When we are blind to systemic causes of problems, all the solutions we try will likely make matters worse.

Esther Derby

How can your organization design a smart solution for making your content influential? Think in terms of a system. A collection of one-off content tactics or tricks won’t achieve any BHAG (big hairy audacious goal) and won’t sustain smaller successes over time. And, as Derby points out, those tactics could make your content problems worse.

So, as you think about an intelligent system to make your content influence, consider these four elements: empathy, engineering, empowerment, and evaluation. I’ve touched on these Es, especially in terms of planning how to scale. But, if your organization doesn’t already have a vision with these four elements, scaling will be tough if not impossible.

So, let’s take a moment to envision these essential elements. (Forgive the extra Es…on a roll and can’t stop!) Two of these elements center on the relationship of content to people, and two of them focus on the relationship of content to machines or technology.

diagram summarizing the 4 es of influential content

People: Empathy and Empowerment

To create influential content, your organization needs empathy for your customers / users and their journey. For example, are you talking in terms of your brand and product in moments where users need you to speak to their needs, problems, goals, or aspirations? I’m still amazed at how often organizations do not have any research-backed documentation of who their users are and what their journey is. Without that kind of intelligence about your users in an easy-to-understand format, it will be tough to think of great ideas for content.

Users are not the only people to consider. Your organization needs to empower a content leader (or set of leaders) and, most likely, a dedicated team. Marriott’s commitment to devoting leadership and a team to branded content, for example, makes me optimistic they will achieve their goals. Similarly, Carrie Hane Dennison was empowered to lead her team and stakeholders in modernizing the digital presence of American Society of Civil Engineers.

Machines: Engineering and Evaluation

To bring influential content to life, engineer the integration of technology ranging from CMS to DAM to marketing automation to search engines to mobile display. (And that’s only scratching the surface.) You also need to architect content to work well with and adapt to those technologies. And, of course, you need to make sure people behind the scenes, such as strategists, marketers, and authors, can use the technology effectively.

To boot, evaluate whether your content is, in fact, influential and adjust your approach if not. Smart planning combined with the right tools can help you turn data or feedback into actionable content intelligence, which will further empower your content teams.  Another way to think about it is, in an age where more and more organizations value making smart decisions informed by data, your content teams will be marginalized if they can’t show data informs their content decisions.

Uses and Benefits of the 4Es

So are these elements just an exercise in the literary device of assonance or useful in some way? They’ve been useful to our team for our own planning as well as for advising clients in two main ways.

1. Identify and fill gaps in early phases of planning

We find organizations come to us with different combinations of the Es in place. This framework helps identify gaps, which we often call opportunities. Some organizations, for example, have just invested in a sophisticated CMS but still don’t know exactly who their users / customers are or what their journey is like or what kind of content would truly help them in that journey. While it would have been ideal to focus on the users / customers before buying the CMS, catching this gap early gives your organization a better chance of making the most of that CMS’ capabilities.

2. Balance people and technology

If your organization doesn’t balance the elements of people and machines / technology, you’re at risk of delays or even failure in achieving influential content. This framework emphasizes the need for that balance. If you expect to deliver fresh content daily for your customers or users but have a team of one behind the scenes, for instance, you are setting your organization up for disappointment.

By filling gaps and balancing the involvement of people and technology, your organization will make the most of its investment in a content system—both now and for the long haul. And you’ll enjoy benefits like these.

Originally published on the now-archived Content Science blog in January 2015.

The Author

Colleen Jones is the author of The Content Advantage and founder of Content Science, a growing content intelligence and strategy company based in Atlanta GA. Content Science owns Content Science Review, Content Science Academy, and the content effectiveness software ContentWRX.  She also is the former Head of Content at Mailchimp. Colleen regularly consults with executives and practitioners to improve their strategy and processes for content.

Follow Colleen on Twitter at @leenjones or on LinkedIn.

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