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The Content Marketing Elephant & the Enterprise

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elephant-parableThe story of the blind men and the elephant is a widely known Indian parable that was brought to Europe in the 19th century by the poet John Godfrey Saxe.

In various versions of the tale, a group of blind men (or men in the dark) touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each individual feels a different part of the elephant, but is limited to only one part, such as the ears, the tail, or the tusk. They then compare thoughts about their experience, only to learn that they are in complete disagreement as to what, exactly, the elephant is all about.

6 Blind Business Divisions & the Content

The parable is particularly relevant to enterprise-level search marketing, especially when it comes to the content creation process. Only in this case, the elephant must be described with specific keywords and the six blind men are the different business divisions. Their associated third-party service partners must touch the beast and agree on the words used to describe its overall nature.

In larger enterprises, this usually means that copywriters and creative design teams must align with user-experience analysts and web development teams in order to produce a piece of content that will be approved of by the legal team. Then the content is ready to be promoted and syndicated through web venues by the online marketing team, which can include paid and/or social promotion teams, as well as the SEO experts that initiated the original project.

That's a lot of touches to develop a content marketing piece in the enterprise. Naturally, arguments abound when defining the actual terms, phrases and content design that will be used to communicate the essence of the big-branded pachyderm's messaging. All too often, the original concept that was created to fill some form of search marketing gap gets completely lost along the way.

Fostering Collaboration Early is Key

This is where search marketing professionals can learn a valuable lesson from our parable. In some versions of the story, the blind men stop bickering and start listening to each other. In this way, the blind men collaborate on sharing their individual observations in order to "see" the complete elephant from tusk to tail. So too can content creation processes be crafted to bring together all the “blind men” from the different ends of the enterprise into the conversation.

To be certain, content creation processes vary widely from one organization to another. For the sake of discussion, let's presume that the organic search team initiates building a content marketing piece that will help improve the overall search engine visibility around a set theme of keywords and phrases.

In order to prepare a business case for the content marketing piece, a content gap analysis should be prepared in order to reveal search referral opportunities that are related to a particular product, service, or industry. From there, key stakeholders must work together in order to identify all the departmental players that will need to touch the project to bring in through to fruition.

Over the years, the parable has been used to illustrate a range of truths and fallacies. At various times the story has provided insight into the very nature of truth, the behavior of experts in fields where there is strong tendency to departmentalize information, the necessity of unencumbered communication, and the need to respect different perspectives.

It’s been my experience that the majority of brand marketers have rather strong opinions about who owns the words used to characterize on-target messaging. Most creative teams despise being hemmed in by what they interpret to be design limitations for making content search engine friendly. Few legal teams are concerned with earning valuable backlinks for a business line of goods or services.

For these reasons, fostering collaboration early on in the content creation process is the key for building content marketing success stories for the enterprise.

Be the Narrator

Search marketers simply cannot expect to brainstorm a few entertaining ideas, grab a few factoids, produce a story board, and go to market with a big brand content marketing piece.

If we are to get four different online marketing disciplines to agree with brand guidelines and regulatory standards, then it is on the search engine marketing team to perform the role of the narrator of our content marketing story. And that story needs to include search engine marketing fundamentals from the beginning to the business case end in order to make content marketing work in the enterprise.

The story of blind men's limitations appeals deeply to those of us who navigate the seemingly endless cube-lined corridors of enterprise-level search marketing. Acting as the narrator who sees the complete picture of the content marketing elephant, we have to be careful not to dismiss the departmentalized claims as partial versions of a bigger working reality.

Remember, when our narrator walks by and sees the entire elephant all at once, the other men learn they are blind. While one's subjective experience is accurate, it may not be the totality of truth.

Denying something you cannot perceive ends up becoming an argument for your own limitations. Don’t ignore the elephant in the room if you want to be successful in producing content marketing initiatives in the enterprise.


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