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Content Management and Strategy: A Disruptive Change We Need [New Research]

“These are scary times for managers in companies.”

Twenty years ago, almost to the day, business strategist, author, and professor Clayton Christensen wrote those words to describe what was happening with the global economic crisis of the dot-com boom and globalization. In the introduction to the piece, he warns that before managers “rush into the breach, (they) must understand precisely what types of change the existing organization is capable and incapable of handling.”

Here we are two decades later, and we’re feeling the exact same thing.

These are scary times for marketers – especially those who create and manage content for their business. Content is communication. And during a crisis, this is the time when a consistent, trusted, and valuable approach to communication is critical. There is little room for error, the pressure is high, and we often must improvise to make our resources, processes, and capabilities with technology and tools work in our favor.

A crisis such as the one we’re in now is the textbook example of what Clayton would describe as a disruptive change – one that feeds the need for fast and intelligent innovation so we can manage our way through it.

This crisis is a disruptive change that feeds the need for fast and intelligent innovation, says @Robert_Rose paraphrasing @claychristensen via @cmicontent. #research Click To Tweet

Content strategy is change(ing)

The strategy of business content is, by definition, change. The entire function of strategic content marketing is focused on:

  • Monitoring and evolving your communications to demonstrate that you align with your customer’s values
  • Managing and adapting your investment and resources to deliver valuable content in context and at scale
  • Measuring cross-functional efforts to ensure that you continue to deliver value to your audiences.

Just last week I talked with a client about their efforts in both content marketing and content management. The senior leadership of the company – including the CEO – had convened an “emergency operational team” to manage the communications. My client, a director of marketing in the company, had been invited to sit in. The CEO, CIO, and CMO began to discuss the need to create new, emergency processes, resources, and technology to spin up a new content hub for customer information. My client spoke up. She said, “Just so we’re all aware – we already have these things. We’ve been evolving our content strategy for the last year. We’re ready to go.”

The meeting was adjourned, and the director of marketing is now in charge.

For marketers in this time of disruptive change, you would do well to heed Clayton Christensen’s advice of 20 years ago. Before you “rush into the breach” of making change, you should understand what kinds of questions you should be asking. As he also writes in that article, “Understanding a problem is the most crucial step in solving it.”

Understanding a problem is the most crucial step in solving it, says @claychristensen via @cmicontent. #research Click To Tweet

Asking questions with this year’s research

For the fourth year in a row, Content Marketing Institute conducted its 2020 Content Management and Strategy Survey, sponsored by Sitecore, to get a snapshot of how marketers use technology tools to help create, manage, deliver, and scale enterprise content and marketing. Additionally, we examined how content teams are using people, processes, and technology to more precisely target and engage audiences to provide a better and more valuable customer experience across the customer journey.

This year, however, was unique. Our survey was fielded in a pre-COVID-19 world. And thus, we decided that this year we would simply pose more questions rather than prescribe actions from the results.

It’s not that we don’t have lessons learned – we do. But our goal now is to ask better questions so you can reflect on how you will have the opportunity to innovate out of this disruption.

Here are few of the results that jumped out at us, and the questions they should have you asking.

Those who have, do

This year’s research suggests that businesses are continuing to take strategic content more seriously. In a finding similar to last year, 78% of those surveyed say they take a strategic approach to managing content. And, also similar to last year, 60% say this strategic approach is documented.

This year’s #research suggests that businesses are continuing to take strategic #content more seriously, says @robert_rose via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Interestingly, among those who do not have a strategic approach to content management, the top reason why they don’t is a lack of processes (63%). Second is that leadership hasn’t made it a priority (57%), followed by a lack of financial investment in resources (52%).

Our guess is that if you were to take this poll today, the numbers for those why-not reasons would be significantly lower. As in the case of my client mentioned above, sometimes a crisis is the only thing that pushes an organization to become more organized and strategic about the way it manages communications.

Questions to ask yourself

  • Is it always a crisis that pushes us into being innovative about the way we manage content and communications as a company instead of as siloed departments?
  • What processes, resources, and content are we developing during this crisis that we should keep post crisis?

Success is connecting with an audience

We asked a new question in this year’s research to understand the top factors that contributed to the success of a content strategy. When asked to rank their top success factors, the ability to understand and connect with the audience’s values, interests, and/or pain points (50%) was far and away No. 1.

The factor with the second highest impact was having clear roles and responsibilities for content creators.

 Questions to ask yourself

  • How will our ability to focus on the needs and wants of our audiences change in a post-COVID-19 world? Should we re-examine our audience personas to segment them against their attitudes in the new normal? (Hint: There is a correct answer to this question.)
  • What is in our editorial (or creation) queue? How should we alter our content creation plans based on the new road ahead?

Internal requests still drive strategy

Even with a high percentage of marketers using documented content strategies, it appears as if the content team’s primary role is to act as “service center” to the broader business. The most frequently cited typical approach taken by content creators in their business (43%) was project-focused – content is created in response to internal requests.

43% of #content teams use a project-focused approach – content is created in response to internal requests via @CMIContent. #research Click To Tweet

The second most common approach was persona-focused, where content is proactively created for a particular audience (30%).

In our experience, one of the more difficult things to scale and measure is a content operating model solely based on a reactive, service-center approach. This model almost always guarantees that perceived siloed/departmental needs are put ahead of what the audience needs/wants to know. It is a classic example of the urgent outweighing the important.

Project #content models usually mean department needs are put ahead of audience needs, says @Robert_Rose via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

Questions to ask yourself

  • How can we change our content/editorial process to rebalance our operating models to more proactively deliver against audience needs?
  • Can we create new, collaborative workflows in our technology to facilitate the need for an editorial board or other cross-functional teams to set priorities for content?
HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT: How to Survive Content by Committee

Technology needs are still misunderstood

In a similar response to the last few years, marketers (73%) still say they have either not acquired the right technology for content management and strategy or they are not using the technology they have in the most optimal way.

Further, matching well to the usage of technology results, only 25% ranked their organization’s level of proficiency with using technology to manage content across the enterprise as expert or advanced.

Questions to ask yourself

  • As the shift to more remote work expands, will we see more collaborative content management and strategy features integrated into classic software suites?
  • Will we see a new surge in new content stack technologies being acquired as the crisis exposes the weaknesses in our current infrastructure?

This year you can spare some change

Last year when we released this research, I spoke about the people challenge: “(N)o matter how much technology you throw at a content strategy, the content is created, managed, judged, optimized, and measured by people.” Your content strategy, no matter when and where you manage it, is a change process facilitated by humans. So, everything you do, from technology acquisition and workflow implementation to governance and measurement should all be done with the goal of improving this human process.

Your #contentstrategy, no matter when and where you manage it, is a change process facilitated by humans, says @robert_rose via @cmicontent. Click To Tweet

At the very end of his article on disruptive change, Clayton Christensen writes:

(T)the reason that innovation often seems to be so difficult for established companies is that they employ highly capable people and then set them to work within organizational structures whose processes and values weren’t designed for the task at hand.

As business leaders, managers, and people who care deeply about the way to create, manage, activate, optimize, and measure content, this is the biggest challenge I come away with; one that I am wrestling with every day.

Coming out of this crisis, you will be asking, “What should we change into?” or “What future should we prepare for?” more than ever. But you have to resist that thinking. You have to ask, “How do we throw off legacy processes and create new organizational structures that enable us to change full stop for whatever disruptive change may be just around the corner?”

Download the full report of CMI’s 2020 Content Management and Strategy Survey.

To be among the first to see CMI’s latest content marketing research for B2B, B2C, agencies, and more, subscribe to its free weekday newsletter. And, for more insights from CMI’s Robert Rose and Stephanie Stahl about these research findings, check out their conversation: The ContentTECH of Tomorrow. What Happens When We Get to the New Normal?

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute