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Manage Channels – Integrate Content

tvsWhen you’re surfing the channels on television – you’re looking for great content. You may first try your “tried and true” channels. But you’ll ultimately land (and stay) on a channel because of the content, and not because it happens to be on HBO, or ESPN or NBC. As a recent New York Times article put it: “these days, consumers are roaming omnivores, hunting down whatever has heat and water-cooler value. And network appointment viewing has given way to foraging and bingeing.

The same is true for businesses’ content marketing efforts. Consumers don’t view digital channels from the same perspective that marketers do. They don’t care what the business wants the experience to be on the web site, blog, mobile site or Facebook page. They simply expect it to be great.

In fact, a recent study found that, as consumers are dissatisfied with the experience on one channel, many “channel-hop” in order to achieve their goal more quickly. They also found that “consumers are more prone to switch mid-way, adding a second channel to an interaction for escalation or convenience.” It’s when those supplemental channels fail to connect that marketers can quickly lose that precious bond with a consumer. And these days, it may be impossible to get back.

So, okay, we marketers know this don’t we?

Yes. The seamless customer experience imperative is pretty well known at this point. All (well okay, most) industry analysts are talking about some sort of ‘XM’ strategy, whether it’s customer, digital content, etc… At DCG, we’ve certainly written about the experience tier, the importance of a cohesive story across digital channels and how organizations are starting to re-organize themselves to support a content-centric, experience-first marketing effort.

So, yeah, there’s the mandate: marketers need to de-silo content management processes, and create cohesive, amazing, useful, personalized experiences across every channel. So, why haven’t most? Well, in two words: It’s fracken hard.

Do Marketers Dream Of Electric Channels

When Cisco launches a site that consists of no other published content than an aggregation of their social channels – is that still a Web site? When Verne Global, a supplier of data center space offers up a marketing resource “Web site” – which is 90% curated content and auto-published – is this still our classic view of a “Web site”?

In fact, most of the platforms that would be defined as a “web site” these days are some kind of hybrid. They contain originally published content from the company’s WCMS, cross-pollinated content from other web sites, blogs or document repositories, embedded content sourced in real-time from various social channels, user generated comments and ratings, and on and on. What does the average “web page” look like today? Well, it can very much depend on what is happening at this very minute.

The Social Team, despite the integrated e-commerce catalog, manages (and is probably measured by the success of) the blog. The Web team, despite the integrated RSS feeds from the blog and other social channels, manages the web site. And the E-commerce team, despite their protestations, integrates blog content into the online store.

But should they? The answer is “yes”, insofar as they can also begin to work to de-silo the content strategy and measurement across these separate channels. In short – as marketers start to act more like media companies, they can start to think like them as well. Audiences may be looking for great content without regard to channels, but that doesn’t mean marketers have to stop thinking in channel management. In fact, if any amount of sanity is to be expected – they must.

But, there are keys that make this change truly stick.

Web Content Channels As Systems Of Engagement

In the seminal piece ”Systems of Engagement and The Future of Enterprise IT” author Geoffrey Moore explains that we are in a “new era of IT”. He discusses that as we create these systems of engagement, we’ve got to apply their expectations (meaning customers) to the next generation of IT systems.”

Moore’s “systems of engagement” (SOE’S) are really the internal definition of channel management. This includes looking at Web sites (or really any system of engagement) as structures, but also looking at them as content campaigns that can be spun up and down as quickly as any social channel or other type of marketing campaign.

Building a successful system of engagement that builds and holds attention, over time is built on a number of ideas. Here are 3:

  1. Provide Flexible Models of System Creation – One of the primary reasons that enterprise marketing teams route around the institution of IT is to launch new micro-sites or campaign sites. Their reasoning: it’s simply too slow/bulky to use our enterprise WCM system to do this. Tomorrow’s SOE management is built on the ability to create new content platforms in a way that can be accessed as a marketing service. This means having complete flexibility to spin up one or hundreds of web sites quickly, and easily.
  2. Massive Scale & Portability Across Any Interface – true engagement systems will have the opportunity – but not the requirement – to move from temporary to permanent infrastructures based on success. For example, a network of a half-dozen campaign-oriented mobile content sites may be spun up initially in the cloud as a test against the consumer’s expectation. As one (or more) is successful – they should be able to be moved into a more permanent infrastructure where they may be able to more readily (or easily) contribute to internal data intelligence and/or compliance structures.
  3. Provide for new models of measurement – the marketer does not lack for data – and this capability is only likely to continue to grow exponentially. But in order to de-silo the process, new models of measurement must be applied so that channels are not competing with one another. The engagement of the audience should be measured across content and used for insight in how to manage channels, not provide for proof of a single team or channel’s worth.

Ultimately, it will be about our ability to create a cohesive content strategy across channels that will determine the marketer’s success. But, to the extent that organizing around channels helps the business create a structure that is manageable, then channel management is productive.

As the New York Times article pointedly concludes “it’s programming that rules now, not platform or position on the dial”. This is a great lesson for marketers that use content to drive business results to learn early on. Manage channels, and integrate teams and content.

Customers don’t care about the business. They care about their own needs, wants, dreams, aspirations etc.… To the extent that a brand and its content can assist them in reaching any one of these things faster or with greater emotional connection, then great. But today in our increasingly fragmented media environment that connection is tenuous at best.

As my friend Jay Baer says in his new book Youtility: “there are only two ways for companies to break through an environment that is unprecedented in its competitiveness and cacophony. They can be ‘amazing’ or they can be ‘useful’.

Marketers need to keep everything that helps, and remove anything that prohibits, the ability of the business to create, curate, iterate, delete, and ultimately optimize content with the sole purpose to be amazing or useful.

That’s the way the business earns the honored place on the “favorite channels list”.

NOTE: I’m a guest on a Webcast later this month (July 25th to be exact) with some of the folks from WCMS provider Acquia. If you’re interested in hearing a little more about this, you can register for that here.



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