Inside GE’s Content Revolution: Tips for Building a Content Operation

14 minute read

Upland Admin

It’s no secret that GE is experiencing change right now. As GE’s CEO, Larry Culp, often says, GE is on a journey to reset the company and right-size the business to its markets and customer needs. What’s less known are the thousands of projects—like this one—that have been and continue to play out on a daily basis across the company, driving transformational improvements to deliver a simpler, more productive company with better opportunities for growth.

GE is not alone in facing into change. Many companies are having to rethink how they operate and go to market, and how they can continue to deliver the best customer experience possible. Here, I share 5 simple tips for marketers and communicators wanting to drive operational rigor and an improved customer experience into your content programs.

The Emergent Era

Change is good. It drives people to think and do things differently, often resulting in better ways of working that drive better outcomes. A couple of years ago, Beth Comstock, former Vice Chair and CMO at GE, defined this period of accelerated change as The Emergent Era. She explained that as information moves faster, we move faster, and this is leading to the rapid emergence of new systems, technologies and business models. This change is requiring new ways of approaching business.

As marketers and communicators, we feel the rapid pace of change every day, as more and more information is created and consumed and new and disruptive ways of reaching our audiences emerge. We have an opportunity to lean into this change, embrace it, and do things not only differently but better.

Content Is King, and Everyone’s a Kingmaker

As a B2B organization, GE relies heavily on content to deliver a positive customer experience. When looking across all customer touch points, one could argue that content plays a role in half or more of that experience. This is why so many B2B organizations are racing to build content marketing teams and diving head first into aggressive omnichannel campaigns. Content informs, entertains, and educates. It drives SEO and web traffic, enables personalized marketing, enhances brand, generates leads, enables the sales team, and so much more. And it is produced by a lot of people: product marketers, content marketers, digital, social, sales enablement, corporate communications, PR, and so on.

The challenge is, so much content with so many creators and channels is overwhelming. Content is everywhere, produced by everyone, and going out all of the time. Imagine a factory with absolutely no rigor or process around manufacturing. That would be crazy, right?

And yet that’s how a lot of marketing and communications organizations are operating. SiriusDecisions reports that only 25% of marketers have a formalized process around content, and less than 22% of marketing organizations rate themselves as having advanced content engine maturity.

So we, as creators of content, see that content is critical, yet we rarely manage it well. Specifically, we don’t manage our operations around content well.

If we’re being honest, it’s chaos.

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Image Courtesy of GE

Why Content Operations Matter

“So what?” you say, “Content doesn’t need Marie Kondo. My content is entertaining and delighting customers and it’s driving leads!” Maybe. But the reality is, content chaos isn’t about the mess—it’s about the waste. Content waste results in content that is lower quality, off-message, incorrectly targeted, or simply can’t be found. It results in poor coordination and lost time, by creators and consumers alike. Consider how this waste negatively affects the following four key groups:

Customers -> Growth

Content waste means we sacrifice optimal customer experience. When customers ping pong through discordant messaging as they progress through their journeys, they’re less likely to convert, and growth suffers as a result. In fact, in a recent study 43% of marketers said inconsistent messaging across the buyer’s journey negatively impacts CX. If customers are 5.2 times more likely to purchase from companies delivering great CX (source), why would we not want the best possible experience?

Sales -> Productivity

62% of organizations report that sales rep’s look in 6+ locations for sales assets and 47% report that these rep’s spend 20+ hours a month searching for, editing, creating or managing content (source). Content is critical to arming salespeople with the tools necessary to manage and guide highly considered customer journeys. When sales people can’t find content, it destroys sales productivity.

Content creators -> ROI

According to Sirius Decisions, 65% of content produced goes unused. We all know that stat, but stop for a minute and really let that sink in. Over half of what we create is wasted. B2B marketers say they invest ~50% of budget in content but 0% fully understand the return (source). We should be producing less content that is more meaningful. Not more content. Focusing on what content works, keeping messaging consistent, knowing what colleagues are working on, and having insight into progress is nearly impossible in the midst of content chaos. It also means we’re often wasting time reproducing things that already exist. Who hasn’t experienced that one before. Chaos makes creators less effective which leads to a lower return on investment for everything they create.

