By Brian Watson published July 7, 2015

Are Organizational Silos Keeping Your Content Marketing Team From Success?


Simplifying the process is a primary concern for content marketers. As organizations get larger and more complex, they switch from having one person who handles social and PR to hiring whole teams to handle different aspects of the content marketing process. These might include search teams, SEO teams, and PR teams.

The problem arises when these teams get tunnel vision, focusing on what their metrics are without understanding and contributing to the whole vision of the marketing department. Silos develop, creating a domino effect of increasing complexity. In my role at Adobe, one of my major initiatives focuses on breaking down these silos.

How do we knock down silos to simplify content marketing?

The key to begin crumbling silos within your company is to get your whole team on the same page with a clear definition of the overall company marketing goal. This way, you can determine what the priorities should be within the company and put other initiatives on the back burner if need be. To understand this, we can turn to mathematics.

Get your marketers to think like a team

My son has been working hard to learn how to add fractions. The other night, he asked me to help him with a problem and I had an epiphany. Admittedly, it’s been a while since I learned this stuff in my elementary school math course. When I looked at the problem for the first time, it seemed impossible (just like it did years ago). The three numbers were so unlike each other. How could they possibly end up being one number?

Of course, I had to consult with Google and conjure up my vague memories of school math lessons. And, I discovered one concept that, while useful in helping my son, was much more useful for solving the silo problems that plague many cross-functional relationships.

Contrary to my stated beliefs when I first learned this stuff, I finally understood how fractions could be used in the real world. The key to breaking down silos lies in the concept of a common denominator. With a common denominator, these three numbers could work together more easily to create one number. Here’s the problem my son had to solve:

common-denominator-image 1

Bear with me while I walk through finding the common denominator. To figure this out, I had to find a common denominator into which all denominators could divide. In this case, the numbers 2, 3, and 7 all divide into 42. So, by changing the denominator to 42 and adjusting the numerators proportionately, we created three numbers that could all work together to create one number:

common-denominator-image 2

Here, all the numbers now work together because they all represent a part of one denominator. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “What the heck does this have to do with content marketing?”

What do fractions have to do with content marketing?

Well, I’ve realized that, in dealing with Adobe marketing functions, we talk to each other about metrics that are important to our sub-teams, but we don’t understand the common ground, making it difficult for us to work together as the marketing team.

Let me tell you what I mean. I work with PR, social, and search teams at Adobe. For PR, a primary goal is to place articles in high-tier journals. For social, it’s engagement. For search, it’s increased traffic through high Google rankings. Our “problem” might look something like this:

common-denominator-image 3

While looking at this problem, I realized that we couldn’t just add the three numbers without a common denominator. In other words, we needed to create a common metric to get us all working and thinking together. Only in this way can we break down silos among the teams.

I went on a quest to determine our common denominator and how our parts contribute to it. With such different goals, how can these teams work together as one? Instead of individual team goals we must align with a much deeper vision or metric. Only in this way, with one common vision, can your company break down the silos that hinder content marketing success. It’s all about finding common ground from which to work.

Common denominator makes it easier

Like converting to a new denominator so all the numbers can be added together, aligning your individual team metrics with your overall marketing goal often means creating a new metric to which all teams can align. At Adobe, one of our unifying metrics is “quality content.” Even if the social team’s goal is increased engagement, PR’s is getting journal mentions, and SEO’s is gaining high rankings on Google, when we come together and strategize, it is with the purpose of increasing the output of quality content to our audience.

By focusing on this common denominator, we can communicate marketing’s core objectives clearly. We also know that in producing higher-quality content, each team’s individual goals can be met: The social team will garner increased engagement, the PR team will generate more journal placements, and the SEO team will increase its traffic due to higher rankings.

Thus our aligned “problem” looks much simpler:

common-denominator-image 4

How to identify your common denominator

Tip: Create a common denominator by throwing out your metrics and focusing on the end result.

To determine your company’s common denominator, it’s best to analyze if and how your team metrics contribute to the marketing department’s final goal. For example, if your goal is to increase positive brand awareness to contribute to the bottom line, what is the one thing you can do to reach that goal? Produce quality content. All of those other metrics should be parts of reaching that company goal.

To this end, Eliyahu Goldratt of The Goal writes:

I have come to the conclusion that productivity is the act of bringing a company closer to its goal. Every action that brings a company closer to its goal is productive. Every action that does not bring a company closer to its goal is not productive.

If your teams’ metrics aren’t bringing your company closer to its goal, it is definitely time to reassess your metrics.

Silos go away when all sub-teams are on the same page

For Adobe, we realized that producing quality content was our overall company goal. With this in mind, a team discussion can happen when a company meeting is held. Instead of the PR sub-team coming to the meeting only to address its concerns about journal mentions, it comes with the understanding that the ultimate goal is to produce quality company content. That way, when the meeting focuses on producing quality content, PR won’t feel that its needs aren’t being addressed. After all, creating quality content is now PR’s overriding metric or goal, as it is for every other sub-team in the room. The other metrics are merely a means to an end.

