Does anyone care about incremental change?
In my consulting practice, I see one challenge again and again at businesses large and small: Incremental improvements fail to excite people enough to motivate change.
When a content process is suboptimal but not so broken as to undermine success, the anticipated pain of changing feels greater than the pain that might (or might not) arise if you change nothing.
It’s a Catch-22. No one wants to throw out the existing approach to content strategy because they worked hard on it. And they question whether any reinvention will prove as amazing as promised.
Inevitably, they don’t make a major change because it risks failing. On the other hand, they don’t give themselves the chance to make a change that could produce remarkable results.
Seth Godin wrote these words about making something incrementally better a decade ago:
If you define success as getting closer and closer to a mythical perfection, an agreed upon standard, it’s extremely difficult to become remarkable. Particularly if the field is competitive. Can’t get rounder than round.
They’ve stayed with me ever since, especially because I see so many digital marketing strategies falling into a rut. Teams get stuck pushing harder than ever for every single incremental improvement. Trying to get “rounder than round” isn’t inspiring for anyone.
New approaches provide a much-needed shakeup. Just don’t try to sell them as more efficient or more productive. Pitch them as new windows into what’s possible.
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Selling change is hard when things ‘aren’t that bad’
I recently helped a client audit their marketing content development process and found the content team suffering. Because siloed product groups held all the marketing budget, the content team couldn’t control content requests. And, because the product groups lacked insight into other teams’ requests, they often asked for new content pieces without realizing something similar already existed.
I recommended that the organization add a collaborative content planning step to the development process. Unfortunately, many of the product teams viewed the efficiency promise as an incremental improvement to an otherwise working model. They resisted adding “yet another step” to their content process.
For them, not changing anything was easier than changing the way they worked for a possible improvement.
Nothing changed. What happened?
Well, nothing. Nobody got fired. No massive failures occurred. Content development just kept going.
But the ongoing stress and drudgery felt insidious. How long will the content team stay inspired and engaged before they start churning out pieces that fit the request but go no further? And, worse, the company failed to gain any new perspective on how much better things (including content and employee satisfaction) can be.
Most of us do things based on what we think we know today. But what if we’re wrong? What if we took the time to test something new, even if the change caused temporary discomfort? The only way to know if things could work better is to try something different.
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No change gets you nowhere
Look, I know the idea of creating new content strategies and processes seems esoteric. And sometimes, even raising the suggestion raises hackles. People eye these conversations with suspicion based on their experiences with frustrating brand value conversations that didn’t move the needle in the past.
But doing nothing new rarely leads to success.
I know a large B2B company where the global marketing team created incredible experiences for customers, partners, and even prospective employees. Over the last 10 years, though, the steady drip of not doing anything new reduced the team to doing … almost nothing. They now only send brand emails created by an agency, review and distribute internal sell sheets created by the design team, create content on the company’s “sustainable” practices, and ensure the correct use of the logo in press releases by the comms team.
Is it any wonder this team ended up in the first of the company’s recent bulk layoffs?
When selling change feels hard, what can you do? I suggest turning your maps upside down occasionally. Adopt a new perspective on what it takes to differentiate your business.
Here are some ideas.
Tell the change story the South Park way
Matt Stone and Trey Parker, who created the hit series South Park, explained a clever technique for telling stories that hold people’s attention by creating tension and a sense that the outcome really matters. Their technique seems remarkably simple: When they write a sequence, they follow all “and then” phrases with “but,” and then “therefore.” It changes the nature of the script.
What if you create a new way to deliver content to sales teams through training events rather than distributing it through the DAM system? It might even be less efficient, but it might give them a new perspective on how to enable a better sales experience. Try explaining the project using “but” and “therefore” phrases: “You want to get the most relevant and up-to-date content to your customers. But finding it takes multiple searches through confusing file systems. Therefore, by the time you reach out to the prospect, they’ve already moved on. Wouldn’t it make sense to try a different way?”
Even if you don’t try this tip with your colleagues, experiment with it in your storytelling. You’ll be surprised how it energizes your work.
Do something new because you don’t know how
Even when teams say they’re open to changes in content management, distribution, structured content, or new content platforms, I hear this pushback: “We don’t know how.”
Oddly, this response usually doesn’t come from content practitioners but from senior leadership. Their reluctance to adopt a fundamentally new approach happens because the organization doesn’t understand it. It is unfortunate that “not knowing how” is the equivalent of “we can’t do it.”
Ultimately, you need to be comfortable with only one change – your desire to push for and attempt something new.
As you exercise the business muscle of content marketing, customer experience, and expanded customer touchpoints, understand that all these goals depend on your ability to create new.
New ways of engaging audiences. New stories to move them and earn their trust. New reasons for them to come back to engage with you again. New everything.
You have the power to develop these new maps. It’s a choice. You can continue to fix only those things that are in such disrepair as to qualify for demolition. Or, you can look for things that could be better and try a new way of doing them.
You might fail. Or you might not. Either way, you’ll have a new perspective on what to try next.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute