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To Date or Not To Date? That’s the Wrong Content Question [Rose-Colored Glasses]

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To Date or Not To Date? That’s the Wrong Content Question [Rose-Colored Glasses]

Wanna start a fight among content marketers? Ask four content marketers whether blog posts should include the date of publication.

You’ll probably get five or more opinions. Yes, you read that right – at least one of the people you ask will likely have at least two opinions.

There are good arguments on both sides. I see the point made by those who say that you can’t correctly cite any content that isn’t dated. And I understand the argument that says including the date will eventually make your content seem old, even if it’s “evergreen.”

But here’s the thing. A timeless piece of content doesn’t automatically mean the content will stand the test of time. And content that stands the test of time isn’t necessarily timeless.

A timeless piece of #content – one without dates or era-specific references – won’t automatically stand the test of time, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

The difference between timeless and classic content

When trying to create evergreen content, content marketers typically avoid including anything that links the piece to the time it was made. They’re trying to create something that will be relevant to the desired audience now and in the future.

This seems like an impossible task. Writing in a particular time imbues context that can’t be removed – you can’t know which details will make your piece seem dated in the future.

But if this is true, how does any content last beyond its own time? How does something become “classic” in the dictionary definition (a work of art of recognized and established value)?

The short answer: Because it turns out that way.

That’s unsatisfying but true. Classic works aren’t classic because the author tried to avoid the context of the time in which they created them. They become classics because the care, depth, and creativity poured into the piece continue to resonate with new audiences.

I love how author Italo Calvino described a “classic” in his essay, Why Read The Classics? He characterizes it as something “which, even when we read it for the first time, gives the sense of rereading something we have read before.” A classic, he says, is “a book which has never exhausted all it has to say to its readers.”

I just finished rereading Basic Marketing – A Managerial Approach, by E. Jerome McCarthy, for the third time. Even if you haven’t heard of the book, you’re probably familiar with one of the concepts it introduced: The “4 Ps” of marketing.

It’s a classic marketing text. But, having read it three times, I can tell you it’s clear this book was written in the 1960s.

Likewise, I believe the LEGO Movie is a perfect example of a modern-day classic. It offers creative storytelling with a very distinct point of view and – unlike most “evergreen” content – trendy, topical characters. Despite that, The LEGO Movie is also something that families can enjoy watching again and again. The movie never exhausts all it has to say to its audience.

It’s a classic that stands the test of time – it has warranted sequels and spinoffs and remains a core piece of the LEGO content strategy.

Can you create classic content marketing?

I once asked some clients (without irony, mind you) if they could envision creating a thought leadership paper that was timeless (meaning evergreen) and classic (meaning something people enjoyed so much they’d read it again and again).

They laughed. But I was completely serious. Can you create a classic thought leadership paper? Is it possible to produce a classic video series on SEO? Can you create a classic Thanksgiving Day turkey recipe?

You probably thought, “Oh, sure,” about the recipe. But didn’t the other two seem odd?

Classic content provides new audiences with value and goes one step further: It provides existing audiences something they can return to time and again.

I continually return to Theodore Levitt’s paper Marketing Myopia to refresh my marketing chops despite its analysis of industries that date it to the 1960s. Dumb Ways To Die, a content marketing effort by the City of Melbourne Australia’s Metro organization, continues to get tens of millions of views every year despite being almost nine years old.

Classic #content provides new audiences with value and gives existing audiences something they can return to time and again, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

A formula for content that stands the test of time

You can’t know if a piece of content is a classic until it – well – becomes a classic. It must stand the test of time. And for that, you need time.

But can you increase the chance that your content’s value will last?

You can’t know if a piece of #content is a classic until it stands the test of time. But you can increase the chance its value will last, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

I think you can. Whether you are writing for B2B or B2C, fiction or non-fiction, I’ve found that classic content pieces tend to share these traits:

  1. Memorable, diverse characters or points of view. Every classic story – even Marketing – A Managerial Approach – offers something incredibly memorable. In McCarthy’s book, the 4 Ps concept lasted. What’s the thing people will remember from your content?
  2. A fully realized setting. Whether you’re writing for B2B or B2C, think about building a world for your audience. Rich detail allows the audience’s minds to connect to other stories they’ve heard and experiences they’ve had (and that’s a mark of a classic).
  3. A distinctive style. Develop a style (for words and imagery) and stick to it. Be consistent.
  4. Larger truths. I teach this one in all my storytelling workshops. Every great story should attempt to illuminate a universal truth that will change the reader somehow.
  5. Nods (and connections) to tradition. Embrace the tradition of what you’re writing about. Find a way to celebrate it or escape from it.
  6. Structure. Classics follow a story structure. That doesn’t mean they don’t stray from traditional structures (I’m looking at you, Ulysses). But most have a story structure that provides a foundation the audience can follow.
  7. Ambiguity. Classic content leaves room for audiences to find their own way, come to different conclusions, and interpret the work in ways the author may not have anticipated.

The bottom line? Focus on great storytelling, exploring topics deeply, creating distinct points of view. And don’t shy away from using timely examples to help tell a story. Create content that people will want to revisit again and again.

Then, it doesn’t matter if you put a date on it.

HANDPICKED RELATED CONTENT:

Get Robert’s take on content marketing industry news in just three minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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Before Deciding Where Your Content Team Reports, Pay Attention to This

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Before Deciding Where Your Content Team Reports, Pay Attention to This

When a brand creates a new content marketing or content strategy team, they often ask, “What function or department should the content team report to?”

