What is a Content Supply Chain?

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Content Supply Chain Framework

 

The genesis for this is an article by Jake Sorofman at Gartner, “The Content Supply Chain is the Rate Limiter to Digital Marketing Maturity.”

“Targeting and personalizing experiences requires content—lots of it, in many different forms, for many different audiences, engaging across many different channels. Managing this madness becomes an exercise in combinatorial complexity that requires a more rigorous approach to your content strategy.”

Content supply chain requires an architectural way of thinking, which begins with a clear understanding of the demand side—in this case, all of the consuming applications and experiences enabled by your segmentation, targeting and personalization strategy.”

“If your goal is to deliver an experience something better than one size fits all—or worse, all sizes fit none—you need to treat your content strategy as more than a hand wave. You need an architectural approach to your content supply chain.”

McKinsey have written about the importance of a content supply chain to get value from digital marketing.

“Companies are really publishers, and can benefit from a content supply chain. A content supply chain is not linear, it’s highly iterative and cyclical.”

I have written, useful high-value content is a strategic business imperative in this digital era because it is a primary driver of:

  • New customer acquisition and profitable revenue growth
  • Marketing and sales productivity and lower selling costs
  • Data acquisition about customers and buyers (DBL)
  • Consistent, exceptional customer experience.

What is a Content Supply Chain?

I turned to the Definitive Guide to Integrated Supply Chain Management, The: Optimize the Interaction between Supply Chain Processes, Tools, and Technologies for some basic definitions of supply chain.

“On the most basic level, the purpose of supply chain management is to make inventory readily available in customer facing positions to fulfill demand. The fresh produce business adage “you can’t sell from an empty wagon” highlights this fundamental purpose of supply chain management.

Organizations must pursue the goal of matching supply with demand in a timely fashion through the most efficient use of cross-chain resources. Supply chain partners must work together to maximize resource productivity, develop standardized processes, eliminate duplicate efforts, and minimize inventory levels. Such steps will help the organization reduce waste, drive out costs, and achieve efficiencies in the supply chain.”

Does this sound like something your content operations needs at this time? For most sizable organizations that are committed to delivering a continuous supply of audience relevant, useful and situation-ready content, the answer is clearly “yes!”

Again, from the Definitive Guide …

“An organization’s key goals for supply chain management should be to achieve efficient fulfillment of demand, drive outstanding customer value, enhance organizational responsiveness, build network resiliency, and facilitate financial success.”

 

What Makes Up a Content Supply Chain Process?

Some distinguishing components of a content supply chain are explained by Jake Sorofman from his article Building a Content Supply Chain. 

“Manufacturing is actually an instructive example for what it takes to scale and sustain a content marketing program. Why? Because content marketing requires a replenishing pipeline of engaging content—a content supply chain—that helps feed the beast every day.

Think of it this way:

  • Demand planning is how manufacturers align supply and demand. For content marketers, it’s driven by market and social signals and your overall corporate strategy.
  • Master production schedules are used by both manufacturers and content marketers to keep the trains running on time. Think of it as the editorial calendar and project plan rolled into one.
  • Blueprints are visual diagrams and specifications that manufacturers use to ensure what’s produced matches what’s designed and to understand the interdependencies between the piece parts. For content marketers, blueprints describe how content elements map to content assets map to distribution channels. Blueprints ensure orderly, efficient and leveraged content marketing efforts that, like the best manufacturers, take advantage of reuse opportunities in everything you produce.
  • Bills of material are the detailed parts lists that travel alongside a blueprint. For content marketers, these are the lists of content elements and artifacts and their various formats and renditions for publishing across channels.
  • Production in manufacturing is the factory process that turns raw materials into finished goods. For content marketers, it’s sourcing, approval and distribution of content assets across paid, earned and owned channels.

Of course, you shouldn’t allow the process to get in the way of the practice. You also need to leave room for agility, allowing some creation and engagement to happen off to the side, in the moment. But, keep in mind that too much flexibility leads to chaos, and too much control leads to stasis. Combine the two and you get precisely what it takes to be a great content marketer: Agility.”

 

Primary Content Supply Chain Stages

The stages of a content supply chain will be clear to you. An important difference with a content supply chain management approach from the way most organizations design and execute their content operations, is the level of thinking, planning and professional management that is both required and applied.

Content Supply Chain FrameworkPlan — Your supply chain starts with the way you plan for content and how it will be created.

Are you working from a well-defined and documented universal planning process (“Blueprints” — and a unified content strategy), or a more ad hoc, event-driven process?

Create — The creation process begins with acquiring inputs. Subject experts must be identified and enrolled to provide necessary inputs. Original research may be required. Many other content sources such as quotations, graphics and images, video, and related articles are required.

Does your input acquisition begin when a project has been defined and initiated, or are you in continuous input acquisition mode?

The creation stage could be a single endeavor, a person writing a blog for example. Or, it could be a collaborative group effort, with different people performing different tasks. More complex content assets will require more and varied expert resources in this stage.

Do you rely on subject experts for content creation? Do you leverage people with different expertise for writing, graphics, layout, etc? Do you pre-produce modular, re-usable source elements continuously over time?

Manage and Deploy — How content is managed and deployed to users will impact how re-usable source content is, as well as how well and often finished assets are actually used. Often, to be used means delivered. Today there are many channels and methods for content delivery. This is certainly a factor that increases complexity of this process, right from the planning stage.

Is your content prepared and packaged for key use case scenarios you identified in your content strategy and planning process? Is content “delivery ready?” This means it’s accompanied by emails, social posts and landing page copy (for example) that downstream users will need to deliver those assets.

 

Why Focus on Content Supply Chain?

The biggest challenge for content marketers and content creation teams, is to meet what we’ve discovered are (at least) 10 content requirements for the digital era.

(See Accenture Report, Marketing Professionals Constrained by Content Strategy and Operations)

These are especially challenging because the traditional content method can famously optimize only two requirements. (See video explanation)

Questions and discussion of the content “quantity vs. quality” debate now reflect low content maturity more than serious debate. The question is settled. This has been expressed by many, including Michael Brenner in It’s Just Math: Why You Need More (Better) Content.

So the question really is,

How do you optimize content criteria without compromising on important content requirements, especially the investment required, and the ability to scale operations and outputs?

The answer lies in your ability to adopt a leveraged content supply chain process.

 

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