For: Senior Marketing Executives, Content Strategy Professionals
Subject: Enterprise Information and Content Strategy for Customer Facing Content
Rigor: Comprehensive, not introductory
- Information and Content Strategy Beyond Marketing and Websites
- It’s (Past) Time to Make Content Marketing Intelligent
- Information and Content are Strategic Imperatives for B2B Selling Organizations
- Raise awareness of the need for executive ownership and action
- Introduce a 6 competency framework for enterprise information and content strategy
Summary of Key Points:
- Information and content is a strategic imperative that requires executive team decisions, support and accountability
- Companies require an enterprise information and content strategy that spans functions and tactics, and goes beyond marketing, websites and content projects
- The traditional approach to customer facing content, and content production process specifically, will not meet digital content use case requirements
Enterprise organizations that have embraced content marketing to support inbound and social marketing tactics, automated demand management, sales and channel enablement (along with the social selling), face a serious dilemma that impacts the success of tactical initiatives, new customer acquisition and profitable revenue growth.
Lack of effective enterprise information and content strategy practices has masked this problem. It is also a key reason for poor performing content, and low tactical outcomes.
Current responsibilities and budgets for content are spread across the organization. This constrains the optimum use and value of content, and limits the ability to scale content operations to meet modern, digital content requirements, especially buyer relevance.
Fragmented execution by content dependent, customer facing functions results in weak performance at all levels.
To achieve enterprise goals, organizations look for opportunities to improve integration, alignment and synergies to realize efficiency that come from economies of scale. This has been famously missing when it comes to marketing, sales and content.
A minimum of organizations report having a documented content strategy. But what does that really mean? Is it really strategy, or do people misinterpret this as “plans”? (See blog post What is Strategy? which references Michael Porter and McKinsey perspectives on strategy) And strategy for what? A content project, website, marketing program — or is it truly an enterprise content strategy? (See reference to Information and Content Strategy Assessment Service below).
Enterprise managers need to drive alignment and content operations efficiency through a comprehensive strategy.
But there has been no generally agreed upon standard, definition or framework for enterprise content strategy. There are content marketing frameworks, starting with the CMI Content Marketing Framework. Content strategy in today’s parlance has evolved from website strategy, and is mostly applied to executing specific content projects. For more on this see Kristina Halvorson’s book, Content Strategy for the Web or her summary article in A List Apart, both excellent. Another excellent resource is Velocity Partners’ (UK) Content Marketing Strategy Checklist.
My hope is this starts to expand the discussion beyond content strategy for the web, a content project, or siloed functions.
An enterprise information and content strategy differs considerable in purpose and outcome from content strategy for the web, specific projects, or even a function. It addresses all factors required to make content a productive, strategic resource to achieve business outcomes.
Companies must move beyond siloed campaign and project approaches to content, to a holistic, enterprise “go-to-customer” approach to information and content.
Our first recommendation is information and content strategy must be elevated above tactics within siloed functions to an enterprise level initiative.
It must be executed as true strategy work, concurrent with and in support of, the business and go-to-market strategy work.
Our second recommendation is to educate all customer facing content stakeholders to the organization’s strategic issues and objectives. This means content users who require content to do their jobs, as well as content creators (who may not be, indeed increasingly should not be, the same individuals).
Enterprise Information and Content Strategy Defines
Why Content? — define the strategic purpose or use of content for the business and each functional group. We refer to these groups as “content constituents.”
Who — are the primary groups who require content, and who are their primary audiences? This is especially important as you move into the operational elements of content strategy and execution.
How — must content be differentiated? This considers content provided by direct competitors, but also content created by others such as publications, industry specialists or general bloggers who create content “products” that do compete with yours. Differentiation decisions come from your business differentiation strategy.
What — content should the organization create, and in what forms and formats? This defines specific content initiatives and outputs that will be funded. As content requirements and output scales, this lets the organization make strategic decisions and tradeoffs at a level that can see the organization’s priorities, as well as those defined by each tactic and function.
How — should content be created?
Complexity and scale in content operations are two significant and inevitable factors that must be addressed when organizations commit to relevant information and content as a strategic imperative.
This new reality occurs as content creation shifts from relatively simple, periodic and low volume, vendor/product oriented, feature/benefit focused content; to a continuous process of creating customer-centric, relevant, useful and educational content in multiple forms and formats for many use case requirements and delivery channels to satisfy audience content consumption preferences.
These factors are beyond the competencies of each tactic and function. Most organizations are experiencing this implicitly, although perhaps not fully aware of the underlying causes.
