We’ve all got a lot of content to create. For most of us, there’s more to do every year. It’s great when that extra content generates more results. But it’s not so good if more content just means more stress. If your content marketing program is bringing with it too much stress recently, or if it’s had a flurry of avoidable mistakes, you may be seeing the symptoms of a friction point in your content marketing system. A bottleneck, as most people say.
Bottlenecks are common in systems which have experienced rapid growth. And that certainly describes a lot of content marketing departments.
You could even see bottlenecks as a typical symptom of growing pains. The more outputs you demand from a system, the more pressure you put on every part of it. That’s going to reveal the bottlenecks pretty fast. Trouble is, if you want to grow, the bottlenecks have to go.
Nobody can afford to waste time, and then definitely can’t afford to make mistakes. In a sense, the bottlenecks have to go simply because they generate problems. They disrupt workflows, strain working relationships, produce subpar work and often even cost more.
Fixing even one major bottleneck can clear up a series of recurring problems. Which is why they’re such a good thing to focus on. When you know how to troubleshoot a bottleneck, it’s basically like you can walk up to this huge machine, wrench in hand, and know how to make an adjustment. A couple of moves later, when those adjustments are done – VROOM! – your machine is at optimal performance once again. Sound like something you’d like to know how to do? Good. Read on:
- 1. Approval bottlenecks.
This is the classic bottleneck. It’s especially hard on creative teams.
Here’s how it usually works: The creative teams put in overtime to make a deadline and get a finished piece (finished in their eyes, at least) to the executive’s desk…where it sits for at least a week.
After spending days intensely pressing the executive for their approval (which doesn’t do any good for the creative teams’ standing with the executive), the team finally gets the changes from the executive. They have to work overtime again to fix them… and they often miss their final deadline.
None of this is good. It’s terrible for the morale of the creative team, for starters. And the long work hours and stress of the missed deadlines make for burnout, diminished creativity, and can often result in mistakes… sometimes expensive mistakes.
So what’s the solution? Typically, a company will first have a collegial talk with all parties involved, including the executive. The executive will promise to do a better job at getting the approval turned around. This approach might even work. For the first few weeks. But typically, you’ll go right back to where you were before.
A genuine permanent solution is usually four-fold.
- You create – and use – a company style guide and content specifications.
A style guide should eliminate all the little fussy changes that often have to be made. It will include everything from how to use the logo and the brand colors to how to apply commas to how to present graphs and other production specs.
- You always work from a detailed creative brief.
Many wise old creative directors would say that a successful campaign starts with a good creative brief. We believe them.
- You find someone the executive trusts to review the work for them.
In other words, you shift the approval duties to someone who can get it done. The reality for many executives is that they sometimes simply have to drop everything to deal with a fire, to complete a product launch or to pull off a successful event (much less to orchestrate a merger). When they are that busy, you’re just not going to get them to spend 2-3 hours approving a piece of content that won’t be active until next month. It’s not realistic. So find someone whose responsibilities are smaller but who can still assure the same quality.
- Make your approval and feedback system is as efficient as possible.
If you’ve been managing approvals through email – that has to stop. There are plenty of content management systems with content approval workflows built in. Often, having the ability to do approvals remotely helps, too. That way if your executive or other approval authority is on the road, they can still review the piece adequately.
One thing that usually doesn’t work? Trying to bring the executive (or any approval authority) in during the project’s early development. Showing this person a draft just doesn’t work. If anything, the “in-progress” reality of a less-than finished piece just alarms them. It makes them worry that all the errors and rough spots they see won’t ever get fixed. And so they step into micro-managing… and really make your team crazy.
- 2. The content creation bottleneck.
Study after study has found that content creation is the biggest challenge for content marketers. It also seems to be a major factor in the success of content marketing programs overall.
In the 2017 B2B Content Marketing Trends—North America report, B2B marketers were asked whether they felt that had succeeded, stagnated or “decreased success” in the prior year. Among the marketers who had increased success, 85% named “content creation (higher quality, more efficient)” as being the #1 factor contributing to their success.
Content creation came up again with the marketers who had stagnated or done worse in the last year. When they were asked about what caused their troubles, both groups named “content creation challenges” as being the second biggest factor contributing to their problems.
So content creation matters. Odds are pretty good you knew that, but at least now you know how common the problem is.
If your content marketing team can only produce, say, four blog posts and one ebook every month, clearly that’s going to slow down the results your content marketing program can achieve.
This is why content creation can be such a bottleneck. Many companies are limited in how much business they can generate from content marketing, simply because they can’t create enough good content.
So what’s the solution? You’ve got several options:
- Add staff.
If you’ve got the budget, it may make sense to just hire another full-time content creator. A writer is generally the first position most content marketers hire for.
There’s no shortage of freelance writers, designers, and marketers around. If you can find a good match, these workers often end up being long-term assets of your content marketing program.
You can also outsource to an agency, too, of course. Or you can work with a content creation service. A service may give you more reliable results than working with an independent freelancer, but it may also mean you get less creative or quality work, as the very best content creators usually leave these type of platforms to run their own shops. You’ll also pay a bit more for the work you get from services.
- Republish and repurpose.
Content should never, ever be published only once. If a piece is more than a year old, update it and republish it as new. If it’s less than a year old and performing well, repurpose it into another format.
A batch of related blog posts can become an ebook, for example. Or an ebook can be used as the basis for a quiz or other interactive content. And everything can be made into a visual piece of content, either as a simple graphic, a full-fledged infographic, or a social media post.
- Leverage other employees.
Often, our best content creation resources are already in the building. They’re your fellow employees. Some of you may have already tried to get fellow employees to write blog posts… only to discover that it’s like pulling teeth.
So don’t make them write. You or a good freelance writer with interview skills could interview any employee with expertise. This would give you a ton of audio content, but also content that could be transcribed and then edited into blog posts, ebooks – you name it.
The trick with in-house content creation is to give people a way to create content that’s most comfortable for them. For some, that will be written content. Others will be naturals on video. And still others may like audio interviews.
Just make it as easy as possible for them to contribute. Then make it your job to package the content they give you into a format you can use.
- 3. The content marketer themselves.
The average content marketing team is small. Very small. The “2017 B2B Content Marketing Trends—North America” report we cited above found that 55% of content marketing teams were a “small (or one-person) marketing/ content marketing team serves the entire organization”.
If you’ve got a very small team going after very big goals, bottlenecks are going to happen. There’s no way around it. It could be a designer that has two jobs worth of work to do. Or a content marketer who is so busy she can’t find the time to post to social media.
Wherever the problem is, you have three options:
- Bring in some technology to help
- Hire more help
- Outsource some help
Interested in outsourcing? Here are the tasks content marketers are most likely to farm out:
If you’re on one of these super-small teams, but aren’t sure what to outsource, or even where your bottlenecks are, ask yourself this: “If we doubled the goals of our content marketing, which step of our process would limit us the most?”.
That question will reveal the bottlenecks in your system, but first you have to realize it’s a bit of a trick question. To answer it, you need to have a well-defined process for your content marketing work.
Every step has to be defined. From how your business goals convert into content strategy, to content ideation, development, and publishing, all the way through to analytics and report production. Even include budgeting.
That’s obviously quite a bit of homework. But honestly, if you don’t have a content workflow like that already… it’s time you made one. If will clarify your process a lot. And you may immediately see some bottlenecks in your system once you’ve got it all down on paper.
When content marketing first became popular, a lot of people said things like “think like a publisher”. We were supposed to think of our content marketing programs as if we were a traditional publisher.
Now that content marketing has grown up, I’d like to do away with the “think of yourself as a publisher” model. Because while we certainly do publish, for many companies, our content marketing programs need to work more like a machine. They have inputs and outputs. Pressure points. An occasional need for an adjustment.
Finding and resolving the bottlenecks in your content marketing machine will help it run much better. It’ll make for less wear and tear on the machine, too.