How Content Operations Can Create Marketing and Selling Breakthroughs
Marketing and selling content operations might not be the flashiest topic, but it’s turning out to be a big deal for those leading the marketing game.
Each week, I come across new surveys that highlight the same challenges B2B marketers have been dealing with for ages. And when I chat with people in different companies, it’s like they’re all reading from the same script. So, with all the talent and tools we’ve got, why can’t we sort out these content issues?
After some digging, we spotted three main reasons, and they’re all about the behind-the-scenes operations.
- Content operations is a structured approach that helps teams efficiently create, share, and manage content.
- The success of content operations hinges on three main pillars: People (the team behind the content), Process (the roadmap for content creation and distribution), and Technology (the tools that make content tasks easier and more efficient).
- Implementing content operations can lead to better organization, faster work processes, higher quality content, a broader audience reach, and data-driven decision-making.
- Adopting content operations can address challenges in content creation, and promote better efficiency and quality.
What Are Content Operations?
In simple words, content operations is a game plan that helps teams create, share, and manage content without any hiccups. It’s about making sure everything’s organized and everyone’s on the same page so your content can be as effective and relevant as possible.
Each piece of content has its own story. The content journey involves:
- Strategy. Before creating any content, you need to decide on your message and how you’ll deliver it.
- Creation. Just like an artist with a blank canvas, this step is when you create the actual content. It could be writing blog articles, filming videos, or designing images.
- Publishing. After all the hard work of creating, your content is finally made public.
- Distribution. Now, you want as many people as possible to see your content. You might use email, social media, or other channels to make sure our content reaches a wider audience.
- Management. After your content is out in the world, you monitor how it’s doing. Are people enjoying it? Does it need updates?
Background on B2B Content Operations
All content is outsourced or should be. By this I mean sales and marketing people, and their audiences, use and consume content. They don’t create it. They rely on internal or external content development teams.
I also mean subject experts who possess the knowledge that informs content should not create it (mostly). They have a “day job.” Their domain expertise may not include the skills required to design and create effective content.
Subject experts don’t know the specific context and purpose for which that content is required. They don’t know how to create content to meet digital era requirements.
When it comes to B2B customer-facing content, there’s too much assuming going on.
Marketing assumes they know how to create content. Sales assumes marketing or product teams know how to create sales content. No one assumes anything about the sales channel. Channel organizations are usually under-served when it comes to content. Yet they are a critical part of many organization’s expansion, customer acquisition, and revenue growth plans.
Assumptions about how to create content are based on the traditional content operations model, which is outdated and insufficient for digital era needs. Here are the factors that contribute towards meeting those needs:
- Quality – On Purpose, Insightful, Useful
- Time – Pre-produce, Continuous, Real-time
- Cost – Financial, Time, Opportunity
- Relevance – Situation, Audience, Purposes
- Available – NOW, Covers Use Case Requirements, Ready to Deliver and Use
- Channels and Formats – Forms, Formats, Channels
- Languages – Translation, Localization, Contents
- Scale – Production, Critical Mass, Without compromise
- Share and Re-use – Edit, Re-Configure, Package at front line
- Maintain – Long-life assets, Up-to-date, Accurate,
- Support People – Internal + External Creators, Users, Operations
- Continuous Operations – Repeatable Process, Continuous Improvement
If all content is or should be outsourced, and the traditional process can’t meet new requirements, especially to scale without unacceptable tradeoffs and costs, this article will consider what it means to uplevel content operations.
The Three Pillars of Content Operations
Content operations is built on three main pillars: People, Process, and Technology. Think of these pillars as the foundation of a house. Without one, the whole structure might fall apart.
- People. They’re the heart and soul of content. From brainstorming ideas to putting the final touches, it’s a team’s passion and skills that bring content to life.
- Process. This is your roadmap. It keeps you on the right track, making sure you’re doing things in order and not missing any steps. A clear process means no chaos, just smooth sailing.
- Technology. This is your toolkit. With the right tools, creating and sharing content becomes easier, faster, and way more efficient.
Understanding and strengthening these three pillars is the key to success. They ensure your content is top-notch, reaches the right audience, and makes a positive impact. Without a strong foundation in these areas, your content efforts might not hit the mark.
Benefits of Content Operations
Content operations gives companies a structured approach to creating and publishing effective content. It elevates your entire content creation process, and sets you up for success by:
- Getting organized. With content operations, things get tidy. No more searching through heaps of papers or computer files. Everything has its own spot, so you can find stuff easily.
- Working fast. Content operations help you save time. Things that used to take ages can now be done super fast.
- Promoting quality. Creating high-quality content is key. With a planned approach, the content you make will be top-notch.
- Reaching more people. The main goal of content is to get it to the right audience. Content operations give you the tools to make sure your content gets to the people who want to see it.
- Making informed decisions. With everything organized, you can see how your content is doing. This lets you make choices that are backed up by data, making sure your next content pieces are even better for your audience.
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, or “The Big Five”, are suggested to “bring marketing operations into the digital era.” These also apply to content operations.
Image Source: McKinsey
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. And, a robust customer-experience measurement system is necessary to assess the performance of your efforts.
Image Source: McKinsey
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.”
Image Source: McKinsey
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 Content 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.
Image Source: Digizuite
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.