Employees -> Engagement

Yes, you read that right, employees! In today’s era of 360 campaigns, employees are affected by content too. According to Gallup, engaged teams are 22% more profitable and experience 25% less turnover. Content chaos can lead to missed opportunities to internally share or repurpose great external content, eroding what could otherwise be a more positive employee experience.

Content chaos is so widespread that marketers and communicators who feel it every day start to think of it as an occupational hazard—something to be endured, not fixed. It’s like a chronic pain in your knee so constant that by the time you go in for your annual checkup, you don’t even think to mention it to the doctor.

Idea: Consider running your own internal surveys among these stakeholders to measure impact in your organization. Compare your data against these benchmarks. Use your data to quantify the financial impact to your organization, and as a baseline to measure improvement over time.

The Tipping Point

Do you recognize yourself or your team in any of this? At GE, we certainly did. Teams had been collaborating through email, Smartsheets, Box, Excel, and native GE platforms. Nowhere did we have a single repository or a single view into what we were doing. We struggled with version control, and with consistency of messaging. We wasted time searching emails for old exchanges, or multiple repositories with outdated content. Our content and sales teams reproduced a lot of content because they couldn’t find it or didn’t know something already existed. Raise your hand if you know a salesperson who is still using collateral stored on their hard drive from five years ago.

It was time for a change. The sales team had a system—a CRM—that served as a single point of truth for everything they did across the organization. And they had a team—sales operations—to run it. Why didn’t we?

Which is why we launched a content operation. Yet spotting the problem and landing on a fix is only half the battle. Next, the team had to preside over real, lasting structural change. Here are five tips on how to build, and nurture, a content operation from the ground up.

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Image Courtesy of GE

Tips for Building a Content Operation

1. Isolate Your Greatest Pain First

A true content operation supports the entire life cycle of a piece of content, from planning to creation to distribution to analysis. Everyone has pain points along each of these buckets, but most of us feel it more acutely in one or two of them.

At GE Energy Connections (which later merged with GE Power), the greatest pain was distribution. Or, specifically, sales enablement. The team was delivering a bad SX (sales experience) with 35+ portals, no search function, and outdated content. Over half of surveyed sales reps said they couldn’t find the content necessary to do their job. This was wasteful.

Indeed, after we launched a streamlined repository through a content operation (housed inside our CRM and with search!), the sales team reported they were saving 2 hours on average each week because they no longer had to search for or create content. 2 hours! Multiply that out by thousands of sales reps, an hourly rate, over the course of a year—and you are talking about millions of dollars saved and thousands of hours given back to serving the customer. The tool was effectively paid for within the first weeks of launching. Not to mention, 100% of surveyed sales reps said they would recommend the tool to a peer.

For other teams, your greatest pain point may be around visibility and collaboration; the need to share unified calendars or a single work space for campaign planning and execution. Or maybe it’s streamlining requests for content. Whatever it is, land on your greatest pain first because it makes it a lot easier to build a business case, create a roll-out plan, and get stakeholder buy-in later.

2. Broaden Your Approach

Once you know your greatest pain, start to look beyond it and consider the entire content life cycle: planning, creation, distribution, and analytics. This is where the magic happens, because you’ll start to see that there are probably areas of pain that you didn’t even realize existed. Like the achy knee analogy earlier, we get used to things being bad and we don’t realize it could be better. By looking across the entire life cycle of your content, and all the steps therein, you’ll start to isolate and identify many opportunities for improvement. This helps you visualize and begin to build a longer-term road map. Remember: content operations is a journey, not an overnight destination.

