Sometimes the Penknife Is Mightier Than the Sword

Something about spring’s better weather and lighter days seems to be compelling marketers to want to switch out their content management systems. In the last two weeks, I’ve had no fewer than 10 conversations with clients about their content management needs. It’s ironic that just when people should be figuring out ways to spend more time in the sunshine, they’re looking for a new project that’s going to chain them to their cubes until winter blows in.

These days, any number of types of content management or collaboration solutions are available. Wikipedia identifies over 200 “notable content management systems” – and this list doesn’t yet include many of the burgeoning number of content marketing and collaboration solutions we’re seeing in the market.

The challenge that I’m seeing more and more this spring is a bit different. The content practitioners I’m speaking with are looking at implementing some kind of strategic content practice as a functional department within the business. In some cases, it’s a nascent content marketing group looking to create new customer experiences. In other cases, it’s a content strategy group looking to organize better governance and architectural processes around all the content being produced digitally or otherwise. 

In every case, the complaint is the same. These groups are looking to deploy a light, easy, flexible tool that will allow them to collaborate on content for their purposes while integrating into the larger infrastructure. But then we get to the rub. Usually, the organization already has an enterprise tool managing their web content. This battlesword-ready software product cost the organization hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars to set up. And senior management rightly wants to know why this million-dollar product can’t handle a simple blog, or an editorial workflow, or a content calendar.

In fact, that existing tool could do the job, but it would be painful. One person told me (this is a real quote), “The implementation of our simple new blog goes into the enterprise web CMS queue, and we’re looking at an eight-month wait until we can get something up.” Another told me, “We’d like to change our web CMS to handle editorial calendaring and collaboration, but the tech guys tell us that it will cost tens of thousands of dollars to reconfigure our CMS workflow to do that.”

This is usually when content and marketing practitioners curse the sword (their existing tool) and conspire on ways to bring in a lighter technology to get something done.

In my keynote at ContenTECH, I spoke to a model that I’ve used to align the use of the more enterprise, governance-focused technology vs. the lightweight technology that might help the organization work in more flexible ways. The thrust of that model is that both sides of this discussion have to get beyond the notion of a single tool having dominion over the enterprise.

In other words, just because we have an enterprise CMS – a battlesword of a tool – doesn’t mean we should use it to manage all our content. Sometimes it’s fine to use a penknife, as my grandfather used to do when he needed to fix a loose screw.

Sometimes, the smart move may be to launch a content marketing effort on WordPress to test the validity of our assumptions, get buy in, and see if a content platform will work. That’s not overbuying technology – it’s bringing in the right tool for the job. In today’s fast-shifting world, the creation of content-driven experiences needs to be as easy and flexible as yesterday’s media buy. We will try, and fail, at many of these efforts. Let’s take a smart approach and open the penknife when appropriate – and save the battlesword for the big job for which it’s meant.