When all teams can work from a common ground, you will find that the silos that once divided your teams are broken. And, until they’re knocked down, you will feel the tension. For example, if the SEO sub-team still comes to marketing meetings to share the metrics of pushing too many keywords, it is still too focused on its individual denominators. After all, what is quality content? We all know that it’s not keyword-stuffed articles.

On the contrary, as silos are broken, a company team spirit will develop. In the end, you’ve simplified the process because sub-teams no longer crash against each other at each meeting, but instead talk about the common denominator.

My challenge to you: Take a look at your company marketing team and identify your sub-team’s denominators. This first step is important. After all, you can’t find a common denominator without knowing what your original denominators were. Then, develop a common denominator based on a combined definition of your sub-team’s goals.

Does your team need to tackle a major content marketing initiative but lack the expertise to make it happen? CMI can help. Our Online Training & Certification Program provides you with must-know strategies, tactics, and best practices to build a strong foundation for your projects.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Editor’s note: Adobe is a Content Marketing Institute benefactor, which is a paid supporter of our website and content creation activities.

Author: Brian Watson

As an Adobe Search Program Manager, Brian Watson manages the content production and flow to the Adobe blog publications. He specializes in building systems to overcome the constraints that often intercede in content marketing management. At Adobe, he writes to guide content marketers in solving their challenges. Brian loves to hear from his readers, and would appreciate any feedback to better understand problems content marketer’s face today. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter @brianwcontent.

Other posts by Brian Watson

  • Satrujit Mishra

    Content marketing is future . Though i am new to this field still i can predict this. You are a veteran i suppose.

  • denisecooper

    I love the metaphor! Silos create separation and that means more work and everyone works harder. Every CEO should ask the question, what is the common denominator and how do I know every employee knows it?

  • Anne Janzer

    Terrific article, thanks for posting it. I wonder if Adobe’s subscription play added urgency to the need to break down silos around marketing? In a subscription-based business, marketing has to step outside of its traditional boundaries to remain engage with the customer.

  • Abey Mathew

    Good article Brian. The marketing teams goal of most organizations would be to increase positive brand awareness to contribute to the bottom line. So is the common denominator quality content in such cases? Is it that simple? Can you share a couple of more examples of likely common denominators.

    • Brian Watson

      Abbey, thanks for your question. It is actually funny that you ask that
      because all the while I was creating this post I was thinking, I wonder if I
      should call the common denominator “quality content” or just something random like “Pokémon content”. The reason being is because everyone already has a different opinion on what qualifies as quality content. The point of the exercise of coming together as different teams it to create your own unique goal or objective. Sometimes that requires changing the language so we get out of buzzwords.

      To more directly answer your question, I do feel that being in content marketing or some aspect of it, I lean towards objectives like “quality content” or “consistent content” as the answer to all of our problems. But when you think about integrating with other departments like sales, customer service, HR etc. you might need to change your common objective or common denominator. “# of Leads”, “Satisfied Customers”, “Completed projects” all could be common denominators. I think the most common for all businesses is net revenue.

  • Tiffany Janisch

    Thank you Brian for using fractions as an example to helping break down silos; finding the common denominator definitely helps to realign and re-establish goals for the team.

    On a side note, I was hoping you would have taken your article two steps further in describing how after, finding the ‘QC’ common denominator, Adobe defines and measures it. Essentially the most important piece here is understanding the framework of establishing (reinforcing) QC so that it can be properly measured.

    For a company as large as Adobe, what’s the framework for keeping everyone informed about changes or updates to the common denominator?

    Thank you Brian!

    • Brian Watson

      Great question Tiffany.

      I too agree that the common denominator should be properly enforced and measured. I mean in the end the common denominator is the common goal shared by these working teams.

      Thought the point of my blog was to encourage teams that they can find commonality and shared vision that will bring them together rather than continuing to fight over shared resources (in this case content). I would like to spend some time trying to answer what I would interpret as – “okay, so now what?”

      As far as enforcing the quality content, once you know what “quality content” means in your organization it is a simple matter of attaining it. For example, using the above 3 teams, social, search and PR, let’s say that they came together and determined that a piece of quality content was the main goal of the group. Well how do you measure that? You simply accomplish the minimum requirements of all groups involved.

      For example: let’s say that that the requirements of each team was the following:

      – Social: at least 250 engagements
      – PR: A placement or mention by a analyst or reporter
      – Search: It ranks on page 1 for a prominent keyword

      Each piece to be deemed “quality content” would have to adhere to these qualifications. Now the teams (social, PR, & Search) objective is to work together to increase the number of quality pieces that it produces on a monthly/yearly basis. Each piece that achieves all 3 metrics is counted, those that don’t are not.

      The unifying metric pulls them together rather than pushes them apart. For instance the social person when analyzing a piece that had 700 engagements but no ranking or placements might be happy with the results of engagements but should ask themselves the question – what could have we done differently for this to count as a quality piece?