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Building a Content Supply Chain

By Jake Sorofman | June 11, 2013 | 3 Comments

Of all the questions I hear on the topic of content marketing (and I hear plenty; content bigger than Elvis* these days), the one I hear most frequently can be approximated as follows:

How, in the name of all that is good and pure, do we produce engaging, share-worthy content every single day? I mean, we’re a [insert vertical industry] company, not a publisher.

I generally respond by suggesting that the “Three Cs” of content marketing—creation, curation and cultivation—should be your best friend. Sometimes your brand’s best content is actually created by someone else.

Then I offer the reminder that content marketing, like any other strategic commitment, requires discipline and consistency. Just as the sun rises, you shall tell your story.

This is around the time I get the look—a smirk-grimace-eye-roll that says, “Easier said than done, my friend.”

Then I concede that a full-blown content marketing program may well be beyond the reach of your internal skills and capacity, which is a fact that has given rise to the content marketing agency—both as a boutique entity and as a booming practice area within many communications and digital agencies. You needn’t go it alone.

But whether or not you go it alone, it’s useful to understand what it takes to be a great content marketer, not only during those fleeting moments of inspiration when the spirit moves, but each and every day, even when it doesn’t. The best content marketers think like manufacturers.

No, really; stay with me here.

Manufacturing is actually an instructive example for what it takes to scale and sustain a content marketing program. Why? Because content marketing requires a replenishing pipeline of engaging content—a content supply chain—that helps feed the beast every day.

Think of it this way:

  • Demand planning is how manufacturers align supply and demand. For content marketers, it’s driven by market and social signals and your overall corporate strategy.
  • Master production schedules are used by both manufacturers and content marketers to keep the trains running on time. Think of it as the editorial calendar and project plan rolled into one.
  • Blueprints are visual diagrams and specifications that manufacturers use to ensure what’s produced matches what’s designed and to understand the interdependencies between the piece parts. For content marketers, blueprints describe how content elements map to content assets map to distribution channels. Blueprints ensure orderly, efficient and leveraged content marketing efforts that, like the best manufacturers, take advantage of reuse opportunities in everything you produce. 
  • Bills of material are the detailed parts lists that travel alongside a blueprint. For content marketers, these are the lists of content elements and artifacts and their various formats and renditions for publishing across channels.
  • Production in manufacturing is the factory process that turns raw materials into finished goods. For content marketers, it’s sourcing, approval and distribution of content assets across paid, earned and owned channels.

Of course, you shouldn’t allow the process to get in the way of the practice. You also need to leave room for agility, allowing some creation and engagement to happen off to the side, in the moment. But, keep in mind that too much flexibility leads to chaos, and too much control leads to stasis. Combine the two and you get precisely what it takes to be a great content marketer: Agility.

(*) I was tempted to say that “content is king,” which it most certainly is. But the phrase is a tired cliché, worn thin by generations of breathless headlines and tradeshow presentations. So, here, it’s relegated to the footnotes, where it belongs, and replaced by a symbolic substitute. 🙂

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3 Comments

  • Richard Fouts says:

    Remember that phrase, OPM….other people’s money? Hey, I’m from Hollywood and grew up with show biz people (particuarly producers) and rule #1 was always, “don’t invest your own money.” I raise this because of your comment about user generated content.

    Getting other people to create content fo you makes good business sense on so many levels. As you note, it’s often better – because it’s more authentic. “What other people say about you is more important than what you say about you” is my favorite Guy Kawasaki quote.

    BMW is a master at this. They encourage a ton of user generated content on auto enthusiast sites (by coaching their fans on what to say about them). This of courae, is all “behind the scenes” but it works really well. It’s why advocacy platforms are gaining so much traction. You can’t control what customers say about you, but you can coach them. BMW nudges its customers to talk about their BMW driving experience – encouraging them to use the word “ultimate” – get the picture?

  • Richard Fouts says:

    At the risk of shameless promotion, check out how CSC designs and runs its Content Factory – in my note, \Designing the Marketing Organization\

  • Once again another great entry. I actually have a few things to ask you, would be have some time to answer them?