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Who drives Content Strategy?

Marketing departments seem to have taken the lead in embracing content strategy, but that might also create the risk of reducing its potential.

Photo of Koen Platteeuw
Mon, 2015-04-20 12:40By koen

A friend once told me that the problem with social & online media is that we read to respond rather than to understand or learn. And I almost got tricked into this when reading a blog post by Carla Johnson called What Marketing Can Learn from IT About Content. The article starts by saying that "Marketing sets the tone and pace for content strategy". Now here is where the problem occurred; I couldn't disagree more with that statement. As a result you read the rest of the story, waiting to find something else to disagree with. But in fairness, the article has an interesting viewpoint. Can marketing teams benefit from the Agile methodology used in IT? 

At Code Enigma, I guess we are fundamentally an IT company and it's still pretty much in our DNA. We use Agile methodologies ourselves in web development projects, although we are well aware of its limitations. Our director Steve Cowie highlighted the problems of Agile in a previous post as well as how we address them in a follow up article. So having worked with Agile and Scrum for years, we understand the benefits as well as the risks. The above mentioned article does a good job explaining how marketing teams could be organised using Agile. Its author highlights a problem with traditional marketing planning:

A lot of marketing follows the waterfall approach. We take six months to build comprehensive plans and strategies only to find out that while we squirreled away in meetings and created long-tail documentation, the world changed.

Still according to the post, this challenge could be solved by what the author calls "Agile Marketing". Cross functional teams, who put the customer needs at the centre of their work, organise themselves in a scrum-like way, and deliver batches of work in a two week cycle. This allows for much more flexibility and the opportunity to react to changed circumstances. 

Thinking about it, Agile might work even better for marketing than it does for software development. With the exception of large software companies, with indefinite development cycles, development projects tend to have a clear deadline or budget cap: That new app must be launched by the holidays sales season; the new website must be ready for that rebranding campaign; the budget for the new intranet is 25K; etc. These limits make a pure Agile approach unrealistic in the majority of organisations. 

Marketing on the other hand, has a continuous work cycle. No organisation of a decent size will ever put their marketing efforts to zero for a given period. Its workflow is of course also conditioned by deadlines and budgets, but marketing teams should indeed be flexible and ready to react to changing circumstances rather than limiting themselves to blindly following the laid out roadmap to an event or product launch. 

So hey, it might even look like I now agree with most of the story. So what triggered my scepticism again? Right, marketing sets the tone and pace of content strategy. Well, it shouldn't. In my view, content strategy is all about using content to fulfill an organisation's needs as well as the needs of its audience. And that is much broader than the scope of marketing. therefore, it shouldn't be driven by marketing objectives. Your customer service content for example isn't focused on selling more, it's focused on serving your customer better. Communicating about your CSR efforts is more about PR than marketing, but is as dependent on content strategy as marketing is. So rather, I would say that both your marketing plans as well as your content strategy need to be driven by your organisational objectives as well as your audience. Your content strategy must be defined by a cross functional team, representing all stakeholders and involved departments.

I was about to give the article the benefit of the doubt, as the cross functional teams were mentioned often and the author did advocate breaking down the silos within large corporations. But then she wrote: 

Scrum teams take user stories and create a plan for a marketing outcome – a content strategy, a better customer experience, a technology tool, etc.  

And alarm bells go off. The marketing department is now taking over the organisation: not only content strategy, but now also product development as well as technology. ;-)

Don't get me wrong, I'm glad to see marketers embracing content strategy. But it's time for other departments in the organisation to step up the plate as well. If we reduce Content Strategy to Marketing, we will miss out on its potential. But if nobody else takes ownership, then marketing department, by all means, be my guest. Take the lead, but please don't reduce it to a marketing tactic. 

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