I’m done talking about “content.” The word is too conceptual to have any useful meaning. In my world, words matter. To work, words must convey common meaning. I believe the word “content” and how it’s used actually causes problems.
This is undoubtedly a contributor to quality problems experienced with marketing and especially selling content.
Sound familiar? And I could go on about content for certain stages, personas and industry verticals, among other important relevance categories.
Having managed a business that created content for B2B sales, marketing and training organizations for 20 years, we regularly dealt with requests expressed this way.
Knowing desired content formats, audience types and selling stages is simply insufficient input to inform quality content.
We would ask, “What exactly do you want this content to say? What outcome do you want this content to produce?” (See What “Job” Do You Want Content to Do?)
Marketing organizations are under considerable pressure to “publish or perish.” Content calendars identify topics for each asset. Perhaps personas are named, although the data show this to be exception more than rule. Writers are hired and told to write well. Often subject experts are enrolled to create content.
Without an effective, formal, content requirements document that includes quality criteria, results are dependent on resources, time available and other factors that constrain optimum outputs and quality. (See Before Your Next Content Project.)
If you’ve conducted a content audit in the last year, I hope this article will have you re-visit that work.
I invite you to adopt and promote the term “situation-ready information” across your organization, as well as in conversations and writing.
The term inherently contains the right question. “What is the situation and purpose for which this information and content required?” It naturally leads discussions down the path of “why, what does that mean, so what?”
Clarity of thinking about the purpose and situational use of information should lead to documenting that thinking. When you run a professional production organization that depends on customer satisfaction with the outputs you deliver, you quickly learn how critical this is.
You now run such an organization. Not only do you apply a lot of resources and dollar investments to this endeavor, you have significant business outcomes at stake in getting this right.
As your content users and content development teams adopt this mindset and process, you will learn something surprising.
When information purpose is fully identified, everyone will learn that one asset will seldom get the job done. Be prepared. Your deliverables list will significantly expand. This is one of many reasons your content operations must be able to scale without compromise.
Here are examples of common purposes that demand situation-ready information:
- Prospecting for sales, or first stage lead acquisition for marketing
- Customer education for sales, lead nurturing for marketing (similar but different in important and typically under-appreciated ways)
- General marketing purposes – brand, awareness, “thought leadership”
- Training content for sales and the sales channel (again, similar, but different)
- Customer stories for early stage, “why change” purposes, mid-stage “how to change,” and late stage “why us” purposes.
When you define the specific use and purpose for situation-ready information, you will realize the need for multiple related asset types such as:
- Emails and social posts to deliver primary assets
- Versions of assets suitable for pre and post meeting use, public deployment, or customer specific purposes (think text based versions, set-up videos, Slideshare versions, customer-specific education assets)
- Communication support materials to explain how to use certain assets (think presentations, videos, white papers, ROI calculators)
In addition, you might find your primary asset will actually be used for multiple purposes. I can hear you thinking, “no problem, we’ll ‘re-purpose’ that asset.” Nope. Not if you design it right in the first place.
Situation-ready information, on purpose, by design means content is designed and created to meet a specific context.
This starts with a specific topic, then audience. Audience examples include general, customer, prospect, influencers, investors, industry verticals, etc. Location and method is another factor. This could be online, through email, in person as individuals, small groups or events. There will be important communication and business objectives: training, conversation support, education, proof points, technical or process explanation, and many others.
Yes, there will be some core, reusable elements. But re-purposing started when companies had 40-60 page white papers that could be harvested for smaller version assets. Seldom did this really address a different and cross-functional purpose.
Today, assets are shorter and more focused, especially when you execute content on purpose. Done well, these assets have little source elements that can be edited for other purposes.
We discovered it was better and actually easier to design assets for multiple purposes, right from the start.
The variety of purpose, forms and formats introduce too many variables for individuals, even subject experts to figure out. The work becomes daunting. The process feels complex. People become frustrated.
Good operations design simplifies complexity. Well developed and documented information requirements simplify inherently complex creation activities.
This is an important step that will allow you to break up and distribute individual work tasks across teams of people. This is one of many techniques that will allow you to scale output without compromises.
Following the documented instructions, these people can execute specific tasks without having to understand exactly how their work product will fit in the final asset(s).
Notice the author, Brent Adamson of CEB-Gartner uses the term “information” not content. In fact, in a 17 page document the word “content” appears only 3 times, once in reference to their asset.