Being a serious foodie, I love to go for different dining experiences and visit my favorite local restaurants. Whilst enjoying a macchiato at this delightful little Italian restaurant, I got thinking about how there’s a pretty big parallel between how people produce food and how we create content; and as it turns out, it actually provides a useful metaphor for thinking about the ways that content teams are set up for success, and the most common pitfalls along the way. Stay with me here — I promise it’s a safe read even if you haven’t had lunch yet!
Much like content marketing, restaurants provide their value by different means, in different volumes, at different qualities, to different target markets. As I watched the old man in the little family-run restaurant going about his business, I thought about the different ways restaurants provide food; from food trucks to Cordon Bleu, from Bistros to event caterers, I found a clear parallel between the many ways in which content marketing can be done.
Is your content team a hands-on Bistro Team?
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Here, the charming old man had a quiet bistro-style setup where he was very connected with the customers, produced most of his content by hand, most likely whipped up his spaghetti bolognese from the top of his head without a recipe book and was relaxed about the variation in flavor and time taken. In this case, we have something that looks like a small startup or niche content provider:
- Low volume;
- Founders are actively hands-on;
- Lean is a must;
- No clear division of tasks/ specialization;
- Artisanal production;
- Low or no process;
- Straightforward workflow and communication;
- If it takes a bit longer than expected (and quality is high) it’s not a problem;
- Lots of creativity, little measure;
- Manual or low control production management.
Is your content team an efficient Food Truck Team?
My thoughts then took me to the food trucks in downtown, where things were done a little differently. These guys played the same game, but with a slightly different strategy. Although some of the artisanal flare remained there was more process to what they were doing; stricter focus on precision and turnaround; some of the trucks had the usual recognizable faces of their owners, others were less familiar; a lot of trucks had people doing specific parts of the production, rather than one person seeing it through start to finish; and there was a greater demand to cook fast.
Does your content marketing team work like that? Check if you have:
- Irregular/seasonal volume;
- Active founders or c-level in action, creating content or in charge of at least one step of the workflow;
- A short staff, lean team;
- Freelancers are welcome;
- Partially artisanal production;
- Specialization in order to scale;
- Control and speed are essential to success;
- Lots of creativity, along with technique and measuring;
- Decentralized production management.
Is your content team a deluxe Event Catering Team?
Now I was trying to think about where production was high and processes were vital. Where there might be a necessity to create a specialized product for a specific audience. I cast my mind back to my best friend’s wedding where many mouths needed to be fed at once, a high level of quality expected, people were needed not only to cook the food, but to serve it, and managers were needed to control both. These event catering teams were a perfect metaphor for companies who are sought after for a specific thing time and time again. They muster:
- High volume and demand;
- Strategic C-level;
- Numerous team, highly specialized;
- External collaboration from multiple sources;
- Precise execution;
- Complex and automated processes and workflows;
- High scalability (still carrying the value proposition as central);
- Fast delivery;
- Metric-oriented decisions;
- Central management through an all-in-one software.
Common mistakes content teams around the world constantly make
When talking to hundreds of content managers that use Contentools software daily, this metaphor has proved really useful and easy to demonstrate the vast differences between the ways content marketing can and should be done. There can often be some misunderstanding that a content marketing strategy is generally applied the same way, but if the food trucks started to get relaxed with turnover time, or the old man employed a host of unfamiliar people to do the work for him, they’d quickly go out of business. Here are some of the most common mistakes I have seen from companies, applying the same mouth-watering metaphor.
#1 Having one type of team and processes related to another one
This one is super common in startups since there is still a big gap between the type of organization they are, and the type of organization they want to be. I’ve worked with a bunch of people who set themselves up as an event catering company when right now they need to be thinking more local — networking with people they know and looking for those low hanging fruits (find more about going from startup to global in a year).
Other times, I witness companies clinging to old processes and structures that once served them, but no longer do — since they scaled. Here, events catering companies are still trying to deliver artisanal and personal products to masses of people with large appetites. It inhibits the growth of the organization and eventually doesn’t meet market expectation due to not being able to meet the increased demands, or subsequently, the quality of the service that is provided is reduced.
#2 Wanting to have a certain team type, without structure or market fit to match it
Sometimes marketers will follow specific benchmarks and will be working, sometimes unknowingly, with the impression that there’s a one size fits all solution for their team structure or production process that they should be relying on. No matter who is giving the advice or recommendation for your company, you should always be looking within your own reality to understand what is best for your team. It depends on your specific resources, culture, style, budget, market, need and capability. By doing this you might find that including ‘X’ number of people in your team wouldn’t actually be necessary, or maybe you will need to recruit for a specific role according to the demands of your market.
