How Content Operations Can Create Marketing and Selling Breakthroughs

woman with surprised expression looking through magnifying glass at content operations breakthroughs

Marketing and selling content operations might not be the flashiest topic, but it’s turning out to be a big deal for those leading the marketing game.

Each week, I come across new surveys that highlight the same challenges B2B marketers have been dealing with for ages. And when I chat with people in different companies, it’s like they’re all reading from the same script. So, with all the talent and tools we’ve got, why can’t we sort out these content issues?

After some digging, we spotted three main reasons, and they’re all about the behind-the-scenes operations.

Quick Takeaways

  • Content operations is a structured approach that helps teams efficiently create, share, and manage content.
  • The success of content operations hinges on three main pillars: People (the team behind the content), Process (the roadmap for content creation and distribution), and Technology (the tools that make content tasks easier and more efficient). 
  • Implementing content operations can lead to better organization, faster work processes, higher quality content, a broader audience reach, and data-driven decision-making. 
  • Adopting content operations can address challenges in content creation, and promote better efficiency and quality. 

What Is Content Operations?

In simple words, content operations is a game plan that helps teams create, share, and manage content without any hiccups. It’s about making sure everything’s organized and everyone’s on the same page so your content can be as effective and relevant as possible.

Breaking Down the Content Journey

Each piece of content has its own story. The content journey involves:

  1. Strategy. Before creating any content, you need to decide on your message and how you’ll deliver it.
  2. Creation. Just like an artist with a blank canvas, this step is when you create the actual content. It could be writing blog articles, filming videos, or designing images.
  3. Publishing. After all the hard work of creating, your content is finally made public.
  4. Distribution. Now, you want as many people as possible to see your content. You might use email, social media, or other channels to make sure our content reaches a wider audience.
  5. Management. After your content is out in the world, you monitor how it’s doing. Are people enjoying it? Does it need updates?

The Three Pillars of Content Operations

Content operations is built on three main pillars: People, Process, and Technology. Think of these pillars as the foundation of a house. Without one, the whole structure might fall apart.

  • People. They’re the heart and soul of content. From brainstorming ideas to putting the final touches, it’s a team’s passion and skills that bring content to life.
  • Process. This is your roadmap. It keeps you on the right track, making sure you’re doing things in order and not missing any steps. A clear process means no chaos, just smooth sailing.
  • Technology. This is your toolkit. With the right tools, creating and sharing content becomes easier, faster, and way more efficient.

graphic outlines the three pillars of content operations

Image Source: Scaleflex

Understanding and strengthening these three pillars is the key to success. They ensure your content is top-notch, reaches the right audience, and makes a positive impact. Without a strong foundation in these areas, your content efforts might not hit the mark.

Benefits of Content Operations

Content operations gives companies a structured approach to creating and publishing effective content. It elevates your entire content creation process, and sets you up for success by:

  • Getting organized. With content operations, things get tidy. No more searching through heaps of papers or computer files. Everything has its own spot, so you can find stuff easily.
  • Working fast. Content operations help you save time. Things that used to take ages can now be done super fast.
  • Promoting quality. Creating high-quality content is key. With a planned approach, the content you make will be top-notch.
  • Reaching more people. The main goal of content is to get it to the right audience. Content operations give you the tools to make sure your content gets to the people who want to see it.
  • Making informed decisions. With everything organized, you can see how your content is doing. This lets you make choices that are backed up by data, making sure your next content pieces are even better for your audience.

McKinsey On Digital Marketing Operations

This post was inspired by the McKinsey Insights article: How Digital Marketing Operations Can Transform Business.

Here’s McKinsey’s assessment of current state:

“Marketing operations are certainly not the sexiest part of marketing, but they are becoming the most important one. With businesses unable to keep pace with evolving consumer behavior and the marketing landscape, the pressure is on to put marketing operations—skilled people, efficient processes, and supportive technology—in a position to enable brands to not just connect with customers but also shape their interactions.

When done well, we’ve seen marketing operations provide a 15 to 25 percent improvement in marketing effectiveness, as measured by return on investment and customer-engagement metrics. Yet achieving that level of improvement is elusive for many.

While marketers are embarking on a wide array of “digital transformations” to reshape their operations and business models, many of these efforts are stymied by marketing’s difficulty in delivering on its aspirations. For example, one recent survey found an astonishing 84 percent of marketers do not have a formal content strategy or distribution process to feed their growing bevy of marketing channels, and they lack any kind of formally managed content supply chain. Despite this, content budgets continue to increase.”

What’s involved in making this happen?

“Digital marketing operations involve the application of capabilities, processes, structures, and technologies to cost-effectively exploit and scale the interactivity, targeting, personalization, and optimization of digital channels.

That capability directly enables the speed, agility, iterative development, experimentation, and responsiveness that successful companies need to react to and shape the marketplace.”

Five steps, or “The Big Five”, are suggested to “bring marketing operations into the digital era.” These also apply to content operations.

graphic shows the 5 capabilities to support digital marketing and content operations

Image Source: McKinsey

1. Truly Understand Customers

“Most companies are only at the beginning of creating comprehensive customer-insights programs.”

In our experience, the content creation process provides an excellent filter on the strengths and weaknesses of an organization’s go-to-customer strategy. We have regularly experienced poor inputs due to the lack of deep enough understanding of customers to provide the unique and useful insights worthy of content investment.

