Yogi Berra had the brilliance to bring wisdom and insight to the obvious. I recently heard his famous phrase, “It’s like Déjà vu all over again.” It reminded me that there are lessons available in history that we can all benefit from. Having participated in the making of business innovation history with category management the emergence of content marketing is a Déjà vu experience for me.
Lessons On Transformation
I had the opportunity in the nineties to lead the program office of one of America’s leading chain drug retailers. At the time we were transforming from a traditional and simplistic, “Buy low – sell high,” merchandising model to category management. Category management focuses on the profit potential of a section of store real estate, usually an eight to twelve foot section of shelves. It addresses the role of each product in the assortment for driving traffic, profit, or impulse purchases. It addresses the convenience shopper, the promotional cherry picker, and the other 34 categories of shoppers we identified by their shopping carts. The key point is that we took a tremendous jump in the level of customer focused detail that drove the most important operational decisions.
We were well rewarded for what was a difficult transformation. In addition to double digit same store sales growth for more than five years our company went on an acquisition binge to grow geographically. When we acquired the fourth largest US drug chain our own sales/square foot was $575.00 compared to the acquired retailer’s $235.00. The transformation to category management made that much of a difference.
Content marketing is driven by the same customer expectations that rewarded early category management adopters. Customers want vendors to really understand them at a meaningful level and address what matters to them. The big shift in B2B customer behavior is that they now look for this information online. Customers use to rely on prospecting sales people for this knowledge. Best practice leaders of content marketing, according to industry research organizations, have been rewarded with higher marketing conversion rates, shorter sales cycles, and higher close rates. Like category management, content marketing delivers a superior business model.
The “Dejavu all over again,” also has to do with the mindset shift and process changes required to engage customers at a lower level of detail. Creating content for multiple buyer personas, buying stages, buyer roles, and problems requires an exponential growth in content over traditional efforts. Almost all marketers would agree that this conceptually makes sense, just as most merchants conceptually agreed category management made sense. The challenge is in developing the vision on how to do it. Traditional approaches to content production don’t scale to the new volume and relevance requirements. A new operating vision is required.
Mobilizing to Execute Effectively
Moving from the conceptual to practical was the greatest barrier to success in category management. Creating a transformative vision and mobilizing an organization to deliver on it is tough. This is especially true, as it is with content marketing, when there is no instant gratification. Achieving results takes time, discipline, and commitment. While it doesn’t take long to see some improvement content marketing success grows by building marketing momentum. Real success is demonstrated as your momentum makes you the customers’ trusted source of choice.
Like category management a different perspective on planning is required to develop a more detailed definition of customers’ information needs and options for meeting these needs. Research driven analysis, documentation, and alignment of messaging provide a platform for scalable execution. A good deal has been written about how to approach this but very few companies seem to do it. Actually it is not that hard. It does take discipline and a belief in being relevant. That seems to be the hard part. Using an experienced consultant to jump start the process can help. Points of failure for many companies developing category management resulted from not committing to disciplined planning and not believing enough to walk away from practices they had used for years.
Lessons for Content Operations
Content marketing operational execution also has to change. Creation, management, and delivery of content have to be engineered to be scalable and adaptable. The process also has to extend beyond the few people in marketing to enable everyone that engages with customers. The vision of a publisher that has to operate a content production process efficiently, while capturing subscribers’ interest and attention, is often used to visualize these requirements. Unfortunately, unless you have been a publisher it is difficult to envision and embrace their production principles and techniques. These too are practices that work when approached with discipline and commitment. Again, getting a jump start from someone with experience can make a difference.
Category management is a common practice today because it is a competitive necessity. The people in category management roles come out of top business schools where previously merchants were promoted out of stores. Content marketing is moving in that direction. The level of competency required will continue to grow as the deeper understanding of and ability to converse with customers becomes recognized as a key leverage point for profitability.
As Yogi would say, “It aint over till it’s over.” The late adopters of category management are gone. There will be winners and losers based on content marketing adoption and commitment to being the most relevant information source to customers.
To learn more about creating a vision for content marketing change read the blog, “Four Things You Should Learn from Publishers.”