Content innovation, like any innovation, must flourish while it supports your existing strengths. In this article we discuss the fact that when content innovation challenges your capability, it’s not going to last.
In the Spring 2015 issue of Strategy+Business, an article (‘Creating what consumers want’) discussed an alternative approach to doing just that, in consumer packaged goods (CPG). Weird, that we’re writing about this, you might think. Well, the approach to innovation the authors advocate falls pretty close to the content strategy tree.
The authors posited that business models need to include:
- adaptive, dynamic modelling that can gauge a variety of features
- simulation that delivers actionable results
- a look at how much the volume is incremental and how much is chewing up the resources you already have in that category of work
- an ability for a company to create priorities based on their capabilities.
The argument is that innovation ought to be modelled on your company’s existing strengths. The innovation part of your business should then be working hand-in-hand with marketing, sales, and the rest of the supply chain. This, the authors argue, is particularly important during product development phase.
This methodology allows you to gain insights from the modelling. Coming from a capability perspective, you can then use those insights to create facts and objectives. And lastly, marketing, sales, innovation, and the supply chain can then come to an agreement about those things.
A common method of innovating is to come up with ideas and see which ones persist. This method steps away from that. Instead it looks at how you can use your existing knowledge and materials with which to drive the process. The goal is therefore to increase the ability of your innovative ideas to hang around. It stops you from spending time on new products that never even make it up to their launch dates.
How can we apply this method of innovation to content strategy?
Specifically, how can we create a strategy that informs the development of future content and communications?
We could also ask the question: Is, in fact, content and communication strategy to be handled separately from this innovation process? Or is it built into the innovation process?
This is not as simple as it may sound. Instead of assuming that it is built into everything else, we could see content and communications as a particular area in which to focus innovative effort. That effort could potentially follow such a model.
Luckily, testing and modelling is easy
Modelling decisions is a reasonably straight-forward process when you have already made decisions about purpose, persona, and use cases.
Beyond those, we have a range of items at our collective disposal. These include A/B Testing, methodologies like microtesting that we can use in a range of situations (online and offline), heat-mapping, audience observation thanks to tools like Decibel Insight, and much more besides.
If you ask a poor question, you will get a poor result. Gaining actionable results is what you are aiming for when you do these things; you don’t just do them for fun. Having trends is nice; knowing what to do as a result of identifying those trends is powerful.
Staying on top of insights is the real challenge
There are so many ways by which we can gain insights into audience behaviour that many people don’t know where to start. Once it is started, a bigger challenge is keeping on top of those insights. Regularly watching them, reviewing them, checking them, analysing and questioning them, is vital if it’s going to be any use to you.
Particularly in small business, it’s not gaining data that’s the problem. It’s learning to build that assessment into your day, into your week, into your monthly review. And then, what do you do with that assessment? Are you using it to support innovation? Or are you reading it, thinking ‘oh good’ and putting it away?
A common method used for creating material that works is much like dynamic modelling. You do something; you wait and watch; you adapt, you watch; you adapt. If you have data-supported personas and use cases established, you can model different approaches and identify what the outcome is likely to be. Dynamic models will gauge a variety of features, so if you’re only looking at one element, you’ll be missing a lot of critical information: Channel, format, day/time, location, device, context, engagement, sharing, contact, purchase… whatever the case may be.
Passive review will not help you
It’s important that you track the decisions, changes, and resulting metrics from your models.
Now, if you’re a bright spark, you’ll notice a gap. The gap is, what metrics are critical to your decision-making?
Otherwise, you can model all the features you like, and you might still miss important results.
This style of decision-making, based on data, is what will help you continue to adapt into the future. This is what is going to help you to understand where the results are coming from.
When you are in review stage, remember to think actively about how much of your existing incremental change is taking up your resources in those areas. Then go back to the results of your models and use them to help you prioritise your efforts.
If you are iterating on written material, but want to deliver podcasts with the same teams and funding, for example, prioritising is critical. You might not persist with iterative, incremental change in one area if your modelling predicts that you will see a massive shift by focusing strongly on something else.
Can we justify content innovation?
Trying to justify the work is where things can get difficult. Much of the discussions we see flaunted around the internet get us all excited: They use a lot of buzz-words and a tiny little bit of data. Very few people rely on their own data, their own insights, to create a strategy that supports the arms of their businesses, and supports innovation on their own turf.
We can apply the notions taken from the S+B article here. The authors write that, to be effective, new ideas need to be strategically created, and that input must be taken from all relevant arms of the business.
Additionally, there is comfort in knowing your own position. You’ll need it if you end up being the only person in your business community who is not running with the latest trend.
Strategic innovation considers capability and resourcing
It’s no good having marketing tell you that everybody is mad on video and that we have to be in video if you currently don’t have the capability or resourcing to fulfil it.
Or, marketing might be mad on video but the sales guys might know for a fact that video would be seen as a waste of time by those who hold purchasing decisions. And the innovation team might not even be thinking about content at all… let alone the supply chain, which is focused on developing and shipping product. Or the R&D team, which is busy doing things nobody else understands.
Leaving it entirely up to one team (typically Marketing) is a recipe for disaster. All of your people need to be involved: Marketing, sales, the supply chain, the innovation teams. They must all be on the same page, and talking about the same things, if you are going to do anything of value.
Capability and resourcing is a very real and serious factor. You ignore it at your peril.
This might mean that you’d have to give serious thought to how you make it happen. You may, for example, need to restructure and reorganise your business to allow real conversation and agreement to happen.
Perhaps the innovative ideas come out of conversations, and not because of brainstorming sessions held by singular teams. Perhaps the insights can be owned by the collective. Certainly, innovations that drive the entire business forward will be owned collectively: Everyone will then be on board, engaged, and invested in making it work.
Research and Development is serious business
We tend to think (and read about) R & D in terms of product, in terms of manufacturing, in terms of the application of technology. Few people talk about applying it to your customer-facing and stakeholder-facing content and communications.
It is extremely common for businesses to fail to innovate in their own spaces, external or internal. The result is a stagnation in our own business systems and methodologies. (By ‘systems’ we mean business systems, not necessarily technology systems.) Capturing the adjustments happening in your own space is going to help you to adapt.
Changes happen to the ways in which your own people work and communicate, just as much as they happen in your market place. And if you don’t adapt to that change, your efforts will ultimately become less and less relevant.
This is why watching, adapting to and agreeing on trends and changes is critical if you are going to meet people’s needs.
A final note: Long-term innovative practice is more than the latest trend
Effective, long-term innovative practise is much more than picking up a new format or a new methodology. It’s about stopping to think about, and create, a real strategy that works across, for, and within your business.
A strong strategy is underpinned by whole-business agreement and goals, insights, data, and an understanding of real capability and resourcing. This is the type of foundation that is going to keep the connection with your customers and teams strong over time, instead of merely functional and “keeping up”.
To be valuable to you, it must flourish while it supports your existing strengths. If your innovation challenges your capability, it’s not going to last. It may, in fact, cost you money and return very little.