By Joe Pulizzi published May 26, 2014

6 Steps to Managing Internal Change for Content Marketing

man walking tightrope-stepsTrue change happens within, not without” —Eckhart Tolle

For nearly 15 years, I’ve been involved in the industry we now refer to as content marketing. But it’s only been the past few years that this practice has started to take center stage in marketing departments across the globe. I’ve been blessed to see this firsthand in North America, in Asia Pacific, and in Europe (in fact, as I type, I’m currently sitting in Sweden).

To be honest, part of me continues to be astonished about how far we’ve come. And yet, we have still so far to go.

In many organizations around the world, content marketing is still being viewed as a special project, something that’s first implemented as a test case, or even an experiment. And even in some of the best-known content marketing cases, content responsibilities are marginalized — designated to one department or silo, in one corporate office, in one product area.

Just this week, a senior-level marketing executive at a Fortune 500 company made this statement to me [paraphrased]: “Joe, what will you do after this whole content marketing thing dies out? Do you have plans for your future?

I’ve been thinking about the above situation a lot since that conversation. Of course, it implies that content marketing is temporary… that it’s just one more thing marketers need to do, for now, until we can go back to business as usual.

Maybe the issue is that there’s just not a clear understanding of the approach of content marketing itself. But it honestly doesn’t matter. What these perceptions have made me realize is that content marketing success is entirely about change. Content marketing is something different, and anything different in a mid-to-large enterprise is difficult to implement. So if what we’re doing isn’t getting the respect it deserves, we need to be the ones who make changes.

Making change happen

I’m sure this is nothing new to those who work for large-sized organizations. You’ve been fighting the good fight to get more budget for content marketing activities all along. But now I’m going to ask you to do more — to take it up a notch.

Why you? Why now? Here’s what we know: In 90 percent of the advisory projects that Content Marketing Institute gets called in to assist with, the person championing the effort is not a key decision maker in the marketing organization (you may want to read that again to make sure it sinks in). This means that in almost all cases, the change needs to start with you, rather than you waiting for it to come down from above. If you don’t take charge, who in your organization will?

Here are some key issues I’d like you to focus on as you think about your organization’s approach to content marketing (hat tip to this change management article which, curiously enough, is content marketing from PwC).

Involving every layer of your organization

Content marketing doesn’t just impact the marketing department. If you are like most organizations, you have content creators in PR, corporate communications, human resources, IT, and most likely among many of the rank-and-file. You are not separate from these people. Identify the lead content creators within each one of these “silos” and start talking to them. Start by scheduling a meeting to make sure everyone understands each other’s goals.

Why is this important? Because before we can move forward, we have to clearly understand where we are right now.

Making the business case

Robert Rose, Chief Strategist at Content Marketing Institute, has made the argument that the content marketing business case involves the same components and considerations as any other proper business plan:

  1. What’s the need? What do you hope to accomplish with your content marketing?
  2. How big a need is it? Big enough to build an entire plan around it?
  3. What’s the business model? How does it work? What do you have to do?
  4. What’s your differentiating value? Why is this initiative more important than other things on which you’re spending resources?
  5. What are the risks? What’s in the way of success — or what happens if you fail?
  6. How will we show proof? Ultimately, will this be a sales increase, a major cost savings, or will customers stay longer or buy more.

Taking your case to senior management

Ultimately, content marketing will never truly be effective until it switches from a bottom-up consideration to top-down priority. Right now, your marketing department is in flux. People are doing new things, and are stopping some activities that simply aren’t needed anymore. Some people will be let go, and others will be hired.

A content marketing approach, and its mission, needs to be mandated at some point. While it may not happen at first, getting your business case in front of them is, at the very least, a great place to start. Make it happen sooner rather than later.

Convincing the C-Suite to support content marketing doesn’t have to be intimidating. Check out our starter kit,Mastering the Buy-in Conversation on Content Marketing for stats, tips, and essential talking points.

Creating ownership

Ultimately, we see content marketing not as a silo that works independently from the other groups but rather as a horizontal practice area that works with and through the organization. Someone needs to lead this charge and be the evangelist (think Jonathan Mildenhall at Coca-Cola or Rick Short at Indium).

Communicating the message

Speaking of Jonathan Mildenhall, almost everyone in marketing knows about his Content 2020 project. What you may not know is that this was an internal training exercise. The purpose was to get all the marketing folks at Coca-Cola and all their agency partners on the same page in terms of what the content marketing approach would be for Coke.

