Key Capabilities of Alignment
Agreeing to a single set of priorities—and making those priorities highly visible—is one of the greatest challenges facing the marketing organization today:
“B-to-B organizations often struggle with the cross-functional alignment and shared vision required for an enterprise-wide approach to content ideation, activation, and curation.”
—SiriusDecisions, Inc., in “Content Operations: The Hub for the B-to-B Content Process”
High-level planning is critical to successful execution for integrated marketing teams. Without a shared vision, teams will naturally retreat into silos, set their own priorities, and begin to create content ad hoc. Similarly, if the marketing strategy isn’t shared widely and communicated clearly, teams have no visibility into one another’s plans or progress.
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To facilitate alignment, the content operation must support two key capabilities: prioritization and visibility. For prioritization, marketing leadership establishes a set of themes or initiatives for teams to work on for a set period of time. Leadership also identifies the core content materials needed, allowing teams to stay focused and organized around the strategy.
Marketing plans are complex, cross-functional, and multi-channel, so the appropriate amount of visibility is also essential for keeping teams and initiatives aligned. Individual team members need visibility into their own set of priorities and how they tie in to the larger strategy, but they don’t need to know the day-to-day tasks of team members from another department or division. The CMO needs the full picture of what all teams are doing across the organization as well as the full initiative status and progress. Without visibility, inter-team dependencies can quickly stall the progress of an initiative, impacting the whole organization.
Amid the chaos of the digital age, marketers struggle to get clarity what the strategy is and how to prioritize content development to support it. One in five marketers aren’t clear on the objectives of the digital assets they are asked to create, according to Accenture Digital.
“1 in 5 marketers are not clear on objectives while creating digital assets—only 1 in 5 respondents feel content objectives are clearly laid out.”
—Accenture Digital, in “Content: The H2O of Marketing”
Prioritization establishes the strategic themes to focus on, which eliminates internal confusion and aligns the marketing organization to a shared goal. Priorities are communicated in the form of integrated campaigns or initiatives, and once the key initiatives have been established, teams can work together more collaboratively.
Without clear prioritization from leadership, everything downstream falls apart, the integration is disbanded, and marketing reverts to the chaos it was trying to extricate itself from.
Prioritization can be broken down into three key processes:
Leveraging internal expertise is crucial prioritization. To tap into internal subject-matter experts and insights from your team, establish a scalable, repeatable process for them to propose ideas for new initiatives. This process should include instructions for submitting a new idea and a central repository for storing and reviewing ideas.
As the idea catalog is filled, a process for approving ideas is needed. During the decision-making process, key internal stakeholders should meet to discuss the marketing organization’s priorities and approve the appropriate work (initiatives and content).
CAPACITY REVIEW PROCESS
The leadership team’s decisions need to be limited by capacity—they can only approve as much work as there is capacity to perform it, and no more.
Best Practice: Appoint a Content Governance Board and Staff
The best practice for managing the process of prioritization is to develop a content governance board and, in some cases, a content board staff.
The content governance board will consist of departmental leaders whose teams are entering into the content operation, such as marketing, sales, and product business units. These representatives will provide integrated plans for their individual teams and make sure that the initiatives align with the organization’s overarching business goals and strategy.
In smaller organizations, the content governance board could be the same marketers who form the Content Center of Excellence plus additional sales and product members. Larger organizations may have a small staff to help with coordination and managing process details as well as reporting.
Function of a Content Governance Board
Monitor initiatives and manage escalations
Review initiative performance to inform next round of approvals
Members of a Content Governance Board
Integrated marketing leadership team
Leadership from each marketing function
Leadership rep. for content creators
Example: creative services or product marketing
Leadership rep. for content consumers
Example: sales or customer success
Function of a Content Governance Board Staff
Manage initiative and content proposal backlog
Manage preparation of initiative proposals
Manage initiative reviews
Members of a Content Governance Board Staff
Content operations team
The purpose of a content governance board is to meet regularly to approve, monitor, and review marketing initiatives. A successful content governance board should meet monthly to approve planned initiatives, monitor in-progress initiatives, and review completed initiatives. Quarterly, biannual, and annual strategy sessions should be planned to set high-level themes.
