Interview #13 Transcript – July 26, 2013
Participants: Rahel Anne Bailie and Martin van der Roest

Martin van der Roest: Welcome to the Content Marketing Examiner where we explore the content marketing lifecycle together with industry experts and practitioners. I’m Martin van der Roest, your host for today’s interview. Joining me is Rahel Bailie, of Intentional Design, a consultancy that focuses on performance improvements and communications products. In particular, Rahel has an extensive background in content strategies, so we’re excited about exploring the convergence of content strategy and content marketing and how the two need each other. Rahel, thank you for joining us today.

Rahel Anne Bailie: It’s my pleasure to be here, Martin.

Martin van der Roest: Before we get started, I think the audience would enjoy reading and/or listening to a bit of your background and what kind of experience you’ve had, and the activities that you’re involved in today. Tell us a little more about that, Rahel.

Rahel Anne Bailie: I come from a long communications background. I started off in business communications many, many years ago and moved into technical communications where I had a long and illustrious career. It was actually a very good training ground, because you learn a lot about not just the copy side of content, but the technical side of content—what makes it tick. From there I moved into what I call my “efficiency stage.” I asked someone that I worked with to build me a system to save me some work in producing content and he said, “Oh, you want a content management system,” and I thought, “That’s what it’s called? Great! Build me one.” I was always looking for the efficiency, so I started calling myself a content management consultant, but everyone thought I wrote code. I’d say, “No, I’m on the content side; let’s pay attention to the content and not so much the infrastructure underneath it.” I discovered just after 2000 that really what I was doing was content strategy. That’s what I’ve been doing ever since. I went independent in 2001 (best decision of my life) and have been working with clients large and small, although lately it’s been larger and larger companies wanting help to leverage their content as a business asset.

Martin van der Roest: One of the things I know about you is that you’ve also co-authored a book, Content Strategy: Connecting the dots between business, brand and benefits. What prompted that?

Rahel Anne Bailie: It was kind of an interesting evolution. I was watching people publish books about the “how to” of content strategies, it was the nuts and bolts of the mechanics, how you asked certain questions to determine the content you need, or how to write content in a more compelling way, but there really wasn’t the next book up. By the next book up I mean the book that’s, “How do I get my company to actually buy into this? It’s all well and good that we know what we need, but how do I tell my boss or my boss’s boss or whoever the decision maker is in the organization, the person who says, ‘Ok, we will take this on as a project, we will devote some budget to it, we will make some investment in our content.’ How do we get them to buy in?” I knew we needed to talk about some of the ROI issues and some of the nuts and bolts of what it really takes to do this and put it into a vocabulary and frame it in a way that decision makers could understand. Decision makers come in all flavors, so you have your executive sponsor, but you could also have a technical sponsor who wants to hear about the technical side of it. We had to branch out and talk about the importance of adopting a content strategy and how to go about it from a decision maker’s point of view. In other words, “I’m not going to be doing [the actual work myself], but if I’m going to be funding this I want to know when my staff comes to me and says, ‘We need to do this,’ why I should give some budget and how do I even manage such a project to make sure that the budget is being well-spent?” That’s what prompted the book; I call it the project that ate two years of my life. My co-author and I would talk every Sunday over Skype and then set ourselves some goals for the next week. As we went through this, we kind of expanded and then had to pull back and contract the value proposition of the book because we wanted to make sure it was targeted and focused to the right audience. In the end, I think we did well. I get good feedback about it continually, so that’s very gratifying.

Martin van der Roest: That’s great, I know it’s a herculean effort but I’m sure you’ve learned quite a bit more on top of what you already know and being able to put it into that kind of a format and contribute back to the community. I salute you for that.

Let’s kick this off a little bit. I’m kind of curious, given your extensive background in content strategy, what are the key components of content strategy and where is the potential convergence for content marketing?