I’ve seen it plenty of times where organizations try to copy and paste formulas and team structures that worked for others, often similar companies, but there is no market fit. This happens when the market that the company is going after and the content needed for that segment don’t match, and the organization ends up trying to force their team to be one way when you’re better suited for another. To illustrate the point: if you are creating product content or sales collateral, have high ACVs (average contract value), and your sales team only deals with highly qualified leads, maybe you need a small team like a bistro. Other times you’ll need a structure for high volume production, like the food trucks. You might have hundreds of sales reps working with a high volume of leads, having to work with many different channels to attract organic traffic and so you would need to come up with a diverse team, both internal and external contributors, and approach for this type of market segment and product. That’s in many cases the example of a consumer brand, SMB product or niche e-commerce.
#3 Forcing the menu upon the customer
The same thing that companies do with their team and organizational structure is frequently done with their content, too. I was reminded of this when thinking about an amazing new restaurant that opened up in town when I was living in Florianópolis, Brazil. The restaurant had amazing freshly caught fish, with good service and a lovely ambiance. The place should have been a great success. They received a lot of customers in the first few months they opened and things were looking good. However, it turns out the restaurant was getting a lot of bad reviews. The people who were coming to the restaurant from the local area were very used to having fish really well cooked. The restaurant, in the meantime, was producing fish that was slightly on the raw side, the same way the chef would prepare for the European audience they were used to on their other branches. This type of dish, as exquisite as it was, wasn’t appropriate for the local market and the place sadly ended up their doors soon after the first season.
I’ve seen the same thing happening to content teams. Companies will try to push a certain level of content, type of media and use certain language for an audience who doesn’t relate to it. It doesn’t matter how good your content is, you can’t provide value for people who don’t want it. How to avoid doing that? Always have concern for your audience. Ask yourself: What are their problems? What is the taste for content your public has? What solution am I giving my market for their specific needs? Check the rules of engagement to make sure you’re creating that’s relevant to your audience.
#4 Not following the customer’s orders
This is another common mistake which comes from the same place mistake #3; doing what you want and not listening to your customer. Many companies have done their homework on their market segment, customer persona, consumer behavior and buyer’s journey, but the trick is using that information to shape what you do. It’s so important that you trust the data and the research to shape your content team, your sales funnel and process — otherwise you wouldn’t be following the orders.
You took note of what your customer wants, so follow it and serve what they are expecting. Imagine, you’re in a restaurant and you order a dessert. You tell the nice gentleman serving you you’d like the cheesecake, but when your dessert comes the waiter tries to insist you have the fruit salad. You’re probably not going to go back there again. The point is; if you’ve done all the research use it to guide your decisions. This will increase your chances of success by ensuring you’re fulfilling the needs of your customers.
#5 Not having the right people in the right roles
Sometimes your content team might lack someone very important, just because you didn’t think about it. It’s not even that you need to hire someone new to do the job; we often have plenty of untapped resources around us that we don’t see. For example, I know a couple smart content managers who include their entire sales team in the content brainstorming session. They’ll discuss real conversations that they had with customers so they can model useful content based on what the market is asking for. Not including them in the session would mean missing valuable information and not utilizing valuable resources that are available to create targeted content.
Another way in which companies and founders self-sabotage, is by centralizing the decision making in the organization. Sometimes CEOs and VPs feel that they need to be the last to review content or clear a decision. Many times, if the company isn’t very small, it will create a bottleneck which will slow the whole process down and make people feel like they aren’t trusted to do good work. The good news is that it’s not an ultimatum between taking every decision or relinquishing all control. You can work together to set healthy boundaries and criteria about what would be the best way to review content and make important decisions. Have trust and differentiate the roles (including the CEO and VPs!) you have in your team to define what you each need and should do.
All in all, the idea here is to be mindful of where your organization is at in this very moment (versus the company you want to be). Also, to be aware of who your customer is and what they want and how you can meet those demands with the resources and opportunities that you have. I find that using metaphors like this has been a really handy and simple way to think about different and sometimes complex ideas, like your strategy, for instance.
Hopefully, with a clearer picture of whether you’re selling your fish slightly on the raw side or trying to be a bistro when you’re an event caterer, you’re able to improve your content and delivery to maximize the value you provide to your customers. If you’re interested in knowing how to start putting your knowledge into practice, check out our blog on how to create a very comprehensive marketing strategy of your own.