2. Deliver a Superior Experience

“Meeting customer expectations calls for mapping out each of the steps that define the entire customer experience, highlighting not only the technologies and processes needed to enable a smooth journey, but also the various functions across the organization that must coordinate to deliver it.

Marketing, sales, support, service, and operations play key roles in many customer journeys, of course. But there are other functions that are critical as well, such as order management and fulfillment. Those are not typically top of mind for marketers, but the experiences enabled by these back-end systems are instrumental to the way a customer perceives a brand’s ability to deliver on expectations.”

This is why we advocate a business level content strategy that goes beyond websites, content projects and marketing. An enterprise-level content strategy is needed to support all customer engaging groups across the organizations, especially Sales and Marketing. And, a robust customer-experience measurement system is necessary to assess the performance of your efforts.

graphic outlines McKinsey’s ideal customer-experience measurement system

Image Source: McKinsey

3. Selecting the Right Marketing Technology

“The ‘best’ marketing technology isn’t necessarily what’s best for an organization. For example, an overriding consideration may be how well a particular solution integrates with legacy systems or how well it meets specific requirements.”

When we started documenting our content strategy frameworks years ago, we didn’t distinguish the competency we now call the Use Case Requirements definition.

In practice, this turns out to be one of the most important inputs to business level content strategy. It provides the context for all other strategy decisions.

For example, without documented use case requirements, how can you effectively assess and map content inventory? Simple, buyer journey stages are too general. The end game of content strategy are decisions about what content to invest in, to support which specific use cases, and the value expected from them.

4. Implementing Processes and Governance

“Technology enables the customer experience, but it requires people, processes, and governance to ensure technology does what it’s supposed to do. The failure to establish guidelines … could result in a patchwork of efforts across the enterprise that sow confusion and hamper attempts to scale.”

graphic outlines McKinsey’s the key components of processes, people, and structure for effective operations

Image Source: McKinsey

The article is worth reading for this section alone. Professional content operations involves decisions about policies, standards, process and procedures that collectively are referred to as “governance.”

“Rather than being restrictive, this level of governance can enhance creativity.”

5. Using the Best Metrics to Drive Success

“Technology is now catching up to the holy grail of marketing: the ability to monitor, track, and manage the effectiveness of marketing investments. Measures of marketing effectiveness need to move beyond what has often been limited to a narrow set of metrics. As companies become more customer-centric, for example, metrics should focus on customer activity rather than simply product or regional activity, as is often the case. Metrics should also reinforce new behaviors and processes, such as how fast a product is launched or how quickly lessons from the field can successfully be integrated into the next marketing offer.

To be most effective, however, metrics need to deliver insights quickly—often in real time—so the business can actually act. They need to be delivered in a way that is easy for decision makers to understand, and they need to be forward looking to identify future opportunities rather than focus on reporting what has already happened.”

Predictive analytics benefit from data content helps to acquire. Analytics will inform what content to invest in and how it should be created.

What Is Breakthrough And How Do You Create It?

A breakthrough in this context is an extraordinary and important outcome. The practice of breakthrough performance involves applying techniques that transform “business as usual” activity into significant, but not predictable, results. Individuals and organizations that set out to create breakthrough, do not know how it will be accomplished.

I’ve worked for years with a company that helps executives and their organizations create individual breakthrough performance as well as “breakthrough organizations” that routinely deliver above average results.

Breakthrough work is based on the following consideration: extraordinary results are produced by extraordinary actions. Extraordinary actions are produced by extraordinary thinking. Most people, most of the time, take ordinary and predictable actions based upon “business-as-usual” thinking.

Therefore, to create breakthrough outcomes, and especially to create an organization that consistently produces extraordinary outcomes, requires a transformation in people’s thinking.

In the content operations arena, there are many opportunities to create breakthrough outcomes. This is essential if organizations are to optimize the 9 new content requirements we identify (and companies tell us are important objectives).

We have developed a content operations model with a process that yields breakthrough results, including the ability to scale without compromise. It is based on a “content supply chain process” adopted by manufacturers decades ago.

graphic outlines 6 steps in the content supply chain

Image Source: Digizuite

Manufacturers in the ’90s were challenged to deliver highly customized products, faster, while significantly improving product quality and reliability. At the same time, they were under tremendous pressure to drive costs out of the manufacturing process.

The Three Core Causes That Aren’t Being Addressed

When we analyzed the biggest constraints companies face in meeting new, digital content requirements, we found three core causes that aren’t being addressed. They are operational in nature.

  1. Significant new requirements for customer content (relevant, educational, formats and scale, to name a few)
  2. Ineffective or no business level marketing and sales content strategy
  3. Inability to execute content strategy because the traditional content production model can’t meet new requirements

Like manufacturers in the ’90s, we realize:

“The traditional, project-oriented, creative craftsman approach to content production is outdated. It will not meet the many new content requirements of empowered buyers, and their digital channel and format preferences. It can’t efficiently support the content requirements of all customer engaging functions across the enterprise. It cannot scale without compromise.”

When I meet with organizations and ask how they have changed their content process to address new, digital era requirements, I tend to get blank stares. What would I hear from your organization?

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Content Operations: The Key to Continued Success

The challenges B2B marketers face aren’t necessarily new. Yet, even with the technology we have today, the question remains: Why do we still have problems creating content? The real reason is how things work behind the scenes.

Content operations make the whole content process smooth, from start to finish. It makes sure we create content carefully, share it for the right reasons, and keep an eye on it. By taking a close look at “The Big Five” within our own businesses, we can set up a strong base for our content.

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