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How to Get the Most out of Your Content Tech Stack

Editor’s note: To introduce the concepts and potential speakers for our new ContentTECH Summit, we’re sharing some tech-focused talks from the most recent Intelligent Content Conference. This one is from Cathy McKnight, vice president at Digital Clarity Group, where she leads the enterprise consulting practice. Watch the video of her complete session or read the lightly edited transcript below.

All the hype and hyperbole around content technology make it very difficult for content marketers to distinguish fact from fiction.

Yet we marketers and our content teams are increasingly looking to technology to help us be more effective and to automate boring, tedious, repetitive, or difficult content tasks so we can focus on delivering great customer experiences.

How to find balance between man and machine, automation and the human touch, governance and innovation? It all comes back to strategy.

The content marketer’s tech dilemma

I’m going to talk about content technology strategies. But I want to start off with a question: How many of you have more than 10 parts to your content technology stack?

Now, how many of you have a content technology or a martech stack strategy that talks about integration and team and training?

But let’s start with you.

Today’s marketer is overwhelmed. We’re expected to do more because we’re enabled by technology. But we’re hampered by technology. How many of you want to throw your computer across the room because the UI hasn’t changed in the 14 years since you started using it?

We’re expected to be content superstars. We’re spoiled for choice. There are so many opportunities when it comes to resources and technology, leveraging that hive knowledge, being able to find different components and expand what we do, and find things we love to do.

But we’re caught between automation and the human touch. How do we use AI? Where do we draw the line in automation? As marketers and content people, we need to keep our hands in the mix and not let technology take us over.

We’re frazzled. We’re frustrated. We’re confused. We’re faced with a technology dilemma.

How many of you guys are familiar with the martech stack? Last year, Scott Brinker put us over the edge with 5,000 logos. I didn’t stop and count them, but I trust him.

When I talked to Scott in the fall of 2016, he said, “You know what? I think I’m actually going to streamline it this year.” His wife has stopped talking to him because it takes him so long to do this. And he actually does this himself. “I’m going to really look and consolidate and see the players out there.”

And then he releases it with 5,000 logos.

But what this shows us is that there is so much out there. We are inundated with technology at every turn. We look at things and go, “Ah, that would be great. I wish I had that,” not knowing whether or not we already have that in our stack.

Why content tech can’t go it alone

Some of you might look at the 5,000 logos and say, “Well, I work with content. That doesn’t apply to me.” It’s only that little small piece. That second orange column where it’s content and experience management? Yes, I agree, that applies to me, absolutely.

Well, my friends, it is so much more than that.

Content and experience management: That applies to us. But you know what? So does programmatic advertising. So do mobile content and search and paid social. They’re all very dependent on content.

And then we move over to retail and commerce, SEO and analytics. This is all stuff that affects us every day.

So when we get down to it, really, only a very small portion of these 5,000 logos don’t impact us as people who are responsible for content.

It’s content that’s delivering the experiences our customers and our contacts want to have. As marketers, something like 98% of us have customer experience as a priority. It doesn’t matter the industry, doesn’t matter where you’re located in the world. We’re all talking about customer experience. And that customer experience relies very much on content.

So, our expanded realm is getting bigger and bigger by the day.

Context technologies

To start, we’re expected to know things about context: biometrics, language, personalization.

How many of you wish you had a penny for every time somebody said, “We need to personalize that”? How many of you would like to see the word personalization kicked completely out of our language, so that we’d only talk about relevance? That’s a whole other presentation. I’ll do that next year.

Engagement technology

Then we’re expected to know about engagement. Everybody wants to engage with us.

If we actually engaged with every product and service and company, we would be exhausted. We get hit with thousands and thousands of impressions every day. And that’s what companies are looking for. They’re looking for that engagement. They want a reaction to that impression. So we have to deal with social. We have to deal with marketing automation, with campaigns, and with virtual reality.

Cognitive technology

Put your hands up if you’re comfortable with artificial intelligence and how you can use it as marketers and content people? Anybody? Nobody. All right, everybody’s honest.

It is freaking us out. As an analyst and as a consultant, I get the privilege of going to a lot of conferences. And I am always in on at least a couple of AI sessions. I want to hear, finally, from somebody who’s actually doing it. Not the vendors.

This isn’t a dis to any vendor in the room. It’s not a dis to any agency who has figured it out. But I want to hear from an actual company that has figured out the balance – that technology and human-touch balance.

We have to know about machine learning, natural language processing.

Business process technologies

And then we move into the business processes, BPM. Full disclosure: I used to be an SAP consultant, so I can talk acronyms all day long.

We forget about the unsexy stuff. But this is the stuff that keeps our business going. We need process.

Content technology

We’re all familiar with the content technologies for content production, CSM, DAM, and all of these.

And now we’re getting into predictive content and making sure that we’re following our customers through each stage and through omnichannel and multichannel and cross-channel.

Commerce technologies

And then commerce, of course. As content people, we need to understand it. Even if we’re not a commerce site, we need to understand how it interacts.

And then, of course, we want to pull that all together with our data sources. So it ends up looking something like this.

But do we have the strategy to support it? How many of us have stopped and taken the time to look at the content technology we have to make sure that we have a strategy behind it and we know how to use it, so that we’re not replacing technology when we don’t need to?

5 tenets of content tech strategy

How many of you have lived through a replacement of a major piece of content technology because you’ve got a new CMO or a new CIO? Or because it’s so off the upgrade path, your code is spaghetti, and you have to move on to something else? How many of you have suffered through that selection?

If we have a strategy behind our content and how it’s going to interact with other technologies, it will help our technology live longer.

A tenet is a principle or belief that a group holds true. Here’s what holds true when it comes to content technology strategy.

1. We need to understand the core parts of our content stack.

Even as non-technologists, we need to understand the technology. We need to understand what makes up our business and how we’re delivering the experiences and the content to our customers. If we don’t understand it, we’re not able to make strategic decisions.

If your CEO or your CTO came to you tomorrow and said, “Listen, we need to cut back on our technology. We’ve had this wicked virus, and we’ve been hacked, and they’re saying we need to get rid of 60% of all of our content technology,” what are the pieces you would keep?

Which are the ones that would let you do 80% of your job even though you have 20% of your technology. Understand what those would be and make sure you take care of them.

2. Get senior leadership buy-in

We’re actually in one of the best spots as marketers and content teams to do this, because experience is so important. And how do we deliver those experiences? Content.

So we are in a really good position to argue our case to have good technology, to have training, to be able to work with others outside of even our organization, to make sure we’re understanding and using that technology.

But we need to make sure the senior leadership team – not just a CMO or CIO or CTO, but the COO and the CEO and all of the other senior leaders – understands the impact of this technology and how it is helping the overall organization succeed.

3. Have the right team with the right skills to use, support, and integrate content technologies

Team makes all the difference. You could have mediocre technology, something that doesn’t hit a wave or a quadrant, or isn’t up and to the right. But if you have a really great team – and I’m talking marketing and content and IT and BI, administrators, people who are working together to make that content technology thing – you’re going to kick butt.

You need to make sure that the skill sets are there – not just how to write content, not just how to use the technology, but how to support it. How it can be integrated with other parts of the business. How it’s going to use and leverage data to make your lives easier as content providers to reach your customers.

4. Build partnerships between marketing, content, and IT

Make sure that those teams are partners. Now that you know which skill sets are needed, work together. How many content people here know exactly who to call on your IT team to help you with your CMS or to tweak marketing automation, or anything?

Of those of you who do, how many of you proactively meet with your IT team to talk about things that could be coming up, things that you’re thinking about, things that make you say, “I wonder if I can do this with my technology?” If you’re doing this once a month or once every two weeks, you deserve a raise. Tell your bosses I said so.

It’s really important to make friends with other parts of the business. Nothing makes me crazier than when businesses have got marketing on one floor and then you’ve got IT in the basement – because they’re not talking to each other. You need to work together. This is a group effort.

5. Have a road map for adopting new features, functions, and innovation in the content tech stack

And the last one is to have a road map. As marketers, learn a little bit of technology. Be the one who’s able to go to your IT department and say, “Hey, I heard that the next release of our CMS is going to have x functionality. I think we could really use that. Are we in a position to adopt that?”

Understand your upgrade path, know when those changes are coming, understand what it takes to integrate an API.

Take the time to understand how your technology works. How many of you content people understand your content technology stack road map, know what’s part of it, or even know that there is one?

4 pillars to support your content tech strategy

Pillars are things we stand on. I want you to think about these next four statements and ask yourself, “Can I answer yes to this?” These are statements that you should be able to agree with. When you can agree and say, “Absolutely, I can do that,” that’s when you know you’re on the right track from a strategy perspective.

1. Don’t get distracted by shiny objects

We all love shiny objects: cars, jewelry, the wet nose of a dog. That’s where we start getting caught up from a technology perspective because we think, “Oh, we really want that, we need that.”

And that’s what vendors want. Again, no dis against the vendors. That’s what vendors want you to believe. They’re doing a good job with their content because they have you believing that you need that AI, you need that Watson, that without it you will fail.

But you need to take stock in where you are today. If you had that technology, could you adopt it? Are you in a position to use it the way it’s intended? To do that, you need to have the processes, you need to have the skill sets.

It’s about understanding what your capabilities are, knowing the direction you’re heading, and understanding whether or not that shiny object is for you and if it’s the right time to acquire that.

