How Illumina Solved Their Content Findability Problem

7 minute read

Upland Admin

You may spend time and resources creating brilliant content, but if your salespeople and internal stakeholders can’t locate it, you’re wasting your efforts.

In content strategy agency Scriptorium’s Hierarchy of Content Needs, availability is foundational. Without providing internal stakeholders—such as sales and support teams—with visibility into the content that marketing teams create, content loses its power to influence the buyer during the journey to purchase.

Kathleen Pierce, Director of Commercial Content Operations at Illumina, knows this all too well.

Illumina is a biotechnology company that develops cutting edge systems for studying the genomic basis of human health. It serves a range of different industries from academic institutions to pharmaceutical companies. Pierce is responsible for building and maintaining the content operations model that gives internal stakeholders accurate, effective materials for pitching and educating prospects and customers.

It takes a lot of content to support the needs of this diverse audience, but Pierce’s challenge wasn’t to create more—or even better—marketing materials. She needed to make content more accessible.

Through an internal survey, Pierce found that 80% of their sales and support people were satisfied with the quality of the content, but only 20% were satisfied with the findability of that content. 

This discrepancy highlighted the fact that valuable materials risked going unused in the organization, simply because it was too difficult to access content on the right topic or product. So Pierce took a hard look at their content management process, and streamlined operations to solve the findability problem.

Illumina content findability

Here are the steps she took to get a content operations model in place.

1. Evaluate the Current State of Content Operations

Pierce had ideas about where the gaps existed, but by surveying sales and support people about their main challenges, and auditing the channels through which content was distributed to them, she found the proof she needed to guide her strategy and get buy-in for revamping the process. Research gave her insight into exactly what problems the content operation needed to solve, and findability was the glaring pain point.

With actual data to back up the need for a better content operations model, Pierce was able to understand the current state of content at Illumina and gain internal support for enacting major shifts.

2. Identify Key Internal Stakeholders

Pierce identified a team of commercial directors whose teams relied on content to do their jobs. This oversight group nominated people from their teams who understood the pain points first-hand and wanted to be part of the solution. This multi-level, cross-functional group was a critical element of the initiative’s success: executive sponsors for initiative-level support, commercial directors for strategic alignment and tactical oversight, and individual contributors around the globe for the “man on the street” perspective.

3. Start with Best Practices

Baking strategy into a content operation from the get-go saves you from unnecessary process shifts when they’re much more difficult to make. Illumina mapped out their goals based on their own processes, internal needs, and industry knowledge, then looked at how content best practices would play out in their organization.

For this step, companies often hire consultants or bring in strategists to provide planning and implementation support. Illumina already had experts internally, but for many companies, sitting down with people who have been through the trenches of change management before and understand how content operations play out in an organization ensures important considerations don’t go overlooked.

4. Clean Up Content Filters

The first goal was to understand the most useful and intuitive ways to organize content. The team talked to representatives from each group, for example, salespeople in Singapore, and questioned them on how they searched for content. The goal was to gain insight into how the users mentally organized the content. By understanding how people mentally organized the content, the team was able to design metadata and taxonomy that helped the users find what they needed.

The process of revamping metadata can be overwhelming—especially if multiple teams have been creating content for a long time and have been using a variety of inconsistent tags. As a rule of thumb, Pierce says, “when in doubt, simplify.”

For example, content type was an important filter to salespeople. After redefining the way content was organized, Illumina went from using 61 different classifications to 15 content types. That’s a 75% reduction in overlapping filters, resulting in a significantly more useable and efficient system.

Some discoveries were surprising. Product names were a key search category, but it wasn’t feasible to maintain a complete, useful, up-to-date set of tags for a rapidly evolving product catalog. The team made the daring decision to leave product names entirely out of the filters and rely on the search engine to find matches. Because of their early research, they knew that users were likely to include product names in their search terms. The gamble paid off.

5. Get Rid of Stale Content

Next, the Illumina content team reviewed current content to decipher which assets were worth tagging. This saved unnecessary work for the content team and reduced the content clutter that sales had to sift through, further improving the quality, relevance, and consistency of the content in the database.

Through their evaluation of current assets, Pierce and her team found that one-third of their content was obsolete, one-third redundant, and one-third useful. Illumina removed the two-thirds of irrelevant or outdated content from their database, leaving a much smaller pool of more valuable materials. They then went through and tagged this content with the revised filters.

6. Create an Ongoing Audit Team

Clean-up is great, but in order to build a long-term solution, processes must be established to support the system moving forward. So Pierce created an ongoing audit team from the original volunteers, and defined a content curator/analyst role on her own team.

Every month, the curator creates a report on new files from the previous month. This content is then split across the team, with each person assigned 15-20 assets. Each person checks the asset for (1) proper naming conventions and (2) proper tagging. With this divide-and-conquer strategy, the content database and the assets within it remain clean and organized. In addition, people across the organization gain an in-depth understanding of the content.

Removing old content is equally important. Every month, the curator archives stale and obsolete content. As a result, the net increase in files over the year was <25% of that in previous years, despite the company’s rapid growth.

7. Establish User and Contributor Trainings

Finally, to make sure their new system was useable and valuable, it needed to be used by the internal stakeholders it was created to support. User trainings for sales and support were added to the learning management system to explain how to find materials more efficiently. Contributor training showed how to use the new processes and tagging guidelines to ensure that the contributors’ hard work was found and used. Thanks to the existing learning-management infrastructure, 91% of contributors and 94% of users have been trained.

With the new content operations model in place, Illumina has a clean, centralized, and consistently updated database of content for internal stakeholders to use. And, most importantly, Pierce has laid a strong foundation for content to play a central role in the efficiency and effectiveness of the organization.

Not only does Pierce’s content operations function enable sales and support, it sets up all content creators for success.

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