the TYPO3 CMS, a PHP-based open source CMS. Using communication components, we’ve woven taglines, feature statements, and value cases directly into the page. Another technique we employ is writing a value case at the top of a blog post, providing a quick synopsis of the benefits, challenges, and solutions.

Having a Value Map results in a unified, fact-based positioning built on technical truth that resonates with your audience. It assists you in creating clear product messaging, enabling all stakeholders to communicate consistently, accurately, and compellingly. A Value Map paves the way for a structured, predictable approach to content creation, reducing the chances of repeated errors.

A strong content and communication strategy

A communication strategy is a plan for how to convey your brand’s messages to your audience effectively. It dictates the who, what, when, where, and how of your communication initiatives. By basing your strategy on the Value Map, you ensure that your messages are always rooted in the inherent value your products or services offer.

A strong content strategy has numerous benefits:

  • It provides a clear vision and direction for all your communication initiatives and acts as a compass, guiding your content creation down a focused, well-defined path.
  • It helps you gain a deep understanding of your audience’s problems, needs, and desires. This understanding is cultivated through thorough research and audience interactions and is crucial for producing content that truly resonates.
  • It informs your perception of the competitive landscape. This perspective guides product development and hones your communication to spotlight your unique value proposition, differentiating you from competitors.
  • It helps you create well-targeted plans, letting you direct your resources and energy toward narratives that forge strong connections with your audience.

In essence, a robust content and communication strategy acts as a roadmap, ensuring your communication efforts are strategic, focused, and audience-centric.

What is operational empathy?

Operational empathy is a proactive approach to understanding our audience—like walking a mile in their shoes. It focuses on knowing their daily challenges, their trusted sources, and their unique perspectives.

Here’s how we put operational empathy into action:

  • Interviews: We conduct in-depth conversations with our target audience, subject matter experts (SMEs), client advocates, developers, tech leads, and other stakeholders. Their insights offer invaluable perspectives that inform our approach.
  • Audience research: We delve into articles, studies, and other research materials that our audience interacts with to gain a broader understanding of their challenges and needs.
  • Surveys: This structured approach to questioning enables us to identify patterns in the challenges and needs of our audience. The data gleaned from these surveys is crucial in crafting content that resonates.
  • Quoting SMEs: We acknowledge that we can’t be experts in everything. So, we ask the right questions and quote experts directly in our content, ensuring the accuracy of our content and also bringing fresh, authentic content into the world.
  • Stakeholders: We engage with everyone involved in our projects. By understanding the surprisingly different perspectives of individuals in various roles, we are better equipped to tailor our communication.
  • De-siloing: By collating everyone’s perspectives into a single source of truth, we foster a better understanding of what’s important to others. The result is a more holistic and empathetic approach to content creation.

The second dimension of empathetic communication is the writing level, where we follow several important ideas encapsulated in our writing codes:

  • WIIFM: “What’s In It For Me?” We lead with the benefits to the reader, showcasing why they should care from the get-go.
  • CNECT: This code prompts us to use language that resonates with our target audience. By avoiding jargon and focusing on a language that is common to all, we create content that speaks to everyone, not just a select few.
  • CRIT: Avoid “criticism," especially hidden or implied. We never tell our audience they’re "doing it wrong." Instead, we aim to provide them with alternative, potentially more efficient ways of doing things.
  • FUD: An acronym: “Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt.” We avoid negative copy and refrain from promoting FUD marketing tactics. Instead, we strive to shed light on the positive impact that our strategies can have in the world.
  • INCL: “Inclusion” is vital. Our writing should help all readers feel respected and welcomed. We steer clear of language that suggests prejudice, bias, or discrimination and always aim to be sensitive to the diverse needs of our audience.
  • PAX: The Latin word for “peace” guides us to use non-violent language. We opt for peaceful, inclusive metaphors inspired by art, carpentry, or gardening rather than those drawn from conflict, violence, or sports.

Embracing these codes enables us to create content that not only resonates with our audience but also instills a sense of trust, respect, and mutual understanding.

What is operational clarity?

Operational clarity is all about ensuring that our messages are not only correct but also concise, logical, and easy to digest. Here’s how we achieve it:

  • Technical accuracy: Our writing must be based on a foundation of technical truth. As we’re often dealing with complex and intricate topics, it’s crucial that we fully understand and accurately represent the subjects we’re discussing. To achieve this, we might consult Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), conduct thorough research, leverage our Value Maps, and more.
  • Logical rigor: Our content should present clear narrative structures that lead readers to logical conclusions. Every claim we make must be supported by appropriate and compelling evidence. This way, we ensure that our content is not only convincing but also grounded in truth and reason.
  • Tight writing: We focus on creating content that is crisp, sharp, and focused. Waffling or fluff not only undermines the strength of our arguments but also detracts from the overall reading experience. Our goal is to provide maximum value with a minimum of superfluous content.
  • Easy to consume: Besides making sure our content is accurate and logically sound, we also strive to present it in a way that is easy to consume. We use clear formatting, ensuring logical story progression, writing descriptive headers, and using images and diagrams where appropriate. All of these elements help to make the content more engaging and comprehensible.

Again, OSP follows a set of writing codes that help us achieve clarity:

  • LEDE: We believe in getting straight to the point. At every level—large assets, articles, sub-sections, or even sentences—it’s important not to bury the lead. This approach not only captures the reader’s interest but also aids comprehension by clearly communicating the main point up front.
  • SPOCK: Our writing is grounded in logic. We connect claims with evidence and demonstrate cause-and-effect relationships. Avoid logical fallacies.
  • CRISP: We strive for concise, precise sentences. By varying their lengths, we create a rhythm and pace that enhances the reading experience. We prefer active voice over passive, as it’s more direct and engaging.
  • CLUTT: We eliminate all clutter. If a word or phrase doesn’t contribute to our main point, it’s deemed extraneous and removed. We aim to refine our writing to its most effective and essential form.
  • WALL: Large blocks of text can be overwhelming and challenging to read. We break up our text using headers, paragraphs, blockquotes, and lists, making it easy to scan and parse. This approach aids readability and allows key points to stand out.
  • TERM: Explain technical terms and names to ensure inclusivity and accessibility. We provide enough context to enable readers to learn new concepts or terms, making our text a resource for knowledge and understanding.

By adhering to these codes, we ensure our writing is clear, comprehensible, and engaging for a wide range of readers, regardless of their prior knowledge or expertise in a given topic.

What is operational trust?

Trust is an outcome of both empathy and clarity. Understanding others’ perspectives and providing clear, concise responses fosters a sense of trust and reassures others that their concerns are being heard and understood. But there are also several other operation principles to stress here:

  • Capability and credibility: Demonstrating competence and expertise in our field is a powerful way to build trust. By showing our ability to navigate challenges and solve problems expertly, we communicate our reliability and assure others they can depend on us.
  • Knowledge and experience: Sharing knowledge and expertise further solidifies trust. Whether through blog posts, podcasts, or other platforms, showing our command of the subject matter and sharing our experiences showcases our expertise and commitment to our field.
  • Recognize and acknowledge others: It’s important to remember that effective communication isn’t one-sided or solely self-focused. Celebrating the achievements of others, giving credit where it’s due, and acknowledging the contributions of others fosters a collaborative and respectful environment, which in turn builds trust.
  • Authenticity and integrity: Being authentic, honest, and operating with integrity is fundamental to building trust. We aren’t afraid to acknowledge our limitations or areas for growth. By being transparent about what we can and cannot offer, we show respect for others and uphold our commitment to honesty.
  • Trust signals: Actively broadcasting trust signals—such as showcasing certifications, sharing success stories, or providing testimonials—reinforces credibility and reassures others of trustworthiness. For an open source project, you might look for elements like a code of conduct, detailed release notes, a visible license, and an active user base. If you’re an agency, your trust signals will be different. To instill trust, you need to show that you have a qualified and experienced team of experts proficient with a specific set of tools and processes. This could mean showcasing your knowledge through blogs or explaining your tools on your website, all of which demonstrate your expertise and credibility alongside case studies and team profiles.

By following these principles, we build trust, ensuring open, honest, and mutually respectful relationships. When it comes to writing, there are also several valuable codes to follow:

  • TRUST: We actively mention, link to, or highlight trust signals like authoritative sources—for example, a well-respected publication or an expert in the field—to reinforce the credibility of our information and the reliability of our content.
  • FACT: Back up all factual claims with evidence. Whether it’s testimonials, examples, statistics, or other research, we strive to provide supporting evidence to substantiate our claims, which helps to build trust and confidence in our content.
  • EXMPL: We use examples to enhance our theses or claims. These examples create a vivid picture in readers’ minds, making our points more relatable and easier to grasp.
  • QUOTE: We aim to quote our subject matter experts directly wherever possible. This not only builds trust and authority but also adds interest to our content. The human touch in the age of AI makes our content more valuable and engaging.
  • HYPER: We avoid hyperbole, exaggeration, and binary comparisons. Instead, we aim for authenticity and honesty in our communication. To maintain our integrity and the trust of our audience, we only make claims we can back up.
  • CASE: We strive for each point in each paragraph to be valid, relevant, and unique. Waffling or beating around the bush undermines the clarity and trustworthiness of our content, so we make every word count.

These codes help us to maintain operational trust in our writing, ensuring that our audience can rely on the information we present.


The ball’s in your court!

In this article, we’ve looked at the purpose of a website, the essence of compelling content, and the reasons for investing time and effort into creating a solid content strategy. In particular, we’ve reviewed OSP’s approach grounded in technical truth—provided by the Value Map—and in the Authentic Communication Framework: empathy, clarity, and trust.

Now, the ball is in your court. It’s time to implement a trust-centered strategy in your communication and content efforts!

If you’re unsure where to start, we’re more than happy to help. Join one of our workshops, where we dive deeper into these strategies, offering hands-on guidance to take your digital communication to the next level. You can also check out our talk at DrupalCon 2023 and download the slides.

Download our slides

Here is a copy of our slides from DrupalCon 2023 Pittsburgh. Please get in touch if you have any questions! 

PDF download: Audience Experience: The WHY of Content Management

Watch our conference presentation video

This article, inspired by our DrupalCon 2023 talk ‘Audience Experience—The Why of Content Management,’ explores our approach to communication and content strategy. It delves into the roles of empathy, clarity, and trust in crafting content that resonates with audiences, fosters engagement, and ultimately drives growth.

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