When you are ready, you need to create the “blue mission statement” — similar to what Tom Cruise’s character did in the movie Jerry McGuire. It doesn’t have to be as fancy as what Coca-Cola produced, but it needs to be clear, inspirational, and highly shareable within your organization. Where so many content marketers go wrong with their approach is that they neglect to communicate their vision to the rest of the organization.

Preparing for bumps in the road

As we often say, content marketing is a marathon, not a sprint. This goes for the actual execution, as well as the internal changes that need to happen in order for our approach to shift. While you may not have “change manager” in your job description, this is your responsibility as much as it is anyone else’s in your organization. Start with the basics — particularly, with making the business case — and then begin the rest of the process. Even if you can only change one or two people’s perception in your organization through your initial efforts, that may be the essential spark that gets the fire started.

I would love to hear what you have done in your organization that’s cleared the way for a new content approach. Please share your own experiences in the comments below.

Want to learn more about what it takes to implement a successful content marketing program in your organization? Register now for CMI’s upcoming webinar, Getting Buy-In from the C-Suite.

Cover image via Bigstock

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi is the Founder of Content Marketing Institute, a UBM company, the leading education and training organization for content marketing, which includes the largest in-person content marketing event in the world, Content Marketing World. Joe is the winner of the 2014 John Caldwell Lifetime Achievement Award from the Content Council. Joe’s the author of five books, including his latest, Killing Marketing. His third book, Epic Content Marketing was named one of “Five Must Read Business Books of 2013” by Fortune Magazine. If you ever see Joe in person, he’ll be wearing orange. Follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • Peter Dorfman

    Am I the only one who finds “A Call to Arms” a little tone-deaf on Memorial Day”?

    • Michele Linn

      That was completely unintentional, but you have a great point. As a result, we updated the title. Thanks for the comment.

  • Jen McGahan

    Love learning from you, Joe. I’m on the side of the smaller business, helping them understand how to implement a content marketing approach in their business without the huge team of creatives and no need to answer to the C-suite (because they are usually owners and entrepreneurs themselves). So my opportunities to educate people are different, but similar. Many days I feel like I’m preaching to a mostly empty room, but the ones who get it are wonderful to work with! I keep coming back to that saying that fish have no concept of water because they’re too close to it. I think that the companies who really take to it will be successful because they swim in content. The ones who think of it as a marketing “tactic” will always feel like it’s merely a splash.

  • Bruce McDuffee

    I’m currently consulting with an $80 billion dollar manufacturing company. It’s exactly as you describe, Joe. I was not brought in by a key decision maker. Talk about slow to change, try changing the mindset and execution culture of a 100 year old manufacturing company in an oligarchical industry. It’s maddening!

    But there are signs of progress. After about a year, I hear some of the people I’ve been preaching to are now starting to preach a little bit themselves. I hear some people talk about engaging with the audience by educating instead of pitching products. I see some people’s eyes light up just a little bit when we talk about how the firm’s experts can help the people in the target audience be better. I see some silent groans around the table when a sales executive talks about advertising the features of their tired old product. We’ve just had a major tactical victory with a new educational webinar series that garnered 2200 registrants in the first of five webinars. And, guess what, it wasn’t about the product it was an educational presentation about something that matters to the audience. This turned some heads and is creating a buzz around the company about ‘content marketing’.

    Yes, it’s a marathon. In this case, an ultra-marathon. It’s similar to how one may eat an elephant, one bite at a time.

  • Jen Dennis

    Joe: I’d suggest we also emphasize the need for time on stakeholder’s calendars right along with lines in their budgets. One of the big differences between doing content marketing and hiring an agency to create an ad is the amount of time, collaboration, and mental effort it will take from the clients to get great work. When we gloss over that, we lose what we need to do great work. (Content marketing, like Soylent Green, is people!!)

    • Joe Pulizzi

      Excellent Jen…totally agree with you on this.

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  • michaelbrenner

    Hey Joe, I think we’ve talked about this issue with you and Robert for years. Content marketing is not a campaign or a program it is about culture and change. I remember the first time I met Robert in person (at CMWorld 3 years ago) we agreed the talk track was simple:

    1. The world has changed
    2. Most marketing stinks
    3. We need a new way and the answer is content marketing.

    Brands need to stop executing marketing no one wants. And start engaging their audiences with helpful content that people actually want or need!

    I’m with you on this call to arms 100%!

  • Justin Belmont

    Great article, Joe! The world of content marketing is constantly changing, and it’s so important to be able to adapt to that change. You give some great tips here. Thanks for the post!