Shift Q&A: “Content is not a conceit or a vanity project, it makes people money”

Shift London

Content marketing has been one of the industry’s buzz phrases for the last few years, but as the medium rapidly evolves and consumers’ expectations change, are businesses still getting it right?

Amy Nicholson, managing editor at content strategy agency Sticky Content, says it’s time for businesses to install their own great content leaders, who can bring together expertise from every division in their company to create a great content strategy.

ClickZ caught up with Amy to find out more in advance of her talk at this year’s Shift event.

Why is now the time for businesses to install a great content leader?

Because content is bigger, faster and stronger than it’s ever been, and it deserves the respect of its own department. Why? It’s not a conceit or a vanity project – content makes people money. And its value is easier to prove than ever.

Content is everywhere – on dozens of channels that didn’t exist 10 years ago and performing 1,000 functions that cannot be limited to the old marketing and PR pots we’re used to. We’re not just talking about another slew of “10 winter skincare dos and don’ts” either, we’re talking sophisticated personalisation models, heavily optimised transactional processes and gorgeous, immersive video. Content is everything.

Because it’s such a powerful force, it needs a firm hand. It needs someone who can work across these divisions with enough influence to make real changes and enough strategic thinking to see the cumulative impact. It needs someone who can draw the distinction between useful, valuable content and something that adds to the noise.

But unfortunately for a lot of companies – especially the big, old ones – the structure they’re working in doesn’t support this change in thinking.

So they might have someone in digital or even IT looking after the back end of the website, product teams managing product pages, and then SEO, CRM and marketing teams doing a load more work besides, with no one at the top pulling all of these crucial operations together.

Where might an organisation that doesn’t have a dedicated content leader find someone within their company who fits the bill?

Look for people who really know your customers. Sometimes you’ll find great content people in marketing, customer service, or digital. Find someone who can, without bias, balance your customers’ needs with those of your business.

You can outsource a lot of your content strategy, but not all of it. Any organisation that wants to do better at content needs to remember you’ve got to keep some of the work at home – usually the bits that draw directly on your business strategy.

That said, a smart content agency can help on almost every element of the execution – from helping you define and shape your tone of voice, coming up with some brilliant, creative ideas and also helping in distribution and measurement.

But that big, overall direction has to come from you.

What are businesses getting wrong with their content strategies?

They don’t appreciate how wide and deep they need to go. A real content strategy defines everything it touches.

So it’s not an editorial calendar or a CRM plan. It’s not a tone of voice, an attribution model, some templates or guidelines. It’s not just a spreadsheet (no matter how hot the colour coding) or a meeting agenda. It’s the idea that ties all of those things, and plenty more besides, together.

The other thing that tripwires content projects of all kinds is the people. Shooting some video or writing some nice blogs is the easy bit – getting the right people on board first and making sure the strategy actually gets executed is the much more nebulous (but much more valuable) work.

For that, you’ll need someone who can balance creative and commercial needs with a really clear sense of how to get things done.

Good content is always collaborative. We’re not writing novels here, we’re selling things on the internet. You need a varied, skilled and ego-free squad to do that really well.

What trends should content marketers be aware of for 2016?

Content marketers should spend less time worrying about trends and more about figuring out what’s actually going to make their customers’ lives better.

Sort your CRM out, then worry about whether or not you need a better presence on Snapchat, or whether or not VR is A Thing.

Who should attend your session at Shift?

Anyone who’s not sure if they’re taking content seriously enough. And anyone who’s sure they’re not, but isn’t quite sure what to do about it.

Don’t miss Amy’s session ‘7 behaviours of brilliant content leaders’ at ClickZ & SEW’s flagship event Shift, taking place from 24th to 25th May.

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