Six Competencies for Enterprise Information and Content Strategy
To support our 20 year content services business in which we created customer facing content for B2B sales and marketing organizations, we developed a framework based upon six key competencies.
Working with these competencies helps define a comprehensive and effective enterprise information and content strategy. They also provide a lens through which to assess an organization’s readiness to operationalize that strategy.
Background considerations for each competency are the organization’s top level goals and go-to-market strategies and plans. A content strategy should align with and support marketing, sales, sales channel, customer service and training strategies.
A foreground requirement is to document, validate and gain buy-in for key elements of each competency. We refer to these as Information, Customer and Content Frameworks. They are the difference between a professional approach to content operations and an ad hoc or amateur approach. If it isn’t documented, it doesn’t exist. Period, end of discussion.
In this post we will provide a summary introduction of these competencies. We have or will speak to each in greater detail separately.
Understand Audiences (Buyers)
An enterprise information and content strategy defines and documents a universal understanding of primary content audiences, target market segments, an ideal customer profile, and buyer roles or personas. This knowledge should be shared with all customer facing content creators across the organization, as well as third party contractors.
This competency will not be new to any experienced reader. What is hard to comprehend is why more organizations haven’t taken this requirement seriously enough to perform the work at a universal, enterprise level. Why even attempt to perform this task at a tactical or functional level, under the performance pressure of deadline events? Why outsource it as part of each content project? But this is the current state, and a key reason for inadequate understanding of buyers.
The starting point is to understand what’s required to support all customer facing content constituents, their target segments and audiences. Too often this work begins with buyer personas, and other audiences are not considered.
By way of example, here are key audiences that are often overlooked:
- Sales channel and business partners
- Industry influencers and referral sources
- Target account buyers
- Internal (sales) audiences (executives and the board of directors)
The quality and depth of understanding of buyers, as well as documentation, varies widely across an organization. In general, they are too thin or incomplete to adequately support effective content creation.
At a minimum, this competency addresses these key areas:
- Why do buyers buy — key problems, issues, or whatever you call them — from the individual perspective of each persona (who).
- How do they buy — the detailed stages buyers go through, who participates, what is their buying influence
- What questions or decisions must they make at each stage, and what information do they require to make them
- What options will they consider, and what are the implications for your sellers
While personas can be developed to support sales, marketing and content creation use cases, the depth of understanding and documentation must become deeper and more thorough for each progressive purpose. Sales level persona depth will constrain the effectiveness and efficiency of content operation and work products.
Mindset drives everything. A conversation mindset will produce better results than a “messaging” mindset.
Messaging inherently means “what I want to say to you.” Conversation inherently means “what do you want to talk about?” Conversation support focuses everyone on the conversations buyers are willing and interested in having, to make effective business decisions.
Not all conversations take place live or in person. Most conversations are conducted through content. This mindset will change how your organization thinks about content.
Conversations naturally map to key buying stages and the interests of parties to a conversation. Think of the details in three categories:
1) what to say,
2) how to say it,
3) in who’s voice should it be said (the voice of the sales rep, company, or of an expert or customer?)
Your inventory of conversation points is a good indicator of the quality and depth of your understanding of your buyers. This inventory will also help sales and marketing personnel, and provide essential inputs to the creation of quality, buyer relevant content.
Your conversation inventory should be central, easily accessible repository that includes:
- Buyer questions
- Answers to buyer questions
- Language that will resonate with buyers because it speaks in both the industry and role vernacular
- Questions to ask buyers — open ended as well as pointed
- A high level, over-arching point-of-view, and accompanying storyline
- Specific buying criteria to establish in the mind of buyers
- Key supporting points
- Facts and data
- Specific stories, metaphors and language that motivates behavior change and action
- Differentiated value points
- Topics, themes, words and phrases to use, and avoid, along with keywords
Use Case Requirements
Every content constituency, in sales, marketing, customer service, training, the sales channel, etc., should assess, define and document their primary content use case requirements. This competency addresses a major shortcoming most businesses face. Content decisions have tended to be event driven, “random acts of content” (IDG), at the tactical level within siloed functions.
When looking at content, and the role of content, as a strategic asset and key business driver, the enterprise has many other considerations that impact what content to invest in, when and how to create it.
Input to this process are documented information and content requirements, much the way product requirements are documented and decided upon.
Content creation used to be the purview of content professionals. Today, companies are experiencing what we’ve been talking about since 1995 as the “new producers.” They need support from ideas and insights to production. But professional content creators also need support and inputs to projects that these competencies provide.
