How Content Operations Can Create Marketing and Selling Breakthroughs

Marketing and selling content operations isn’t sexy. But it could be one of the most important focus areas for marketing leaders.

Almost every week I see fresh survey results that continue to reflect the long-standing challenges that B2B marketers face. More importantly, I speak with people in companies and hear the same issues.

The question is, “given all the internal and external expertise and creative resources available to organizations, why do these persistent and near universal content problems still exist?”

When we analyzed the biggest constraints companies face we found three core causes that aren’t being addressed. They are operational in nature.

McKinsey On Digital Marketing Operations

This post was inspired by the McKinsey Insights article: How digital marketing operations can transform business.

Here’s McKinsey’s assessment of current state:

“Marketing operations are certainly not the sexiest part of marketing, but they are becoming the most important one. With businesses unable to keep pace with evolving consumer behavior and the marketing landscape, the pressure is on to put marketing operations—skilled people, efficient processes, and supportive technology—in a position to enable brands to not just connect with customers but also shape their interactions.

When done well, we’ve seen marketing operations provide a 15 to 25 percent improvement in marketing effectiveness, as measured by return on investment and customer-engagement metrics. Yet achieving that level of improvement is elusive for many.

While marketers are embarking on a wide array of “digital transformations” to reshape their operations and business models, many of these efforts are stymied by marketing’s difficulty in delivering on its aspirations. For example, one recent survey found an astonishing 84 percent of marketers do not have a formal content strategy or distribution process to feed their growing bevy of marketing channels, and they lack any kind of formally managed content supply chain. Despite this, content budgets continue to increase.”

What’s involved in making this happen?

“Digital marketing operations involve the application of capabilities, processes, structures, and technologies to cost-effectively exploit and scale the interactivity, targeting, personalization, and optimization of digital channels.

That capability directly enables the speed, agility, iterative development, experimentation, and responsiveness that successful companies need to react to and shape the marketplace.”

Five steps are suggested to “bring marketing operations into the digital era.” These also apply to content operations.

        “1. Truly understand customers:

Most companies are only at the beginning of creating comprehensive customer-insights programs.”

In our experience, the content creation process provides an excellent filter on the strengths and weaknesses of an organization’s go-to-customer strategy. We have regularly experienced poor inputs due to the lack of deep enough understanding of customers to provide the unique and useful insights worthy of content investment.

        “2. Deliver a superior experience:

Meeting customer expectations calls for mapping out each of the steps that define the entire customer experience, highlighting not only the technologies and processes needed to enable a smooth journey but also the various functions across the organization that must coordinate to deliver it.

Marketing, sales, support, service, and operations play key roles in many customer journeys, of course. But there are other functions that are critical as well, such as order management and fulfillment. Those are not typically top of mind for marketers, but the experiences enabled by these back-end systems are instrumental to the way a customer perceives a brand’s ability to deliver on expectations.”

This is why we advocate a business level content strategy that goes beyond websites, content projects and marketing. An enterprise-level content strategy is needed to support all customer engaging groups across the organizations, especially Sales and Marketing.

        “3. Selecting the right marketing technology:

The “best” marketing technology isn’t necessarily what’s best for an organization. For example, an overriding consideration may be how well a particular solution integrates with legacy systems or how well it meets specific requirements.”

When we started documenting our content strategy frameworks years ago, we didn’t distinguish the competency we now call the Use Case Requirements definition.

In practice, this turns out to be one of the most important inputs to business level content strategy. It provides the context for all other strategy decisions. For example, without documented use case requirements, how can you effectively assess and map content inventory? Simple, buyer journey stages are too general. The end game of content strategy are decisions about what content to invest in, to support which specific use cases, and the value expected from them.

        “4. Implementing processes and governance:

Technology enables the customer experience, but it requires people, processes, and governance to ensure technology does what it’s supposed to do. The failure to establish guidelines … could result in a patchwork of efforts across the enterprise that sow confusion and hamper attempts to scale.”

The article is worth reading for this section alone. Professional content operations involves decisions about policies, standards, process and procedures that collectively are referred to as “governance.”

“Rather than being restrictive, this level of governance can enhance creativity.”

        “5. Using the best metrics to drive success:

Technology is now catching up to the holy grail of marketing: the ability to monitor, track, and manage the effectiveness of marketing investments. Measures of marketing effectiveness need to move beyond what has often been limited to a narrow set of metrics. As companies become more customer-centric, for example, metrics should focus on customer activity rather than simply product or regional activity, as is often the case. Metrics should also reinforce new behaviors and processes, such as how fast a product is launched or how quickly lessons from the field can successfully be integrated into the next marketing offer.

