I often hear that word when I ask what’s wrong with an organization’s marketing and content operations.
Think about how ideas get transformed into marketing messages, integrated into content assets, and disseminated onto channels. That process usually starts with a small team – or even one person. Next, a leader somewhere in the company establishes a set of overall themes or campaigns to communicate value. Then, those priorities make their way to the edges of the organization, where they are transformed into content (with varying degrees of efficiency).
At least, that’s the way it’s supposed to work.
Spoiler alert: It usually doesn’t.
Ideas are invisible until they’re content
Businesses often fall into the “content strategy trap,” where content is everybody’s job but nobody’s strategy. And that leads to a challenging workflow and problematic outcomes.
A slow or strict content workflow may prompt the public-facing edges of the organization (i.e., sales teams, regional offices, customer service reps, or PR/comms) to seek a different solution. They end up creating their own content based on what they think the main messages are. A push-pull battle ensues where these public-facing teams create content to “get stuff done,” but content leaders see them as going rogue.
In contrast, a lax or frequently changing approach (where priorities and themes shift often) causes teams in the middle (i.e., brand, marketing, digital) to resort to patching things together. But the ideas from all the various groups doing the patching rarely pull together to create a meaningful whole.
In both situations, all practitioners face the same challenge – visibility. They can’t see what’s coming, who’s doing what, or even what’s working.
Fear of collaboration sinks content initiatives
That missing visibility comes from the lack of a proper content strategy. But the real disease – or, rather, a phobia – is the fear of collaboration.
I typically see this fear manifest itself in three ways:
1. Fear of loss of control
I worked with a tech firm where the product marketing and engineering team set the core messaging. The team established the thought leadership agenda, marketing messaging, value proposition, and product campaign themes. They structured these initiatives into proposed product launches, updates, and themes for the marketing campaign team to execute.
The content ideas made their way to a content team, which engaged external agencies and analysts to create them. But when product or theme changes happened, the edges of their organization (such as the global regions and field marketing) didn’t find out about the new content until months later.
They didn’t want a more collaborative approach involving the field marketing teams, for example. They prioritized consistency of messaging over time to market.
Unfortunately, they achieved neither.
2. Fear of too much process
A medical device company I worked with struggled to publish high-quality content consistently. The PR/comms team ran an interesting influencer program. The product marketing team worked with an agency to produce brochures and spec sheets. The content team worked with analysts and subject matter experts to write white papers. But none of the teams worked together. Though pockets of excellent content existed, mostly mediocre content from across the siloed organization ended up on their digital channels.
A more collaborative, cross-functional approach sounded horrible to them. They told me, “If we put that much into the process, we’d never get anything done. It will slow us down too much.”
But by not widening their process, they ensured that the excellent content each team produced would remain siloed and unseen by many. Instead of leveraging fewer, better pieces of content across all channels, they had more –but average – content in each channel.
3. Fear of failure
I once worked with a consulting firm where each practice area managed its content marketing. Each had its own way of covering topics and creating content. But they wrote about the same topics and competed for audience attention.
When we suggested wrapping each practice’s knowledge and thought leadership into a single channel, each group revealed its fear that their collective ideas wouldn’t be “good enough” in the view of the other practices.
Unfortunately, they let that fear outweigh the benefits of working together.
So, how can you make sure your organization’s collaboration fears don’t sink your content goals?
Content supply chain visibility
The world of logistics teaches a wonderful lesson. Many companies struggle with the visibility of their supply chain – from raw materials to finished products. And that makes it challenging to manage the cost of their products and customers’ evolving needs.
To address this challenge, logistics companies now use tech-based supply chain visibility and collaboration solutions that let them track a product from raw materials to manufacturing and into customers’ hands.
In a similar way, adding visibility into the content process can help organizations get over the fear of collaboration. One productive way to do this to introduce a content collaboration tool to the workflow process. These tools provide visibility and access not only to content that’s ready to publish but also to content that’s still in production. It gives everyone into what’s available and what’s going to be available.
Embrace the mess
A content strategy doesn’t have to be a templated assembly line. And content collaboration can happen without giving up control, adding stifling bureaucracy, or exposing weaknesses.
The key is to acknowledge the way content is created, managed, and activated is messy. It can be OK if the regional offices do their own thing, a group of subject matter experts creates stuff that they don’t share readily, or every group uses a different agency to get things done.
But what’s not OK is that one team doesn’t know what the others are doing. You must have a communication mechanism (whether a person, technology, or both) to make sure everyone knows what the regional offices, the subject matter experts, and external agencies are doing.
I often use the metaphor of air traffic control. If, as a business, you can see all the planes in the sky, the ones about to take off, and the ones landing now, you can make decisions that take your colleagues’ work into consideration. That’s a form of collaboration.
Now, content strategists might find their eyes twitching at all that mess. I understand. Ideally, you want to direct all the planes to make sure no crashes happen. That can come next.
Building a modern content strategy that encourages collaboration at the first steps of ideation and creation can be overwhelming. Sometimes, getting over that fear requires taking that one step.
Make everything visible.
If nothing else happens, it will give you the courage to take that second important step: Build the process to start managing the planes.
It’s your story. Tell it well.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
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