3. Engage All Stakeholders

Now that you are looking across the entire life cycle, it’s also time to get honest about all the people who create or are affected by content. If you’re a big company like GE, you may have separate marketing and communications teams. They may even be aligned to multiple P&Ls across multiple regions. And then there’s the sales operations team that manages your CRM or partner portals, and the sales teams consuming the content. If you’re a large organization, there may be hundreds of people around the globe creating and distributing content, and thousands more consuming it.

For an effective content operation to work, you need to account for all of the people in the process. Content operations are great because a single tool helps break down silos. But breaking down that silo mentality begins with humans first—we have to stop thinking in silos and start thinking about the network to truly be successful.

So engage all your stakeholders and get them to weigh in on the tool and buy into what you’re about to do. Getting consensus before launching the content operation was key for our team. I spent a painful 12 months getting consensus across many different stakeholders, but it was worth it because by launch date everyone was 100% on board and that saved a lot of agony later in the deployment.

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Image Courtesy of GE

4. Build Your Vision and Quantify Your Business Case

This may seem obvious, but many people overlook this step. Now that you’re fired up about launching a content operation, and you’ve got key stakeholders on board, you need to articulate your vision and quantify the business case. And yes, you should do this on a PPT slide. This will help you “sell” the idea later when you begin to onboard teams and users. I built a vision statement slide four years ago and still use it to this day when I’m explaining the tool. No one can argue with a clear vision and a strong ROI.

For ROI, here are some simple calculations we considered. You could expand these further, measuring impact to all four of the affected stakeholders mentioned earlier in this article.

 “The average sales person is wasting X hours per week … that’s $$M/year!”

“If we could reuse or stop producing even 10% of existing content… we could save (or gain) up to $$ annually in our budget!”

5. Manage the Transition Curve

Finally, be prepared for resistance. Running a content operation requires teams to do things differently. And that can be hard. Your job as changemaker is to listen to, motivate, and support your users. Like anything new, you’ll have early adopters who are off and running. They’re a great asset—empower them and let them be your advocates! And you’ll also have detractors. They’re a great asset too. Listen to them and address their concerns and nurture them through the transition curve. Lean into surveys and create feedback loops. Address the feedback—this is what makes the tool work better.

Eventually, the majority of users will get through what we lovingly call “the valley of death”—the hardest part of the transition curve—and you may even see that some of your biggest detractors become your biggest supporters and super-users. We found, after running numerous onboarding sessions over a two-year period, that it takes on average about four months for a person/team to be up and running independently in the tool. Invest in the time to train and help them, because it pays off later.

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Image Courtesy of GE

You’re Not Just Adding a Tool, You’re Changing a Culture

I want to really drive home Tip #5. Launching a content operation successfully is less about adding a tool into your tech stack, and more about fundamentally changing the way people work for the better. The tool won’t solve your problems, it’s the people using it who will deliver breakthrough results.

Recognizing this from the start and building your approach so that you’re supporting the people in the tool is critical to success. Being a content operations leader means being a changemaker. So dust off those change management books—you’ll need them!

What’s the End Result?

Today GE is running content operations across its Power, Healthcare, Baker Hughes (Oil & Gas), and Digital businesses. GE Power now has one central content database that includes all P&Ls, regions, and content creators within marketing and communications. The team is distributing this content to multiple consumer audiences, including sales (via our CRM), channel partners, and the broader global employee base. Consumers are saving time because it’s easier to find things, and that’s driving alignment of message and better UX. Content creators now have one source for content, and visibility to team calendars, which is improving planning and execution. This coordination is resulting in higher quality content, time saved, less duplication, more repurposed content, and simpler visibility into analytics on content performance. Which is a solid operational foundation on which the team can now modify, iterate, and improve.

Once an operation is up and running, successful teams will be able to adapt and adjust performance, just like you would any operation or process. This includes leaning more heavily into data on content performance and operations. Having this visibility drives better decision making on what content your teams should produce (and repurpose), on how to distribute it, and on how to add more rigor into operations and processes. Ultimately, we want to see a day when teams are building less content with more impact. When you deliver an improved customer experience and you improve internal productivity, everybody wins. And that’s a revolution worth getting behind.

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