A version of this article appeared in the June 2015 Chief Content Officer magazine in an exploration of the debate between machined and handcrafted content. The questions were supplied by Clare McDermott, CCO’s managing editor. My argument for handcrafted content is in these answers below. Want to hear the machined-content side? Read Ann Rockley’s response at our blog.
What’s the future of content creation?
The future of content creation is a powerful blend of technology and technique. Most organizations embrace the former, so the latter will become a bigger priority in the coming years. Marketers will realize the days of being first and/or loudest are over, and stop seeking shortcuts and efficiencies that hurt quality; instead they will hire, train, and promote individuals capable of being creatively brilliant and prolific.
You’ve talked about the craft of content creation. What do you mean?
I’ve used the term craft when describing the one painfully obvious part of content marketing that brands and marketers bizarrely overlook or shy away from – the more creative the humans behind the content, the better the piece. Or said in a more pithy way: The robots haven’t replaced the writers, no matter how much brands wish this was a technology problem, not a hiring problem.
And just like any endeavor in which giving a damn is a separating factor, there’s a certain level of craftsmanship behind this style of content marketing. Unfortunately, because we want to automate everything and because we don’t understand (or perhaps don’t care to understand) fluffy notions like creativity, we wind up hurting our own causes.
So instead of blaming the technology or the tactic when things go wrong, I’d like to see us invest more in better-trained, more creative human beings capable of producing truly great content. Those organizations that over-invest in distribution and under-invest in production wind up trying to make dud missiles fly, and when that doesn’t work, they slather more paint on the hull. The great content marketers, however, will revisit the actual circuitry — they start by creating something that can really take off in the first place. They’re better equipped to examine the circuitry of what makes content great.
Does scale and automation kill craft?
It depends on what you mean by scale since that’s a relative term. Does content marketing scale like PPC can scale? Absolutely not! You can’t rip out the human component to content and automate the core competency, which is producing media and telling stories.
But can technology and good process and training help you scale content beyond what you’re likely doing today? Yes, a million times, yes. On the tools side alone, we’re already seeing more companies and resources emerge to help with the physical content creation, which supplements all the tools already available for workflow, distribution, and analytics. Some of my favorite content creation tools and resources include Canva and Infogr.am for design, Directr for video, Unsplash for photography, and Grammarly, Byword, and Hemingwrite for writing.
But without the right mentality, marketers equate scaling content marketing with taking shortcuts and producing more volume at the expense of quality. For these organizations, scale essentially means shoveling more coal into the engine of a crappy content factory. With the SEED approach, scale is about consistency, quality, experimentation and testing, and better, deeper connections to more of their audiences. If they increase volume, it’s because they’ve mastered quality output and have goals to achieve both in serving an audience and in converting them.
These four elements – something I call the SEED approach – are essential elements of great content creation.
Do you understand the actual, practical approaches to creating great content? Are you trained to write, design, shoot video, and produce audio from a creative and technical standpoint? Have you practiced? Have you mastered the right tools and the right techniques?
Are you finding and stealing from – yes, stealing from – enough inspirational sources? Do you read 100% industry blogs or are you expanding your repertoire with your content and experiential intake throughout your week?
The very best way to stay well-rounded with your intake is to learn and borrow from all kinds of sources. Creativity is about idea generation, which is a learned skill, but starts with the ability to connect multiple, seemingly disparate things.
Is this a chore or do you find actual enjoyment in the process of creating content? Great content marketers naturally love to produce, but great leadership can help motivate a team to improve its production process regardless of its natural outlook, whether by celebrating creative risks and quality work or by communicating workflow tips and providing training. This is all in the name of both quality and quantity, both creativity and metrics. When you feel you’re doing meaningful work and actually enjoy producing content, your extrinsic goals – whether calculating the total output, hitting metrics, or growing your career – are also better served.
This is all about the desire to keep learning and experimenting. Are you in constant acquisition mode with your own skills or do you master one medium and stop? You’ll get steamrolled by the wave of innovation constantly moving our industry forward. Do you hack away at side projects or take creative risks for your job or do you constantly look backward at what worked and merely try to replicate and play it safe? To succeed in this industry, you need to constantly reinvent yourself and your output.
If the answer to any of the above was, “No, we don’t have that on our team,” you should seek training, install processes, or hire to fill those gaps. And while technology can certainly help and support that, the core is still very much the domain of living, breathing humans who create great work.
Ready to create the machined-content side of the debate? Read Ann Rockley’s response in the Intelligent Content blog. Want to learn more about intelligent content? Sign up for the weekly email newsletter with exclusive content from CMI Chief Strategy Officer Robert Rose.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute
Please note: All tools included in our blog posts are suggested by authors, not the CMI editorial team. No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).