Rahel Anne Bailie: This is an interesting question and I’ve been asked this a few times lately. I went to the Content Marketing Institute and looked up what they considered the definition of content marketing to be and they say, “It’s a marketing process to attract and retain customers by consistently creating and curating content to change and enhance consumer behavior.” It really does focus on the editorial, and content strategy looks at this and says, “That’s great. You need compelling content; you need the right content to go to the right people at the right time at the right place and all those things.” (I could go on and on about that, but I won’t.) However, in content marketing there’s an assumption that there’s an infrastructure there for the content to be delivered where it needs to be. My definition of content strategy is “the analysis and planning process that is done to develop a repeatable system that governs the management of content throughout the entire content lifecycle.” It may sound like a kind of simplistic definition, but when you think about a content lifecycle, it is a huge endeavor to create a content lifecycle and to understand it and to have the infrastructure and technology underneath it to be able to deliver it, then you realize that this is kind of the shiny coating on the big definition. If I were to put this into practical terms, you could type a letter of complaint and send it in and the only person who is going to know about that complaint is the person who received the letter. You send it off and hope it gets to the right person at the right time and at the right place. With content strategy, it’s like the fellow from the infamous YouTube video, United Breaks Guitars. When sending off a letter to customer service didn’t resolve his problem, he created a song—which is compelling content—and he put it onto a technology that had a lot of potential for amplifying his message—that was YouTube—so now he had a million page views and basically shamed United Airlines into dealing with it. When you think about the difference there, content marketing was the compelling part: he created a video. But the content strategy was how would you take that and what infrastructure would you use to be able to amplify that message to the point where it needs to be amplified? You’ve got those two sides that have to work together to make it happen, because if you use content strategy and bad content all you’re going to do is redistribute bad content more efficiently. If you just use the other side without the content strategy, then you’ve got great content but it might not be able to be leveraged as the business asset that it is, if you don’t have the infrastructure and technology to be able to do it. So it’s marrying those two sides.

Martin van der Roest: That’s a nice clarification. Let’s drill down into that a little more. In a previous conversation that you and I had, you shared a picture of what content strategy is and you used a three-legged stool comparison. I liked what the pieces were and that’s where I do see some contributions overlap into the content marketing world. Tell us more about the three-legged stool and the components that make that up.

Rahel Anne Bailie: We end up talking a lot about breaking down silos, but when it comes right down to it that can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. When I think about breaking down silos, I think about it not as grain spilling down into this big messy soup in the middle, I think of it more like you’ve got three legs of a stool, and to make your project stand up, you need to have all three legs. You have to have content and user experience, that’s one leg. You have to have people and processes because a lot of times when you change how content gets produced so that it can be distributed better, it becomes a changed management issue. So that’s the processes part, you may have to redo some of your processes, you need the right people and you need the right processes; that’s a second leg. And then you need the tools and technologies; that’s a third leg. If you don’t have one of those legs, your stool is going to fall over. So if you have all of those legs working together, the goal is that common platform for content, then you’ve got a solid foundation on which to build your brand strategy or your marketing strategy or whatever it is you need to do from a business perspective. And holding that up is those three pillars.

Martin van der Roest: That’s good to add to the mixture. When I think of content marketing, in particular a lifecycle of what goes into supporting the activities, I think of setting the goals, the strategy component, and what you just spoke of merges into this. Next is planning/editorial calendar activities, step four is production, five is publishing, then you have engagement and then metrics. Those are the seven lifecycle steps, so when you mention these three components, one thing I’m particularly intrigued with is the technology piece because of what I’m promoting with content strategies. Part of it includes this idea of repeatable processes and content. In that context, what kind of technologies contribute to supporting that in content strategies and where might the contribution or overlap be for content marketing? Kind of in the technology sense, where’s that convergence?

Rahel Anne Bailie: It converges in so many places and it’s not a cookie cutter solution, it’s not a one-size-fits-all. Like when people go, “Oh, the Atkins diet is terrible, it didn’t work for me.” It’s the “for me” part that people don’t listen to, so in content strategy I want to make sure that we say there are many situations you have to adapt it to so it depends if you’re a manufacturer of products or a deliverer of services or if you are in social media—it depends where you are as how these play out.

