CES 2011 is all tablets, wireless connectivity, Internet-enabled 3D TVs and Android-fueled smart phones. Look at the innocuous next generation Chumby2 - essentially a bite-sized internet-enabled tablet for the end table. Each represents the diversification of internet and content access.We are accessing content in more ways via more devices. Add that to the established trend for people to spend time and get information via social networks. We are not spending significantly more time on brand web sites. And while TV-usage may be trending up in the US, I guarantee you much of that is multiplatform time (laptop open). Oh and don't forget that professional media companies from B2B trades to B2C multiplatforms are hungry for content. The time for brands to step into the role of their own media company is here.
Content Activation = Create, Distribute, Promote and Measure
Today, the corporate marcom lead has plenty of reasons to see the value in developing a complete content strategy to reach corporate communication goals and to reach product brand marketing goals. Brands can build virtual engines to create a mix of multimedia and more spontaneous content that is designed to either be useful or entertaining. This causes people to spend time and interact (i.e. "engage") or spread that content across their social graph (i.e. advocate). Brands must distribute that relevant content across an ever-changing ecosystem of owned, co-owned (e.g. Facebook), earned (e.g. bloggers, media) and paid platforms (e.g. all types of ads from advertorials to print ads to online display). But feeding the fire hose with the right content is not enough. Brands must take responsibility for promoting content to get in the hands of people who will engage and advocate. Lastly, true content activation culture requires constant measurement to understand performance and the diagnostics or levers that can be pulled to improve impact and outcomes.
Chief Content Officer vs. Process
There has been a lot of good discussion about the notion of a new C-suite position - Chief Content Officer. LinkedIn has a group dedicated to the concept (but where few members actually carry that or a related title.) I particularly like Greg Matusky's take on a job description:
"If you can write like a journalist, think like a marketer, and understand the vast and shifting seas of digital communications, Mega Global Corporation needs you to express our world view and communicate our value to financial and consumer markets, partners, and governments.
You must be able to manage a worldwide editorial staff, producing both written and visual communications, and must be able to deliver daily, even hourly, content that is fully optimized to gain visibility over digital pathways.
This individual will report directly to the CEO, but will have the strength of character to beat back corporate encroachment in favor of honest, accurate content that provides real value to worldwide audiences.
Most important, this individual must understand how to monetize this content throughout the enterprise, converting incoming interest into business opportunities for the organization as a whole. Compensation: Name your price if you can deliver on the seemingly impossible yet urgent responsibilities described here."
I am not convinced that centralization in the C-suite is the only way to go to create a culture of "content activation." Equally important is the right mix of teams and process to make it happen.
Creating Responsive Content: Analytics Team
What are customers searching for and what are they saying in online conversations about the product, brand or important ideas that connect with them? This sympathetic intelligence fuels all of our best content strategy. We literally make content that has the words and ideas people are looking for. Of course that content must be useful or entertaining to customers and it must authentically represent our brand or products. This isn't about tricking people to consume content. It is all about relevance.
Brands should establish or expand the role of existing groups to take responsibility for this intelligence. The Analytics Team is constantly sensing what customers need and want. That is feeding into creation and distribution strategies. There is a "geek factor" here that is best delivered across the enterprise form a single group. In other words its hard to get right and this type of foundational knowledge and insight should come from one place such that it cascades throughout the organization from a consistent center.
Establishing Clear Brand Themes: Theme Development Process
In corporate communications we call it a message platform. Marketing teams think more in terms of 'brand story.' Internal communications think more in terms of values and principles. Our customers and employees are seeing both what corp comms delivers and what marketing publishes. They ought to be aligned. the disciplines ought to work together to establish a common and focused story platform. I will call it "theme" as it can sit above and drive individual stories (or campaigns). We don't need a single unified team but a process that brings marketing and communications together. Their goal should be to define three themes that can drive their work over a half year or longer. These themes can be revised from time to time yet ought to be consistent for long stretches as they are likely derivative of true culture and ought not to change like so much campaign "fashion" (i.e. constantly changing campaign messaging). Product brand stories can be written in alignment with these themes. Even short-lived campaign ideas can be derived from them. It's important to establish and communicate across the entire enterprise.
Train on Technique: Content Optimization Process
There is quite a bit of technical and process know-how needed from meta-information creation to advanced techniques in search optimization to really succeed with content activation. But most groups who create content can get it. I am arguing against a centralized 'content factory' responsible for all content creation and optimization. I just don't think that is realistic. Too many disciplines within the enterprise have an interest and need in content creation. It is possible to think of the content factory as a federation of distributed groups. Let's simply establish a common process for making all content work as hard as it can. Let's train our teams in this highly valuable optimization process.
Always Be Assessing Progress: Measurement Team
Every week, brands should be looking at a dashboard of performance. That must have the simplified view of key performance indicators as well as enough diagnostic data to know which levers to pull to improve things. This is best left to a Measurement Team both cause its geeky but also because senior leadership will trust the numbers from an independent group. The only generalization that I can make about what these measure should include is that the ought to report both on whatever KPIs describe the action you want from people and those that reflect increased advocacy.
Teams and Process
Don't get me wrong. I love the idea of the Chief Content Officer. But this lucky guy or gal will still have to establish the teams and process I have described to actually implement a content activation culture in today's business enterprise. The benefits of this approach include:
- More people talking about the brand in relevant ways
- Input into how your brand is talked about
- Increased brand presence in search engines
- Alignment of internal and external communications
- More customers and prospects spending time and interacting with the brand via content
- Treating employees like the advocates they are
- Moving beyond a campaign marketing cadence into an always-on relationship
- What else?