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5 Things to Consider Before Investing in Content Technology

CMOs want to automate as much of content operation as possible and believe achieving scale is a matter of deploying the right platform and tools. The result? Platform proliferation.

According to Chief Martec founder Scott Brinker, the number of marketing technology solutions has doubled since 2015 and will soon surpass 4,000.

The number of #marketing tech solutions has doubled since 2015 & will soon surpass 4,000. @chiefmartec Click To Tweet

A recent Forbes study reports that CMOs are overwhelmed by the amount of technology choices and confused by vendor claims that their platform can do it all. Before investing in more technology, they want to optimize what they already own.

Before investing in more technology, CMOs want to optimize what they already own, @Forbes via @ComBlu. Click To Tweet

Here are five things to consider before investing in the next bright, shiny object:

Find a content strategy partner with no horse in the race

Before attacking technology, nail other aspects of content operations, such as:

  • Understanding the needs of all members of an organization who influence the buying process for specific-use cases
  • Clearly defining your publishing processes; developing the necessary skills and institute governance
  • Architecting your content so it can be sourced, targeted, distributed, and reused across many programs, channels, and devices

Many platform players offer strategy services. They recognize that their platform will only perform as well as the strategic framework it supports. Their work, however, focuses on optimizing their own platform and the integration of its partners. While this is valuable and necessary, few create an overarching strategy that considers the needs and behaviors of multiple buyers at multiple points of the decision journey. The templates they provide often do not consider interdependencies of multiple buyers in the content modeling process. That said, end-to-end solutions providers are more likely to help clients address enterprise strategy before addressing technology, so consider them as a good resource.

Working with an objective third party helps ensure that counsel is more far-reaching and is not viewed through the lens of a specific platform or set of partnerships. (Disclosure: My firm, ComBlu, provides enterprise content strategy counsel. You can find these services, however, from many third-party sources including digital agencies, CX firms, and independent consultants.)

The strategy part of the process often gets truncated in the rush to get a tool or platform that can solve all pain points. But not all pain points can be solved with a platform. A recent Forrester study, From Priming the Pump to Engaging Buyers, points out that it takes time to scale. First you must design the right processes, implement organizational change, and align functions.

In the absence of an enterprise content strategy, lines of business or functional organizations often try to jump-start the content optimization process. Many of these efforts fail to thrive because no one connects the dots between these separate initiatives to uncover systemic issues and problems. Leadership is needed to map an enterprise approach. Once the strategic road map is complete, the organization has a map for content operations and data for selecting the right tools.

Schedule a workshop that mows down the weeds and tidies the landscape

Workshops are a great venue for gaining stakeholder agreement on enterprise content strategy and its underlying infrastructure. The best workshop facilitators take time to understand your specific business objectives, aligned content mission, and where your organization sits along the content maturity life cycle. Conversation at the workshop should focus on executing the overarching content strategy and dissecting what the organization needs for a high-functioning publishing competency. This spans everything from skills and organizational assessment to governance and supporting technology.

Participants should include a cross-functional group of first-line managers who need to work as a team to optimize and scale content operations. Suggested participants include:

  • Marketing leaders of specified business units
  • Marketing, social, and digital marketing managers
  • Marketing tech specialists
  • Customer experience specialists
  • Distribution and sales leaders
  • Owners of core digital, social, and mobile selling systems — including CRM and targeting analytics
  • Compliance representatives
  • Sales operations and sales enablement program managers
  • Business analysts
  • Corporate communications and PR staff
  • Creative services team members

The goal is to get people who may be working diligently but potentially at cross-purposes to co-create a future state – creating and distributing engaging content that supports the full-experience life cycle. Workshop deliverables should include a shared vision of where your organization needs to head, with detailed, prioritized action plans.

Turn the marketing stack into a maypole

An arcane spring ritual involves children dancing around a maypole. Each child grabs a ribbon and wraps it around the pole. If the marketing tech stack serves as the maypole, then each ribbon represents a distinct buyer’s journey. Wrapping the journey around the tech stack creates a more contextual view and allows the team to visualize requirements to deliver content strategically and ultimately to scale. It illustrates why it’s so important to first understand the journey (or multiple journeys) and what is required to distribute content experiences in a relevant way along the journey. It also helps to eliminate or turn off unnecessary functionality.

Ultimately, the organization needs a highly intelligent, near-total automation of the content supply chain. The goal is to create an open architecture that supports dynamic message delivery, and allows you to plug in new components that support new content types, social channels, or consolidated profiling.

Shop your closet before buying a new outfit

Optimizing what you own before adding more components or complexity increases performance and allows better resource allocation. One of the biggest problems cited by CMOs in the Forbes study was their desire to eliminate the redundancy and carrying cost of too many platforms.

Once you really understand the technology you own and determine your additional needs to automate operations along defined journeys, meet with vendors, and get their insights. This is when vendor strategy teams can add real value. Share your vision and road map, and have them map your needs against their platform, including tightly integrated partners. It’s highly possible that some of your existing platforms have new functionality or contain functionality that is not turned on. Some vendors may have made acquisitions to provide broader coverage or developed highly integrated strategic partnerships.

Before having a conversation, create a scorecard. Approach this as if you are shopping for a new platform, and look at your existing technology through a new lens. If the vendor suggests migrating to a newer version, make sure you know what is involved and how the migration could impact overall experience and performance. Most importantly, how will it impact the back-end integration with other nodes of your tech stack?

Once you have a clear view of the potential of existing technology, identify gaps. The important thing is to get the most from what you have without getting bogged down in a legacy system that will never do what you need. It’s a balancing act, especially with hundreds of new entrants every year into the category. Each is trying to make the case as to why you should jettison what you have and buy new.

If the vendor promises that crucial functionality is on its road map, pin down the representative. Ask status of planned functionality, and determine if it has been field tested. Vendors don’t want to lose a sale or licensing renewals so they often will present a rosier picture than what reality is. View with skepticism statements such as, “Our road map is fluid, so if you have a big priority we’ll put it in front of the line.” This is not how it works.

If the vendor promises that crucial functionality is on its road map, pin down the representative. @ComBlu Click To Tweet

When the bright shiny object makes sense

Once you know how to optimize the platforms you own, you can start strategically backfilling. Use your blueprint as a guide for reviewing new tools. Here are a few things to consider:

  • Is it a tool or a platform?
  • Can you live with it out of the box or is there a lot of customization in your future?
  • What does it need to integrate with?
  • Will it support your strategy road map now and into the future?
  • Can it fulfill more than one set of requirements?
  • How difficult is adoption?
  • Is the company well-funded and capable of issuing new versions to keep the tool relevant?
  • Is the seller a vendor or a partner? Either is fine, depending on how much assistance you need.
  • When dealing with multiple solutions, who owns the integration?

Establishing filters up front helps eliminate the bright shiny object syndrome.

Scaling takes time and requires an overarching strategy and infrastructure that is right-sized for the task. Cultural due diligence, the continuous upgrading of skills, and obsession with the customer’s developing POV always trump technology. That being said, modernizing the tech stack for today’s publishing organization is a must. Success requires the guidance of a leader with both a marketing and publishing mindset that establishes the right processes and then lets stakeholders work effectively to execute.

Modernizing the tech stack for today’s publishing organization is a must says @ComBlu. Click To Tweet

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute