Setting the Foundation of a Content Operation
Content is the foundation of marketing. To solve the chaos and complexity that often surrounds it, we need to understand how to effectively and efficiently manage a integrated content within an integrated marketing team.
A content operation is the process of producing, distributing, and analyzing content across the entire organization with a clear alignment of processes, people, and technology to support integrated marketing teams, and it makes up the framework for building scalable, repeatable methods for content management.
The content lifecycle is the end-to-end, four-step process for managing content from ideation to execution and analysis. It supports a “one-team, same-team” mentality throughout marketing by providing structure and transparency to the content process.
Together, the content lifecycle and the content operation provide the framework for building scalable, repeatable processes for content management.
Not a Re-Org
No reorganization is required to implement a content operation—in fact, reorganization is discouraged.
Instead, a content operation is a set of processes that supports teams, tools and channels. A content operation holds no authority of its own, but is instead guided by the authority of the teams working within it. It’s a way for teams to work together so they can all be more successful: the needed response to the growing, unaddressed complexity of the digital marketing era.
A Content Operation as a Function: Center of Excellence for the Enterprise
Depending on the size and structure of the organization, it might make sense to have a small central content operation team, a Content Center of Excellence, whose sole responsibility is to manage the content process. They would drive the implementation and adoption of content marketing best practices across multiple business units within the enterprise to ensure consistency across the organization.
No single, existing function can manage the end-to-end content process. Therefore, the marketing organization must appoint a “foreman” to act as the operational hub for content management.
“In most factories, foremen act as operational coordinators and analysts, overseeing complex processes and constantly looking for opportunities for improvement.”—SiriusDecisions, in “Content Operations: The Hub for B-to-B Content Process”
The main benefit of having a dedicated content operations function is that it completely unburdens content creators, distributors, and consumers from content management. The operations team can conduct process audits, educate internal teams on content management best practices, and make sure that the content strategy is being carried out effectively across the organization.
However, a content operation can exist without a team managing it. The key is to develop processes that support coordination and collaboration across marketing functions.
Content Operation: Fundamental Principles
Before developing the processes and key capabilities necessary for integrated marketing to work, marketing executives must first lay the groundwork for their content operation.
The first step in building a content operation is to determine its scope. Who will be involved with the initial implementation and scalability? How will the initial set of processes be scaled across teams, functions, and business units?
At a smaller company, a new content operation could encompass all the marketing content that the company produces. At larger companies, this isn’t feasible or advised. Instead, a content operation can be rolled out across a certain section or business unit of marketing, and then expanded over time, as shown in this diagram:
For a content operation to succeed, its scope needs to be clearly defined. Ambiguity around what functions, tools, and channels are involved leads to failure, as clarity is precisely what a content operation is meant to provide.
The scope of a content operation should be defined across three dimensions: functions (or teams), tools, and channels.
As mentioned earlier, a content operation doesn’t involve a re-org: it should align to the existing organizational structure. Therefore, the scope definition should also include executive sponsors (the leaders of the included functions or teams) to clarify that all the members of those teams and all the content they create will be within the company’s content operation.
Thus, the scope definition of a content operation could look something like this:
Security product line, North America geography, the following teams:
Exec. Director, Marketing Communication
Exec. Director, Demand Generation
As mentioned above, a content operation might begin with a smaller scope, but the objective is to include more and more teams in order to achieve higher levels of performance benefit. Thus, a content operation must be designed to easily include more functions, teams, tools, and channels over time.
Key elements of scalability include:
Using common, consistent language for key elements of the process
Defining key elements once (for example an “initiative type”) and building a repeatable process for execution
Clearly documenting the process so participants—particularly new ones—can easily understand how it functions
These three principles of scalable processes—terminology, templatization, and documentation—are more expected within information technology or customer support functions, not marketing. However, the complexity of the digital age and the pressures on marketing to deliver results have made it imperative for organizations to adopt such principles.
Best Practice: The Initiative Container
When building a content operation, it’s important to standardize the way marketing priorities are put into action. This means creating repeatable processes that enable cross-functional teams to efficiently execute the strategy. The “initiative container” is a method for standardizing the organization and categorization of related content assets in a way that provides altitudes of visibility: the ability to “zoom out” to see the big picture and “zoom in” to see the tiny details that form its foundation, all in one place.
The initiative container is composed of three levels:
Level One: Initiative
An initiative is the highest level of the container, and it represents a major marketing priority, project, or theme at the leadership level. When an initiative is approved, it becomes the “container” for the work needed to fulfill that initiative. In a modern marketing organization, this usually means the creation of new assets or repurposing existing content.
Marketing leadership should first work together to define what types of information or attributes are needed to define an initiative, and then agree to make that information standard across all every initiative type. For example, an initiative might require the following attributes:
An initiative might have the following attributes: initiative type, initiative name, business unit, target persona, deliverables, deadlines, and goals.
Securita Mobile Security Help Center
Deliverables and deadlines
1 updated IT persona brief – mm/dd/yy
1 content pillar – mm/dd/yy
1 microsite – mm/dd/yy
Engage the IT persona
5% site conversion, visitor to lead
2,000 MQLs by mm/dd/yyy
Next come the initiative types. An initiative type can be anything from an event to a website refresh—any major marketing activity that is done often. Here are some examples:
Possible Initiative Types
• Thought leadership • Market research • Product launch • Event • Webinar • Website/Microsite launch • Sales enablement
The exact initiative structure will vary depending on the size and specific needs of the organization. Once initiative types and their critical attributes are defined, each initiative type should be templatized. What are the components and content needed to fulfill each initiative? Are there specific workflow steps that need to be defined to ensure the successful execution of an initiative type?
Templatizing each initiative type makes it easy to repeat successful initiatives, and it helps teams avoid reinventing the wheel for every new initiative.
Level Two: Tactic
Within every initiative, there are a number of tactics. A tactic can be any type of marketing activity—blog post, eBook, email, etc.—that is produced as a part of an initiative.
Level Three: Task
Finally, within each tactic are many tasks. Tasks let multiple teams work on a single tactic to achieve the highest level of quality.
Using the initiative as a container gives the marketing organization proper altitudes of visibility: marketing leadership can monitor the initiatives, see the tactics that make up that initiative, and drill into the specific tasks that the team needs to complete. They can easily zoom in and out of the various levels of visibility needed to monitor the success of an entire initiative.
The next chapter will explain the content lifecycle—including the key capabilities that should be developed at each stage within it—and its role in developing a content operation.