Transforming Marketing: The Future of Content, Teams, and Technology

Transforming Marketing: The Future of Content, Teams, and Technology

by Shafqat Islam

6 minute read

NewsCred CEO and Co-founder Shafqat Islam shared these remarks at ThinkContent New York 2018.

Content marketing, as an industry, has taken more than 10 years to emerge and mature. But it’s here now.  

There’s no longer a question about whether brands need to be creating content. CEOs and CMOs are investing substantially in content. But that means that the stakes are higher. Right now, as an industry, we’re pretty good. But we have the opportunity to be great.


Shafqat Islam, CEO and Co-founder, NewsCred, at ThinkContent New York 2018

Going from Good to Great

At last year’s ThinkContent, I spoke about how content marketing is entering the era of performance. The goal is no longer just to be creating content. Marketers must be able to tie content to revenue and business results.

This matters, more now than ever. Marketers are producing an incredible amount of content. The market is saturated. The human capacity to seek out, understand, and digest that content is outweighed by the sheer amount. 

Last year, BuzzSumo analyzed 100 million blog posts and found that only 50 percent had more than four shares. And just five percent of all content that brands created resulted in 90 percent of all engagement. 

In the sea of sameness, our content needs to be memorable and meaningful. How can we create more of that five percent?

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Today, customers are finding us through every digital touchpoint. Yet, we continue to organize marketing teams into silos, making it difficult to create a cohesive, omnichannel experience for our audience.

A recent Sirius Decisions study found that just 17 percent of marketers would rate themselves as “advanced” in strategy and planning. For operations, just 10 percent would.

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We have a hypothesis: High-performing teams create high-performing content. But how do we form those teams?

Creating Elite Teams

I’ve spent the last year reading books, research, and blog posts about how we can work more efficiently. My favorite is the book “Team of Teams,” by retired U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, who was Commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in Iraq from 2003 to 2008.

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“Team of Teams” is not a war story. It’s a leadership parable about what happens when an old way of working comes face-to-face with the new world we live in. The resolution is a framework that we can apply to all teams, including yours.

When JSOC arrived in Iraq, it had a hierarchical structure similar to every organization since the Industrial Revolution: You get people to learn a skill and have them perform the same tasks over and over again. It’s specialization plus repetition. But it doesn’t work when the world becomes more complex.

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In Iraq, the U.S. was effective at first, but soon encountered setbacks. It was up against a network that was adapting and growing in the modern era. McChrystal knew he had to change his approach. First, he tried to improve processes, but found that didn’t work. Then, he moved to an integrated team of teams model.

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The principle is that small teams have high degrees of trust. They’re nimble and they’re adaptable. A lot of companies have good teams but can’t scale them across their organizations. But if you connected those teams and created a network model that was fused together with a common purpose and high degrees of trust, those teams would be more adaptable and able to work smarter and faster. 

Two principles enable the shift to a team of teams: shared consciousness and decision-making pushed to the edge of the organization. Here’s what that looks like:

Shared consciousness is the result of extreme transparency and visibility. It’s when everyone in an organization is aligned, thanks to a constant flow of accurate information to every individual. 

In JSOC’s case, it used to hold a daily call between headquarters and Iraq. The managers on the call would pass down the information to their direct reports, who would then brief their reports, and so on. But they found they were in meetings all day and didn’t have time to fight. JSOC then moved to one daily video conference call with 7,500 people around the world dialed in. McChrystal said it was the most productive change they made because everyone knew what happened the night before and what would happen that day.

This allowed McChrystal to push decision-making to the edges of the organization, to the people on the ground who had direct knowledge about the conditions. And it worked. Before, JSOC used to run four campaigns every month, and McChrystal approved each one. When it left, it was running 300 a month and McChrystal didn’t approve a single one.

Here’s another example of how the “team of teams” model works outside of the military.

Have you ever gone to a doctor and been told, “I think I know what’s wrong, but you need to see a specialist”? And then that specialist refers you to another specialist. And so on. What if all those doctors were in the same room and could make decisions quickly?

The Mayo Clinic is a medical center that offers team-based care. It’s even written into its values. 

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For the Mayo Clinic, the team of teams concept isn’t just theoretical. When you bring teams of teams together, magical things happen.

What Does This Mean for Marketing Teams?

Marketers know that the world is changing at a fast clip. Technology has transformed the world; customers have never been more fickle or empowered.

The team of teams framework results in adaptability, speed, and better results. For marketers, that speed is crucial.

What happens if we don’t adapt? Just ask Blockbuster. It had the opportunity to purchase Netflix for $50 million back in 2000. But it declined. Blockbuster thought the world was complicated but not complex. It didn’t believe that everyone would want to stream movies from their computers. Blockbuster thought it could use its marketing might to flood the market with ads, but it underestimated humans’ abilities to adapt to new technology.

Or take the film industry. If you were in the digital camera business 10 years ago, you thought everything was great.

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But here’s five years later. Change never stops.

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Transforming the way we work must start with leaders. We need to rely on employees to grasp the mission, build trust, and live our company values. Gardeners can’t force plants to grow, but they can set up plants for success. Take an eyes-on but hands-off approach. Empower your team.

Technology can help drive this change. It can give people a common understanding of what the plan is, who’s making the changes, and what the goals are.

There are five ways in which technology can help: 
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There’s magic in small teams. If you expand the common purpose and trust from one small team to an entire organization, it will lift the human spirit in the workplace and in society. Content teams have a big opportunity to lead this transformation. Every marketing function requires content. To create that unified customer experience, companies need to enable and orchestrate content across silos and teams. Content teams can step up and drive this real, transformational change.

It’s also our opportunity to create meaningful content that has a profound impact on our audience. As marketers, we’re responsible for launching and using a lot of ad products that ruined the internet. But we can create content so meaningful that we can make the internet – and the world – better.

Watch all the sessions from ThinkContent New York 2018 here.


Shafqat Islam is NewsCred’s CEO and Co-founder.