Is “Last Idea In, First Content Out” Killing Your Content Strategy?

We had just completed ten intense weeks creating a business level content strategy for a client. This kind of work produces many work products. Two relate to this story.

We carefully defined the client’s marketing and sales use case requirements. And for actionable next steps, a carefully considered and prioritized list of content that was required to support those use cases was also developed.

Within days I got “the call.” I call it LII FCO, “last idea in, first content out.”

It seems a prospect had asked one of their sales reps a question in a meeting. The rep came back and asked the Vice President of marketing “what do we have I can send to this prospect?”

It was an attractive topic. The VP was excited to share with me the opportunity to leverage the work we had just completed. The company had lots of ideas to fuel this creation. After all, a customer had requested something!

The machine engaged. It would take a couple of weeks, but it would be a beautiful piece of content.

This is not unusual behavior. We see it happen all the time. Even with (dare I say) a well developed content strategy, and clear, important priorities.

Through conversations with colleagues about this, it became clear the most egregious offender is often the head of sales!

What’s Going On Here?

Short answer, human nature is playing out.

Longer but important considerations:

This is legacy behavior being perpetuated. The role and importance of content on business outcomes isn’t clearly understood or deeply appreciated.

The traditional consideration of content by senior executives is as a support expense for specific tactics. New realities of marketing and selling to self-educating buyers in a digital era have made the right content a strategic asset that impacts top business outcomes. Unfortunately, this isn’t fully appreciated by many executive teams.

Discipline is a core problem. Marketers have generally good project discipline. It’s process discipline that’s often missing. Marketers want to be creative. This attracted them to marketing in the first place. A manifestation of companies as regular content publishers are operational realities that demand disciplined execution.

Planning and preparation isn’t a core competency (not to mention strategy). Content has traditionally been an event triggered, just-in-time endeavor. “Hey, let’s do a webinar!” The machine engages. And virtually everything is created from the ground up. Little is designed or created for sharing and re-use.

Lack of content accountability. Content ROI isn’t well understood or defined. Measurements that connect both individual content, and aggregate content investment to primary business outcomes are weak or missing. No single individual is held accountable for content-dependent business outcomes that aren’t defined.

This list could probably go much longer. But if you work on the understanding, discipline, strategy and planning, measurements and accountability points, you’ll get the progress you expect and need.

What Can Be Done To Maintain Focus On Priorities?

In addition to educating and enrolling offending sources of interruption using the recommendations above, there are core operations elements we recommend as a result of 20 years managing a content operation that served B2B clients.

First and foremost, have a documented content strategy that results in list of content priorities. It’s ridiculous and unacceptable for 48% of content marketers to admit they “have a content strategy but it’s not documented.”You don’t have a strategy if it’s not documented!

I would add, validate you have an effective strategy. You A/B test your emails, but don’t validate your content strategy to determine how effective it should be?

Adopt a professional content operation. “Structure drives behavior.” This starts with a responsible, capable, content operations manager. It includes governance protocols such as defined quality standards.

Define process and procedures for all operational activities. Start with content requisition protocols. Explain and promote your use of agile content creation methods. This method will not only improve execution, it creates a gauntlet for inevitable interruptions that plague operational effectiveness and efficiency.

QBRs with internal stakeholders. Quarterly business reviews are a regular method vendors use with clients. Use QBRs with your internal clients to review deliverables against the strategy and plan. Collect feedback and inputs that could adjust strategy, plans and priorities. This is a good way to perpetuate education and enrollment on everything mentioned.

What Happened?

Initially, I was surprised to receive the call within days of delivery and final review of the strategy and content priority list. Often it takes a few weeks for this breakdown to begin. But it always does!

I asked the VP which content priority pieces this new request deserved to preempt. I heard that had the new content been on the original list for review it would have been prioritized low.

I suggested this was a pivotal moment to address the cultural issues that would plague future operational execution. The path to professional, disciplined execution must be paved regularly.

Fortunately, the VP had the credibility and (at least in this situation) the power to over-ride the request. They stopped the initiative and returned to working the priority list.

You’ll need someone who will be vigilant reinforcing practices that get the best outcomes from your content, content investments and content operations.