Planning Problems May Be Where Your Content Crumbles: An Interview with CMI’s Robert Rose

12 minute read

Upland Admin

“Stuff happens.”

I was discussing the challenges of content planning across the enterprise with Robert Rose of Content Marketing Institute when the thunderbolt above struck. We had a nice little laugh.

But is it really a laughing matter? You see, the interview I had planned with Robert was to be about the pains and inefficiencies B2B enterprises experience as they scale their content operations. To a degree, it was.

However, as I tried to pull observations from the chief strategy officer of Content Marketing Institute, he responded with an even more fundamental problem: the relentless creation of meaningless content.

Should you bother to obsess over efficiency if you’re not even effective? Do more systems result in more chaos or order? Robert and I talked about this and much more.

The interview went something like this:

To Plan or Not to Plan

Each year, research by Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs indicates (1) a minority rate their use of content marketing effective, and (2) a minority have a documented content marketing strategy. The 2015 report of B2B marketers claims 38% believe they’re effective and 35% have a documented strategy. I had to ask…

Doesn’t the absence of a content marketing plan remain the biggest problem?

Robert: It’s a huge problem. It’s interesting to me that the amount of content we create as a business today just continues to increase exponentially and we still haven’t discovered we don’t have a strategic function for it in the business.

Content is kind of everybody’s job and nobody’s job. Everybody’s responsible for content in some fashion, but nobody’s really responsible for it at the strategic level where it could help differentiate the company.

The businesses that we see that are having some level of success (and quite frankly, reducing the amount of content while increasing its impact) are those that are taking the time to do strategic planning for (1) why content should exist in the first place and (2) how it will be managed, optimized, and measured in order to move the needle for the business.

Those that are actually creating a written strategic document for the management of their content are those that are succeeding with it. Maybe that sounds like a “duh.” It’s such a simple thing, but so important. It makes it a real function of the business.

Planning without Planning Tools

I figured while we could continue beating on that horse, we’d move on to those that DO utilize some sort of planning process. My question:

I sense most enterprises that do have planning processes rely heavily on email and spreadsheets. Doesn’t the use of such generic tools create problems?

Robert: Yes. As content has increased, so too has the number of the parts of the organization that are creating content. So the tools are siloed.

In many cases, people are using something as simple and basic as email and Excel spreadsheets, and sometimes it means they’re trying to force more collaborative editorial calendaring types of processes into giant enterprise CMS systems or digital asset management systems, where the workflows are historically and traditionally more governance-based.

So how does one actually control something in a linear path through “draft,” “pending,” “approved,” and “archived” all through the various parts of the organization that are going to handle that one particular piece of the workflow?

In a collaborative environment, we’re looking at everybody having some piece of some part of the workflow where maybe I’m contributing to the draft, but then I also want to contribute to the optimized version of the draft that comes later. Then I want to repurpose it across different channels. I’ve got a writer here and designer there and we’re all working toward that.

Marketers are starting to fill that gap with technologies that help facilitate and give them the more agile and flexible workflow processes they need.

Now, that’s not a technological problem that enterprise solutions couldn’t solve, but in many organizations the limitations of the technology modification is harder than actually adopting lighter and more generic tools. So there’s a big gap right now, with some of the more sophisticated tool sets that can actually create more collaborative workflows that help marketers and sales move faster and in a more agile way with content processes, but that can also handle the sophistication of that across all of the different channels they have to manage.

Marketers are starting to fill that gap with technologies that help facilitate and give them the more agile and flexible workflow processes they need.

Does the Beast Get Bigger?

Robert brought it up: more departments are getting involved in content creation. I thought I’d probe further.

So with more departments joining the party and more locations becoming part of the puzzle, does the problem get increasingly ugly? 

Robert: As you start adding in different product groups, regional offices, functional elements—basically, as the enterprise gets larger—the process becomes more complex. As you add more complexity to it the goal has to become, how do we simplify it to the point where we’re not over-engineering something to the extent that it gets in the way of us being faster and more agile in the way that we manage the content?

There’s no one right way to skin this cat where your business has one process to rule them all and you centralize everything.

Where Does It Hurt?

As we started to hone it on “process pain,” it occurred to me we were mostly talking about lost time, an evasive little stinker.

It can be hard to quantify the costs of process inefficiency. In fact, it may even be hard to recognize you have problems. Do you think the symptoms actually present themselves? How? 

Robert. There are usually two indicators. First, with a deluge of content, everybody feels the pain of not being able to keep up with all the different channels they need to feed.

I’ve talked to so many businesses that tell me the sheer quantity of content they have to deal with prevents them from taking a thoughtful approach to how good it is. The questions mount: Is this really meaningful for a consumer? Is it going to move the needle from a persuasion standpoint?

They tell me we just can’t spend the time to try and understand these challenges because we’re just trying to keep up with publishing it all.

I was working with a company that took two and half weeks to get a tweet live.

The second problem, which is probably even worse, is the processes become so gated that it takes forever to get a piece of content through the workflow process. I was working with a company that took two and half weeks to get a tweet live. If it takes that long to get something out on social media there’s a decline in the value of any channel that goes hand in hand with this problem, which correlates to how long it actually takes to get a piece of content out there.

At a certain point, those lines cross and you have to ask, “Why are we even bothering?”

Are the processes that we have in place so complex that they prevent us from doing anything fast? Or do we have zero workflow processes making it so we can’t keep up with the quality demands?

A great system with a process and a strategy helps to balance these two things to the point where we can effectively manage agility and flexibility, and then reduce the amount of content so it has increased impact on the consumers.

I had to say it: Stuff happens. And we both had a laugh.

Robert resumed: That’s it. Stuff happens. Full stop. In many cases that is the business of content strategy.

We Really Should Be Talking about Effectiveness

We continued on the theme. Sort of. As you’re about to see, Robert wanted to promote efficacy to the top of the priority list.

Do you think though the enterprise knows it has all kinds of inefficiencies it can’t put a finger on what the costs are?

Robert: The costs are both invisible and visible. It’s very hard to say, “If we create X level of efficiency will we save Y on headcount.” What it means in dollars really depends on the business, right? For instance, what would a 10% improvement in lead generation mean for a business monetarily?

From an effectiveness point of view, in terms of the team, I tend to not want to look at it from the standpoint of saving headcount because it’s like we’re equating content to a flow of water and all we really want to do is make it efficient as possible. That’s not necessarily true.

What we want to think about—because it’s coming out of a little bit of everybody’s day—is how do we actually increase the effectiveness of the team we have?

It’s not just an efficiency equation. The business question is: How can we make sure we’re doing the things that add the most value instead of just spewing out words that ultimately don’t have any effect?

How much sharper can I make the marketing knife?

The question isn’t really about a number. The question worth wrapping yourself up in is, how much better can I be? How much sharper can I make the marketing knife?

It’s just smarter to get more efficient and/or more effective. Marketers are all in this world of having to do more with less.

So if we save $125K by gaining efficiency, it’s very rare that the C-suite is going to go, “Great, have another person.” The money will be swallowed up in something else.

Marketers are all in this world of having to do more with less.

If we look at it across a team of five people and it saves us one person, well okay, we get a 20% effectiveness “buy” in there. That means I’ve got 20% of my team’s time back where they can do other things.

They can spend the time on the big rocks in marketing. Building a better ad. Writing a better blog post. Creating a better brochure. Creating a better search strategy. Whatever it is I’m going to buy time back from my various team members and have them spend it in a different way. It’s not easy to measure in dollars, but it’s just the right thing to do.

Begin by Identifying the Problem

Robert’s a content strategist. I thought it best to extract some strategic advice for getting started from him.

If you’re counseling a company with these issues, where do you begin? Where do you suggest they turn for answers?

Robert: I think you look inward first. It’s a classic challenge where the first thing you have to do is admit you have a problem.

I think too many times we buy technology purely based on the ability for it to do something we don’t believe we have the capability to do today. Instead, we need to understand the process we’re really trying to optimize.

One of the things I’ll often ask a CEO or director of marketing is, “What if you just stopped every bit of content production you’re doing today? Everything. Who would be mad? Where would the disappointment be? Would your email subscribers be upset? Would your social audiences suddenly wonder where’s my Facebook post? Would people be going where’s the latest white paper?”

Let’s figure out the right workflow and collaborative editorial process for how all the elements of the business can work together for a single (or as singular as we can hope for) content strategy

The answer tends to be, “No one will be upset except us.” Well, then it’s time to rethink what we’re doing with content, figure out how we can reduce the amount of it, and focus on the figuring out the right process for how content can move fluidly through the business and which channels really need to be optimized.

Let’s figure out the right workflow and collaborative editorial process for how all the elements of the business can work together for a single (or as singular as we can hope for) content strategy that helps us speak to our consumers with one focused voice.

Then, when we understand the workflow process, we can find a technology that helps us enable and scale it. That’s what a great technology tool is for. It’s for helping us scale a process we understand well.

When Gleanster Research surveyed 3,400-plus enterprise B2B marketers one of the findings they presented was 25-cents of every dollar is <wasted on inefficient content operations. Surprising? No. Painful? No doubt. An addressable problem? Definitely.

My interview with Robert helped uncover the connection between effective planning and effective content. It’s problem number one. Now, however with content costs growing substantially, it’s time to look at the effectiveness and efficiency of content planning process to achieve agility and strike a savvy balance of volume and quality.

Simply said, this is the stuff that forges the foundation of marketers intent on building content operations for long-term success.  

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