Talk to the IT person to understand what your technology is capable of. You might already have it in-house. That’s why it’s so important to understand what your stack includes. Chances are you have twice, if not three times, the amount of technology that you’re aware of.

2. Be in the present but look to the future

Don’t ever think, “I’m never going to get there.” Have vision, think about direction. But understand where you are. Set the course forward to get to where you want to be in the future.

When we talk about being in the present and looking to the future, that means you need to understand not only your marketing organization and its goals and objectives, the customer experience goals and objectives of your organization, but also your organizational goals and objectives. Tie your progress and your plan into that.

We are all here to support our organizations. We all want to contribute to success; that’s the ultimate goal. If the company’s successful, we’re successful, and vice versa.

Make sure you know where you are today and what the core capabilities are. How many of you have done a skills audit within your teams? A content audit? Channel audit? Technology audit? That’s how you get in the present, understand where you stand today in all of those factions and then start plotting the course to the future.

This isn’t just about technology. When we talk about technology strategy, it involves so much more than just the technology. It’s the people. It’s the platforms. It’s the training. It’s the strategy. It’s all of those pieces combined.

3. Measure twice then act

How many of you feel really confident that you are using the data that you have at your disposal well? Most of us are still struggling. We have to get our hands around all of this data.

You have to know what you’re going to measure, why you’re measuring it, and who’s going to act on that measurement. There’s no point taking stock in something if you’re not going to do anything about it.

If you’re not measuring things, start. Create a baseline. It’s never too late. I actually had a client who said, “We’ve been doing this so long, and we’ve never really measured it, so there’s no point in doing it now.” There is a point. There’s always a place to start.

How many of you are asked to calculate an ROI on things? How many of you can do that with confidence?

I’m a big fan of KPIs. I think key performance indicators are way better when it comes to measuring things. With ROI there’s always another way to slice and dice and add that number, other contributing factors.

If somebody asks you to measure something, don’t be afraid to say, “We can absolutely do that, but why? What are you going to do with it?”

4. Have the right team, with the right skills, who understand technology

I’m a huge advocate of team. The team that works together can accomplish so much with the right skills.

But in order to do that, you have to share the strategy. I get the privilege of helping a lot of organizations build their strategy. When I ask, “Do you have a strategy?” they’ll say yes. When I ask, “Who’s seen that strategy?” there are crickets. Sometimes they think strategy is this super-secret document that is only for the managers and the directors.

You need to share the strategy, whether it’s a content strategy or technology strategy. And to organize the right team, you have to understand what they need to know. It’s not just about learning the user interface. It’s not just about understanding how to send a campaign, or how to publish a blog post. It’s understanding how the content works within those domains, within the technologies, how it’s transferred, and where it sits.

We get technology dropped in our laps constantly. Somebody makes the decision to buy the technology and then at the next team meeting, you have a new piece of technology. Great, here’s a link to an hour-long, pre-recorded training video. Go. We just spent half a million dollars on this technology, make it work. And we need to have the skills and the training.

Do another skill-set audit to understand how comfortable people are. Ask them their comfort level. “How comfortable are you using this technology? What training is missing? What would you like to do?”

It’s amazing to find out that somebody who’s doing something a little more technical is actually super creative. Maybe you want to start including them on generating some tweets.

Strategy comes into the hiring process as well. Wouldn’t it be great to understand the skill gaps on your team? Go back to the strategy, and make sure that you share that strategy.

What’s next?

So what do you do with these nine pieces of information? You need to pull all those pieces together.

First, do the audits.

A skills audit is about making sure that you understand the capabilities on your team. A content audit will help you understand where your content is, the value that it has, and how you can leverage it within your technology and being able to pull that content together. We talked about doing a technology audit.

And don’t forget about strategies. It’s not just one strategy. Audit the marketing strategy, the content strategy, your company strategy, and align to what your organization is looking to achieve.

And then plan and strategize. Take all of that information and start looking for where things touch and cross over. And then repeat.

Strategies are never something that should be one and done. It’s an evolution, it’s something that continues to grow and needs to change. It needs to have a baseline, and it needs to last for a while.

When you start saying, “Oh, it would be really great if we add this new piece of technology,” go back to your strategy. Find out if that’s something that aligns with what you’ve planned to do or whether you got caught up in the bright shiny object.

Rely on your strategy to direct your technology buys.

I love this quote from Jonathan Perelman:

Content is king, but distribution is queen and she wears the pants.

We think about content very narrowly. We think about CMS. We think about digital asset management. But we need to think about the distribution model as well. We need to think about the outlets and the channels. We need to think about not just the electronic, but the heart, the traditional, the face to face.

Technology plays a part in that, too.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute