Come for the great conversation and insights. Stay for the familiar conference call mishaps …

We created Talking Points as a new regular department to bring you moderated conversations among content marketing thinkers. For this inaugural edition, I dialed up some of the industry’s leading lights to talk about the findings from the latest CMI research on enterprise content marketing.

The good news? We recorded the entertaining and enlightening discussion so you could listen to every nuanced thought, passionately argued position, and witty exchange.

The not-so-good news? It’s a recorded conference call — with all that genre’s greatest hits: The accidentally muted line! The random background noises! The intermittent echo!

Even with its flaws, the talk was too good to keep to ourselves. Only if you listen will you catch Ann Handley ordering up a side of olive loaf with her content requests, Doug Kessler pitting creative snowflakes against hard-nosed sales teams, and Robert Rose’s thoughts on businesses treating marketing as a necessary evil.

We’ve recapped other (lightly edited) highlights of the conversation for you here. In it, we discuss these findings from the research:

  • The most popular content marketing goal is brand awareness (79%), which is in contrast to more business-oriented outcomes such as lead generation (63%) and revenue generation (39%).
  • Only 19% of enterprise respondents say sales and content marketing are extremely/very aligned.
  • Only 53% of content marketers agree their businesses value craft and creativity.

Meet our panel

These are the voices you’ll hear (along with mine, as the moderator):

Ann Handley is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author who speaks worldwide about how businesses can escape marketing mediocrity to ignite tangible results. IBM named her one of the seven people shaping modern marketing. She is the chief content officer of MarketingProfs, a LinkedIn Influencer, a keynote speaker, mom, dog person, and writer.

Doug Kessler is co-founder and creative director of Velocity Partners, the London- and New York-based B2B content marketing agency (now part of the Next 15 group). Velocity won the Content Marketing Institute’s Agency of the Year in 2016 and Doug refuses to stop mentioning it. He’s written a lot about content marketing and has been an annoyingly ubiquitous presence on the speaking circuit too.

mug shot-robert rose
Robert Rose is the founder and chief strategy officer of The Content Advisory — the education and advisory group of The Content Marketing Institute. As a strategist, Robert has worked with more than 500 companies including global brands such as Capital One, Dell, Ernst & Young, Hewlett Packard, and The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Stephanie: When we ask enterprise content marketers about their primary goals, most say brand awareness. It actually ranks higher than lead generation or revenue generation. That’s all fine and good, but I’ll steal a quote from CCO’s editor, “Show me an executive that cares more about brand awareness than revenue and I’ll show you a unicorn.”

Robert: I think it’s the only thing they know how to measure. Content marketers right now are struggling with alignment with the part of marketing (whether you call it sales enablement or demand generation) that generates demand and leads and nurtures them into customers.

Doug: It feels like it’s a cop out, actually. It’s one of those freebies. You get that free with all marketing. But are they even measuring that? How many of our clients have come to us with brand awareness benchmarks that they’re running over the years? Some, but not that many. I think it’s just everyone thinks of it as, “Yeah, that’s got to be a good thing. Let’s say that.”

One of the questions we all get asked is, “What’s the best way to structure a content marketing team?” Our research shows that the most committed enterprise content marketers tend to have a centralized team that works with multiple brands or departments across the company. So let’s talk about the pros and cons of this kind of structure.

Robert: What you’re seeing in the numbers is a factor of a couple of things. Content as a function has a purpose. It’s got a team. It’s got a budget. It’s a group that works with multiple parts of the organization to create great content.

Now, the difference is where we see content leading versus following. What ends up happening is that centralized team ends up becoming treated as the on-demand vending machine of content.

So, even though it’s centralized, even though it’s actually a recognized team, it is still simply an internal agency or internal services organization to the business instead of a leading organization. In other words, proactively saying, “This is what we’re going to do strategically.” And, thus, leading the business through an editorial or content marketing strategy.

It’s not just centralizing the team, it’s actually giving power and responsibility to the team as well.

Doug: I wrote a post a while back about a content center of excellence, which is a centralized team, but not necessarily one that’s doing all the content — one that’s trying to raise everyone’s game across the business. To me, then, centralization becomes positive and you start to think about the things that ought to be done and are best done centrally.

If the goal is, “Our internal agency, they’ll do everything. If it’s content, go to them,” very few will scale to most big companies’ needs, even medium companies. Then we get into bottlenecks.

It feels like centralization is a symptom of something that’s going wrong, in a way. It’s, “Let’s put it in that box.” I think once it’s in that box, it’s going to go the way of PR, which kind of moves out to the periphery. I kind of would rather see [content] everywhere but done really well.

Robert: It’s a great point. I often say content should be part of the fabric of the business, like accounting, legal, or sales. There is a discreet, approved, recognized, and consistent way we manage this process.

So, instead of every product group and every sales group and every PR group and every other group engaging their own agency, like the Oprah of content marketing — “You get a content marketing strategy, you get a content marketing strategy, everybody gets a content marketing strategy!” — it’s this idea of getting a consistent and insightful platform for engaging content creators so we can manage costs and manage measurement and we can see what’s going on.

Doug: It’s weird because content is a fuzzy word, and we’ve all known this since the beginning. It’s the worst word for this except for all the other ones. So, we’re stuck with it. that. What if it were the word “ideas”? Would we say, “There needs to be an ideas group. Ideas need to be centralized”? Everybody else, if they want to have an idea, would have to go to them.

Content is a fuzzy word. It’s the worst word for what we do. Except for all the other ones. @DougKessler Click To Tweet

It’s a similar analogy to me. Content is used in so many ways in so many different places that the idea that only a few people in the whole big company should be good at it is a retrograde step.

Ann: I also think maybe it’s that content marketers themselves are scrambling to not let go of it. In other words, I don’t think it’s just the external pressure that’s keeping them contained. I think that, potentially, there are people internally that don’t want to give up that control. They don’t want to let go and let it happen across the whole organization.

Robert: There’s so much of that. It’s such a great point. We see it all the time, where content — whether it’s called editorial or thought leadership or inspirational whatever — is the cool, sexy stuff people really want to do. And the more mundane parts of marketing — working on SEO or working at incremental improvement in click through — are the things that nobody wants to do. So content itself becomes very territorial in the businesses we work with.

#Content creators are in a rat race to keep up with demand rather than setting a strategy to say, “What should we be doing?” @Robert_Rose Click To Tweet

The whole order-taking aspect of it, it’s really what we see at the basis of some of these numbers. We’re still seeing a lot of ineffective efforts and struggles with measurement. It’s because content creators are in this rat race to try to keep up with the demand rather than setting a strategy to say, “What should we be doing?”

Ann: It’s so hard, though. Don’t you see that? It’s just so hard to flip that.

Robert: Yeah. It’s a very difficult thing. It’s a cultural change. This is the classic “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” In many cases, it’s such a struggle to change the culture of how content is looked at as a commodity asset that can be produced by anybody. All I need to do is check a box, get the asset, and move along my way.

Let’s talk about something that’s really nice to see in the research. Quite a few content marketers agree that they value creativity and craft in content creation and production. I think that’s music to our ears, right?

Doug: Yeah, but, Steph, it was like 53%. I was shocked. Who are the 47% that don’t value craft and creativity? Who are these people? Why do we ask them questions?

What can we do? Is this just a directive coming down from executives who want to have content about me, me, me, our products, our products, yay?

Doug: I guess the question was if their organization values creativity and craft. So the ones who said no are probably depressed about it, or I hope so.

Robert: What we see and hear and feel a lot from the companies is the appreciation is for the result rather than the process. So, they don’t care how you get there as long as the result is whatever success metric has been set. “I kind of don’t care if you were creative and had fun or if it was a really wonderful process for getting there.” It’s a widget we produce.

The good news, I think, is there is an increasingly strong feeling that it does matter how the process goes and it does matter that the company does appreciate how the content is created and basically how the sausage is made.

It’s a good way to remind marketers that how we get there matters. Craft matters. Writing matters. @AnnHandley Click To Tweet

Ann: I think it’s interesting what you said, Robert, about how it doesn’t matter how you get there. But maybe it’s just my wish that we do value creativity and craft, and we think about things like writing and storytelling. And we do see storytelling in another part of the research. We see that increasingly being at the center of what content marketers are doing across all sizes of organizations.

So, all of that, I think, is a good way to just remind marketers, remind all of us, that how we get there matters. Craft matters, writing matters, all the things that I feel like I’m about and so many of us or several of us today are all about too. I think it’s important, and even that 53% I think that’s pretty good.