The general underlying framework would be like this: the content strategy lifecycle that I have come up with has four quadrants: analysis, collection, management, and publication. We’re going to figure out how we collect content. Do we author it, do we edit it, do we syndicate it, do we take content that is around the organization and aggregate it…so there are all those ways, or do we translate (this is another iteration of content). And then you figure out which technologies you need to be able to produce that content in a way that supports the business goals. Then you look at the management quadrant and you say, how are we going to manage this, what kind of metadata do we need (because metadata is content too)? How do we have a content model that will work for the technology that’s underneath? The technology that’s underneath could be a content management system; it could be a product information management system. There are many types of systems that could be used. If you’re a newspaper, then you’re going to have a publications system and if you’re a course learning institution you’ll have some sort of learning management system. So how does the content get used in there? How can it be broken down in some granular way, and so on and so forth, and so you look at what you need for that. Sometimes it can be as simple as we didn’t build the database that way, and now you want to do this [specialty delivery] and you can’t. So you say we have very good content but the technology isn’t working so maybe we have to look at how the database is designed and get a different design to the data base or we need to be able to build in some other sort of layer that will allow the content to do what we want to do. And then there’s the whole publication piece of how do we push it out? Do you need to push it out to one place or many places? Mobile or not mobile? Social? What’s our retention policy? What happens to links that go to that content after we archive the content? All those things have to be figured out, too. And you figure out what your business goals are, and how you want to deliver the content, and then what are all the pieces that go with that? And there are the many iterations to consider, because there’s the difference between considering content as part of the supply chain, which is use it once and throw it away. Or do you think of it as something that’s iterative. Is it iterated because we translated it, or is it iterated because we’re reusing it in other ways, is it iterated because we edited it and versioned it? Each of those situations will mean that you want to have different technologies underneath to make sure that content can do what you want it to do.

Martin van der Roest: I like that; going to the four quadrants. Is that a commonly understood convention in content strategy?

Rahel Anne Bailie: Yes. If you look up content strategy lifecycles, you’ll see various versions of this. I think that the one that I’ve created is probably more comprehensive than a lot of them, because they go around to publish and archive or something like that. There are way more levels of it, there is actually an online article on, he had an online magazine and I did a content lifecycle article in there that talks about each of the four quadrants. My version and a lot of the other versions out there are quite similar, but anything that’s two or three steps–create/publish/archive–you’re going to want to look beyond that to something that’s a bit more robust because today’s publishing requirements are more robust than they ever were.

Martin van der Roest: I could absolutely see in what I just heard in the four quadrants, overlap in what we do in the content marketing lifecycle.

Rahel Anne Bailie: Definitely.

Martin: I think you added a fun dimension to that which will be worth harvesting out once we get through the interview, and I would like to see that come together. I really haven’t seen that kind of conversation converge with content marketing, so I think there are some interesting components there. Thank you for sharing that part.

Rahel Anne Bailie: There’s actually another component that I want to mention briefly. That is that you can’t just think about the content lifecycle in isolation. You want to think about it in the content marketing lifecycle and how those converge, but you also want to think about the customer journey and how that converges, so you’re producing the right kind of content at the right time. A lot of the organizations that I’ve spoken to are so focused on the acquisition of customers, and then as soon as the sale happens, they’re ignored or given very little support. It’s, “Go look for an answer [in the support forums],” but you’ll never find it. What we look at in the customer lifecycle: let’s look at what content you produce at the acquisition stage, what do you produce at the retention stage, and then the renewal stage where people are replacing a laptop, a TV, an enterprising accounting system, whatever it may be, and let’s make sure that the content we’re delivering in the lifecycle works for all of those stages of the journey as well. Not just the content lifecycle, it’s the customer lifecycle and it’s the content marketing lifecycle and you put them all together and you make almost a 3-D effect, like playing 3-D chess almost.

Martin van der Roest: I think it’s really interesting what’s unfolding here. I didn’t think about it going into the interview, Rahel, we have had conversations in the past where we tried to dissect content marketing from social media marketing and the argument says, “If all I did was content marketing, meaning I just put content out on a blog or put out a white paper and so on, and I omit the social media piece, then that’s just content marketing. Social media is the illuminator of the content, is one way to look at it, so when I do produce that content, then I illuminate it through social media techniques and highlight it, share it, etc. What you’re saying here is content marketing is content strategy plus social media. It’s content the way you’re talking about it, and then I use social media to illuminate the content, the sharing and so on.

