Strange days, uncertain times, a challenging year. We’ve all heard the cliches. And there’s no doubt things will have changed when we get closer to ‘normal’ working patterns. I mean, who would have ever thought we’d be so excited to get back to the office!?! But one thing we’ve all had plenty of over the last year is perspective. The forced ‘time out’ has led many of us to take stock and think carefully about the bits of normal life we’d like back, as well as the ones we’d be happy to leave behind.
Reevaluation has also been the theme of our professional lives, whether by design or necessity. Many marketing departments, hollowed out after a year of disruption and frozen budgets, just won’t have the time, resources or capability to execute their strategic plans. Difficult decisions will need to be made about where to spend precious time and effort. Meanwhile, many senior marketers and leaders have been rolling up their sleeves to fill gaps that agency support or specialist expertise previously filled.
Make no mistake – we’re big fans of teamwork here. But we see the same challenge cropping up again and again for the companies we work with. When all hands are busy scrubbing the deck (or, indeed, bailing out the hold), it’s hard to keep a hand on the tiller (the part that steers). Luckily, I’ve run out of nautical metaphors, but in short, meeting the day-to-day marketing needs of an organisation can leave precious little time or (head)space for strategy.
The balancing act between tactics and strategy is not new, but the events of the last year (we’ve outlawed the c-word, but you know what I mean) have left many of our clients trying to do it all and feeling like they’re not doing any of it as well as they’d like. When push comes to shove(lling), one of the areas most often neglected is content. We think there are a few reasons for this.
The content conundrum
In times of crisis, business activity might fall significantly, but customers, employees and other stakeholders will be looking for more reassurance than ever. So despite budgets and recruitment being on hold, marketing activity ramps up, setting the stage for the perfect storm. Writing talent can be co-opted to bolster the customer comms or internal comms teams, or worse, writing talent is let go to make room for more marketing generalists (audible gasp).
Content programmes are often deprioritised because content marketing is a long-term play. Its link to ROI can be less direct than advertising or campaigns, so it’s easy to justify diverting time and resources favouring more urgent, more immediate marketing needs. We think this is a mistake. Well, we would, wouldn’t we?
What’s left behind is often a content programme that’s painting by numbers: publishing continues (although usually less often) but without the rich, targeted insight and quality writing that makes content really effective.
But strategy matters
Unfortunately, content like this just doesn’t work very well. It doesn’t entice a new audience in; it doesn’t resonate with your existing audience; and it doesn’t tempt people to click for more. An effective content programme is a marathon, not a sprint. Getting it right once isn’t good enough. To build and keep your audience, you need to keep getting it right and keep getting better, time and again. This takes strategy to figure out what you should be saying to whom; it takes expert writers to uncover and distil the insights from within your business; and it takes time to do all of this well.
The capability needed to establish a strategic content programme and produce insightful and compelling content is frequently underestimated. We’re not saying content marketing is rocket science. It’s not. But it does require a keen understanding of your audience, a knack for getting to the nub of a story and the ability to translate this into content that connects with people. As Albert Einstein once said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Too many marketing teams expect fish to climb trees and hope the strategy will take care of itself. Unfortunately, it rarely does.
Stop doing it all; start doing it better
So, as my mother-in-law often promises (but never does), to cut a long story short, we think the secret to building back better this year will be figuring out where your time, and that of your team, is best spent. And then structuring your team to make it so. Hiring a full team of in-house writers won’t make sense for every company, especially as demand can be lumpy and unpredictable. But it’s important to know that if you DO need writing done or content created, you can access the capability to do it well enough to achieve your business outcomes. Otherwise your investment will be wasted.
Having expert capability and resource on-demand, without needing to make permanent changes to your team, can give you the time and space to get your strategy hat on. Whether you need a specialist writer to lead a key project or an extra set of hands to see the team through a tricky patch. Trusted, expert support when you need it can be an invaluable circuit breaker to the treadmill of tactical delivery.
But sometimes, clients we speak to feel they’re too far in to stop and ask for help, or they worry that the time it takes to brief an agency will take away from precious time on the project. We get it; a good briefing does take time and thought. But it’s also an investment of time that will pay off in spades down the track. Clients often tell us they like working with us because we ‘get it’, making their lives much easier. But just ‘getting it’ doesn’t happen by accident, it’s a product of years of commercial experience, a good dash of sector insight, and a generous pinch of (un)common sense.
We find the more we work with a client and understand their business and their marketing objectives, the quicker we can help deliver the outcomes they need. In our experience, it’s better not to wait for the perfect time to bring an agency in. There might always be too much going on, or you might always feel stretched in every direction. But one thing is certain: deciding NOT to get help means you definitely won’t be able to spend the time you need to on strategy.
Need a longer-term solution?
If you decide that you need to tackle your content more strategically (and ride the wave of economic recovery rather than just hoping you bob to the top at some point), a closer relationship with a strategic content partner (ahem) can be a good choice. We do our best work when we establish genuine partnerships with our clients. As a true extension of your team, we can bring skills, knowledge and expertise that are hard to find and even harder to deploy seamlessly. We’re experts at unearthing and capturing insight buried within businesses, so we can help develop targeted content strategies, establish frictionless content production processes, and prove the effectiveness of your work through data.
Because we don’t just write beautiful words. We write beautiful words that get brilliant results, so you can focus your precious time and resources on what matters most. And given none of us are sure what’s around the next corner, we think this is more important than ever.