Last week, Optimizely’s Deane Barker brought up an interesting point during a webinar we both attended.
Deane is an incredibly thoughtful person when it comes to content management. He pointed out that companies, especially marketing teams, spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about what’s happening “to the right of the publish button.”
In other words, marketers spend too much time worrying about content performance, distribution, and outcomes, and too little time worrying about how they got to the publish button.
Marketing is increasingly making content—and the methods used to create it—the biggest focus of strategy. Why do marketing teams spend so little time structuring a standardized process to ensure they have the resources, time, and budget to deliver on the creative part of that content promise?
I see this a lot in my client work, as some outdated ideas are still permeating organizations in 2023:
- Content marketing is considered a separate and more tactical part of “real marketing.”
- Marketing measurements are considered “proof of life” to justify spending, rather than insight into developing deeper relationships with audiences.
- Organizations view content as an attribute of everyone’s work and not as a separate institutional discipline that requires dedicated resources and processes.
CMOs are sure of their confusion
It’s a fascinating time in marketing. Despite technological advances, productivity is declining. Because of the demands of digital asset formats, channels, and associated technology tasks to disseminate and measure them, marketers spend more time generating fewer ideas.
Gartner’s 2023 CMO Spend Survey found that 75% of marketers say this drop in productivity is putting pressure on them to cut their martech spend (despite the onslaught of AI). Still, the same group of CMOs say the biggest new investment this year is (you guessed it) technology. The most notable decline? Work.
Marketing teams fall behind because they spend too much time trying not to use technology to fall behind.
Instead of adding a more structured process or more resources to the challenge, the company simply says, “Isn’t there an app for this?” They trade more ideas from humans for more efficiency from machines.
To get out of this hamster wheel, you must take the company beyond these outdated beliefs.
Change starts with new beliefs
A decade ago, Thomas Asacker published one of my favorite business books: The Business of Belief. I’ve gotten to know Tom a little over the years, but only got in touch after reading the book because I was deeply impressed by it.
At that time, we realized that while clients agreed that a standardized and well-documented content process was a good thing, they found it difficult to actually implement it. I asked Tom, “Why do you think this change is so difficult?”
His reaction was great and still resonates today:
It’s a problem of human nature. We’ve created these metaphors and insights into what humans are like, how their minds work, and what brains do, etc. And I mean, the whole idea that the brain is like a computer is wrong. Brains are always changing. It would be like a program rewriting itself throughout the day, you know? In order for change to continue, we must also change beliefs.
I see this all the time.
We help a company build a business case to create a strategic content operation, create a roadmap for that change, and engage the team to execute it.
Then nothing happens.
It’s nobody’s fault.
What happened? life happened Like a computer program, everyone understood the chores, but no one cared about them.
To put it bluntly, it mattered to the individuals. Deep. But the institution (all the teams that had to change) did not have a common belief to accomplish these tasks. Business as usual is a very, very powerful force to overcome, even if it involves a single person, let alone hundreds.
“So how do we actually change beliefs?” I asked Tom. I still remember his answer to this day.
bridge of faith
Tom said you can’t force leadership to tell everyone, “You have to believe in…” — a new path, a big change, or a different approach.
Instead, someone—sometimes an external person and sometimes one or more internal team leaders—must guide the rest of the organization across a bridge of faith. You almost have to work outside the system to show the rest of the company, “Look, you can do it.”
Honestly, when I see positive results from our clients implementing a strategic content marketing initiative, an overall content strategy, or a small, innovative project like a new blog, it’s usually because the team has become the change is they want to see (to paraphrase the quote most commonly and incorrectly attributed to Gandhi.)
These teams are abandoning the company’s outdated beliefs and creating new beliefs for people to follow. To put this idea into a quote that Gandhi actually said:
AAll tendencies present in the outer world are also reflected in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.
Create new beliefs about content
No doubt you spend too little time investing resources, budget, and time in developing a well-understood process for the creative portion of the content strategy because the company believes it is likely impossible.
It’s believed that creativity can only really be measured when it’s presented to the audience – to the right of the publish button. So you can’t manage what you can’t measure. They call the creative process “magic” and keep their fingers crossed that it’s quick and efficient.
In the webinar, Deane called this the “romantic lie” that marketers tell themselves.
Of course, every media company that regularly produces content knows something different. Every news show, comedy series, film studio, magazine, and theater company has a well-known and structured process for ideating, creating, editing, and delivering content to audiences.
Given that marketing seems more like a 24/7 media operation, you need to take as much care in developing your ideas as you do in using technology to manage the process that comes after you click publish .
If content marketing in recent years has focused on how to lay the groundwork for using content to engage customers, help them, inform them and change their beliefs, then the next few years should be dedicated to learning to create a strategic, repeatable process to develop the ideas that can do just that.
You just have to start believing that you can.
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Cover photo by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute