In The End of Competitive Advantage, Rita Gunther McGrath illustrates all competitive advantages are transient. She contends everybody understands that. So why hasn’t basic strategy practice changed?
As Rita writes:
Most executives, even when they realize that competitive advantages are going to be ephemeral, are still using strategy frameworks and tools designed for achieving a sustainable competitive advantage, not for quickly exploiting and moving in and out of advantages.
That last part resonates after working with hundreds of enterprise brands over the last 10 years. Most businesses think about how they can change content to fit marketing’s purpose, not how they might change marketing to fit content’s purpose.
Guess what? Your content will never be a sustainable competitive advantage or differentiator – all content assets are easily replicable and, at best, only transient in differentiated value.
In the newly released Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs B2C Content Marketing Benchmark, Budgets, and Trends – Insights for 2023, I see it’s time to feed the content giant that awakened last year. But be careful not to get so distracted by the food you fail to cook consistently over time. All too often, content marketers get wrapped up in content creation rather than in the ability to lead the capabilities to create consistently.
Content should be a strategic activity
Look at content operations as the catalyst that can change everything for your content marketing challenges. You should recognize the activities you perform are a competitive advantage. Success hinges on the ability of a team (of one or 100) to be dynamic and fluid – moving in and out of “arenas” (as Rita calls them in her book) of content and creating temporary advantages.
Here’s the real takeaway: Ask everyone in your business – including your CEO – if they believe compelling, engaging, useful, and dynamic content-driven experiences will move the business forward.
If the answer is yes, then the strategic value lies in your ability to evolve and coordinate all the activities to create those content-driven experiences repeatedly. It does not lie in the content or the distribution plans. Your team’s job is not to be good at content; your job is to enable the business to be good at content.
Consider some highlights from this year’s research.
Struggle is real for content marketing strategy
Content marketing remains important.
Seventy percent of B2C marketers told us that content marketing has become more important to their organization over the last year. (Only 4% say it’s less important.)
With an increase in importance comes a need for more resources. When asked what they would change about content marketing in their organization, they say they want more staff, more budget, and better access to subject matter experts.
Yes, content marketing is more important, but content marketers struggle to keep up with the demand.
Because so many businesses treat content marketing as a campaign-, project-focused effort that requires different “assets.” Content marketers are so busy churning out projects of content that they haven’t figured out how to make it a repeatable, consistent, and scalable process.
As far as their biggest challenges in content marketing, 57% of B2C marketers say creating content that appeals to different target audiences. Rounding out the top three: developing consistency with measurement (44%) and differentiating our products/services from the competition (40%).
Solving all three of these challenges centers around strategic content operations – setting a consistent long-term strategy to differentiate, developing a measurement plan that stands the test of time, and scaling to meet the needs of different audiences. But most marketers aren’t planning to acquire the help to tackle those challenges. Among the resources they plan to hire or contract in the coming year, almost half (45%) say they will look to grow writers, designers, photographers, and videographers.
It’s like trying to design a bigger house by simply adding more bricks.
But B2C content marketing is working
Despite their challenges, talented practitioners find success. Overall, 81% of B2C marketers rate their success as either moderately, very, or extremely successful. Only 2% say they were “not at all” successful.
And 86% say content marketing provides a “meaningful/purposeful career path.”
These results align with the research discovered in CMI’s Content Marketing Career & Salary 2023 Outlook (registration required). We found though content marketers are generally happy in their current roles, they would be happier if their organizations prioritized content marketing, backed it with strategies and resources, and invested in technologies to help them do their jobs faster and more efficiently.
The final bit of good news? Almost three-quarters (73%) of content marketers expect their organization’s investment in the practice will increase or remain the same this year. Only 3% believe it will decrease.
Different activities, not more efficient ones
The B2C research presents some interesting insights into the priorities for 2023:
- Businesses must increasingly stop organizing and scaling new marketing teams based on platforms, technologies, or inside-looking-out views of the customer journey. The format and placement of those experiences on multiple channels will always be temporal. Success happens when the business becomes skilled and integrated at operating and managing all manners of content-driven experiences.
- Businesses must stop looking at content from a container-first perspective – designed solely to support marketing tactics or initiatives. Success happens when the business recognizes content operations as a function, supporting the fluid use of content to fuel better customer experiences.
- Businesses must not say, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” when one experience no longer works. Success happens when the business can healthily disengage and dismantle experiences that aren’t working. They can constantly reconfigure their activities and manage portfolios of content-driven experiences.
Starting with the wrong premise
Often the first sign of trouble in any content marketing approach is when you hear, “How do we get more efficient at content?”
Efficiency involves changes to a process to remove friction. The question often assumes a working, standard operation providing value already exists. But if there is no repeatable standard operation, efficiency ends up meaning producing the same or more content with the same resources.
That rarely works out to be better for the business.
The more difficult task for content marketers is to determine the different activities necessary to create or augment the processes and identify the activities to undertake differently.
The content you create provides no sustainable competitive business advantage. But a strategic content operation just might.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute