Canyon Bicycles: Storytelling with content design

Content gives people a reason to revisit and connect with a brand, even if they’re not ready to buy anything. Learn how Canyon Bicycles uses content design to tell a better story.
January 23, 2024


I have a confession to make. I didn’t fully understand what content design was until I applied for a role as a content designer at Canyon Bicycles. Content design sounds like a visual discipline, which makes it hard to understand exactly what content design is and where content designers fit into an organization. 

Content design helps companies make their digital experiences more impactful and engaging. It’s a way to better connect with customers in a digital world. In this post, I'll talk about how we apply content design at Canyon Bicycles to tell better stories that resonate with our customers and community.

What is content design?

Content design is less about visual design and more about how you tell a story or convey key messages in the right way at the right time in each channel. Content design also fills the gap between content strategy and strategy around copy. It focuses on how content fits together across different user experiences and channels to tell your story in the best way possible.

Content designers are the ones who help you tell your story, depending on who your audience is and where they are. 

This is something we do naturally in conversation. For example, when you describe what you do for a living, you tell your parents one thing and that’s different from what you tell friends at a bar or a colleague at work. It's the same story, but your story changes, depending on your knowledge of the audience.

Content design starts with understanding the context

Content design comes from a deep understanding of the story, your target audience, and the channels you want to use. This enables you to personalize and contextualize the same story in different ways.

A good content designer needs to:

  • Understand the main message of the story.
    What is the top-level message you want people to take away? What are the smaller takeaways that build up to the main message? 

  • Understand your audience.
    Who are you speaking to? What level of understanding do they have? Where will they experience this content — on a mobile device or desktop? Do they prefer a long read or a video? 

  • Understand the channel.  
    What channels are you using? How do you contextualize the content so it’s authentic to each of those channels?

Content design helps visualize the messaging hierarchy

I think of content design as an umbrella with the main message at the top. This could be your company's mission or the core message of the story you're telling. Underneath, you have secondary and tertiary messages that are also part of that story. These messages are like blocks that content designers piece together, depending on the audience and channel.

Think of content like blocks that content designers piece together, depending on the audience and channel.

At Canyon, the hierarchy in products is: bike world, bike family, model, and then details like color, size. 

A great example of this is a new bike launch, like the Grail. The Grail is part of Canyon’s Gravel Bike World. Within that, we have a storyline to help our audience understand the Grail family of bikes and its unique selling points. That’s our top-level message. But there’s always more of the story to tell.

Within the Grail bike family, we have several models, each with their own features. Discussing these models and their distinct features becomes our second-level of messaging. 

And then we can go deeper and create a third level of messaging around material composition — carbon versus aluminum. Every layer of detail adds another level of messaging that helps tell the story.

Why content design is important

Content design helps companies make their digital experiences more impactful and engaging. It’s a way to better connect with customers in a digital world.

Personalize content in a digital world

With brick-and-mortar stores, you can interact with people and have a conversation. You get a sense of where they are in their journey and how well they know the products. Do they want basic information or are they ready for more technical details?

Brands, like Canyon, that only sell online don't always have that in-person customer contact. Instead, content designers use data to personalize content across user journeys and channels. For example, people going to our website might be in a different stage of their journey than people who go straight to the app or to social media.

We’re listening to our customers and using storytelling to have that personal conversation in an engaging way. 

Tell stories that keep customers coming back

Content gives people a reason to come back and connect with a brand, even when they’re not ready to make a purchase. This helps build brand loyalty and engagement and gives us a chance to learn more about our customers so we can keep developing stories that help and inspire them. 

A bicycle is quite an investment, it’s not an impulse purchase, and so storytelling creates a reason for people to return to our channels.

We provide content that teaches people how to take care of their bikes. We share user stories that might inspire them to go for a ride or entice them to try road cycling or mountain biking, which opens up cross-selling opportunities. By drawing people in more often, Canyon is top of mind when they want to purchase another bike.

Make content production more focused

When you start with content design, you create the exact content you need for all of your channels from the get-go, eliminating the need to later retrofit the content to fit your vision.

Content designers provide that clear plan, making content production more efficient because you know exactly what you need to write and what photos and videos you need to get. Instead of taking a million shots and doing a massive amount of editing, you can focus on getting the five or six shots you want to build the storyline in the video. 

What content designers do

Content designers are involved in everything from user research through content creation.

I work with researchers, UX designers, content engineers, content strategists, marketers, and writers. Our disciplines are closely related, but each person brings different skills into the process.  And all of them are needed.

Identify best practices through benchmarking 

Part of my role as a content designer is benchmarking what’s out there, what’s performing well, and how we compete with the best practices in this type of storytelling. Often that means looking outside our competitors for companies where the story is their product. 

One of my favorite examples of great content design is VG’s Tinder Swindler story. It illustrates the best practice of using different types of content to tell the story. It has small snippets of text, still images, audio, and video. Some of the video is polished, but there’s also rough content. It's really nicely built out. To me, that shows they care about taking their audience along on a journey. You can see the story is their product.  

Use research to understand user needs and behavior

I also work with the consumer insights team to understand user needs and expectations. Do people want to read a massive amount of text or do they want snippets of content? For example, data shows the attention span of people is 2.8 seconds. That information is really relevant to me as a content designer. It means the first bit of content I show people needs to draw their attention and pull them in within three seconds.

Collaborate with content marketing and product teams

On the brand and marketing side of things, I’m involved in the entire process — research, journey mapping, empathy mapping, how the overarching storyline applies to different channels. Being involved in the early part of the process helps me plan content in advance so we have time to create it. Then I work with writers, designers, marketers, and other content designers to bring all the pieces together.

On the product side, content design is usually only involved when product designers are working on something content heavy. Then I'll look at the content design and determine whether we need a graphical approach or video and whether we can actually do that.

How the content design process works at Canyon

At Canyon, we’re a small enough team that working together is easy to do. This ensures that the content design process is collaborative and we’re all working toward the same solution. If we were working in silos and just handing things off, each person would do what they think is best, but the end result might not be what anyone expected. 

In a larger organization, you might need to use agile methods or self-directed teams that operate like a mini-business to prevent silos.

Start with a storyline

The marketing team starts with an overarching storyline. Content designers think about how to bring the story to life on different channels in the best possible way. What components we need — a 30-second video, a small piece of introduction copy — and how to put those pieces together. 

Develop the messaging hierarchy 

Both content designers and user interface designers work on the messaging hierarchy and how we want to spread that messaging out. UI designers focus on the user’s journey and the strategy behind it, while content designers focus on how to tell the story. 

Determine what content elements are needed

Using the journey map and messaging hierarchy, content designers identify which type of content we need to tell the story on which channel. This could include written texts, explainer videos, user interviews, infographics, still imagery, moving content, etc.

Figure out how the content elements will work

Content engineers focus on the technical side of things. If we want a video, content engineers figure out how we get that in place so that it actually pops up. 

Create the content you need

Then, of course, there’s content creation. Content designers brief the team on what kind of content we need and how we see that coming to life, and then give them the specs and any other information they need.

What’s next in content design?

I recently attended Contentful’s Storylines event in Berlin and I’m excited about the new features, especially the AI tools. We already find Contentful super helpful. The new features look so easy to use and being able to create a content model with AI based on a Figma file design is a dream. 

I think AI is going to make our jobs more interesting and free us up to create more inspiring stories. AI-based tools can take the content we create and do things that would be too manual and tedious for people to do. With AI we could create hyperlocal product descriptions based on a user’s location data. This is something humans can’t do at scale. That would mean writing the same thing 100,000 times and managing all those versions. 

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