Rahel Anne Bailie: Recently I was at a digital strategy conference and I was presenting on the content strategy day they had, and what was interesting was that they talked about social marketing as well. The first day was on a theme and the second day was on content strategy and the third day was on what they called “social business.” Content marketing and social media are components of social business. When they talk about social business they’re not just talking about social media, but collaboration of all sorts, how do you make a social business happen? That was interesting to me because, yes, a lot of places have a social media plan and a mobile plan, and all of these plans, and they’re all siloed. I completely agree with you about social media highlighting content, but I think the bigger picture is social business. When you think about marketing it’s no longer one-way-out; now it has to be a conversation. So social media is a part of that conversation and that whole social business side of things where you have social media. But you also have users helping other users, campaigns that help grow things, so it’s not social media in terms of, “Let’s have a Twitter account,” but it’s a bigger picture of social business. I really like that model and I’m trying to figure out how to more formally acknowledge it within content strategy, to say that these things all have to work together.

Martin van der Roest: That’s an interesting thought. Something’s come to mind here that even Scott Abel would have fun with in this conversation. It’s something I’ve struggled with. The conversation you and I have had on content marketing and conversations, Scott and I have had as well, but then there’s this social component and then content marketing. We have something that’s already well defined and understood—content strategy—there’s a lot of work that’s gone into addressing that. That is a cornerstone component for content marketing with social media to illuminate it, but to your point, the bigger picture, it’s kind of a social business component. It’s the content that we might have used for tech pubs in the past but now we’re using the same principles of management strategy, we combine it with the social component and we now have content marketing or social business or something like that. We may be defining something fun here, Rahel.

One of the things that Scott and I have talked about is this idea that the CIO in many ways gets some of this content strategy because it’s got some of its roots in the tech pubs space so there’s a host of tools available there. Based on what you and I are talking about, there’s this carry forward opportunity, this maturity of processes and so on, so now I’m talking to the CMO. What might we tell the CMO in terms of how we could leverage content strategy in a content marketing initiative?

Rahel Anne Bailie: I talk about this quite a bit in our book, about ROI and different ways to get ROI. I think what we would tell a CMO is that it’s all about making sure that your brand is the brand that people want. Everyone has something a bit different that they’re looking for in a brand. I often say that if you were to sell 10,000 products and there was one defective one, that’s the one that I’m going to buy. It just seems to be that way, so I spend a lot of time having to navigate the consumer service route and before I buy a product, the first thing I look up is what the reputation is of the company once someone’s bought the product. If the first thing I encounter is a whole bunch of complaints, I move on to the next brand. There’s a huge problem in the U.S. with products being returned to retail stores under the category of NFF, no fault found. It turns out that there are 20 minutes where somebody will try to fiddle with the consumer product before they decide to return it and say it’s broken. When it’s broken and they want to exchange it for something that works, they’re not going to exchange it for the same brand because they just brought back something they think doesn’t work. They want a different brand. When we look at those kinds of situations, as an example, we want to say, “How do we make sure that people deal with our brand?” If it’s for me, you want to have a post-sales process, a support process, that works. Someone else might want something at the pre-sale side that’s describing things in a certain way, so what you want to do is to tell the CMO that this content is a business asset and it has to get leveraged like any other business asset. It has to support your marketing goals. It means designing content, not just the copy, but the processes by which you create the content so that everything can be consistent and everything can push out the same message and reach the right people at the right time. It also means having the tools and technologies to be able to do this in a way that’s going to be efficient and not break the bank, and when they want to meet a goal, they can meet that goal. If they have a goal such as “we want to go into this new market within a year,” and you’re thinking that we’re already at capacity, we’re going to break the bank trying to meet that goal, then it’s time to say, “So how are we going to make the content processes or the content technologies better so we deliver the content to meet this goal of going into this new market a year from now?” It’s always relating it to the business goal and then working backwards and saying, “Where is our infrastructure deficient? Is it deficient in the creating of the content or the management of the content? Or the processes?” One of the instances that happened to me recently, a client said, “I want to make a small change on one of our websites. It took me over a month to find all of the instances and then convince the people who need to make the change to make the change.” I was thinking, “Wow, if we had a better system–and that’s what I’m there to help them with, to build a better system, and I’m not talking software I’m talking an organic system–if you could have done that in a day it would have given you another month and a half to do more value-add stuff.” Those are the kinds of things we want to look at and marketing folks get that because they want to spend their time doing the things that are going to make sense.

