Do marketers dream of magical tools? (I couldn’t resist that Blade Runner reference).
As we enter the fourth quarter (for many), it’s time for planning. Budgets are due. Plans are being formed. Leftover money must be spent before the year’s end.
Is it any wonder that marketers’ thoughts turn to technology? You may be mulling over questions such as:
- What technology should we budget for?
- Which new tools will help us achieve our plan?
- What cool new capability might we buy with that leftover money?
This year’s tech questions seem particularly complex. I hear content marketers asking if blockchain will become the next new thing. Or if they should invest in artificial intelligence software? Or if they should finally acquire a content calendaring tool. How about a new analytics solution? Or is it time to invest in a DAM? What is a DAM?
Many marketers dream of investing in tools to automate processes, create insightful dashboards, or spread content evenly across myriad channels in the right way to reach the right people at the right time on the right device.
Wait. Did we forget about intent data? Add that to our tech dream board, too!
But all those dreams could quickly become nightmare scenarios, requiring skill levels your company can’t accommodate.
Caveat emptor: Think before you buy
Have you heard the aphorism “a boat is a hole in the water that you throw money into”? It means that when you decide to invest in a boat, you’re not just buying the boat – you’re also committing to all the things that go along with owning a boat. That includes renting a dock, acquiring a trailer, keeping up with the significant maintenance required, and paying for the fuel and other costs of operating it.
It’s not a stretch to adapt that saying to our industry: “Marketing tech is a hole in the business that you throw money and time into.”
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t invest in it (or buy that boat if you need it or love it). Marketing technology can return extraordinary value.
But be conscious of what you’re buying. Any marketing technology worth purchasing involves implementation, training, user learning curve time, and ongoing administration.
I’ve recently seen some real challenges on this front. One B2B company I worked with has been stuck in some form of software selection or technology implementation cycle since the beginning of the year. They’re limited in the amount of content marketing they can create because they’ve been so busy trying to figure out the technology to create more content marketing.
Tech purchases won’t necessarily make your 2023 content dreams come true. What should you focus on to set your program up for success?
I have a few ideas.
Focus on change first, not technology
I’ve been advising clients and colleagues to worry less about which new technology will be a must-have for 2023. Instead, work on developing the muscle to evolve content activities into repeatable processes.
In other words: How do you change?
I find that it’s critical to hold frequent discussions with stakeholders about the audience/customer journey. Content marketers aren’t the only ones creating bold new plans for content in the coming year.
You’ll probably participate in many meetings to understand what the sales team wants, what the brand team thinks, what the public relations crew has on their mind, and what senior leadership thinks.
But success isn’t built from a mutual understanding of those separate agendas. The teams must come together to develop one collaborative content strategy for customer and audience engagement.
Coordinated communication is one of the hallmarks of a successful content strategy. To achieve it, focus on these three fundamentals:
1. Orchestrate connected experiences, not siloed hand-offs
Think about next year’s plan in a way that lets you decouple customer and audience data management from the content experience. Explore how you can create a unified view of your subscribers and customers so that things like “audience,” “lead,” “opportunity,” and “customer” are attributes in a single database instead of siloed buckets.
That probably means technology will eventually play a role. But first, create awareness of what content is planned, by whom, and where it will be distributed.
Almost every business would benefit from communicating about the portfolio of content that will be created rather than meeting about what was created.
2. Shift to meaning-driven (not data-driven) content operations
What meaning do the email address, first name, and last name of someone who registered for a white paper contain? Little to none. You can, perhaps, draw some inferences about buying intent based on the topic of the digital asset. But the intent with which that data was provided may completely circumvent that inference. (If the email shared is [email protected] – you’ll have a pretty good idea.)
That kind of marketing data has no inherent meaning. It is a collection of facts, figures, and attributes about people or their behavior. You need more interactions with that person to develop a relationship.
For next year’s planning, businesses must develop new strategies to find the emotional value in data that’s given rather than gathered. For example, let’s look at an email address gathered from gating a white paper versus one given to subscribe to a newsletter after reading that white paper. How much more valuable is that email address if you know it’s given willingly, trustingly, and with the expectation of receiving valuable communication from your brand?
3. Organize for agility, not speed
You’ve probably read many essays about how content marketing teams need to become more agile in their operations. But agility isn’t about moving faster. It’s about focusing on high-value, high-priority activities.
The constant pressure of more and more content arises from a fear of moving too slowly. Replace that fear with joy by planning to spend more time developing powerful thought leadership stories and less time creating endless assets.
Think about how to shift your processes to spend more time planning big, meaningful, powerful, differentiated content. Once you create those stories, you can then decide whether and how best to transform them into digital assets.
Can you separate the process of content creation and digital asset production – and become more agile in the process? I think you’ll find you can.
Content marketing field of dreams
An “if we buy it, they will come” approach (to paraphrase another famous movie line) rarely leads to success.
And you can’t measure success by how much technology you deploy. That’s like thinking you can get to work faster by purchasing more cars. You’ll just accrue more debt and spend all your time managing and maintaining those cars.
What will 2023 bring? The metaverse? The return of NFTs? A B2B version of TikTok? The collapse of third-party data? We. Don’t. Know.
But, as you’re looking at your budget, plan, or year-end spending, take a beat. Before you dive into a tool, think about what you hope you and your team will be spending time and money on this time next year.
Write it out. What does your day look like?
That’ll help you set up a better dream for how you might accomplish it.
It’s your story. Tell it well.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute