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Two Questions That Stump Businesses About Content Marketing

by Michele Miller  |  
February 21, 2013

Recently, Forbes posted an article specifically pointing out the pitfalls of not considering content as a product that requires a business plan to make it operational. The author, Erin Scime, also repeatedly used a term I thought was my own personal term of endearment: “content czar.”

I did a little happy dance when I saw such a renowned business publisher tackle such an obvious topic (from my perspective). Of course, they did tag it to their tech section. I suppose I get that decision. It’s still difficult for most people to distinguish content as something that requires consideration within the technical, user experience, and visual design perspectives of a project. These are unique disciplines in and of themselves. So, where then does the content fit in?

Question #1: Where Does Content Fit Into the Process?

Content can often wind up being a non sequitur in a project;  it’s often the conclusion of a very illogical premise. How have we typically handled content in the past? Well, in a very traditional waterfall process, it falls to the end---or during the implementation phase. And content is not thought of until then. Plan, design, build, and then bring in the copywriter. Very little time is spent on content in the upfront stages of a project, which sets all participating parties up for failure when launch nears and the users’ needs for content have not been aligned with the organization’s business goals, or appetite and bandwidth to produce the required content.

So, in addition to tackling the alarming percentage of organizations who are still not considering content as part of their digital strategy, we now add the additional layer of complexity of integrating content into a responsive process. All teams are already faced with adjusting their way of thinking to move more quickly to a functional prototype.

Does content belong in those sprints to that prototype? You’d better believe it. And I’m not talking lorem ipsum. The content does not need to be a final product (and, in fact, shouldn’t be), but it needs to be close enough to presenting the brand voice that the client understands the experience from the user perspective and validating that business needs are being met as well.

Incorporating a “content readiness” workstream at the front end of a project can yield tremendous long-term business benefits. The planning stage for content is critical to move forward with an experience that exceeds user expectations and moves the business closer to its goals. That means understanding existing content, identifying missing ingredients, and building a new data model. This is the Holy Grail for content today. How can we plan for the presentation of content if we do not know on what device it might be rendered? Removing the presentation layer leaves some teams dumbfounded. We’ve been dependent on visualizing and formatting content to a singular or two-dimensional form for so long that thinking about it any other way is daunting. But the reality is we are already living in a platform agnostic world. And we’re behind our own evolution.

Question #2: Who Ultimately Owns the Content?

The Forbes article talks a lot about content ownership (or lack thereof). A shift of this magnitude means a ripple effect across an entire organization. Models will shift. Roles and responsibilities will be adapted or created. Owners will need to be accountable from the C-level through to the digital implementation team. So, you have ownership of the brand, ownership of the product, ownership of functionality, and performance, etc., but still no content owners. Publishing processes are fast and loose, authors and contributors are plentiful, and audiences quickly get confused by inconsistent and conflicting voices, messaging, and a lack of continuity in general.

That is usually what I might describe as the “freak out” stage of an ill-planned project. “Certainly we don’t have the bodies or the skill sets in house to manage this level of effort.” Maybe not today, but users’ expectations, needs and outright demands are only going to increase in intensity, so content is, in fact, the game changer.

A “content czar” within an organization has much to accomplish. In addition to worrying about user needs, empowering a superhuman content team, and changing longstanding processes, this heroine also needs to be an evangelist for content throughout the business. That means shifting attitudes and, most importantly, securing the budget and the talent needed for the job. The buy-in portion of this endeavor can be arduous, but the good news is there is more and more evidence that the value of content is measureable. KPIs are extremely meaningful, but if you've never happened upon this site, spend some time here: This project auctioned off thrift-store objects via eBay. For item descriptions, short stories were written by over 200 contributing writers. The objects, purchased for $1.25 apiece on average, sold for nearly $8,000.00 in total. So the site is proof that there is measurable value in good storytelling.

I’ll leave you with two analogies since I love them so.

Analogy #1
You wouldn’t build a house without a strong foundation, would you? So, why would you build an experience that is driven by content without considering and planning for the main attraction---before you hang the curtains?

Analogy #2
You just bought a new car. Do you assume that this is the final task on your list for this vehicle? Or do you regularly fill the gas tank (or plug it in), and bring it to the professionals when it needs TLC and fine-tuning? Exactly. You need a dependable crew for your digital experience. And you need to always have gas in that tank.

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Michele Miller leads content strategy for Solutions Innovation at eBay Enterprise, eBay company specializing in creating, developing, and running online shopping sites for brick and mortar brands and retailers.

LinkedIn: Michele Miller

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  • by Laura Stein Thu Feb 21, 2013 via blog

    This is awesome Michelle. Thank you for putting language to something that we have been trying to articulate to the market for a number of years now.

    The follow up behind this lies in determining whether the company has the professional talent needed to manage the content experience. What we have seen is that most folks believe that they can write, but few have wisdom when it comes to writing for the user, performance and even Google et al.

    This field is going to expand and gain depth.

  • by Eric Lannert Tue Apr 30, 2013 via blog

    Great post Michelle! We are finding traction within IT marketing efforts to advise clients to kill the notion of static content and move it all into blogs. This has the benefit of "reframing" the problem from project to process - from build to run. We find it's easier to create a content ownership mindset of an operational process than a project. The other helpful driver of ownership in the B2B space is to show reports that link particular content to conversions. Nothing gets attention of the executive team like showing a report that 'when you blogged about x and y last month, those blogs led to conversions'.

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