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How to Hold Your Content Marketing Strategy Together, Enterprise-Wide

[Editor’s note: Happy Holidays! This week, the editorial team at Content Marketing Institute wanted to share some of the best content marketing blog posts we’ve seen from the CMI Online Training and Certification program’s roster of expert instructors. Today’s post originally appeared on Doug Kessler’s Velocity Partners blog on March 23, 2013. 


content-concepts-word mapAs we all move along the content marketing maturity curve together, the biggest companies are starting to hit a new problem: Lots and lots of different teams within your organization will be generating content for their own needs — without any coordination, orchestration, strategic validation, or quality control.

It’s the age-old challenge — local relevance vs. central control — but it’s a fairly new issue for us content people, and it’s an increasingly important one.

“Content Proliferation Syndrome” 

The problem is created by the power of content itself. Once people see it, everybody wants some.

  • Different departments are making content: The product guys need some. The consultants need some. The press team needs some. It’s not just marketing; it’s sales, customer service, HR… anyone who needs to communicate messages.
  • Different disciplines are making content: You can see content proliferation just within marketing alone: The SEO guys are making a new eBook. The social media team is doing a series of infographics on the same topic (with a different spin). The PR team has an executive briefing video, white paper and webinar program. The events team is turning live content into discoverable web stuff…
  • Different regions are making content: France saw what Latvia did and wants some of that mojo. EMEA is re-purposing Australia’s eBooks into videos. The U.S. team has woken up to all this and is throwing budget at the problem.

Think about this: Content coming from every pore in your company. Lots and lots of eBooks, videos, white papers, web pages, microsites, Prezis, SlideShares, Pinterest boards, Facebook pages, LinkedIn groups, email newsletters… The underlying stories aren’t that different, but the packaging sure is.

That’s a lot of very different content with the same logo at the bottom. In itself, that may not be a problem. The world is getting used to the idea of a single brand having many voices. But in practice, it can get pretty ugly, pretty fast.

At Velocity, as we create content for our bigger clients, it’s not uncommon for us to trip over someone in a distant corner of the company who’s doing something very similar — or for them to trip over us. Either way, it’s embarrassing and preventable.

Smaller companies, drop out here

Everything that follows is for big companies, so if you’re not one of them, you should go read something else.

Big companies need more process, infrastructure, strategy, and structure than smaller companies. Ironically, these extra structures are there to help Goliath behave more like David. In practice, they often do the exact opposite.

The trick is to have an enlightened center, instead of a dead hand. But if you’re still small, you don’t really need to worry about these things. Go read something inspiring like the B2B Marketing Manifesto or the Three Poisonous Metaphors in B2B Marketing, or Pnin.

The content proliferation penalty

Here are the kinds of problems caused by Content Proliferation Syndrome (you are in the market for some new problems, aren’t you?):

  • Lots of duplicated effort: Pieces that are trying to do the same things
  • The exact same piece living in many places: Google can penalize that
  • Pools of underused content collecting in nooks & crannies: A microsite here, a resource center there…
  • Wasted budgets that could accomplish much more if there was a bit of coordination
  • Inconsistent stories and looks so that animated video looks nothing like a SlideShare piece on the exact same topic
  • Variable content quality, because not everyone will be good at this

All these things add up to a much bigger penalty: 

  • Confused prospects and customers who aren’t sure what to consume, where to go for it, and how it relates to all that other content they’ve seen coming from your company.

Edge, meet center 

The HQ vs. Regions (or C-Suite vs. Line-of-Business) tension shapes almost every discipline in global companies. It’s the problem that gave us Brand Police, Compliance Cops, and The Worldwide Heads of Sameness.

And the history of marketing in any big company charts the ebb and flow of power from the center to the edges and back again.

  • A new CMO is hired and — re-org! — she pushes power to the regions. 
(And for the next three months, every meeting starts with, “Bob now reports to Gill, and Sheila looks after APAC.”)
  • Then the CMO is fired and the new guy re-organizes to get the power back to the center. 
(“Sheila’s now got Channel, and Gill is doing Innovation. Bob got taken out back and shot.“)

We expect content to go the same way. Companies will panic about the feral content cats running all over the estate and impose a command & control structure to herd them up.

The stakeholders will start to squeal because they’re being prevented from creating the content they need and are being asked to make do with the bland stuff from Content Central.

So central control will be relaxed and the edges rise again.

Maybe there’s a better way.

Introducing The Center of Content Excellence

What big companies need is a resource that, instead of trying to produce all content for all stakeholders or to control all content, helps the stakeholders do it better themselves.

We call this the Center of Content Excellence (or the Content Center of Excellence, if you prefer) and we’re convinced it’s the only way forward for big companies who want to harness the power of content but don’t want to waste a fortune on ill-conceived, poorly executed effluent.