All enterprise content creators should be working from universal, documented Customer and Content Frameworks.
The Content Operations competency (next) will provide policy, standards, process, templates, guidelines and checklists that help creators. It will also address assistance in designing content for multiple purposes, use cases, audiences, and in multiple formats.
The Infrastructure and Tools competency will address the support tools and technology creators and users require. But support to make effective use of technology is also required.
Content users also need support in how best to find, access, prepare and deliver the right content in the most optimum ways for each situation. This may require training and some ad hoc support. Simple checklists and tools like Content Headers for each content piece are essential.
Gaps or low proficiency in any segment of the content supply chain, from subject expert insights, to content creators, to those who organize and deploy content, to users who select and deliver content, will impact content quality, delivery timing, cost, limited re-use and the other key digital content requirements.
Organizations are moving more content creation, content operations management and accountability, in-house.
This is a significant new role for marketers who tend not to have formal content operations management experience or operating models.
Content operations must be formalized and staffed with skilled resources. Program and project management, especially to support distributed content creation by “new producers,” and to address the increasing scale of production, is a significant new requirement.
- Program Management – governance, policies, procedures, general management
- Project planning, collaboration and support for optimum use of tactics, Customer and Content Frameworks, resources, infrastructure and tools
- Acquire and Curate
- Create modular, configurable assets
- Database and Deploy — Digital assets, modular, finished work products, Content Source & Inventory
- Assemble and Deliver
- Track, Measure and Report
We believe enterprise organizations need to re-engineer content operations. Organizations that use this competency model to develop an enterprise content strategy will identify when this is needed, as well as the nature and scope of change required.
Infrastructure and Tools
Digital content, web delivery channels, and enhanced content management, delivery and tracking has increased the importance of supporting content marketing and selling initiatives with the right tools and infrastructure.
Major elements that must be in place for an efficient and effective content operation include:
- Digital asset management
- Document management
- Content management system (CMS, Blog)
- Specialty management repositories and tools (portals, wikis, slides, video, etc.)
- Collaboration and workflow performance support systems
- CRM and Marketing automation (integrated)
- Social media tools
- Content creation tools
- Data, analytics and reporting
With content naturally housed in numerous repositories — internal as well as external to the organization — organizations need a central repository that aggregates all customer facing content and provides a single point of access.
Content must be tagged so it aligns with business purposes, target audiences and personas, use cases, down to specific buyer questions, key proof points or customer stories (as examples). This is essential to improve ease and efficiency of using, sharing and delivering the best content available for each communication objective.
Enterprise Content Investment Decisions
If content investment decisions are elevated above functional tactics, how are decisions to be made? The same way you make other strategic investment decisions.
If you believe as we do, that information and content are strategic imperatives and drivers of profitable revenue growth and optimum customer experience, and a key enabler of all customer facing functions, a shift in thinking, strategy and operations is called for.
Content investments must align to strategic business priorities and the most compelling use case requirements.
Investments shift from short life expense projects, to long-life content assets. (Yes, this is possible.)
Preference goes to opportunities to create content for multiple purposes and uses cases, and as highly reusable content elements.
At a more operational level we recommend this approach to buyer oriented content:
- Leverage the universal customer and content frameworks
- Map buyer conversations, questions and information requirements, by persona, stage and other relevance factors (global regional factors, industry verticals, etc.)
- Assess the competitive context for messages and content from: direct competitors, peripheral competitors, content competitors
- Determine where you can provide valuable or unique answers to buyer questions, insights to their business, or where your viewpoint is essential to support buyer decisions
Decide specifically where and how to create content with particular consideration to two high level approaches:
- Curated content — for non-differentiated information/content, low level content that gets the job done
- Original content:
- Content / insights / ideas that are critical
- You can provide differentiated value
- You can anchor the conversation — and “out-articulate your competition.”
Invest in, set up and manage a continuous content supply chain operation, the way modern manufacturing processes operate.
Take a deep breath. If this were simple or easy you would be doing this already. But just as enterprises re-engineered the financial function, manufacturing and product design, it’s time to apply those principles and practices to your professionally managed customer facing content operations.
At this point you undoubtedly have a lot of questions. We are available to brief on these competencies.
We also facilitate cross-functional discussion about content use case requirements and improving collaborative processes. A good starting point is to assess, develop and document your current competencies.
McKinsey Insight, Mastering Digital Marketing
This does an excellent job making the case that “Information and data (about customers) is going to be a critical source of advantage” and that content is essential in capturing that data.