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Content marketing and the implications for marketing resources

Content marketing has been trending as a subject for discussion and consideration over recent years with more brands dedicating a larger slice of their budgets to it.  To effectively adopt content marketing, traditional ways of working need a radical rethink – with agility, full empowerment and changing production values being a core requirement.  This is turn has implications for marketing and communications teams and the agency roster that supports them – requiring new skills and structures.

Content marketing has been identified as the most commercially important marketing trend in 2013, 2014 and again now for 2015 (SmartInsights).  The CMA (Content Marketing Association) has indicated that 20% of spend on marketing goes to content, while eConsultancy’s review of marketing budgets in 2015 shows 73% of companies planning to increase their spend in this area.

So, given that content marketing is so important, how are companies embracing it within their team structures, their ways of working and agency rosters?

There are some obvious and widely quoted examples of companies that have fully incorporated content marketing into their activities – Red Bull, Coca Cola, Nike, Lego – for example. And given the quoted interest and spend on content, it is clearly a core component in many other brand marketing plans.  However, we are not seeing that translated into how companies organise and manage their marketing resources.

Over the last few years The Observatory International has been asked by our clients to undertake significant agency roster and marketing team restructuring but incorporating content marketing into the mix is rarely a core stated objective, (which isn’t to say we’ve ignored it).

Our view is that while marketing techniques and channel choices are evolving rapidly, the processes and structures in companies, and therefore mindset that enable it, are taking much longer to catch up.

Traditional marketing approach at odds with content marketing disciplines

In a traditional marketing plan the TV ad would have formed the core of the marketing activity.  It would have been focused around a ‘Big Idea’ executed and managed by the Agency of Record and most other communications and marketing activity would have hung off it.  The gestation period for the ad would have taken months, incorporating extensive briefing and insight development, a photographic shoot involving talent and location selection, multiple reviews (and therefore opinions) and an approval process that probably went right up to the top of the organisation.  The final output would be a beautifully crafted ad that would air at great expense within a carefully planned and targeted media schedule – a campaign over a specific and limited period of time.

The implications for ways of working

Adopting content marketing has significant implications on ways of working.  The context of marketing today is speed, volatility, complexity – more data, more channels, more influencers and more uncertainty. It’s about an on-going 24/7 dialogue with the end consumer – quite unlike the traditional model.  So in that state of complexity it is important to know where to structure and organise and where to let go.

Key characteristics of content marketing ways of working:

  • Nimbleness and agility
  • Empowerment
  • High frequency / high engagement
  • Shorter planning cycles
  • Proactive / reactive model

Nimbleness and agility
A key characteristic of content marketing strategies is the sheer volume of material that needs to be produced – in a major brand this can amount to tens of thousands of individual pieces of collateral.  In general fewer set pieces and more real time response.  Clearly not something that can be managed through a traditional process of planning and approval.  In addition, in a context where bloggers and vloggers are often setting the agenda for how a brand and its products and services are defined, the brand needs to be extremely agile to respond to both positive and negative reaction.

Empowerment
Managing the customer journey and all of the consumer touchpoints extends well beyond the marketing team, into PR, customer service, sales and even NPD.  To manage this requires letting go and empowering the team to respond.  But to do this effectively there needs to be clarity on where the boundaries are and what are the fundamentals that need to be observed – the ‘freedom of a tight brief’. These might be key insights that underpin the marketing strategy, understanding of the tone of voice and the core brand messages.

High frequency / high engagement
Content marketing collateral can vary from high quality cinematic films, to brief ‘how to’ clips; from social media ‘one sentence’ pieces to extensive reports and analysis. The production values of these will vary enormously.  But to be effective the content needs to be frequent, meaningful and engaging.  It involves a shift from “campaign” to “continuous content” and reinforcing the need for nimbleness and agility.

Shorter planning cycles
And all of the characteristics described above require much shorter planning cycles.  The conventional annual budget and scope of work planned and managed by the marketing teams and their agencies is increasingly irrelevant.

Proactive / reactive model
Within a calendar of planned activity, including core messaging and scenario planning the teams need to operate more like a news team or publishing house – with the ability to quickly respond and react to consumer, competitor or other brand-generated content.

The implications for marketing team structures

Content marketing has no respect for the traditional siloed, channel focused structures.

To effectively practice content marketing, a company doesn’t necessarily need to break down its existing structure.  However, it ought to create new operational models – putting in place multi-disciplined, multi-functional editorial boards which meet regularly and adopt the disciplines of a publishing house with the CMO as Editor in Chief.  Consideration should also be given to whether content should be created in-house and the production facilities needed to delivery that, and what should be out-sourced to external agencies.

And it needs key individuals with the capabilities and appropriate behaviours to manage a more fluid and dynamic process – natural collaborators and a more networked rather than linear structure.

The implications for agency rosters

The incorporation of content marketing has implications for the agency roster.  While many integrated agency networks might claim they have the skills and capabilities to manage the whole spectrum of content, their own ways of working may not offer the agility or affordability required to operate fully in this space.

The adoption of content marketing requires an element of ‘test and learn’, to put an element of the budget ‘at risk’ to try new techniques and innovations.  In some cases this is leading to a fragmentation of the agency roster, or the evolution of the roster to incorporate more approved agencies operating on a project basis.

There is still a requirement for an agency to define and lead the brand strategy and direction, but how that is executed across multiple channels and multiple pieces of content is no longer in their remit.

Summary

It’s arguable that external influencers are having a greater impact on the perception and adoption of individual brand’s product and services.  To ensure a brand’s core messages are heard and to give fast response in a complex and volatile environment, content marketing is taking a much greater proportion of the marketing mix.  Adopting and implementing content marketing effectively requires a rethink of team structures, ways of working and agency rosters.

The Observatory International is the leading global management consultancy dedicated to helping companies maximise their marketing and communications resources.  We specialise in roster modeling, marketing team structures and capabilities and ways of working.  We invest heavily in understanding the agency and client landscape.  With over 25 years’ experience working with many of the world’s leading brands and agencies our casebook is full of best practice on how to get the most out of your marketing resources.

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