Content marketing’s moment has passed.
That’s not to say it’s any less relevant than it has been. In fact, every prediction I see (including a few made here) suggests content spend will grow exponentially over the next few years. And yet, marketing budgets make up only a fraction of the money spent on content by an organization in a given year.
Content is the currency companies use to communicate with the world; the marketing department is just the tip of the iceberg. Content itself is where the real growth lies.
At my company, Contently, we have a content team dedicated to maintaining our two digital magazines, which we use to establish thought leadership, generate leads, and build stronger relationships with our customers and potential customers. In that sense, we’re a fairly textbook case of content marketing in action.
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But earlier this year, the head of our sales team approached me with a proposal: Could the content team help with sales enablement?
The first thing I did was ask him what sales enablement was, terrified that he wanted a bunch of editors bringing him coffee. Sales enablement, he reassured me, is actually about arming salespeople with the tools they need to close business better and faster – which includes content like PowerPoint presentations, capabilities videos, and proposals.
Our content team already produces a gorgeous print magazine, he reasoned; why couldn’t we put those storytelling skills to work creating sales brochures and product manuals? After all, a sale is about telling a story – one that convinces the customer your product is necessary to solve a particular problem. And if you can turn something as boring as a product manual into a compelling narrative, that story gets a lot more convincing.A sale tells a story; convincing the customer your product is necessary to solve a problem. Click To Tweet
Turns out he was right. After some initial griping, the content team members realized they didn’t mind working on sales content. The quality of our sales materials improved dramatically, and working closely with sales helped the content team come up with better story ideas for our magazines. It was, as they say in business school, a virtuous cycle.
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It wasn’t long before other parts of the business took notice. HR wondered whether we could use content to identify, recruit, and train new employees. Could we show high-demand talent that our organization is committed to new ideas and helping our employees grow? Our reach and influence in marketing continued to expand across our organization.
With expertise in crafting storylines and engaging an audience, marketers are fast becoming internal educators and influencers. Chris Johnson, co-founder of Uncubed, a start-up whose online learning platform features digital skills courses taught by brands, explains the shift this way: “Brands built newsrooms in the first wave of content marketing … In the next wave, they’ll build schoolrooms.”Brands built newsrooms in the first wave of #contentmarketing. Next, schoolrooms says @getuncubed Click To Tweet
Contently is just one example of a company leveraging content outside the marketing department, but I’m convinced we represent a growing trend. Content’s spread shouldn’t be surprising. It follows a similar pattern to the spread of digital media in the early 2000s, and to a slightly lesser extent that of social media later in the last decade. In response to these trends, most companies created what they called digital centers of excellence (COE) to focus on creating methodologies, tools, and best practices that could be shared across the enterprise. What we’re seeing now are companies doing the same thing with content.
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Cross-enterprise content center of excellence
Building a multidisciplinary content center of excellence (or its equivalent) is hardly simple. There are challenges related to collaboration, staffing, quality control, oversight, distribution, and measurement – particularly because all the various incarnations of content exist in silos (e.g., sales, marketing, HR, customer service). The most successful companies tackle the challenge from the C-level – meaning the concept of content as an enterprise-wide asset gets full support from not only the CMO, but also the CEO and chief technology officer, among others.
To support the idea, some companies create entirely new internal departments, often run by a chief content officer; however, it’s much more likely the onus of responsibility falls to the CMO. Those with the storytelling skill required to pull it off tend to work in marketing – especially in companies that have been investing in content marketing for a couple of years.
Managing quality control and oversight tends to require a technology solution – particularly when content creation is dispersed across a large organization. Getting a piece of content out the door requires many steps and many sets of eyes – a process that becomes more cumbersome in larger organizations. The person responsible for deciding whether a particular phrase sounds right is rarely the person who decides whether it’s on-brand … or whether it’s legally compliant.
Getting all that great content into the hands of people who can use it might seem easy, but it’s a massive challenge, especially in bigger organizations with entrenched silos. The most effective solutions usually involve some kind of cloud-based hub, where employees can log in and find the content they’re looking for. Sometimes though, it’s as simple as an email.
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Finally, there’s measurement – determining how content is helping each division work more effectively and more efficiently. I’ve noticed a lot of overlap between traditional content marketing metrics (things like number of readers, finish rate, or attention time) and metrics appropriate for non-marketing content. Many companies also lean heavily on production data – how many stories were created, how quickly were they approved, etc. – to determine how effectively they’re scaling content across the broader company.
For marketing executives used to getting short shrift in sales and finance-driven organizations, content centers of excellence increase their exposure and influence outside their own division, and help make the case for marketing ROI. Yes, content marketing will continue to grow; but it’s time for marketers to demonstrate content’s value across the organization – and reap the benefits of their own content savvy.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Chief Content Officer