If Content Fails In The Business, Does It Make A Noise?

There’s a quote I love by Chicago Sun Times columnist Sydney Harris. He said people use “the words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” You could change out “content” for “information” in that sentence.

I wrapped up a consulting and advisory engagement with a large business. After a few weeks of interviews with all the relevant people in marketing and communications, I came away struck by a number of things. One thing in particular was causing quite a ruckus.

As I presented my findings to the senior management team, I relayed a sentiment that I’d heard over and over throughout my interviews. The general idea was that the company’s content “voice” (to the extent there even was one) was siloed among product and service offerings; all the content seemed to focus on these individual siloes rather than a cohesive, holistic brand voice.

The CMO wasn’t surprised. He told his team, “It seems we have a communication problem.” However, the head of brand, the head of internal communications, and the head of product marketing were incredulous. “How can this be?” they asked. “We have a vision. We have a strategy. We’ve described it to everyone. Do they just not get it?”

They were actually asking me; this wasn’t rhetorical.

I told them that I didn’t know and that any of these three things could be true:

  • Your strategy isn’t clear.
  • Your strategy is clear, but you haven’t communicated it clearly.
  • You’ve communicated it clearly, but people either misunderstand it or disagree with it.

It doesn’t matter which one it is. It’s still the leadership team’s challenge.

In my book co-authored with Carla Johnson, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing, we were honored to tell the story of Antonio Lucio, then global chief marketing and communication officer for Visa. As he told us, they scrutinized internal communications as carefully as they did their communications with external audiences. He told us, “We want to know that we’re making our employees true spokespeople for our brand.”

Getting our choir to sing and understand the song is challenging, but it can be a true differentiator. Gallup found that 41% of US employees don’t know what their employer stands for. Imagine solving problem in your organization.

This is a big opportunity for us as content practitioners. The more we can help our teams understand –­ and get excited about ­–­ the content we are creating for differentiated customer experiences, the more likely we are to succeed.

It’s like that classic Jerry Seinfeld episode about the rental-car reservation. Jerry’s reservation was in the system, but (the clerk informed him) they couldn’t give him the car because they had run out of cars. Jerry said,

“I don’t understand. The reservation keeps the car here. That’s why you have a reservation … You know how to TAKE the reservation. You just don’t know how to HOLD the reservation. And that’s really the most important part of the reservation. The holding. Anybody can just take them.”

With content, we have to do more than CREATE the stuff. Anybody can just create it. We have to COMMUNICATE its value to everyone involved. That’s the most important part of the content.

After all, a great story poorly told is a bad story.

Robert Rose
Chief Strategy Officer at The Content Advisory
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS.

Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.
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Author: Robert Rose
As the Chief Strategy Officer of The Content Advisory, the exclusive education and consulting group of The Content Marketing Institute, Robert develops content and customer experience strategies for large enterprises such as The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oracle, McCormick Spices, Capital One, and UPS. Robert’s book, Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing was called “a call to arms and a self-help guide for creating the experiences that consumers will fall in love with.” For the last three years, he’s co-hosted the podcast This Old Marketing, with Joe Pulizzi. It’s frequently a top 20 marketing podcast on iTunes and is downloaded more than a million times every year, in 100 countries around the world.

3 Comments

  • Amirhossein Faregh

    Dear Robert

    Very insightful,
    Thanks,
    Amir

  • Robert,

    Tricky territory here.

    Agreed that the story is still being told very poorly in most corporate contexts. In this case I think you’re saying that the content lacked soul. So, yes, connecting teams to artistic/emotional goals is difficult in organizations that were designed for such things – though Hollywood clearly manages it.

    The communicating part is the hard part: Effective communication requires all manner of creative elements, like emotional impact, novelty, originality, etc. Those gaps explain why we get so much meh content.

    We’re still in the early stages of this grope towards the ability to create meaningful, high-impact content. If you look at what so many organizations are producing it’s simply not there yet. Too often the content that shows up but it’s merely voting present. It may even be technically correct in that it ticks off all the boxes but it still fails to hit home. To be fair, this is the equivalent of looking for a hit song or movie. It’s, erm, hard at the best of times. Learning to really communicate and make things happen – as opposed to dumping the content – will take a while.

    Please keep these ideas coming. I find them inspiring and prescient.

  • Ken… I’m so glad you’re finding value in it. And I completely agree… We’re still in the early going here for sure. As we incorporate more and more editorial skill into our teams, we need to remember that we not only need to create that great content – we actually… well… need to sell its value as well.

    Internal comms is such a big part of what we do as content marketers. The ones I’m seeing really shine are mastering this part of their skill. I’m reminded of the Hollywood story where when they were making the Elephant Man movie – and the team decided to show a cut to the executives at the studio…. The executives had a TON of notes… And Mel Brooks (yes that Mel Brooks) who was a producer on the film said to them – “yeah, we weren’t looking for feeedback – we were just bringing you up to date on what a great film we were making” (he actually used blunter language than that.

    Thanks for the great comment on this. Hope you’re having a great Fall.

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