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The Struggle Is Real for Content Management and Technology [New Research]

When I graduated college, my dad gave me one of those super-duper, deluxe tool sets. It had everything. There was a 330-piece socket wrench set, a two-gimbal palm, 24 screwdrivers, a hex set, two claw hammers, eight pairs of pliers, and on and on. I had no idea what to do with it all. I tried to learn, but never used any of it well.

Thirty years later, that toolbox sits dusty in the back of my storage unit. In my office is a leather box that I’ve had for the last decade. It has a total of two screwdrivers (one flathead and one Phillips head), a hammer, a couple pairs of pliers, and a Leatherman multi-function tool. I’m happy to report that in my household I’m not known as the “fix-it guy” nor the “helpless guy.” That little box has gotten me through most household projects. I operate from the strategy, if I can’t fix it with what’s in the box, it’s probably something I shouldn’t be messing with anyway.

That’s kind of where we are with content technology. We’ve been given the super deluxe toolbox – and we’re spending a whole heck of a lot of time trying to figure out what the hell a two-gimbal palm is.

For the third year, Content Marketing Institute conducted its 2019 Content Management and Strategy Survey, sponsored by Vennli, to get a snapshot of how marketers are using technology tools to help create, manage, deliver, and scale enterprise content and marketing. Additionally, we looked at how content teams are using technology to more precisely target and engage audiences to provide memorable experiences across the customer journey.

The research headline in a word: awash. Marketers are awash in new technology options but primarily still using brute force to find their way to deeper and more meaningful strategies.

Marketers are awash in new tech but still use brute force to more meaningful strategies, says @Robert_Rose. Click To Tweet

Got a management strategy? Yes, we do, thank you

This year’s research suggests businesses are taking strategic content more seriously. This is good news. In fact, more than three-quarters (76%) of those surveyed say they take a strategic approach to content management. Further, 59% say they have a documented content management strategy. Although we expanded our respondent base from last year, this stat has grown since 2018, when 43% said they had a documented strategy for managing content as a business asset.

And these strategies have some teeth. Most respondents say their content management strategy includes: business goals/objectives, defined roles/responsibilities, measurements/KPIs, desired outcomes, defined workflows, timeframes, and even content governance specifications.

These findings align well with other research that suggests businesses are taking the management and scalability of content as a strategic business function seriously.

However, most businesses still struggle to mechanize and automate content at scale.

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Got the tools? We’re hacking our way

We saw a tech usage trend continue from the last few years. Forty-two percent have “not yet acquired” the right technology to manage content across the enterprise. And another 42% say they “have acquired the technology but are not using it to its potential.”

Only 16% of the respondents say they have the right technology AND are using its full potential.

Only 16% of marketers say they have the right tech and are using its full potential. @CMIContent #research Click To Tweet

Interestingly, a similar percentage in 2018 (14%) said they had the right technology and were using its potential. However, 51% said they had not acquired the right technology.

These results suggest that some marketers may have been on a technology acquisition binge in the last year but are not better about using the technology they have.

One other finding supports this insight. When we asked marketers about the scalability of their content-related efforts (a more systematic way of producing, managing, and distributing content), 78% said “we have some systems in place, but there is a lot of manual work.”

Got the tech? We have that AND people

Late last year, I wrote about how technology debt is holding back content from being truly strategic. One study found that 2018 marked an interesting milestone. It was the first year technology budgets surpassed our human team budget. In 2019, marketers spend 29% of their budget on technology and 28% on humans. Further, half of marketers interviewed said that their business had “too much technology.”

I would dare say that most of this is due to the complexity of managing content.

If you look at Scott Brinker’s famous Martech 5,000 chart (which now lists more than 7,000 solutions), there’s an argument to be made that 80% to 90% of those products focus on how to manage, measure, and optimize content through specific channels.

But, ultimately, no matter how much technology is thrown at it, content is created, managed, judged, optimized, and measured by people. Just as it’s not the things people buy that are responsible for credit card debt, it’s not the technology’s fault that marketers have an inability to leverage it to the fullest.

We worked with one large company on its content strategy, and the lament from the content team was familiar: “Our biggest challenge is that we have so many different constituencies – all with different ideas and goals.”

In most instances you don’t get to pick the people you work with or determine whether they can string together a sentence or avoid pushing the wrong button that breaks the website. In most cases, as practitioners, you have to make the content strategy work with the team you have.

As Peter Drucker said years ago, “We’re not going to breed a new race of super-people. We will have to run our organizations with people as they are.” This is an important point. The environment in which you operate – the new technologies, the platforms, the content – is changing at an unprecedented pace. Human nature? Not that quickly.

Content strategy and content management, while facilitated by technology, are, fundamentally, human processes. As you put together your strategies, your stories, your technology for managing all your content – and the means to optimize based on your measurement of it – you should do so in the context of a foundation for managing a much slower human capacity for change.

We find two productive themes when designing such systems:

  1. Design content strategies for human strengths. You need dispassionate design of models that optimize your strengths and make the weaknesses as meaningless as possible. You design technology models and processes not on “how things have always been done” but through optimization of the strengths of your team and organization.
Design tech models and processes through the optimizing of your team & org’s strengths, says @Robert_Rose. Click To Tweet

For example, why are you using the enterprise CMS – and its rightfully strict corporate governance processes – for your coolest, innovative content program that has yet to prove itself. If the answer is “because that’s the way it is,” it’s time to design a new system.

  1. Flat organizational content contribution is overrated. It’s nice that everyone has an interest in creating content, but, as my wife will tell you, “Just because everyone has an opinion doesn’t mean everyone has good taste.” Not all content should be published. The newly formed content team and the technology they manage should not be simply a human-powered publish button.

If the content team can’t say “no” or “yes, with modification” – even to the most senior people in the organization – then it’s not really a content strategy. It’s simply a dam to manage the flow. The group must be able to ask itself if any given piece of content serves the purpose or the mission. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t get published. End of story.

For content to have strategic value, the business must acknowledge that not everyone is equipped to create, manage, or change it. For example, when the company is deciding a legal strategy, the leaders don’t say, “Well, let’s see what the marketing team thinks about that.”

Your technical approach, the platforms you use, and certainly the content itself will change – a lot. But the people won’t change nearly as fast. Design your content management approach to take advantage of that fact. Learn what’s in your “leather box of tools” and you’ll spend more time on quality activities. Then for anything that’s “not in your box,” take a step back and find out if it’s something really needed or if it’s something an outside expert can sort out for you.

Meanwhile, CMI’s 2019 Content Management and Strategy Survey research can help as a catalyst in driving changes that will be core in helping your business scale the management of content.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute