Every company I talk to claims they are “doing” content marketing.
Most of them are publishing content.
But how many are hitting their growth targets thanks to successful content marketing?
Not so many.
There’s a strong correlation between the amount of strategy and planning going on and the success companies are reporting.
And there’s an even stronger correlation to the regularity and consistency with which they are publishing new material.
This should come as no surprise: both search and social media algorithms reward authoritative publishers that contribute original content on a regular basis.
So, what’s the secret behind those companies’ metronomic publication cadence?
A large team? Big contract with a third-party content producer? Sexy product?
Any of those might help, but they aren’t a requirement.
The thing these companies have in common is a process.
If, like me, you started your career at a big company—mine was a multinational energy company—you already know what process overkill looks like.
Big organizations are inherently difficult to manage. Management’s biggest lever for achieving consistent outputs and being able to compare one group to another is to force every outpost to follow standard processes and practices.
Processes are a necessary evil to rein in the natural creativity (and randomness) of humans that causes unpredictability and inconsistency in the company’s performance—for better or worse.
However, processes can go too far, stifling innovation and making a mockery out of customer service.
At the other end of the scale, startup companies eschew processes for as long as they can get away with it.
Vowing to remain agile and disruptive, they give employees the latitude to “do the right thing” without the encumbrance of centrally mandated ways of working.
It feels great to work in such a trusting, anti-bureaucratic environment—especially if you were previously employed by a big business.
All growing businesses eventually need processes to achieve consistency and efficiency
Eventually, though, all growing businesses need processes to achieve consistency and efficiency. They must bring a semblance of order to the anarchy.
If you’ve worked in the startup environment, you’ll remember when you got to this point.
There’s much wailing and gnashing of teeth, lamenting the demise of the startup as it begins an inevitable death spiral toward the process hell it set out to disrupt.
It’s seldom as bad as it seems in the moment, but the resistance is real.
Companies that transit this stage best are ones where leaders question the need for every process, implementing only those that are critical. They maintain agility, responsiveness, and morale by rejecting process for process’ sake.
Is having a content marketing process that critical?
Yes. It should be one of the first processes a growing B2B business implements.
Much like other critical processes—for example, safety and finance—content production requires timely and consistent contributions from across the organization.
It is not something that happens naturally, in some self-organizing way.
But wait, didn’t I say that some companies are publishing content without a process in place?
Yes, I did. Much like some businesses survive without adequate safety programs or financial controls in place (FTX, anyone?)
For B2B content marketing to drive growth, it requires timely and consistent contributions, which requires a process.
Let’s clarify: For B2B content marketing to succeed in driving growth, it requires timely and consistent contributions from across the organization, which requires a process.
I’ve written elsewhere about the need to make B2B content marketing part of your day-to-day business, rather than something you dust off when there’s time. That requires a process.
I’ve also written about following a content marketing framework to avoid random acts of marketing. That’s another part of the process.
You also need to cover a range of topics that your target audience finds relevant and helpful. This is both to ensure they identify your company as a preferred supplier while completing their buyer’s journey and because buyers trust vendors that publish on a wide range of topics, even if not all of those topics are relevant to their immediate needs.
I recommend using a gap analysis to help focus your B2B content marketing efforts, filling critical gaps in your content library as expediently as you can.
There are three main elements to consider when crafting your B2B content production process:
1. Deciding what topics to cover and when.
2. Producing and publishing the content.
3. Measuring and improving content performance.
Deciding What Topics to Cover and When
The first part of the process requires converting your deep customer understanding into a list of topics that prospects and customers want to hear about.
This involves mapping their buyer’s journey to identify topics that are relevant and helpful at each stage—from awareness and evaluation through selection and implementation and on to becoming a loyal repeat customer.
Then, you’ll need a process for cataloging existing content, identifying gaps (see the link I shared above), and prioritizing critical topics.
This is an iterative process, since your prospects’ needs will change over time—for example, in response to changing market conditions or competitor activities—and your content library will become increasingly populated as you publish.
Producing and Publishing the Content
This is the part of the process that matters most.
To produce and publish content on a consistent basis requires diligent adherence to an editorial process.
The details will vary depending on the type of content you’re producing and the size of your organization, but the generic steps are:
· Outline the topic and capture objectives for the content piece
· Produce draft copy (or script, for audio/video content)
· Edit the copy for style, substance, and factual accuracy
· Produce creative content (e.g., graphics, images, audio, video)
· Combine copy and creative elements into a working piece of content
· Edit the finished product to correct errors and optimize readability/engagement
· Approve for publication
Each of these steps will take time and requires input from one or more experts.
Content will often cycle back through earlier steps—for example, getting rewritten if the finished product doesn’t meet the original intent or satisfy your publication criteria.
Measuring and Improving Content Performance
Much as your product or service must be evaluated and improved over time if you are to remain competitive in the marketplace, your content must be continually optimized.
Marketing of all flavors is a game of experiments, and content marketing is no exception.
Your customers, competitors, and the market at large are constantly changing. So are the search and social media algorithms that control when and where your content is seen.
To be seen by, attract, and engage your target audience requires publishing the right content in the right places at the right time, which requires constantly tinkering with your approach.
However, blind experimentation—also known as random acts of marketing—isn’t a recipe for success, either.
You need a process for measuring content performance, analyzing the results, interpreting what the data is telling you, and making calculated adjustments to your content gameplan.
This will range from switching between publication channels to on-page adjustments—such as introducing different imagery or changing the length of your posts—to technical web site optimization.
As is often the case, the more you measure the better you can manage.
There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all content process because every organization is different.
You must design a process that works within the resource constraints of your business and conforms to the working styles and situations of your team.
I recommend drawing up an ideal process—how you’d like things to work—and then identifying where and when it won’t work in practice.
You must be realistic and pragmatic for a new process to work and be accepted.
You must be realistic and pragmatic for a new process to work and be accepted.
This does not mean that nothing should change when your process is implemented. On the contrary, it’s likely that people’s behaviors will have to change—otherwise you wouldn’t need the process in the first place. Just don’t expect miracles.
Once you have adjusted the process from ideal to pragmatic, ask yourself whether it still meets your minimum requirements. Will it allow the company to consistently deliver high-quality content at a meaningful cadence?
If not, hit the emergency stop button. There is no point implementing a process that can’t deliver the goods. Figure out where additional (internal or external) resources must be added to debottleneck the process, and get those in place before proceeding.
Next, invite everyone who will be touched by the process to review it and provide feedback.
This is where the process allergy I described earlier will show up. Expect to meet some resistance. Explain why the process is needed for the company to deliver mission critical content.
In most organizations, having the CEO champion the content marketing process is an important step to establish its importance, purpose, and priority.
If a key individual is unwilling to embrace the process, consider whether someone else can fill their role or if an intervention is needed via their manager.
Finally, launch the process and monitor it closely.
If anything begins to slip, act immediately. Evaluate whether the process was unrealistic, despite your best efforts, or if a contributor is failing to meet their obligations.
Adjust accordingly—which could mean updating the process or getting a contributor some help if their underperformance is caused by resource limitations rather than a lack of effort.
This is my version of “are we really, really sure we have to implement processes?”, something I’ve heard time and again at startups wrestling with business adolescence.
The short answer is yes.
Content marketing has become mission critical for B2B businesses because B2B buyers have shifted dramatically from in person sales processes to online purchasing.
Unless your company, products, and services are visible online and you attract and engage prospects with relevant, helpful content, your pathways to growth will be seriously limited.
In the cutthroat world of digital marketing, consistency and quality matter.
Without a process, your company will struggle to produce consistent, high-quality content, which will leave you at a competitive disadvantage to companies that take a more structured approach.
Get yourself a content marketing process before it’s too late. Let me know if you need help.
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Image credits: Adobe Stock