Missing Foundation to Content Operations
Why do so few organizations have a well-considered, documented content strategy?
Please consider these important questions:
- How is your content strategy developed cross-functionally, at the business level, not just within siloed functions?
- How are content priorities and investment decisions made?
- What foundational preparation and planning work is conducted, that informs and supports ALL marketing and sales content development?
Typical answers to this question include: it’s too complicated, there are too many stakeholders, there’s no clear overall ownership or accountability, too many factors must be considered, not enough time.
I would add, companies lack an effective content strategy framework, and discipline to a process that simplifies this activity. It is inherently complex, but it doesn’t have to be complicated.
An ineffective content strategy is a major constraint to content operations.
Without the right foundational planning and preparation, this work falls to each content initiative and creation activity. This is inefficient. The best resources for this task aren’t applied to the job. There isn’t enough time to do this well.
Upleveling content operations starts with more robust and thorough business level content strategy.
To Uplevel Content Operations Change Your Approach
Each functional group can use this approach and the steps below to define their content requirements and priorities. Better inputs for function-specific content are an important way to uplevel content operations.
To begin, think knowledge more than “content” or even “information”. When you use the word “knowledge,” people focus more specifically on what’s required.
Define knowledge requirements using the buyer’s decision process as the design point. This produces the clearest results and priorities in an efficient and effective way.
Knowledge must be delivered to cause action. This is a communication and conversation requirement.
Design key conversations that deliver this knowledge. This means think through and produce detailed outlines or frameworks for each important conversation. This thinking identifies where both communicators and audiences will need “support”.
Communicators need support to prepare, deliver, and provide post-delivery content. Examples include: background information, checklists, questions to ask, answers to anticipated questions, and visual support.
Audiences need visual support to understand and re-deliver complex or nuanced ideas. They also need topic and situation-specific content to read for deeper understanding and proof.
Each use case will require many, and different kinds of assets. Primary examples include:
- Versions for different topics, audience types, industries and roles, as well as decision stages
- Micro, short and long-form text and documents;
- Graphic, audio and video formats
These inputs to content strategy result in better decisions about what content to invest in and how they should be created.
Content development teams that produce content require detailed specifications for each asset. When it comes to content creation, details matter. Quality content briefs will improve the content development process, as well as outputs and business outcomes.
Content development proceeds faster and easier when supported with well-designed frameworks and templates. Here is a simplified example of the kinds of detailed specifications your content developers require.
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.
- Significant new requirements for customer content (relevant, educational, formats and scale, to name a few)
- Ineffective or no business level marketing and sales content strategy
- Inability to execute content strategy because the traditional content production model can’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?
Develop Foundational Support for All Customer-Facing Content Initiatives
Leveling up content operations requires developing and documenting universal inputs to content initiatives.
Under-appreciated constraints to the content development process are inadequate and inefficient inputs for new content. Too much information must be acquired for each content project under tight timeframes with limited resources. This applies to approval decisions as well. These can be mitigated with documented preparation.
Clarify and document your primary customer issues and interests that you will speak to and support with content. Do the same for your key points, messages and insights.
Develop an Information Architecture of those Topics and sub-topics, associatedConcepts, and your primary Themes and Message points. This work will naturally reveal the quality and sufficiency of the current state of these essential inputs. It will illuminate gaps and work to be done.
Develop a purpose-built taxonomy based on your information architecture. Taxonomies are “the DNA of content.” Publish this to all content stakeholders. They provide a common language for thinking and talking about content.
Taxonomy simplifies tagging, finding and retrieving content. Taxonomies are a living, evolving entity. Don’t worry about getting them right, to start. Get the primary pillars right. Your taxonomy will evolve organically, if you executed with disciplined procedures.
Adopt continuous content acquisition and curation practices. Acquiring inputs for content projects is typically a major time and effort task. Research is conducted. Subject experts are identified and interviewed. Perform this work continuously, when its most convenient, independent of specific content projects.
Curate internal as well as third party content that can provide inputs to your new content. Assets to curate include: articles, research, webinars, quotations, graphics, etc. Do this based on your Topic, Concept and Message taxonomies.
Create micro-content assets by extracting re-usable elements from curated assets. Stand-alone micro-content are very effective assets. They can also supplement primary assets when linked-to. This gives audiences the ability to go broader or deeper in specific areas of interest, without adding length to primary content.
Maintain a content source repository. Content source is a repository of source elements acquired and curated. Inputs acquired from subject experts and other sources that are not used for a specific content project should be maintain for possible future use.
Re-use optimization is a major objective and result of this practice. It significantly reduces the time and effort to source new assets.
It’s key to making content assets richer and more interesting, by providing relevant research, quotations, graphics, stories, video and other elements that simply aren’t discovered in the time allotted for projects.
If you only adopt one practice from these recommendations implement this approach. Beware, they all work together synergistically to deliver an exponential impact!
Content Operations: The Key to Continued Success
The challenges B2B marketers face aren’t necessarily new. Yet, even with the technology we have today, the question remains: Why do we still have problems creating content? The real reason is how things work behind the scenes.
Content operations make the whole content process smooth, from start to finish. It makes sure we create content carefully, share it for the right reasons, and keep an eye on it. By taking a close look at “The Big Five” within our own businesses, we can set up a strong base for our content.
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