Content Governance Board Cadence & Objectives
Review, approve, and monitor marketing initiatives
Review content governance board objectives and team members (are we meeting our goals and do we have the right people involved?)
Set the strategic content themes for the year based on annual business strategy, plan, and objectives
Once priorities have been approved, all stakeholders must have an appropriate level of visibility into the plan.
As marketing starts to evolve from a chaotic, siloed approach to a more effective, integrated approach, tremendous coordination is required to allow a larger scope of functions, tools, and channels to work together. Priorities need to be converted into detailed plans (who’s doing what when), and visibility into the plans must be provided to many different stakeholders.
Altitudes of Visibility
“Altitudes of visibility” is a concept for zooming in and out of levels of information and detail to view marketing activities from a high-level, “30,000-foot” view down to the granular tasks and details.
The leadership team will often use the highest view, focusing on the progress of major initiatives. With the proper altitudes of visibility established, they can drill into specific assets and workflows as needed. Front-line marketers, on the other hand, will need more visibility into the lower-level tasks and deadlines of their daily work.
Marketing leadership needs to stay focused on the initiatives to ensure alignment.
While different stakeholders need different altitudes of visibility into the marketing strategy, it’s critical that the altitudes connect. The leadership-level altitude must be able to zoom in to the task-level altitude to understand the detail involved and enforce accountability. The front-line altitude must be able to zoom out to understand how their piece of the puzzle fits into the wider strategy.
Dimensions of Visibility
When building a content operation, it’s great to document priorities and all the details, but such a trove of information can quickly become overwhelming and, thus, useless. Different stakeholders must have the ability to “slice and dice” the plan in order to see just what they need to see, how and when they need to see it.
For example, a field marketer in Brazil is working on a Fortune 500 IT company’s “Security” product line. This marketer doesn’t have to regularly view the company’s entire marketing plan; instead, they should have visibility into their particular dimension—just content for Brazil, for the Security product line. Similarly, a marketing executive might want visibility into a perspective that spans multiple dimensions at once: for example, the status of all content assets viewed by both the persona and the buying stage they target.
Lastly, there is chronological visibility. The production and distribution of content operates on deadline-driven schedules. The altitude and dimension perspectives must be expressed with chronological visibility—across calendars, chronological charts, etc.—so stakeholders can clearly understand the plan through the perspective of time.
Best Practice: Metadata Tagging
In order to achieve the desired levels of visibility, all initiatives, tactics, and content should be tagged with appropriate keywords to capture the data needed for easy filtering. Using tags (product line, industry, region, buying stage, persona, etc.) improves each level of your content production and review process:
It aligns content creation with approved strategy
If the content creator can’t assign the content to the appropriate metatagging fields, it’s probably misaligned from the strategy.
It helps all users find the appropriate content
If a sales representative is speaking with a senior director of marketing for a major healthcare organization, they can search for relevant content specific to that individual by filtering their search by industry > healthcare; persona > marketing; stage > consideration.
It enables multi-level slicing and dicing for reporting and insight
When analyzing the data on an initiative, the content governance board can sort content by persona, stage, and/or product for insight into detailed segments to build a gap analysis. Are we overproducing in one segment and completely ignoring another?
It supports the workflow
Tagging initiatives and specific tasks allows teams working in multiple tools and channels to keep their workflow organized and on-topic. Tagging specific creative assets ensures that they’re all added to the appropriate final content piece.
It optimizes the calendar
Filtering by editorial or production task gives initiative owners an easy visual insight into what teams are working on and what types of content are in the pipeline or have already been published for a specific persona, region, or initiative.
Implementing a metadata tagging system starts with your existing content. The hierarchy of your website menus and your existing blog post and YouTube tags provides a foundation for the types of content you already have organized. Some essential questions to ask when building out a tagging system are: