January 25, 2023 | Glenn McManus
Ever wish you could pick the brain of a content ops pioneer? Us too, so we sat down with Cathy McKnight, Chief Problem Solver at The Content Advisory and creator of Uncharted Journeys, a podcast that captures the adventures and careers of amazing women. Read on for Cathy’s digital content strategy tips, how to hone the superpower of ‘speaking dolphin’ (it’s marketing related, we promise), and grab a few cheat codes for life, too.
5:03 – Cheat Code #1 – Learn to ‘speak dolphin’
Hone Cathy’s superpower of ‘speaking dolphin’ aka translating for the tech and business side of your org. The trick: Soak up all you can about the entire enterprise, not just your department.
I had a boss who used to tell our clients that I spoke dolphin, meaning I could translate for the tech and business side of things. I was able to take those two teams that are typically at odds with each other, find common ground, and translate what both needed to move things forward.
My six years of SAP consulting, where I became certified in sales distribution and CRM, working with accounting, materials management, and logistics, helped broaden my business acumen. I got to understand my impact on teams, and the dependencies of each. Even though you’re tasked with one part, you’ve got to understand the whole.
With every company I consult with, from financial services to healthcare, I immerse myself in who they are as an organization before going in, so when they start talking about how they want to connect with audiences, I understand where they’re coming from.
14:09 – Cheat Code #2 – Know your processes
Before you start using any new technology, make sure you’ve got your processes in place and remember: They should evolve with your content strategy.
Everybody wants to start using the tech right away. There are marketing automation vendors who say, ‘You can send your first email within two hours.’ Yeah, you can, but it’s not connected, and there’s no measurement or logic behind it. So why would you?
It’s important to make sure the organization is ready from a process perspective. Know what your processes are, how to improve them, and set a strategy. Many organizations think they have a content strategy, but actually don’t. Even fewer have a technology strategy to support their content strategy.
Content is so easy to get now. People are like, ‘I’m going to spend the $35 a month to buy the tool myself. I’m not even going to expense it.’ Then they’re creating branded assets outside the technology ecosystem — and nobody’s aware of it.
It’s about getting your ducks in a row. And once you’ve got them there, you have to keep them in a row. Process is not a one and done. Governance documentation and roles and responsibilities are living, breathing things that need to evolve alongside content marketing.
19:04 – Cheat Code #3 – Use your voice
Having experienced being the only woman in the room during many meetings, Cathy encourages women — and Ed’s three daughters — to speak up no matter what.
I remember one instance where I was running a consulting practices team. Myself and two team members who happened to be men, walked into the room. One of them was older than me. Immediately, the client started asking him hard-hitting questions, where, if you answer in the wrong way, you’re done. He didn’t know how to say, ‘Talk to her. She’s the boss.’
It’s been challenging. I’ve handled it, hopefully with grace and humor. There have been other times where I said things two or three times and was dismissed, and then somebody else who happens to be a man says it, and they’re like, ‘Wow, great idea.’
It can be frustrating to be overlooked because you’re a woman. We still have a ways to go. Ed, it sounds like you’re doing a great job with your girls, getting them role models, and teaching them to stand up for themselves. You have a voice, so use it. I think that’s the most important thing to do.
24:59 – Cheat Code #4 – Invest in content
Content marketing is a strategic business function. Learn how to invest in and measure its value across your entire org. ROE (Content Return on Effort) is your ticket.
Often content marketing and related budgets are the first to be cut when companies are looking to save money because they’re seen as a cost center. I’m going to push the idea of elevating content beyond a marketing function, as a strategic business function.
Organizations need to recognize it adds value to who they are and is the baseline for their business growth. They’re not competing on product and service anymore. It’s how you connect with your audience. Focus on the customer experience, resist the urge to step back, and continue to invest.
One area that lacks is measuring and showing the value in the ROI of content marketing. It could be MQLs or SQLs. Whether it’s actually direct engagement measurement, I find attribution to be nebulous as a real value. But if that’s what somebody is looking for, then learn how to leverage those numbers.
Don’t just measure external metrics. Ask yourself, ‘How often is that content being leveraged internally? Is it being used by internal comms, sales, product development, and customer service?’ Show how that content is providing value across the organization, not just from a marketing and sales perspective.
28:28 – Cheat Code #5 – Show empathy
Your company is not the only one who feels pain during tough times — your audience does, too. Push for making empathy a core focus of your content strategy.
Think about empathy. Your company’s going through tough financial times or whatever the tough time is. So is your audience. Really think about that. Your audience is at the center of it all. Everything should be done from an outside-in perspective. The more you can push that as the core baseline for all things content, the better off you’re going to be.
That can be difficult because, if sales are dropping, your CMO or COO is going to say, ‘Get me more sales. Why are we not mentioning our product? Why are we sending a hug out to our audience?’ Because that’s the right thing to do. That’s the experience you want to connect to. It’s worth going back to the table over and over again until it sinks in.
34:18 – Cheat Code #6 – Involve everyone
Be purposeful, creative, and audience specific. For successful future content, let employees from across your entire organization contribute to the story. Cathy also encourages teams to try new mediums.
From a point of successful future content, it’s going to be a couple things. One, it’s about gaining profile within the organization. It’s not just a marketing thing; it’s a strategic, organizational-wide imperative. It needs to be elevated from not-out-of-the-hands of the CMO, but co-owned with the COO.
Core operational success is being able to tell the story as the organization evolves and allowing people from across the org to contribute. Because it’s not just one group that connects with the audience. There are many facets of knowledge that won’t get tapped to tell the best story, unless it moves out of marketing and into the operational level.
The most creative will continue to win. I look at some of the chances being taken with new mediums, like Discord. They’re purposeful, creative, and audience specific. The organizations that recognize opportunities within that trifecta are going to drive innovation and what future content will look like.
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