B2B Information and Content Strategy for Messages, Conversations and Content
This post speaks to why B2B organizations should elevate information and content strategy from siloed functions to the business level, with executive accountability. This is about content that addresses external audiences we generally refer to as “customers”.
B2B CEOs, CFOs and Sales leaders have a lot at stake in getting this right.
But first let’s acknowledge a reality: if you’re a “middle age” executive, it is highly unlikely you have experience using content as a strategic asset.
Content has always been considered and treated as an expense for tactical support. This has resulted in limited thinking about the role, contribution and possibilities of customer content. Digital realities have changed this. (See McKinsey, Measuring the full impact of digital capital.)
Some of the top reasons you need to adopt a business level content strategy are:
- Content is a strategic imperative because it is a primary driver of top business objectives and outcomes:
– New customer acquisition and organic revenue growth
– Sales and marketing productivity and efficiency, and lower selling costs
– Acquiring data on customers, buyers and other audiences for data driven decisions
– Delivering a consistent, exceptional customer experience.
- Your content under-performs and adversely impacts your ability to optimize your top business objectives
- You are spending significant money on content, more than you’re aware of, much of it wasted spend, and the cost will continue to grow unless you adopt a better approach
- You need a different content operation model because the traditional, project oriented, creative craftsman approach to content will not meet your requirements.
Why A Business Level Information and Content Strategy
For those who agree with the strategic premise, the question is “how are you currently executing on this belief?”
Recent surveys should give you pause. This universal condition is only a flag to suggest you might want to investigate the current state in your organization.
63% of B2B marketers don’t have a content strategy. This is down only 5% in the last two years of this study!
If strategy isn’t documented, it doesn’t really exist. The fact so many people don’t understand this is another indication of the need for executive level involvement, indeed, accountability.
A few more questions should reinforce your sense that you need a different approach altogether:
- How do we know we have an effective strategy? (Model or standard)
- How have we reviewed and vetted it? (Outside evaluation or assessment)
- How has our strategy re-defined our operation model to execute the strategy? (Are you still creating content with a process similar to 20 years ago — digital tools are not a process change)
Consider the number of:
- Groups across your organization that engage external audiences (we refer to these as “content constituents”)
- Audiences and sub-segments
- People, initiatives, and touch points where audiences are engaged
Questions we suggest you review:
- How are your messages, conversations and content experienced by both your content constituents and their audiences?
- How relevant, useful, differentiated, consistent and productive are they?
- What’s required for these messages, conversations and content to be developed?
- Where is this happening currently (in how many siloed areas)? Who’s responsible?
When considered from the perspective and requirements of the business level, current content strategy models and methods miss critical elements.
These methods originated from improving content strategy for websites. They are currently applied for each content project, within each function, often by each tactic group.
This is both ineffective and inefficient. There is a significant opportunity to improve both strategy and functional effectiveness and efficiency.
A casualty of this process is under-served requirements. For example, sales and sales channel requirements are often poorly addressed. If content projects are being contracted by the sales organization, this indicates upstream content teams either don’t know what sales needs, or haven’t made it a standard work product of their process.
Recommended Approach to B2B Business Level Information and Content Strategy
At first look, this might appear overwhelming. The reality is, the world of B2B messages, conversations, content and operational execution is a complex endeavor. Complex, yes, but complicated, no. (See Complex vs. Complicated)
Your current process forces each content constituent group — often at the individual level, such as sales, marketing or channel reseller — to figure this out on their own!
By developing the foundational elements of content strategy at the business level, you greatly simplify the task, effort and cost at each functional level.
Over 15 years developing content for enterprise B2B sales and marketing organizations, we have developed and documented a 6 Competency Framework for Business Level Information and Content Strategy.
We have found this framework explains the competencies required for effective business level content strategy:
- Understand Audiences (Buyers): Audience segments, buyer personas, buying decision process,
- Conversation Support: includes but goes beyond traditional “messaging” with a customer-centric, “outside-in” approach that designs key touch point conversations for customer problems, solution vision, competitive positioning, value, with supporting insights, stories, key points, and more,
- Use Case Requirements: one of the most important and universally neglected elements for effective content strategy. This framework guides identification and documentation of specifications for content to meet well defined use cases. This means content creators who are not intimately familiar with every use case can create effective content.
- People Support: defines the support required by content users, creators (including “users”), and those who must requisition and approve content,
- Content Operations: defines the operational process to execute on the content strategy to meet use case requirements
- Infrastructure and Tools: the essential infrastructure and tools to support digital strategies should be executed at a business level. Without a business level content strategy, these decisions are a risk point.
Core vs. Extensions and Versions
In our work, we have long applied the concept of “core and extensions.” This helped us develop techniques to design and create messages, conversations and content in a modular, configurable manner. (Our company name, Avitage, comes from audio-video montage, a process to design and create modular, configurable video content.) Today this process is referred to as adaptable or intelligent content.
This concept applies to content strategy as well. By leveraging universal, foundational strategy elements, each content constituent group — in a region, division, function, tactic, or even individual — improves quality, consistency and execution of core messages, conversations and content.
Functions and individuals provide feedback on this common core. (Continuous improvement) They focus their time, effort and expertise to apply and extend the core to versions suitable to each area and situation.
A New Operational Execution Model
Business level strategy development will make evident the need to change the traditional B2B content operations model. In your organization, you will see and hear evidence that indicates the need to change. These include complaints about:
- Content quality, especially relevance, personalization, and contextual fit for key situations
- Speed, especially the availability of content, fast content time to market, and delivering a constant stream of fresh content
- Cost, especially if the marginal cost curves don’t flatten
- Scale, to meet the critical mass of content, and formats for different delivery channels
We have discovered that a content supply chain process can meet new requirements. Examples of key techniques to apply within this process include:
- Continuous operation vs. periodic, project oriented process
- Create long-life content assets more than short-life expense work products
- Design and create for multiple personas, stages, industry verticals, formats and other factors as a common practice for work product deliverables
- Create first for content re-use and maintenance
The strategic implications of content in the digital era means B2B organizations need a holistic, integrated and coordinated content strategy.
To do this requires a content investment process that spans functions and applies strategic decision criteria.
It is entirely possible you’ll discover you are under-investing in many areas, and creating the wrong content the wrong way in others.
Complexity usually is accompanied by nuance and the importance of details. This is certainly the case with messages, conversations, content and operations. We find “what to do” is generally well known and accepted. The breakdown is with execution.
Effective execution requires:
- Good models, frameworks and methods
- Experienced resources
- Time, focus, and resources to good do work
- Operations process re-design
- Apprenticeship of key personnel (not just learning or “training”)
- Change management
Business level content strategy will provide insight to what you must do to meet these requirements. It’s time to elevate content strategy from siloed functions to the business level with executive accountability.