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Cutting the Complexity of Content Marketing Production

Several semi-reliable websites credit Leonardo Da Vinci with writing the phrase, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” I love this phrase. Without getting to philosophical, in my opinion DaVinci understood that simplicity doesn’t necessarily dumb things down. On the contrary, simplicity can make our online marketing and content marketing more accessible, more usable and more effective in achieving our marketing goals.

I like things simple, neat, explainable, and relatable. So here I stand in the complex world of online marketing amongst too many search results, too much data, and way too much advice on how to read it. I’m going to come right out and say it: Content marketing and online marketing, in general, have gotten seriously complicated, but it doesn’t have to be.

So, what makes content marketing so complex? And how can we simplify it for the sake of all our sanity?

Complexity #1: Too many flippin’ options for outbound communications

This happens all the time in strategy meetings with clients. A client says, “Have you tried [insert new social media site of the day]? We hear it’s the next big thing! We should add it to the strategy!

There are more online marketing vehicles and social media outposts than we can possibly keep up with. Testing the effectiveness of every new content space that emerges could become a marketer’s full-time job. Adding every shiny, new outpost to your strategy can make it unmanageable.

How to simplify it: Here’s the No. 1 question I get from my clients: “How do we know which outposts are right for our business?” Ah!  The question that simplifies everything. We must remember — and I’ll steal a concept from my partner Brody Dorlandthere are a million places to disseminate content, but we only need to find the few ponds where our fish are swimming now (or will swim soon). In other words, our customers are probably much less aware of the newest, greatest content outposts than we are. If you do some listening and find the ponds they’re in, customers will find your content. And the No. 1 way to simplify? Start small, see how it goes (track it), and then add on when necessary.

Complexity #2: Content strategy segmentation nightmare

Within a given company, there could be 10 or more different audience personas to market to based on products and service offerings and different industries. So the resulting content strategy can get complex. Which messages go to which personas in which spaces and with what frequency? Then consider the actual content production that in order to hit all of your targets has to be molded to the different needs/ wants/ pain points of each persona. That’s enough to make a corporate marketer run back to cable TV!

How to simplify it: You could develop a separate content strategy for each of your 10 personas, or you could determine the one to two overarching content paths that will resonate with the majority of your buyers and stick to it. For instance, let’s say you have four buyer personas, but all of them want to work with/ buy from a thought leader. An overarching content strategy (or path) of thought leadership should be your focus. You can also simplify by combining personas that have some common needs/ wants/ pain points. By combining messages, you need to create fewer pieces of content.

Complexity #3: Collaboration and content production process madness

I’m not even sure I need to explain how difficult the collaboration process can be, especially when you have both an internal team and external contributors.  These are just few of the pains in a content manager’s butt when trying to manage the production process:

  • Keeping everyone in the loop with what everyone else is working on
  • Sharing assets and spreadsheets
  • Making sure everyone is looking at the most recent versions of things
  • Trying to manage the workflow process
  • Handling the problems of contributors trying to share ideas with the rest of the team.

And, these are the pains you realize when you have a formalized process. If you don’t have a formal content production process, you’re realizing some additional madness. Hate your job yet?

How to simplify it: You need to formalize the content production process, put the right (and right-sized) team in place, and equip yourself with the right tools to get it all done. Here’s my suggestion:

  1.  Decide how many hours each week you can dedicate to content marketing. You can figure out this number if you know how many projects you have, how many hours you estimate the projects to take and how many team members you have to complete the projects.
  2. Figure out how many people it will take to get this done. Do you have internal folks or do you need to outsource? Keep in mind, you may find talent in unlikely people; for example, maybe your CFO is an amateur photographer who might want a chance to test his/ her skills. Establish a workflow process based on your production steps. For example, your process may look like this: assign to writer, send to editor, send to client for review, finalize your proof, publish, promote.

Using some simple tools can streamline the entire planning, production, and promotion processes and make a content manager’s job so much easier. Here are tools we use:

Complexity #4: Too much data gives me an analytical hangover

There are probably a fair number of content marketers who actually enjoy the analytics piece of the online marketing puzzle, but I’m not one of them. It’s very easy for me to get overwhelmed by numbers of fans, followers, tweets, comments, posts, unique visitors, bounce rates, conversion scores… blahgh! I just threw up a little. Don’t get me wrong; a lot of the data is invaluable when it comes to knowing if our content is working. So what’s important and what’s not when it comes to analytics?

How to simplify it: Instead of getting hung up on every piece of data offered by Google Analytics or similar tools, focus on the numbers that have the biggest impact on what you’re doing. The importance of individual data points may vary depending on what you’re doing (foundational vs. campaign), but here are the ones that my writer‘s brain can comprehend and use:

  • Traffic sources. This tells us from which social media spaces, email campaigns, or websites most of our traffic is coming from. Increase your engagement in the ones that are sending the most traffic.
  • Keywords. What words are people using when they find your content in search engines? Make sure you are using them in your content on a frequent basis.
  • Most popular content. This will tell you which pages on your website or posts on your blog are getting the most traffic. Whatever they are, create more content on those subjects or figure out how to repurpose that content for other uses.
  • Exit pages. If you notice that a particular page on your site has the highest number of exits, you might do some testing of headlines, sub-headlines, calls-to-action, etc., to see how you can decrease this number.
  • Month-over-month, quarter-over-quarter, and year-over-year comparisons. Establish a baseline now and look for growth. These comparisons are simple indicators that what you’re doing is working.

Complexity #5: Journalism school never taught me how to use pivot tables

If the first four complexities weren’t enough, add in the complexities of the actual content production management process. Here’s the process in a nutshell:

  • Listening/surveying
  • Planning,
  • Production,
  • Promotion,
  • Governance, and analysis
Rinse and repeat.

There hasn’t yet been a tool set out there that manages all of these pieces specifically for content marketers. We’re stuck trying out every different project management system until we resign ourselves to using a spreadsheet. While a lot of marketers came from business school where they learned how to manipulate data in a spreadsheet, this just wasn’t part of the curriculum in journalism school.

How to simplify it: You don’t want to be around when I’m trying to coerce my editorial calendar spreadsheet to do something. The key here is to find that one tool that helps you facilitate the actual production management process and that works for your team.

If Leonardo Da Vinci was a content marketer today, I think he might say something like, “Content marketing is only as valuable as the people who consume it deem it to be.” Behind the scenes, our processes can be as complex or as simple as we choose to make them. But let’s remember that at the end of the day, despite the complexity and the lightning-fast pace of our content world, our job is to give people a reason to take pause for a moment and experience something that makes them better.

Have you tried to simplify your content marketing process? Please share your ideas and experiences in the comments section below.