Here’s what the Center of Content Excellence does for the organization:

  • Learns: The CCE is there to capture and spread best practice with all content teams
  • Guides: Setting high-level policy on content processes, pieces and promotion (including social and SEO)
  • Shares: Letting every team know what all the others are up to
  • Listens: Keeping an eye on the market and competitors and updating the content teams
  • Collects: Holds copies of all content in a central library so everyone knows what already exists
  • Refreshes: Retiring out-of-date content and renewing the threadbare
  • Creates: Producing high-level, strategic content for teams to use or repurpose
  • Extends: Producing content for local teams when they don’t have the resources (but do have a business case)
  • Cross-promotes: Helping each team promote other team’s content within their own
  • Leads: Helping the organization develop its content culture and build its content brand

These tasks have two things in common: They’re important (so someone has to do them) and they’re best done centrally (so the benefits are not confined in a silo).

What a great Center of Content Excellence looks like

A great Center of Content Excellence — like the best of any centralized services — needs to have these qualities: 

  • Content expertise: The best content people in the organization should sit here.
  • Business chops: The CCE must understand the entire business, the market, the customers, the products and the competitors.
  • Access to the top: The Center has to know the company’s content strategy now, and where it’s going next; and it has to sell a content culture to the top team.
  • Sensitivity: An understanding of the needs and dynamics of different regions and stakeholders
  • Diplomacy: The ability to balance needs against each other to get to ‘win-win’ outcomes instead of ‘ouch-ouch’ ones
  • Flexibility: Content is an incredibly diverse discipline; a cookie-cutter approach will kill it stone dead.
  • A hunger for new things: Content media and tactics are changing all the time; the CCE must lead the company by experimenting with everything that looks promising.
  • An affinity for openness: We live in social times; today’s companies are porous; the CCE should help the organization embrace this instead of fighting it.

Clearly, it takes a special kind of person to build and run a Center of Content Excellence. You need to be confident enough to be relaxed about your ultimate lack of control. You need to be smart and likable so you can attract people to the light instead of herding them there. And you need some power.

Who’s in the Center of Content Excellence?

It starts with a Chief Content Officer, whose job it is to win executive backing, build the team, set the policies and processes, and orchestrate the whole thing.

That’s the only job title that’s pretty much mandatory. Around it, the Center needs people who will wear different hats (one or many hats-per-person) to fulfill roles like this:

  • The Strategist: Someone who can help translate the business strategy into specific content strategies for each team, department or region
  • The Listener: Someone to watch the market, competitors and other markets to hoover up insight and report back
  • The Producer: Someone who can create great content that leads the way — drawing on outside help where needed
  • The Experimenter: Someone who will discover the latest ways to tell stories and give them a go
  • The Data Geek: Someone who can squeeze your analytics packages to get the insight out, then share it with the less numerate
  • The Helpdesk Agent: Someone who can answer questions and support content teams
  • The Sultan of Search: Someone who helps maximize the search impact of all content
  • The Social Butterfly: Someone who understands how to use social media and influencers to spread content
  • The Pusher: Someone who gets outbound (largely email, web ads and sponsorships) and can help teams exploit it
  • The Policy Wonk: Someone who can develop processes and policies with a light touch
  • The Librarian: Someone who creates, tags and manages the central content stacks
  • The Diplomat: Someone to visit content teams and preach the gospel

That’s a lot of hats, but it doesn’t have to mean a lot of heads. The very best people combine several talents — and you need the very best in the Center of Excellence (or it will become the “Center of Mediocrity” and will kill the “Goose that Ought to Be Laying Golden Eggs but Instead Is Just Eating and Pooping”).

The Content Playbook 

One of the first things your Center of Excellence should work on is your company-wide, online Content Playbook.

Done poorly, this will be as dry as your brand guidelines and as inspiring as your IT security policy.

Done well, it will be one of the best pieces of content in your business. Smart, fun, enlightening, and entertaining.

How will you know which you’ve created? Page hits, return visits… and the quality of content produced out there.

A few guiding principles for the Center of Content Excellence

A Center of Excellence that promotes great content needs to understand what makes content great. These should be captured in a short set of principles that guide everyone on the team, so they don’t get all dull and bureaucratic. You’ll want your own principles for your company but they ought to include ideas like these: 

  • Your primary goal is to build a great content brand: A brand known for producing fantastic stuff. Our ‘Crap’ SlideShare explains why.
  • Great content is more likely if there’s a sound strategy: A shared understanding of goals, target audience, themes… See our Big Fat Content Strategy Checklist for help.
  • Know your target audience: We don’t really like the word personas, but we do really like the idea behind it, as this round-up and this post explain.
  • Great content is insanely ambitious: Creating a content machine can kill this; aim for “the best content on the web for this topic” and you just might hit it.
  • Different perspectives are more interesting: A centralized content resource shouldn’t lose the variety that makes life interesting.
  • Don’t forget the F word: If a piece of content was fun to make, it will be fun to consume; and we all like fun.

Anybody out there?

So what do you think?

Are you horrified by any attempt to corral the creativity of content?

Have you noticed the early warning signs of Content Proliferation Syndrome?

Are you struggling to add any kind of centralized coordination or quality control?

Have you started to build a central resource to support content teams?

We’d love to hear about it…

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