How Content Creators Burn Money: An Interview with Strategist Scott Abel

10 minute read

Upland Admin

He’s known as “The Content Wrangler.” It’s a memorable moniker, but it wasn’t meant to be cute.

See, Scott Abel is an internationally recognized global content strategist on a mission to help enterprises get serious and think big about content. Doing so calls for identifying the problems that make processes inefficient and ineffective.

You may have read our interview with CMI’s Robert Rose where we dug into problematic gaps in the marketing content planning process within the B2B enterprise. Robert stressed the need to begin by identifying the problems.

I asked Scott Abel to help us do that.

Who Knows What Content Costs?

You wrote, “The most important factor in succeeding as a content marketer is to acknowledge that your content is a business asset and worth managing efficiently and effectively.” What inspired you to write that Scott?

Scott: The brand you work for is the owner of the content and you’re a steward whose job it is to spend the company’s time and resources wisely in order to produce the output you’re paid to produce.

Businesses don’t think about it that way. If they did we would have content on the balance sheet and you would know how much money you’re spending—just like how much you would on a facility or various services. When you’re manufacturing products, you know how much it costs and how you’re going to assemble your product. Why don’t we know that about our content?

Barry: Okay, so if you don’t, where do you suffer?

Scott: You run out of money. You don’t have enough budget. You don’t have any time.

In a factory, they optimize everything so they can be as efficient and effective as possible. They automate everything that is conceivably automatable. Where humans do a less precise job, machines take over. I think that needs to be the case with lots of content-related tasks.

Redundant, Redundant, and Redundant

In the world of marketing we produce a lot more content than we should or need. Often, nobody actually reads it or watches it.

Obviously nobody wants to spend money creating stuff nobody consumes. Do you think this is an internal problem?

Scott: Yes, it’s a problem of content discoverability internally. Companies like IDC have written about this and say one of the major challenges corporations face is people create content and then they archive it somewhere on the LAN. It gets stored in a file folder, in a database, or somewhere, but because of the way companies are organized, there’s no awareness the content exists.

Searching for it is challenging because you may be using different vocabulary, looking in a different place, or you may not have access to the place where the content is stored. It is a business asset that should be available to everybody in the company to see, to borrow, and to repurpose and yet that doesn’t happen. So what does happen is we recreate content that we can’t find.

People will spend hours looking for content only to give up and have to recreate it to the best of their ability, which will mean that the content is incongruent from the other content. When people being to do this you end up with mixed messaging. You end up with the potential for lawsuits. It’s just sloppy and far from good resource allocation. We’re not thinking ahead.

It’s Time for Content Creators to Get Together

So we come to the problem that sales and marketing are often not aligned and on the same page. Sales doesn’t know what marketing is doing. Marketing doesn’t know what sales is doing.

Do you see alignment between departments becoming a super painful problem in the B2B enterprise?

Scott: Yeah and I’d say it’s not limited to these two departments. Customers are exposed to the content they are exposed to. They don’t care what department created it and they don’t care if sales and marketing are misaligned. They really are just frustrated because they are looking for information and not able to find it. When they find it, it’s incongruent.

What’s also interesting beside the content that’s unused is the content that is used. Often the content that’s being used—especially in a B2B environment—is technical content. It may be content created by support, or training, or technical communication, but it may in fact propel somebody from being a prospect to a customer. So I think there’s a bigger problem here when we talk about the alignment issue and that is we must be thinking of ourselves as brands instead of departments.

Barry: So what would you tell them to do? Where would they begin to tackle this problem?   

Scott: Well, I think the first thing is to collaborate with other departments. Go meet them and find out what it is they’re doing. Ask them, “Can I come in and see what content you produce over here? I think we’re producing it for the same customer.”

I mean there are an infinite number of ideas and there is a finite amount of money in every corporation. So you’ve got a great idea on how to do something with your content. You’re going to be competing against every other great idea and if you’re not working with other departments you can’t find opportunities to align.

Probably the easy way to do it is to go meet people. Take them to coffee. Buy some pizza. Do something nice. There’s no reason to use upper management to weasel your way in when you can just be a nice person and go find out what’s being done down the hall.

Tweetable! Scott Abel says just be nice.

The Value of Adopting a Factory Mentality

Gleanster and Kapost collaborated on a research project and asked the question, “What areas of your content marketing efforts do you feel are currently the most inefficient?”

Meeting deadlines was the number one answer. Right behind it by just two percentage points and at 90% was redundant content creation. I asked Scott for this thoughts.  

Scott: I think the big challenge is upper level management does not know these problems exist. So they don’t know how to solve them. Nobody intentionally tries to introduce these confusing and frustrating situations. But because of the way we’re organized and because we don’t collaborate, there’s really no easy way to know what’s out there—so were going to create redundant content.

It’s going to be problematic as well. What you’re going to see is incongruences between content, which causes frustration for consumers. People call support sometimes. People may sue you if the incongruence should be something that can kill you or cause financial loss. So regulated industries are very sensitive to incongruent content. Whereas a lot of marketers—who are not in regulated industries—are more like the Wild West, you know, they’re doing the best they can with the limited resources and creativity drives them.

I think we have to get back to producing like a factory. We would never have people in a factory, in a car factory for example or luxury goods factory, creating the products differently.

We would all be trying to work together as a team, to be as productive as possible, to create the best value for our customers. Content has to have this kind of governance as well.

People are left to their own devices because that’s the way we’ve always done it. So it’s no one’s fault, but we all know about it now and need to start thinking how to remedy these problems.

Meeting deadlines and redundant content creation should not be the number one and two problems.

New Analytics, New Possibilities

When we talk about content metrics we almost always talk about it from the user point of view: what pages are viewed, downloads, time on the page, etc. Kapost introduces an additional form of tracking. That is, they profess as a marketer, you need to know what content is being used by the people in your company.

Interesting, right? Marketing departments are definitely responsible for creating content and often don’t know if it’s being used.

Scott: Yeah. I mean there’s all this talk of ROI (which I have to giggle about). You can’t answer the ROI question if you don’t know how much it costs to create it. So that’s the first thing.

We should be concerned about what it costs to create this content. Then I think you can start to factor in, were we able to create content efficiently and then measure its effectiveness.

So I think metrics like that can open up new possibilities. We’re going to start counting things before we publish. We’re going to count the effort that goes into producing the content. We’re going to factor in repurposing because if you pay for it once, but you use it ten times, you’re getting ten times the value. What’s more, the value might be different in each of those ten reuse scenarios.

I know that all the tool vendors are trying to give us as many analytics possibilities as possible, but I think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg. We’re going to see all kinds of new things to count and reasons why we might want to do so. So we have to remain flexible in our thinking.

If you can find a tool that helps you do what you do best today, I say go for it and start making some meaningful business decisions based on metrics—not what you think or feel, but what you know.

Can We Start Doing Things Smarter?

Last subject: the need to centralize content for easy access. We cover it in-depth in our eBook, Your Guide to Building an Internal Content Repository.

The Gleanster research provides powerful evidence that top performing content operations are 2X as likely to use digital asset management than average performers.

Have you found content teams understand the need to create centralized content repositories?

Scott: I think this is the whole reason you’re starting to hear marketers talk about intelligent content, which is the discipline that was brought about because of these challenges content marketers are having today. It leads to something called single sourcing, which is about having one location for a piece of content and then being able to reuse it with the help of computers.

Now why would you want to do that? Most people say I reuse content already.

You copy and paste it, which means, you make another instance of it that is disconnected from the source. It’s the disconnection from the source that introduces the problems and that’s why mature organizations that adopt advanced information management practices and tools and methodology are able to perform better.

They’re able to produce more relevant content and more personalized content. They’re saving time and they’re making money and they’re able to innovate.

It’s because they took a step back and said, just because we’ve always created content this way doesn’t mean we should continue. A centralized single source of content is often the best way to get there. But for marketers it’s kind of a new approach, so we have to start thinking, how can we leverage marketing content? How can we start doing things smarter?

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