Content Strategy And Commander’s Intent

Year after year, CMI’s research shows the importance of documenting a content strategy. According to their  most recent results, only 37% of those surveyed have their strategy written down and communicated to the whole company. When we segment those who report succeeding with content, that percentage nearly doubles: 61%. Writing down your strategy, it seems, has benefit. But why?

Consider the military term, “commander’s intent.” It refers to a written description of what success looks like: a documented strategy. Everyone involved in the initiative reads the commander’s intent and rallies around it. It instills the philosophy – the who, what, when, where, and why of the strategy – and the vision for how success will be achieved. In the early days of the Roman Empire, after a commander conquered a city, he watched his chosen lieutenant ride over the horizon to go manage the conquered territory. The commander knew that he might not see or communicate with that lieutenant again for a decade or more. If the lieutenant had any hope of bringing about the desired outcome, he had to understand the mission and how it was to be accomplished. A clear, sound commander’s intent empowered the lieutenant to make appropriate decisions while he was out there on his own.

I work with large organizations that have begun to think strategically about content as a means of moving their business forward. Their content team often complain that, as someone recently put it, they’re in “constant business-case mode.” They have to keep justifying their decisions because their peers, their bosses, and their agencies constantly challenge them with questions like this:

  • Why do we have a separate blog for content?
  • What is the reason for this content program?
  • Can’t we just put the content program on hold while we run this event?
  • What’s the goal of the content strategy?

This kind of time-wasting constant rejustification may indicate that a clear, widely understood (that is to say, documented) content strategy is missing. In the absence of a documented strategy, any organization – military or corporate – loses its way. Maybe a content team makes exceptions for the odd sales campaign or for a product launch. A customer team accepts a pause in publishing to prioritize some other effort. A marketing team, giving in to pressure from Sales, adds two new personas to an existing platform even though that platform doesn’t match those personas’ behaviors.

Having a written strategy, a spelled-out vision of success – a commander’s intent – is one reason that successful teams aren’t distracted by constant requests to rejustify. Their decisions are not constantly second-guessed. The documented strategy keeps everyone focused, guiding all kinds of decisions across the teams even as conditions change.

As one of my mentors says, “There’s magic in the telling.” Roman commanders understood this. How about your organization?

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