This post is by Greg Satell from HBR.org
Click here to view on the original site: Original Post
One of the biggest cop-outs in corporate life is to say, “We had a great strategy, but we just couldn’t execute it.” Hogwash. Any strategy that doesn’t consider the ability to execute is a lousy strategy to begin with.
The problem is particularly pervasive when it comes to content. For all of the talk about “brands becoming publishers,” most marketers are simply tacking on publishing functions to their existing operations without implementing any new processes or practices. That is a grave mistake.
As I previously wrote for Harvard Business Review, marketers do need to think more like publishers, but they also need to act more like publishers if they are ever going to be able to hold an audience’s attention. If you can’t create a compelling experience, it doesn’t really matter what your content strategy is: it will fail.
Great publishers operationalize their content strategy by doing the following four
Focus on mission, not attention. Back in the heyday of advertising, when giants like Leo Burnett, Bill Bernbach, and David Ogilvy still reigned, the industry was driven by creative ideas. At the time, there were relatively few media outlets and the general idea was to reach large masses of consumers. The most important decision marketers had to make was what ad they were going to put on TV. Nothing they did was driven by a “mission.” It was all about grabbing attention. And much of marketing has continued along in that vein, even as channels have fragmented and made attention tougher and tougher to command.
Yet for publishers, the editorial mission reigns supreme. That’s what creates meaning for the audience. Editors like Anna Wintour of Vogue and David Remnick of The New Yorker didn’t get to the top of their profession by chasing readers, but by attracting them. It is their commitment to an editorial mission – whether that’s a belief in the power of exquisite taste, or a belief in the power of intellectually curious journalism — that inspires others to join them on their journey.
Now imagine if Vogue put out a survey on the fashions its readers would like to see in the next issue or The New Yorker polled its readers on to decide which they might find interesting. Would they still be considered original, authoritative, and path blazing? Would they be able to maintain a consistent voice and point of view? Would they be able to continue to attract top talent? Not likely on all counts.
Great publishers seek to serve their audience and know if they can do so, attention will follow.
Prototype ideas and formats instead of reverse-engineering them. Marketing strategies often start with market research undertaken to define a specific target market. From there, a plan is created to achieve a specific set of marketing objectives related to predetermined business goals.
When it’s time to create some marketing content, a similar backwardness often takes over. “Let’s make an infographic,” someone says, or “Let’s make a viral video.” Or maybe they focus on the target segment instead: “Let’s reach some soccer moms.”
Publishing works the other way around. It is, at its core, about creation. Publishers are constantly scouting for new ideas, shaping them, and finding new ways to express and deliver them.
Experimentation is valued, because a nice thing about publishing is that your worst work often goes unnoticed. You are not paying millions of dollars to squeeze your work in between an ad break, so you are free to experiment. As long as you don’t do anything incredibly stupid, you don’t really have to be unimaginably brilliant. You can keep trying new things until you hit upon something new and interesting.
When that happens, your audience will let you know immediately. In the process, you discover something about them and, often, about your editorial mission as well. The ongoing conversation with the audience is one of the most important — as well as the most rewarding — things about publishing.
Be obsessed with process. Content is a new idea for marketers, but publishers and producers have been doing it for a very long time. Over the years, they have developed best practices that have evolved and survived the test of time. Magazines have flat plans, radio stations run on clocks. TV shows have clearly defined story structures, character arcs and so on.
Many people assume that producing stories that are powerful and engaging is the result of some intangible quality. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. There’s a reason that publications like Time Inc. often dominate almost every category they compete in decade after decade, just as there is a reason that Cosmopolitan is a market leader in over 100 countries.
That reason is operational excellence. Content is not a campaign with a defined beginning and end. You have to be able to set and meet your audience’s expectations consistently over a long period of time. That’s what breeds trust. Trust, in turn, creates the bond that leads to a loyal audience.
Dick Stolley, one of our greatest American editors, likes to say that every great publishing product has two things: consistency and surprise — and you can’t have one without the other. Surprise usually takes care of itself. The hard work lies in creating a consistent product. For that, you need to implement best operational practices and continually improve them over time.
Don’t just “brainstorm,” relentlessly improve ideas. At the core of any effective marketing strategy is the “big idea.” That’s why marketers spend countless hours in brainstorming sessions, looking for that one killer concept that can drive a campaign. The “big idea” essentially serves as an organizing principle.
Ed Catmull, CEO of Pixar, espouses a different view. He insists that “early on, all of our movies suck.” In Creativity Inc., he writes that his company’s initial ideas are “ugly babies” that are “awkward and unformed, vulnerable and incomplete.” Originality is fragile,” he continues. “Our job is to protect our babies from being judged too quickly. Our job is to protect the new.”
Think about that for a minute. The manager of what is possibly the world’s most successful creative enterprise not only doesn’t expect to start with a great idea, he doesn’t even expect to start out with a good idea. Instead, he puts his faith in the process that Pixar has built, confident that ugly babies, when nurtured, can become beautiful swans. Not all of them of course, but enough to win 15 Academy Awards and billions at the box office.
And I think that gets to the heart of the matter. Great publishing is not about ideas, but about creating a process in which ideas can be honed and flourish. If you can do that, strategy really doesn’t matter. And if you can’t, it won’t matter either.