Marketers are having a hard time with content creation.
This isn’t a secret. In fact, B2B marketers – a group responsible for producing a significant portion of some of the web’s most confusing content – have a pretty good idea of why it’s happening: they don’t have a plan.
A recent survey by the Content Marketing Institute / MarketingProfs found that while 93% of B2B marketers use content marketing, only 42% say they are effective at it…and within the ineffective group, 84% also admitted that they have no documented content strategy.
It’s not entirely their fault – with an array of established and emerging channels at play, the amount of content a brand needs increases exponentially every year. In that context, it’s not surprising that marketers aren’t taking time to craft a 652 step content strategy.
None of this particularly groundbreaking, but it does suggest that one of the thorniest problems for the modern marketer and brand is creating content at scale – in other words, in massive amounts, quickly, and efficiently.
While quantity and speed are crucial, the other, less talked about byproduct of not planning is poor quality content.
What happens when you don’t plan, and try to create content at scale anyway…
If you’ve ever been involved in a design project that doubled in budget and scope, you’re probably already familiar with what’s next.
People become unsure of what they’re expected to do, the goals for the project change but no one really lays out why or how, and tempers flare. Of course that can happen on any project, but when there’s a pipeline that consistently demands new content, and at a high volume, this gets even trickier.
Typically, most brands fall into one of three areas when it comes to content strategy:
- Well developed
>At this level, creating content at scale is mostly about execution. There’s a creative brief for each project or set of projects that includes the script/story and exact dimensions per format, a set number of revisions or mocks, and a process for review and approval.
>The story is well defined, maps to a larger insight or storyline for the brand, and concerns and questions typically center on making sure the tone and aesthetic of copy and imagery / illustrations / animation fits the brand.
*Caveat: many brands are still learning how to define channels and formats, and how to tell stories in a native environment, like Twitter. This sometimes means you are partially in the next category…e.g. if you are starting to use Instagram for the first time. More in a bit on how you can quickly get momentum in that scenario .
- “Sort of”
>This level applies to brands that are in the beginning stages of storytelling, and creating content that can be applied across channels. Creative briefs may not be completely laid out, including formats and dimensions for each piece (e.g. “Whatever you think makes the most sense in terms of how to break up this infographic into smaller pieces for Twitter and Facebook.”)
Concerns here include:
– Difficulty repurposing content across channels, as well as properly leveraging micro-content.
– Hard to align insights / stories, muddy connection between creative process and overall metrics / audience growth (the Much Dreaded ROI).
-Engaging designers, journalists/writers, and other creatives is messy – doubling back is common in the creative process, expectations are unclear, and communication and collaboration suffer.
- No content strategy at all
This is the kind of nightmare scenario that all writers and designers fear. There’s no consistency in the stories or insights shared, and very little connection to audiences or end goals / metrics.
At this level a skilled project manager is almost a requirement in order to keep the project(s) focused. The creative process suffers, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to achieve high volume and quick deadlines, unless you’re willing to jettison quality altogether.
Marketers and brands in that last category in particular need a fast, flexible, easy to iterate structure for creating content and they need help defining a testing process that they can feed back into their strategy / storytelling.
So what would a lightweight, flexible structure for creating content at scale actually look like?
In a series of posts we’ll explore how you can start to quickly create content at scale, but first let’s start with the truth: developing a comprehensive content strategy is important.
Content strategy can’t be hacked together in a few days. It takes time, discipline, and there is a learning curve. A good starting point is the 652 step content strategy plan we mentioned earlier – or if you’re really looking to dig in, Andy Crestodina of Chicago’s Orbit Media produced an excellent, and easy to use, illustrated guide to content marketing. Both will help you define a strategy for medium and long term success with your content.
If you’re in that middle category we mentioned, aka you “sort of” have a content strategy, this series should help you better define and tweak what you’re doing.
If you haven’t gotten that far yet, we’ll help you put together a fast, flexible framework that you can use and test immediately. The goal here is to get moving but not step on your own toes for when you do have the time and resources to create a content strategy.
Among the topics we’ll explore:
Finding relevant stories / insight
There’s a rich ecosystem of data and stories available to any brand, both internally and externally. We’ll look at things like SEO and analytics insights, customer development, internal data sets, more traditional competitive market research, along with internal culture and aspirational / external culture.
Visually charting out stories for the year
Being able to see connections in your overall stories / insights is important. This is a step that many marketers skip, and as a result a good deal of data and strategy lives in word documents and spreadsheets. We’ll look at how you can visually represent the ecosystem you want your brand to exist within, and some tools and practical examples of how to get it done.
Defining formats / channels
We’ll look at learning to tell stories natively within each medium, how to quickly figure out what each channel is best suited for, and how to break down larger stories and insights into micro-content that audiences actually want to see / hear / experience.
Defining & setting metrics that actually matter
Marketers are drowning in data. Even for the smallest, from scratch company there’s a wide array of information accessible, and signal vs. noise is more important than ever. We’ll dig into the lean analytics approach – specifically, how to set comparable, actionable metrics that you can connect to both your content and the process of creating it.
Executing on content creation without wasting time or sacrificing creativity
Finally, we’ll dig into the creative process and identify what a good outline for a project looks like, as well as how to make sure that expectations are set correctly, and a team works well together.
If it’s time for your brand to get serious about Content Marketing – stay tuned for the next post in this series.
Joe Cardillo is a NewsCred contributor and former product/ops guy now doing comms & strategy for the New Mexico Compass, as well as moonlighting for startups in content/growth/analytics. He digs media, design, data, PR/marketing, rocanroll, anything science-y, and thinking about how to become a better human. You can find Joe on Twitter, Google+, and Medium.