Our special guest for episode 342 of the award-winning EDGE of the Web podcast was Robert Rose, Founder and Chief Troublemaker at The Content Advisory. Host Erin Sparks spoke with Robert about the latest innovations and trends in content marketing. Here’s what we learned:
Robert Rose: His Background and Experience
For more than 25 years, Robert has helped marketers tell their story more effectively through digital media. As the Founder of The Content Advisory, Robert has worked with more than 500 companies, including 15 of the Fortune 100. He’s provided strategic marketing advice and counsel for global brands such as Capital One, NASA, Dell, McCormick Spices, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The Content Advisory is the education and consulting group for The Content Marketing Institute (CMI). Robert’s third book, Killing Marketing, with co-author Joe Pulizzi, has been called the “book that rewrites the rules of marketing.” He and Joe also have a great podcast called This Old Marketing.
When Robert moved to Los Angeles 30 years ago, he did so with the intention of the being a rock start and screenwriter. When neither of those panned out, he turned to marketing. He worked in television a number of years, then served as the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) for a software company until 2008, when he met Joe Pulizzi. Robert’s marketing department at that software company was very non-traditional, it was more like a media department within the company with designers and writers and videographers and journalists. He was at a conference where it seemed like he and Joe Pulizzi were giving the same speech, and that speech was about content marketing. So I joined his emerging effort, which was the Content Marketing Institute. The Content Advisory is Robert’s own little spin-off company, still aligned with CMI.
Content Creation Needs an Operational Model
One of Robert’s pet peeves is the fact that content creation is simply not seen as a strategic function at most businesses. And yet what most companies make more of than anything else is content! It’s crazy to not consider it a strategic function of the business. And because it’s not seen as a strategic function, content creation doesn’t get what it needs the most—an operational model. It’s important enough to need rules, guidelines and protocols to organize it. Because so many companies don’t have an operational model for content creation, most of the content that gets created is really bad. It becomes everybody’s job and nobody’s strategy.
Something else that happens is trying to be in so many different spaces. Trying to be everywhere, a company chases its audiences across every channel and tries to scale to every channel. And what they end up with is just a little bit on everything and it’s not focused, there is no strategy behind it. Because they’re trying to be everywhere, they aren’t really anywhere. And that creation of content then becomes a total chase, and quality suffers.
Do Modern Consumers Have Content Expectations?
People mostly do NOT have content expectations in the larger sense. No one wakes up thinking they hope they’ll get to ready something cool about their Cheerios today. It’s more about what kind of experience they have when they do seek out information on a brand, and whether or not they kind that information and how well the information is presented. Rather than just drop-down lists of different kinds of resources you have available, think instead about developing content people will care about, that they want to receive. And make it a great experience. You want to do this so well that people have anticipatory delight about consuming your content, just like when you get excited during the theme song and opening sequence of a favorite TV show. You want people to feel excited because they know your content is going to be awesome. But unless you have unlimited resources, you can’t do that across every single channel. You have to pick and prioritize, not just channels, but what questions your content will answer. You can’t be on every channel and you can’t answer every question. When you try to do that, you end up with crappy content everywhere. Instead of just descending to average everywhere, aspire to excel in fewer areas. It’s hard, but you have to carefully choose where you’re going to be exceptional. You do not have to be on every channel in order to have an effective market strategy.
Dealing with Pushback from Other Departments
Of course, there can be some pushback from other areas of a company if you’ve been taking the non-strategic approach. When you suddenly back off from a bunch of channels to strategically focus on fewer, some will wonder what the heck is going because what they’re seeing now is less. The problem is they don’t have a nuanced understanding about quality versus quantity, so there is some education and positioning that needs to take place. No one in their right mind would walk into the CEO’s office and say, “Hey, instead of making just these three products we should make 1,000 different products and hope some of them work.” But this is exactly what non-strategic, non-focused content marketing ends up doing. It doesn’t take much to get people to see the difference.
Another thing you can do is when you have some raw material that’s fantastic, say a really great interview with a customer, think of how many things you can do with it. That tent pole piece of content that can be pulled apart and reused, repackaged, and ultimately turned into four infographics, five blog posts, a white paper, an eBook and all of those things. That changes the workflow and the governance of how content is created.
And then there’s the issue of what it costs. Ask a CFO what they’re spending on content creation and they will likely have no idea how to even run such a report. Content is so ubiquitous in a company and supports so many different things, and yet it is not typically tracked as an expense. For many companies, it is probably the most expensive thing no one has any idea what they’re actually spending on it!
But if you put a strategy and product development methodology around it, you can start to accurately track the cost. And then you can get efficient with it and start optimizing it. Start treating content the same way the company would treat any other product development project. And the same with a company website, make it a product and treat it that way. That’s how you operationalize content creation, and start thinking of the experience people have consuming it.
Content Creation Creep
Even when a company decides they’re going to take this kind of approach, it is so easily derailed by content creation creep. It goes like this: The sales guys say, “Ah, I don’t like the content that I’m getting from the marketing people. I’ll just create my own or I’ll hire my own agency and get content I need.” Over time the content production process becomes so disorganized and chaotic that it’s no longer strategic. And you’re right back into a lot of crappy content everywhere. This happen because most businesses still don’t see content as the core form of communication for the business. They see it as the responsibility of individuals in the business and therefore there is no institutional process for how it should be created, managed, activated, promoted, or measured.
Reining in Content Creation
Companies of any size can’t have just one or a few people who are the only ones that get to do content creation. You should have lots of involvement throughout the company from all sorts of people, with a big BUT: If you treat it as strategic as it needs to be treated, you would set up guidelines, protocols, training, and education so all those people get better at it. And this doesn’t mean you have to make it some kind of separate entity or department with its own reporting structure. You should be able to have this happening throughout the company with everyone still reporting within their departments as they always do. Being part of the content team should involve key performance indicators and feedback and performance evaluation and all of that, including rewards for good performance, but it can all happen within the departments and areas where the person is already embedded in the company.
It’s also true that treating content creation in this elevated way is at first going to feel very slow. Content production is just going to take longer until everyone gets used to the new way of doing things. That can be a rude awakening for people who weren’t expecting it. But the beauty of going through the pain of putting those systems in place is that when someone does need something new, you’ll be able to put it together quickly because you have everything you need organized and stored and ready to be repurposed or built. The slow-down is temporary while you implement systems that will speed things up once they’re properly implemented. And taking this approach will rock your world, in a good way.
Connect with Robert Rose and The Content Advisory (TCA)
Twitter: @Robert_Rose (https://twitter.com/Robert_Rose)
TCA Twitter: @TCAdvisory (https://twitter.com/TCAdvisory)
TCA Web: https://contentadvisory.net
TCA LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/thecontentadvisory
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