My answer? “Yes!”

Now, I’m not trying to be a smart aleck. (Well, I am a little bit, do you even know me?) But seriously, my yes comes from years of helping implement content teams in dozens of businesses. My affirmative response indicates the most important thing isn’t to whom content reports; it’s that content teams report to the business.

When it reports into a function, such as brand, marketing, sales enablement, demand gen, PR/comms, or even (yes, really in one case) finance, the business acknowledges content marketing is a real thing with real responsibilities, power, and capabilities to affect business outcomes.

“What outcomes?” you might ask.

Well, that depends on where content marketing reports.

Now you have the real conundrum.

You can’t figure out where content marketing and content strategy should report without knowing the expected business outcomes, and you can’t know the business outcomes until you know where they’re reporting.

The most important thing isn’t to whom #content reports; it’s that content teams report to the business, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

It’s tricky.

Content’s pervasiveness creates the challenge

Content as a strategic function in business affects almost everything. That pervasiveness means nearly any function in the business could “own” content as a strategy.

For example, we recently worked with a company about a year into its enterprise-wide digital transformation strategy. They have a content team, and we were to help them assemble a governance and operational approach for their website content.

When we determined the right operational processes, we got into trouble. A content team leader asked, “What if someone proposed a new AI chatbot as part of this digital transformation for the website? Is it a content project with a technology component or a technology project with a content component?”

The question isn’t semantics. Instead, the answer determines the process for development, the team owning implementation, and the measurement by which it’s deemed successful.

Knowing where a #content project is assigned determines its development process, implementation owner, and success metric, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

It’s not just a technology challenge, either. The company also wanted to create new brand content guidelines for the website. Is that a content team project informed by the brand team or a brand project in consultation with the content team?

Given content’s pervasiveness, you can argue it is part of any meaningful communications initiative the business takes on. But sales’ needs are different from marketing’s, and HR’s requirements are different from the demand-gen team’s. However, to achieve consistency in content and communication, it doesn’t make sense to let each function determine its content strategy.

To achieve the balance between an enterprise-wide content strategy and the unique needs of every function in the business, the leaders and practitioners must decide to whom content reports. Again, the agreement is important, not the where or what of the agreement.

3 key attributes to identify in the decision-making process

As you and the leadership ponder how to balance the enterprise content strategy and where it should sit, consider these three key attributes that play an essential role in success.

1. Develop a content operations backbone

I don’t care if you have two people and one blog and a website or a team of 50 who operate on 35 content platforms across multiple channels. A content operations infrastructure creates consistent success across your digital content experiences. Content operations is an enterprise-recognized set of integrated and shared systems (meaning technologies), standards, guidelines, playbooks, and processes to ensure reliable, consistent, scalable, and measurable content across the business.

Content operations acts as the backbone – the foundation – to ensure the content is created, managed, activated, and measured the same way across whatever audience and whichever channel the brand presents to.

2. Connect with the audience across platforms

You can no longer expect to create one optimal experience that makes up for a bunch of sub-optimal ones.No matter your size, it’s not good enough to have your blog subscribers separate from your marketing automation database and all that separated from your CRM system. This goes for all of your audiences – from new employees to external parties such as analysts, journalists, partners, vendors, etc.

In this approach, the goal is to engage, build, and develop relationships with audiences. Thus, connecting audience behavior with insights on how to communicate better is not a siloed functional need; it is an enterprise need.

3. Build an accountability framework

This attribute in one word? Standards (and a team to keep them.) In a truly fascinating way, one of the earliest activities in building a content strategy makes the biggest impact on larger businesses: Come to terms with what words around content strategy and marketing mean. What is a campaign? What is the difference between a campaign and an initiative? What is an e-book? What is an article vs. a blog post? How long should a white paper take to write? Most businesses assume these things or create meanings based on contextual needs.

At a recent client, one group expected the content team to produce white papers within a week of the request. Another group expected them to be delivered in six weeks at double the length that the other group thought.

An accountability framework – and its ongoing evolution – presents clear ownership and coordination of content standards (roles, responsibilities, processes, types) across the enterprise. This model should not detail the definitions and standards but identify how they will enforce them.

Start your content decisions by deciding together

Where should you begin?

Well, just like in the beginning, my answer is yes. Independent of where you start, the critical point happens in the deciding of the elements. To be clear, these are institutional decisions, not simply “what you think.” In other words, it doesn’t matter what you believe the definitions, roles, or processes should be if the other parts of the organization don’t know, believe, or care.

A great first step is to create that accountability framework and make people care about its existence. At first, it might create a language of content that everybody in your business understands. When someone says, “I’d like to do a campaign,” or, “I think we should write a white paper,” everyone understands what that means and what it takes to do it. Then, the benefits of an accountability framework will start to become clear.

It makes the case for a team assigned to lead this consistency easier. And that enables the team to connect those experiences and audiences in a way that makes sense for everyone.

In the end, you have found determining the where, how, and what of a content strategy implementation isn’t the most important. The act of deciding is.

It’s a strange combination. In isolation, the reason for deciding seems straightforward. So why wouldn’t anybody want a clear definition of what a campaign is or a single source of the truth when it comes to the tone of your content?

But stacked together, those decisions feel like they are bigger than the content team and really should involve the entire enterprise. (Spoiler alert: They do.)

If you want any desired consequence, you had better decide on all the things that would help create it.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Get Robert’s take on content marketing industry news in just five minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries

Watch previous episodes or read the lightly edited transcripts.

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week. 

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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