If culture eats strategy for breakfast, operations eats creativity for lunch.
Creativity is important, don’t get me wrong. Around three-quarters of B2B (74%) and B2C (79%) content marketers say they “value” creativity and craft, according to the 2018 Content Marketing Reports. (Next year, I hope CMI asks them if they value process.)
Survey Says: There's a lot of room to improve
But the CMI data also show that most content marketers still aren’t getting the consistent output they need from content marketing teams. Just over one-third (36%) of B2C and B2B content marketers feel their project management workflow is excellent or very good. When it comes to consistent delivery, only 59% of B2B and 60% of B2C feel they achieve that. So there's a lot of room for improvement.
For all the creativity and craft training and encouragement you afford your content team, you need an equal amount of operations work. That’s the other half of the “how” coin, right? Craft/creativity is on one side and operations is on the other.
I was consulting with an international industry association with no shortage of creative talent on the digital team. From writers to video producers to designers – there was craft out the wazoo. But process? Not so much. Workflows were cumbersome with bottlenecks from planning to approvals and publishing. The impact was crushing:
The team struggled to produce quality content fast enough to meet KPIs and audience demand.
Creators were frustrated by the number of approvals and other bottlenecks that ate up time required to bring their terrific (and often time-sensitive) ideas to fruition.
The content wasn’t integrated into or leveraged by other initiatives, lacked a clear purpose and had little or no keyword/search value.
The poor content disappointed the existing audience, didn’t support organic discovery, eroded the organization’s authority as an information source, and impeded audience acquisition.
Detailing the Content Supply Chain
So often, we have all the talent and creativity we need, but we lack the processes to leverage those assets fully. Without improvements to the operations that make up the content supply chain, all your creativity and craft go nowhere and get no results. Here’s my take on the core set of content operations and the question we can ask to start improving them:
1. IDEA GENERATION
What topic should we write about? What’s the angle? Where do good ideas come from? Do we need new content or is there evergreen content we can resurface and upgrade? Check out this fast way to vet ideas and topics.
2. CHANNEL & FORMAT SELECTION
What’s the best distribution channel/s for this content? What format is most effective to present it (article, infographic, eboook, meme, etc.)? How can we amplify it?
3. MESSAGE & AUDIENCE DEFINITION
Who’s the audience? What’s the voice they’ll respond to? What’s the purpose and related calls to action? What information do we need to share? What details does our audience need?
4. PLANNING & LOGISTICS
Who will produce the content? What are the technical requirements (keywords, etc.? If and how does this content relate to a campaign? What evergreen content can we resurface? How do we identify trusted sources and SMEs? Who are the influencers? What interview questions should we ask? Download our deck on sourcing and interviewing.
5. ANALYSIS & MEASUREMENT
What metrics do we track? How do we define and assess quality? How else can we amplify and leverage this content?
6. CONTENT CREATION/REDEVELOPMENT
How do we produce content? What’s the writing or design process? How do we produce and revise our own work? When we're retooling evergreen content, what do we update, why and how?
7. REVIEW & APPROVAL
How do we ask for and deliver actionable feedback? How do we align that with our definition of quality? Who needs to review content when? Get our tips for better feedback.
8. EDITING & FORMATTING
What metadata and social content do we need to accompany the content? Who checks for SPUG and internal style? What are the final steps required to publish? Who actually posts the content?
What worked and what can we improve? How did the content perform against metrics and quality standards? How do we integrate what we learn about what works to evolve our processes?
How to Optimize the Content Supply Chain
Because these processes make up the links in the supply chain, the biggest impact comes from optimizing all of them. But the truth is, optimizing just one of them yields gains. If you're not up for a full transformation, take one bite at a time, letting each set of improvements ripple through the entire chain until the whole ecosystem is fully retooled.
One way to approach an incremental optimization is:
- Take a quick pass at answering the questions for each link in the chain
- Evaluate your answers to identify the one process improvement that yields the most value and can be completed quickly (in Agile terminology, this is weighted, shortest job first)
- Do a deeper examination to determine what’s working and what’s not
- Set goals for improvement
- Create or source a process redesign and training as necessary
- Deploy, iterate and measure
This is a super-lite look at how to start valuing process as much as creativity and commitment. I’ll dig deeper in upcoming posts, but if you don’t want to wait, drop me a line and we’ll talk!