To be most effective, however, metrics need to deliver insights quickly—often in real time—so the business can actually act. They need to be delivered in a way that is easy for decision makers to understand, and they need to be forward looking to identify future opportunities rather than focus on reporting what has already happened.”

Predictive analytics benefit from data content helps to acquire. Analytics will inform what content to invest in and how it should be created.

What Is Breakthrough And How Do You Create It?

A breakthrough in this context is an extraordinary and important outcome. The practice of breakthrough performance involves applying techniques that transform “business as usual” activity into significant, but not predictable, results. Individuals and organizations that set out to create breakthrough, do not know how it will be accomplished.

I’ve worked for years with a company that helps executives and their organizations create individual breakthrough performance as well as “breakthrough organizations” that routinely deliver above average results.

Breakthrough work is based on the following consideration: extraordinary results are produced by extraordinary actions. Extraordinary actions are produced by extraordinary thinking. Most people, most of the time, take ordinary and predictable actions based upon “business-as-usual” thinking.

Therefore, to create breakthrough outcomes, and especially to create an organization that consistently produces extraordinary outcomes, requires a transformation in people’s thinking.

In the content operations arena there are many opportunities to create breakthrough outcomes. This is essential if organizations are to optimize the 9 new content requirements we identify (and companies tell us are important objectives).

We have developed a content operations model with a process that yields breakthrough results, including the ability to scale without compromise. It is based on a “content supply chain process” adopted by manufacturers decades ago.

Manufacturers in the ’90s were challenged to deliver highly customized products, faster, while significantly improving product quality and reliability. At the same time, they were under tremendous pressure to drive costs out of the manufacturing process.

The Three Core Causes That Aren’t Being Addressed

When we analyzed the biggest constraints companies face in meeting new, digital content requirements, we found three core causes that aren’t being addressed. They are operational in nature.

  1. Significant new requirements for customer content (relevant, educational, formats and scale, to name a few)
  2. Ineffective or no business level marketing and sales content strategy;
  3. Inability to execute content strategy because the traditional content production modelcan’t meet new requirements.

Like manufacturers in the ’90s, we realize:

“The traditional, project-oriented, creative craftsman approach to content production is outdated. It will not meet the many new content requirements of empowered buyers, and their digital channel and format preferences.

It can’t efficiently support the content requirements of all customer engaging functions across the enterprise. It cannot scale without compromise.”

When I meet with organizations and ask how they have changed their content process to address new, digital era requirements, I tend to get blank stares. What would I hear from your organization?

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10 thoughts on “How Content Operations Can Create Marketing and Selling Breakthroughs

  1. Social media is an important touch point for a target audience member to interact with your brand. 87% is a high number. While social media may not have been the last touch point (and immediately led to a purchase) it’s likely that there was some interaction with a social media page at some point in the decision making process.

  2. Michael,

    You are right. The title is very provocative. I’m surprised the high rate of B2B participation in social media doesn’t garner more respect for the medium as a tool for initiating buyer influence.

  3. Michael, great point on the inherent bias of asking someone what influences their purchase decision.

    What was encouraging to me is marketers seem to (somewhat) get this. 65% of marketers are planning to increase budgets, the highest percentage for any of the categories in the research. So even if it (arguably) isn’t influencing them today, marketers seem to be seeing the potential for it to be a meaningful contributor.

    And thanks for the shoutout to my post!

    1. Thanks Eric. You really hit the main point in your post but the bias and misrepresentation of the data really got me going. I agree that marketers are getting it one way or another and maybe for the wrong reasons but sometimes you have to fake it to make it.

  4. Michael,
    What interesting is the study group – technology buyers. Perhaps as a group, these folks think they are doing RESEARCH as opposed to being influenced. I can’t imagine technology buyers not reading every blog/article/post about new technology, but saying it didn’t influence their buying decision?

  5. There is only ONE thing I took from my MBA…that statistics can be manipulated ANY way you want to manipulate them! That is completely proven and then some in politics.

    In Social Media it’s funny when I see someone on Twitter with tens of thousands of “followers” but they’ve only made a hundred or so tweets. It’s hard to fake it for long as the truth will win out…and usually does!

    1. Great point Bruce. My first college course. Day one. 8:30am and it was Accounting 101 with Dr. Satula. Ed Satula wore a bow tie every day and would walk in and say “good morning boys and girls.” His first question on the first day was “what is 1 + 1 in business?” A couple of eager kids rose their hands. They were all wrong. “The answer” he said, “is whatever you want it to be!”

  6. An interesting article; thanks for sharing.

    I don’t think buyers would purchase an item or service based on information gleaned from Social Media alone, but I think it certainly helps set the mood music (in both positive and negative fashion).

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