Content Strategy: Managing the Content Supply Chain

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After approximately twenty years working in the world of web content, I’ve discovered there are considerable parallels between what is often described as “every company’s second business” (publishing content) and their first (making and selling stuff).

Like their colleagues who are focused on getting product made and shipped; content marketers, content management professionals, customer experience officers (call them what you will) and their partners in IT are facing an efficiency challenge and need to look toward transformative business processes and software tools to meet the demand for content with the resources they have.

In both cases organizations are looking to “do more with less”, to create leanness by engineering operational efficiency into their processes. In the world of content, we describe this as a content strategy and like a new product it starts with an idea, a blueprint or a plan.

R&D / The Content Marketing Plan
If you are in the business of selling something, at some point in your company’s history someone smart (whose name is probably over door) looked to the market and discovered the need for what you do, the people whose problem you are solving, who would potentially pay money for it and where they would buy it. They then looked internally to figure out how to make it happen and take that idea to market profitably.

In the same way a content strategy should start here, with an understanding of the audience, what content do they need to transact with you or to solve their problem and where the market for this content is (the social channels, the publications they read (etc)). Then to look internally in how you make that happen with the resources you have available.

The Factory / Content Strategy
In the world of making stuff you define a “bill of materials” (the things you need to make the final product), you work with the suppliers where they are sourced and of course you build a production line and tools that put them together.

Similarly a content strategy defines the content components, how they are sourced (who’s going to create them or what systems do we need to integrate too) and work to a plan defined by an editorial calendar and workflow.

How about automated manufacturing? A driving force in the world of making stuff since the industrial revolution is now touching our content process. We are familiar with tools that can discover meaning in text, help with keyword creation and metadata tagging – but how about new content? I am sure you have heard about the robot that broke the story about the recent LA earthquake – a sign of a future of automated curated data creating new content.

The Warehouse / Content Store
Once we’ve started making stuff, we have to figure out where we are going to put it and more importantly how the devil we are going to find it when a customer comes knocking?

Warehouse optimization in the supply chain world is about getting to product quickly and reducing the amount of valuable inventory that’s taking up much needed space and getting in the way. Change the words “product” and “inventory” to “content” and does that sound familiar?

It does to me and I was on a call with a client today that complained that they couldn’t find stuff in the CMS and all of the old content was getting in the way of their production efficiency. A content strategy needs to include these content structures and retention policies that keep the content warehouse lean and humming.

Also remember that this content clutter wasn’t free, like the inventory in the warehouse it costs something to make. Content professionals need to regularly take stock of their content assets and either put them to work or recycle them into something else.

In the same way that a modern warehouse is automated and doesn’t have a chap wandering around with a clipboard and a ladder, the “finding stuff” issue for content needs to be systemized and solved for the machines that pick and package our content; our websites, customer experience applications and campaign tools.

Here you might hear the term “smart content” where content is well described with meta-data, the machines can figure out who and what it’s for.

Or as my old Gilbane colleague Dale Waldt puts it in his definition of smart content:

“When you add meaning to content you make it “smart” enough for computers to do some interesting things. Organizing, searching, processing, and discovery are greatly improved, which also increases the value of the data.”

Distribution / Content Delivery
Our colleagues in the shipping department know there is someone constantly hopping from one foot to the other, checking their mailbox or for the UPS man so that they can get their hands on whatever it is they engaged with us for.

Maybe it’s a customer that wants to rate the delivery time as 5 stars, are itching to put out an unboxing video or tell their friends about the experience and this shiny new thing.

If Amazon could drop the package off within an hour by helicopter, they would. Even better if they could reach through the screen and hand you the product instantly they’d do that for sure.

Well, of course, this is exactly what you are doing as a content marketer, the consumer is not going to be checking their mailbox, you are reaching through the screen to fulfill their immediate need and studies suggest you better get on with it as the average internet user has an attention span of about 4 seconds.

Our chum in shipping has an address – but as we deliver content which screen is it we are sending this too – the desktop PC, the smartphone, your distributor’s website, Twitter or Facebook? And to address (or target) the content appropriately we need to know something about this content consumer and make it relevant for them so that the experience delivers and they haven’t clicked the back button when your 4 seconds is up.

Conclusion
Of course, in around a thousand words I have barely skimmed the trees of these two fine disciplines and the lessons we can learn, but I think the analogy between the two is sound, when defining a content strategy we should be looking to bring the same kind of operational efficiency, rigor and automation we see in the production of physical things.

Ian Truscott is the Senior Vice President of Content Strategy at Tahzoo. This article was originally published to LinkedIn.



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