Martin van der Roest: Consistency in messaging and consistency in content.

Rahel Anne Bailie: I’ve had marketing people tell me, “This is what I do to build a site,” and I ask what happens for maintenance. And they look at me blankly…maintenance? This is partly indicative of what the problem is, they’re building to do what we call “publish and fling.” They take the stuff and say, “We need to have this content and whip it onto this beautiful website and then we forget about it.” Then to do the maintenance part becomes very hard, it becomes a slog and you get things that are out of sync with the rest of your content and it starts damaging your brand at some point. That’s what you don’t want, so I think content strategy is about making that repeatable process. You created this, where does it go and how do we maintain it and what will be the maintenance plan? Those are the things that are kind of the weakness on the content marketing side because everyone is thinking about the acquisition and they’re running as fast as they can and everyone wants to do a good job and so those other pieces aren’t really coming to the forefront.

Martin van der Roest: I think that’s an excellent point. This has been good. Let’s go to the setting of someone just getting started around this idea of content marketing. They’re certainly familiar with everything going on in the social space; they recognize they need to produce content to play, etc. What kind of guidance or recommendations would you offer for someone just getting started with this whole initiative?

Rahel Anne Bailie: Are you talking someone in a marketing department getting started with a new campaign, or someone new to the profession?

Martin van der Roest: Let’s think about organizations that, to date, have done very little in creating an online presence and now there’s this sense of, “Oh, I’ve got to play,” regardless of what industry they’re in. Maybe they’ve got the website, but they’re really not doing much proactively around this topic of content marketing. Given this conversation that you and I are having with a bit of the content strategies piece coupled with even the social media, are there any quick guidance ideas that you would offer?

Rahel Anne Bailie: I would say go out and get yourself a three-legged stool. By that I mean, recognize that as a content marketer, “I can’t do it alone, and there are parts that I’ll be good at and that there are other parts where people are already being paid to be good at.” I would find the user-experience person in the organization and the technology person in the organization, and I would talk to the change management person and I would strike up some sort of a cross-functional committee, or team or working group for however it works in your organization. I’d say, “Here’s our goal, let’s all work together to make the magic happen.” One of the other things I do is that I’m co-producer with Scott Abel of the Content Strategy Workshops. I did a workshop on content typing and modeling, and someone from marketing came over to me afterwards and he said, “No wonder the developers are always mad at me and can’t respond to my requests all the time, because I’ve been doing it all wrong!” He was so delighted to have found sort of the key to more harmonious working and getting what he wants done faster. Those are the kinds of things that if you put together a cross-functional team, the technologists will tell you what they need; they’ll tell you why something is not working. The UX people will tell you what they need and why it’s not working and so will the content strategy professional if you’re lucky enough to have one working with you, they’re certainly going to step in and help you play translator—I say a lot of what I do is translate between Geek and English. They’ll step in and help because that’s what they’re there to do, and then you can proceed with everyone focusing in their area of expertise but all helping prop up the stool so you can get the business done. That’s what I would say–go get yourself a three-legged stool.

Martin van der Roest: Good advice. This has been a mini-breakthrough conversation for me and, as the expression goes, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” We’ve been talking about content marketing for months now, but at the same time I’ve been hearing the urgings of Scott talking about content strategy and what I’m sensing here in this conversation is that there is nothing new under the sun. Content strategy is mature, it’s been around, it’s developed, proven capabilities coupled with what we’re doing on the social side, which there is a dimension there that’s worth recognizing independently. But I can see this idea of content marketing being/leveraging/building on what’s already been done in content strategies and coupling that with the things going on in social media and community.

Rahel Anne Bailie: I completely agree, and I’m glad you found the conversation to be worth-while because I enjoy having these conversations and I know that others have found them worth-while as well.

Martin van der Roest: Yes. Thank you, this has really been exciting. I think this will be fun to continue.

This is Martin van der Roest, managing editor of the Content Marketing Examiner. Thank you for joining us as we continue to explore the content marketing lifecycle.