Creating the Content Factory

by Britton Manasco | Jul 08, 2009 | Content Strategy

We've reached a consensus in many spheres of the B2B marketing world that relevant and compelling content is critical to success. But where's the execution? Few firms are actually pulling it off at this point.

One reason firms are struggling is that they don't have a rigorous and efficient process for producing decision-driving content. Content projects -- even white papers -- can put everyone out of sorts. Many issues -- Who owns the budget? Who should participate? When will the edits be completed? How will the creative design be produced? How will we promote the content? -- can delay a project or even run it into the ground.

The big question is: What must happen to turn this flawed and fledgling operation into a high performance content factory?
Paul Dunay, a well recognized social media marketer and now global managing director of services marketing at Avaya, believes the vision of a content factory is now within our grasp.

In a recent Leading Lights interview, he provided some insight into his own efforts toward this objective. "At the front end, it looks like a template," he explained. "So don’t hand me just the white paper. Hand me the white paper, hand me the landing page, hand me the blog content, hand me the key words, hand me the email post and then I can get that to the interactive team. The interactive team can formulate it and distribute it in places it needs to be distributed."

In Dunay's description, you begin to get a sense of some of the key factors that must be tackled in this effort. For instance, there must be a division of labor -- specialists that take on special roles as part of united and methodical process. The three key stages of that process, as I see it, are:

  • Content Development (Production). In this stage, the actual content is created. The content team conducts the interviews, runs the surveys and tracks down the facts. They operate as reporters, researchers and analysts -- all focused on the key issues of concern to your customers and prospects. They produce the content -- reports, white papers, case studies, interviews, audio recordings, video recordings, email copy, blog copy, articles, speeches, keywords -- and hand it off to the interactive/media team for the next stage.
  • Media Development (Packaging). In this stage, the media team takes the content and packages it for easy consumption. Reports and white papers are laid out in an appropriate design format (easy to read online). Images and graphics are added. Audio and video are edited and produced for xCasts. Content is dropped into established templates for distribution. Much care must be given to ensuring the format is appropriately matched to the medium and the audience.
  • Audience Development (Presentation). In this stage, content is actively leveraged across channels and media. SEO experts work Google and other search engines, purchasing keywords if appropriate. Social media and public relations specialists take the message to Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn and other forums where particular ideas will be valued. Analyst relations professionals rework their presentation decks for meetings with Gartner and Forrester. Marketers plan direct campaigns. And sales professionals rework their presentation decks and web conferencing interactions.

As you see, the key is ensuring that content assets are rigorously produced and packaged and then actively leveraged. Make it once, present it many times in many formats. This is a crucial point. It helps to justify the case for investing in truly compelling "source content" such as a survey-based executive study. Once you've done the initial research, you can keep repackaging the content for different uses and audiences and media vehicles. The value multiplies.  White papers, eBooks and case studies can be reworked and repackaged as authoritative articles or executive presentations. Blog posts can be repackaged as newsletters.

Obviously, the factory proposed here demands an array of skills and talents. As Dunay suggests, one critical role in the whole process is that of "editorial director." This is the individual responsible for developing the editorial plan and ensuring its executed. While I would look to senior executives and influential advisors to contribute heavily to the thought leadership agenda and determine what issues should be explored, it's the editorial director -- much like the editor in chief at a traditional publication -- who ultimately must ensure the content is produced in a high quality fashion.

Whether we call it a "content factory," a "converged newsroom" or a "thought leadership team" is less consequential than the fact that we move in this direction. We now have an enormous number of ways we can engage and interact with prospects, customers and other stakeholders, but we need to have something relevant and meaningful to contribute to the conversation. By strengthening and streamlining our content operations, we position ourselves as trusted authorities, insightful researchers and providers of reliable guidance.