Last week, Deane Barker of Optimizely made an interesting point during a webinar in which we both participated.
Deane is an incredibly thoughtful person on the topic of content management. He pointed out that businesses, especially marketing teams, spend an inordinate time thinking about what happens “to the right of the publish button.”
Said another way, marketers spend too much time worried about content performance, distribution, and outcomes and not nearly enough time on how they arrived at the publish button.
Marketing increasingly makes content – and the methods used to create it – the biggest focus of the strategy. So, why do marketing teams spend so little time structuring a standardized process to ensure sufficient resources, time, and budget to fulfill the creative part of that content promise?
I see this a lot in my client work, because a few antiquated ideas still pervade businesses in 2023:
- Content marketing is considered a separate and more tactical piece of “real marketing.”
- Marketing measurement is regarded as “proof of life” to justify spend rather than as an insight into developing deeper relationships with audiences.
- Businesses view content as an attribute of everybody’s job rather than a distinct, institutional discipline that requires dedicated resources and processes.
CMOs are confident in their confusion
It’s a fascinating time in marketing. Despite advancements in technology, productivity is down. Marketers spend more time creating fewer ideas because of the demands of digital asset formats, channels, and related technology tasks to distribute and measure them.
Gartner’s 2023 CMO spend survey found 75% of marketers say this downturn in productivity puts them under pressure to cut martech spending (despite the onslaught of AI). Yet the same group of CMOs say the biggest new investment this year is (you guessed it) technology. The most significant decrease? Labor.
Marketing teams are falling behind because they’re spending too much time trying to use technology to keep from falling behind.
Instead of adding a more structured process or more resources to the challenge, the business simply says, “Isn’t there an app for that?” You trade more ideas from humans for more efficiency from machines.
To get off this hamster wheel, you have to move the business beyond those antiquated beliefs.
Change starts with new beliefs
A decade ago, Thomas Asacker published one of my favorite business books, The Business of Belief. I’ve gotten to know Tom a bit over the years, but I first reached out after I read the book because it struck me profoundly.
At the time, we found clients would agree a standard and well-documented content process is a good thing, but they found it difficult to actually do it. I asked Tom, “Why do you think that change is so hard?”
His response was awesome and resonates today:
It’s a human nature problem. We’ve created these metaphors and understandings about how human beings are, and how their minds work and what brains do, etc. And, I mean, the whole idea that the brain is anything like a computer is wrong. Brains change continuously. It would be like a program that rewrites itself all day long, you know? In order for change to stick, we also have to change the belief as well.
I see this all the time.
We help a company build a business case to create a strategic content operation, assemble a road map for that change, and leave that team to execute it.
Then, nothing happens.
It’s no one’s fault.
What happened? Life happened. Like a computer program, everyone understood the tasks, but no one cared.
To be clear, individuals cared. Deeply. But the institution (all the teams that had to change) had no shared belief in doing those tasks. Business as usual is a very, very strong force to overcome, even when it’s one person, much less hundreds.
“So how do we actually change the beliefs,” I asked Tom. His response still stays with me today.
Bridge of belief
Tom said you can’t force the leadership to tell everybody, “You have to believe in …” – a new way, a big change, or a different approach.
Instead, someone – sometimes an outside figure and sometimes an internal team leader or leaders – must lead the rest of the organization down a bridge of belief. They almost must work outside the system to show the rest of the company, “See, you can do it.”
Honestly, when I see positive results with our clients in implementing a strategic content marketing initiative, a full-scale content strategy, or a small, innovative project like a new blog, it’s usually because the team has become the change they want to see (to paraphrase the quote most often and erroneously attributed to Gandhi.)
These teams step outside the antiquated beliefs of the business and create new beliefs that people can follow. To put this idea into a quote that Gandhi actually did say:
All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.
Create new beliefs in content
No doubt you spend too little time devoting resources, budget, and time to create a well-understood process for the creative part of content strategy because the business believes it is probably impossible.
It believes you can’t really measure creativity until it’s in front of audiences – to the right of the “publish” button. Thus, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. You call the creative process “magic” and cross your fingers that it happens quickly and efficiently.
In the webinar, Deane called this the “romantic lie” that marketers tell themselves.
Of course, every media company that consistently produces content knows differently. Every news program, comedy series, movie studio, magazine, and theater company has a well-known and structured process for ideating, creating, editing, and getting content ready for audiences.
Given marketing is looking more like a 24/7/365 media operation, you must have as much rigor in the process of the creation of the ideas as you do in leveraging technology to manage the process of what comes after clicking “publish.”
If content in marketing has focused in the last few years on how to build the rationale to use content to engage, help, inform, and change beliefs in customers, then the next few years should be dedicated to learning to create a strategic, repeatable process to come up with the ideas that can do just that.
You just have to start by believing you can.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
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