What is Content Operations?
Although all teams that produce brand and marketing content use content operations, not everyone does it strategically. While it can be intimidating to create and implement a content operations workflow, doing so pays dividends. The right workflow can streamline processes, save significant amounts of time and money, and deliver higher-quality content for a better customer experience.
Content creation — especially in-house — is often one of the most expensive line items in marketing budgets. Companies from e-commerce leaders to media giants continually evaluate their content operations to look for opportunities to save money and produce better content. For example, Netflix discovered they could save billions in the long run by also producing original content in-house.
This guide walks through the fundamentals of understanding and implementing content operations at scale.
What is content operations?
Content operations is made up of the people, processes, and technologies that go into creating, storing, managing, and distributing content. It’s the execution side of a content strategy. Content operations includes all the steps in the content lifecycle — from planning meetings to revitalizing high-performing content.
Everyone from sales and merchandising to IT and customer solutions can have a part in everyday content operations. Content operations, or content ops for short, includes small actions, like a designer using a digital asset management (DAM) system to find a current logo, and big initiatives, like the entire image production process for product content.
Implementing a content operations strategy
Many companies build their content operations around the singular goal of producing more content. But this method often doesn’t work because it doesn’t include time to understand how to best create, manage, and distribute this content. Alternatively, a more nuanced approach can produce the highest-quality content in the most efficient ways. And yes, that can mean more content, too.
Content operations starts with an outline of the processes, teams, technologies, and ground rules for producing content. Who’s responsible for what parts of production? Is this step marketing or merchandising’s responsibility? Answering these questions is a good place to start.
From there, teams can map out the important steps and inputs across content operations tasks. This entails making simple outlines of the processes, roles, and technologies that are included in day-to-day content operations. This exercise can include everyone from brand managers and content strategists to email marketers and content creators.
Once these details are mapped out, teams can define their goals and key performance indicators, or KPIs. Decision makers should be consulted, and agree on their designated roles and responsibilities. Make changes, get sign-off from everyone, and distribute a working strategy to all teams involved.
Once a course of action is defined, teams can begin to measure results, gather feedback from stakeholders, and make adjustments to optimize processes and content. With new technologies and needs cropping up daily, content operations is definitely not something to “set and forget.”
Who needs content operations?
Essentially, any company that produces content to sell products or desires to build a brand needs content operations. Content ops can bring a return on investment (ROI) whether it’s an e-commerce company that produces product content for 30,000 variants a year or a well-funded fintech startup with a focused bundle of solutions and minimal content needs.
Omnichannel customer experiences are the norm today. And designing and optimizing digital customer journeys are a daily practice for most. Any brands that are not focused on those things yet likely will be soon. The digital landscape continues to expand across channels and content needs are growing. Companies must have a clear understanding of their content operations and how to guide them strategically to thrive and grow.
Here’s a look at some of the types of companies and roles that need to focus on content operations every day.
Agencies produce everything from blog posts to TikTok videos for large rosters of clients. That variety of content production across channels for different brands makes content operations essential. With so many different processes and desired results, teams need a clear strategy that’s implemented agency-wide and can be quickly communicated to new contractors, partners, or employees.
Clear expectations for roles and responsibilities allow agencies to work more efficiently, which saves resources and leads to higher-quality work. Especially if a DAM solution is used to share curated brand assets across the globe. A well-defined content operations process can also help agencies bring new members up to speed and know exactly where to start with new clients.
Brand managers are ultimately responsible for every piece of content delivered via content ops. Content either creates a stronger brand connection or damages it. Every part of content operations can impact the customer-facing experience, and everything from creative briefs and product content quality standards is vital to consistent brand management that delivers clear ROI.
Asset approval is a crucial step that often gets overlooked by brand managers when tight deadlines and ad-hoc processes run loose. But if the creative workflow doesn’t include clear operations protocol, teams risk publishing deliverables without proper approval — which could lead to everything from the use of an old logo or assets with an expired license. And both can cause damage.
A great content strategist requires an intimate understanding of content operations regardless of their company or brand. When they’re outlining a vision for a new project or for a year’s worth of content, they ground it in the reality of their team’s capabilities and resources. And because they know what people, processes, and technology are needed to produce different kinds of content, they can frame their approach much more effectively.
When content strategists have a firm grasp of day-to-day operations they can push more strategic edges, create higher-quality experiences, and lead their brand into new content production territory.
People creating the content every day need an operations strategy to avoid content chaos. They need to know who’s producing what and when. Content deliverables have to be clear and understood. Creators spend time doing everything from gathering information in manufacturer catalogs to editing new product videos. Work has to be approved by editors, creative directors, and even the C-suite execs.
To content creators, the operations side of a content strategy is a way of life. They understand the inner workings of each part of the process, the strange quirks in technology, and who to talk to to get something done faster. They need content ops because it’s how they do their job every day.
Teams that support a marketing strategy — and produce thousands of pieces of product content every year — require well-oiled and maintained content operations. Creating photos, videos, tech specs, and product descriptions for a range of variants takes multiple departments with many complex processes and technologies, and an e-commerce team brings it all together through content operations. Even if companies outsource content production to an external company or studio, they’ll still need to define a very clear content process to get their desired results.
A content operations methodology that’s designed for large-scale production can save hundreds of thousands of dollars, produce higher-quality content, and significantly increase conversion. A tiny refinement in one process or technology could save countless hours over a year. And if a few hundred pieces of content are produced annually, that savings will compound over time.
Every marketing role benefits from a streamlined approach to content operations, and needs to understand how the strategy works to achieve the best possible results. For example, if a marketer is planning the editorial calendar for the year, they need to know what resources are available, when content can be produced, and how often. This information will allow them to map out the year effectively. Marketers who take the time to establish a clear content process with their creative team save time and money while creating more effective campaigns.
Benefits of content operations
Getting content operations organized is worth the time and effort. Netflix saved billions by understanding their content ops. While most companies will never operate at their scale, even small e-commerce companies or digital agencies can find big wins through streamlined content operations. When implemented well, teams can get everything from higher-quality content to saving significant resources.
Here are some major benefits of adopting content operations:
- Higher-quality content of all types
- Increased content production
- Uptick in conversion
- Improved collaboration across teams
- Consolidated content technology
- Higher-performing content and brand loyalty
What content operations means for content strategy
While tightly entwined, content operations and content strategy both play an important and unique role in the content lifecycle. A content strategy is the plan, while content operations is how the plan is executed. The right marketing technology (martech) is definitely crucial to content operations, but people and process also play a key role.
What makes a good content strategy? It often begins with a full content audit to identify gaps and redundancies. Find what’s working well and plan to do more of that. Define an audience, research what experiences resonate with them, and then identify if new content is needed.
Outline people and process challenges, along with ways to improve. All of these things will help deliver a consistent and content-driven customer experience. Once this is in place, teams can start to create content goals that align with key business objectives. Decide on what to measure to gauge success and get started.
Content management software plays a big part in a successful content strategy. Tools that make managing content easier allows teams to achieve greater brand consistency with fewer opportunities for human error — though humans are still the key to successful software use! Technology — such as content management systems (CMS), enterprise content management (ECM) software, and product information management (PIM) tools — keep content consistent and accessible.
A solid content operations foundation revolves around workflows that get content from ideation to distribution. And a complete understanding of workflows — from start to finish —often surfaces opportunities to automate. This can increase collaboration, visibility, and consistency across the content ops process.
To maximize software potential, many teams turn to integrations. Connected tools work together to eliminate process redundancies and overlap in content storage locations. Allowing platforms to “talk” to each other also keeps teams working in the platforms they're comfortable with instead of constantly learning new systems or jumping between solutions.
There are many routes to create efficiency and streamline content operations. One powerful option is to combine DAM and PIM solutions because it provides a universal source of truth for every product a company sells. A central place for brand assets and product information makes it easier for distributed teams to collaborate and produce consistent product experiences across all channels and touchpoints.
Additionally, artificial intelligence (AI) can be leveraged for tasks like enhanced visual search, metadata tagging, or even automatically delivering podcasts to the correct channels. This helps eliminate redundant tasks, freeing up time for meaningful, impactful work.
Measuring digital asset engagement allows teams to understand the performance and impact of their content operations. Learnings could inform decisions about content needs and channel prioritization. Perhaps more videos are needed or a specific photography type might not be used as frequently as hoped.
These data-driven insights can influence content reuse and repurposing, to get more miles from every effort. And they can also help teams establish benchmarks for measuring the return on technology investments.
Content operations and the content lifecycle
Ideally, content operations reflect the content lifecycle. A piece of content goes through many stages in its life and is touched by different people, processes, and technologies across them all.
Digital assets typically include these six stages in their lifecycle:
Whether teams are producing product videos, infographics, blog posts, white papers, blockbuster movies, or social media content, outlining the people, processes, and technologies at each stage will sharpen any content operations efforts and give teams the space and time they need to innovate their next content masterpiece.
Note: This article was originally published on Widen.com.