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What We Talk About When We Talk About Content

December 18, 2012 | By Erin Provey

The deeper we get into the conversation, the more broad and complex the problem reveals itself to be. Often, we find clients trying to solve the “content problem” before coming to a shared understanding of the nature and scope of the problem in the organization.

Raymond Carver's 1981 book of short stories What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is a series of vignettes focusing on characters seeking to define and understand the true nature of love through conversation. The deeper the characters delve into attempts to articulate love, the more inarticulate they seem to become.

The same seems to be happening for those of us in b-to-b marketing seeking to define (never mind solve!) the content conundrum. The deeper we get into the conversation, the more broad and complex the problem reveals itself to be. Often, we find clients trying to solve the “content problem” before coming to a shared understanding of the nature and scope of the problem in the organization.

This approach often leads to the “blind men and the elephant” type problem: Each function views content myopically from its unique vantage point and hypothesizes a solution that solves only a small part of the problem. This siloed view and those emanating from other groups may not easily be cobbled together to create a logical and efficient enterprise-wide result.

As your marketing organization begins to tackle this problem, ensure that the conversation is cross-functional and that all functions involved are considering the three core dimensions of a piece of content:

  • Information. What is the fact, data point, point of view, or issue being illuminated? Which personas or audiences seek this information, and how does the information connect with their business context? Which inflection point or decision along the buyer’s journey requires this information?
  • Format. What is the digital or physical format of the content asset? Why is this format the best way to present this information for this persona’s needs? The biggest mistake we see organizations make is allowing format to drive content architecture, rather than information. It’s important to remember that information is what buyer personas seek and format is merely a facet of the delivery mechanism.
  • Distribution. Where and how will this content be brought to the marketplace? These modes of activation and distribution (from social and digital publishing, all the way through to sales leave-behind collateral) should be considered and understood from the very beginning. This will ensure that the decisions made around formatting (e.g. including the length of a video or white paper) make sense for its intended distribution.

Understanding content through these three lenses upfront can alleviate much of the waste we see in organizations with a proliferation of unused content. It can also act as a framework for building out the right skills, competencies and workflow for the modern b-to-b content engine.

Erin Provey

Erin Provey is a Senior Research Director of Corporate and Executive Marketing Strategies at SiriusDecisions. She has more than 10 years of experience in brand strategy, including positioning, identity, public relations, digital strategy, copywriting and account management. Follow Erin on Twitter @erinprovey.

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