THE PUBLISHER´S MINDSET
1. FOCUS ON THE MISSION, NOT ATTENTION.
Be like the best publishers.
There is nothing bad in grabbing attention if you are an advertiser and your job is to put an ad on TV or a billboard on the street. But when you embrace content as your relationship-builder on a long-term basis, you cannot only focus on that.
Chose an editorial mission and stick to that. What does “mission” mean? It is the role your content will play to manifest your brand essence and deliver meaning to your customers. Your commitment to the editorial mission will inspire others to join you on a journey. As a brand, you need to know what you stand for.
Your content must consequently and consistently reflect that. It seems trivial, but it is not. Once content becomes a performance marketing tactic, you will be tempted to try whatever message, format, content “stunt” to get that click that makes your marketing work, even things that have nothing to you with you, but resonate well with the audience (think: dog and kittens-content, for instance).
Grabbing attention with a great creative idea by a marketing genius like Ogilvy is one thing: doing that every day might cause poor content and a poor experience for your customers. The social feed is cruel and you compete against millions of attention-grabbing pieces of content.
2. THINK IDEA, NOT FORMAT.
First, the story you want to tell, to whom and why.
Then, how this can become an article, a video and so on. It is still too common to hear, in marketing meetings, the request to produce some video or - it is cool now! - a podcast, or a clubhouse session. You should never produce content because it is cool, okay?
But content marketing agencies are guilty of that, too. How many have you heard telling you about the latest “content trends?”. One year, it is about bold typography, the other it is about infographics, then the suggestion comes to go for Instagram-like stories. Trends should not dictate your choices, but the empathy with consumers. Immerse yourself in the life of your audience. That is the only trend that matters.
There is one more thing that I tell you, really, not to do. Do not use one of those content marketing models like the “content pyramid". They suggest this pattern: you start with one core piece of content and then maximize the output by making all micro-content based on that. This will happen: you will produce too much content, well beyond what needed. Content development is not about pyramids, but portfolios: pieces of content not “derived”, but selected and planned to pursue - each of them - one clear goal.
3. PROCESS MATTERS. TAKE CARE OF YOUR CONTENT OPERATIONS.
Successful content is not only about ideas and creative execution. That can be enough for one-off, occasional lighthouse projects. But content marketing is a daily commitment, like news and publishing. That needs proven processes. The better the processes, the bigger the room for sparks of creativity.
More and more brands understand the importance of operational excellence in content. Some still think a robust tool - such as a content marketing platform - will make alone the miracle to shape better processes. That is not true. You need intelligence, data, and skilled people dedicated to the processes.
Content operations experts come from media and newsroom. They can develop, document processes, and educate the organizations about roles and rules, routines and cadence. They know what content commissioning means - much more than writing creative briefs -. Content operation executives take care of stuff like rights management.
Consistency matters, and it cannot rely only on some people you hire. People can leave. Processes last longer. Have faith in the process: combined with a sound editorial mission, the process will allow you to run content year long and effective.
4. CONTENT GOVERNANCE: MEET THE CHIEF CONTENT OFFICER.
Different contents sit in different departments, and they often work in silos. To those departments, the only means of consistency is the brand book. Sophisticated brands have transformed the brand book into a digital brand concierge, where brand assets, rules and best practices are maintained and approval workflows establish.
In other companies, some centralised content departments exist to ensure they produce content at speed and consistency. Their focus is more on operations and less on content strategy: often, they are “factories”, made to deliver an internal service at a lower cost than a third party agency.
No matter where your content makers sit across departments, in-house or outsourced, it is a matter of fact that more content means also noise and inconsistency. To avoid that, you need governance over ideation, execution and processes. Brand governance is not enough. You need Content governance.
That is the job of a Chief Content Officer.
You do not need to be a media company to hire a CCO.
WHAT IS CONTENT GOVERNANCE AND
WHY YOU NEED SOMEONE DEDICATED TO THAT.
Content governance means to ensure that all content - marketing, sales collaterals, customer communications, Pr and UX copy - consistently reflect the brand proposition and are infused by its values, following the same playbook; that content delivers value to audiences and customers.
Content governance happens when you give someone full ownership and accountability for content, independently from where the content creators sit. As the owner of the content, the Chief Content Officer does not need to be the one authoring, editing or policing all content.
Instead, she develops both the content strategy and the playbook and coordinates the processes of developing, distributing and measuring content against expected outcomes. Since many content-related processes take place across departments and organizations, there is a lot of communication and alignment involved. You need someone for that.
Most times, a Chief Content Officer is the one that developed those processes from scratch and the organization that will make content happen (in-house, outsourced, mixed). That means, the CCO is about organizational management, not creativity. It is about vision and leadership.. The CCO is a leader and a coach that encourages others to develop ideas and stories. It is very much an educational role, whose purpose is to instil a culture of content also in departments that have little to do with it (e.g. sales or customer service).
Where does a CCO sit? Not necessarily under a CMO, although this is the most common position. Ideally, the role should sit outside of the line departments to clarify that content is not only about marketing or communication or product. Where do you find a CCO? Since the role is relatively new for many brands, there is not a usual background to that. If the focus is on storytelling, it could be filled with someone with a journalistic background. If the focus is on branding, former agency professionals can fit. When the focus is on management and content operations, former media executive veterans like me fit better.
THE TECH AND THE DATA
5. THE TECH AND THE DATA.
The Chief Content Officer is also the one with the power to reclaim control over data. Data-driven content marketing is not an extension of performance marketing analytics. Content analytics is more than impressions, CTR, bounce rate and social engagement metrics.
Too often, content makers rely upon reports that are not made for them: poor, limited and setup by IT departments.
Who controls content must also control how content is measured and how data reporting works. You need analytics product owners in your brand newsroom: people that know to data collection works and how to master analytics reporting. Not users (or superusers) but business owners with technical understanding.
Also, you need "content engineers": professionals that know the hardware side of content: metadata management, digital asset management, DRM and advanced content management, digital delivery, UX. Those people speak the language of product management and know the difference between a traditional CMS and a headless CMS.
I do not want to make confusion here among different backgrounds, but it is a matter of fact that the best performing digital content departments have a mixed skills portfolio that includes authors, product owners and coders. So it was at the dawn of the web: bloggers used to code their web pages and were used to the markup language.
I call content marketers to go back to the roots and to make, from there, a jump to the future of publishing: putting code and content together, authorship and design side by side, data skills and editorial sensibility on the same level. The best content marketing needs to take inspiration from the best publishers, not from the worst marketers.
6. BACK TO THE ROOTS OF CONTENT MARKETING.
Since 2009, consultancy firms like Forrester, thought-leadership magazines like the Harvard Business Review, and professionals like me, have been calling brands to act like publishers.
In the last years, we all went off track, with our obsession to be omnichannel and social-first.
Things are changing for the better. For publishers, the shift to audience-first media models, in particular with subscription-based models, is an opportunity to return to the primacy of content as the main business driver: not a tool to collect eyeballs and data for ads re-targeting, but a value per se that consumers will pay.
For brands, the cookie-less world means they need to connect with consumers and collect first-party data: data that you, as a consumer, release against valuable content and experience. After all, you do not subscribe to a corporate newsletter to get crap content.
Valuable, relevant, meaningful content: only with that will brands be able to establish long term connections, and transform them into commercial relationships. That is why content marketing, as we know it, needs to transform. And let people forget it is marketing.