Pursuing a “Content First” Workflow

The following post was written by Jeff Gerber, Senior Product Manager for Marketer’s Studio at Quad/Graphics. Jeff has more than 20 years’ experience in the publishing industry. He started out as a newspaper editor, then worked to implement workflow solutions at magazines and catalogs, and now leads a team at Quad/Graphics that designs, develops and implements a content management system for multi-channel merchants. Jeff and I have known each other for years and worked together several times.

Whether you call it multichannel or omni-channel or just plain chaos, today’s marketplace requires your organization to be nimble. And it doesn’t matter how you define yourself – retailer, cataloger, direct mailer, etc. If you have something to sell, you must be able to promote your products across multiple channels efficiently.

Let’s say you have a small chain of stores, for example. You’re going to advertise somehow – probably a combination of TV, radio, newspapers and social media, such as Facebook or Instagram. You also might have store signage or billboards. You could send postcards or another piece of direct mail to prospects or frequent customers.  It’s doubtful you can choose not to sell across multiple channels and still be successful in today’s world.

And it’s inefficient – and, more importantly, an obstacle – to try to create content for each channel when you need it (an “on demand” process). That’s why you need to move to a “Content First” workflow.

With a “Content First” workflow, you create the various flavors of content for a new product before the product is rolled out in any channel. For example, you could have a long version of catalog copy, a short version of catalog copy, long Web copy, short Web copy, signage copy, postcard copy, an Instagram post, video script, etc. and tailored assets for each channel, including images or videos. That way, the content is there when you need it.

Plus, it’s more efficient for a copywriter. Just imagine being a copywriter who creates the Web copy for a product upfront then the print copy weeks later and the social media content after that. Each time they create content, copywriters need to refresh themselves with the details of the products. That’s frustrating for the copywriter. But at a higher level, that’s wasted time, and it bogs down your organization.

Now, please don’t think that a “Content First” workflow means you stick with older content if it’s no longer relevant, stale or somehow doesn’t get the job done. If the situation demands that you create the content on the fly, so be it. But at least you are not starting from scratch each time.

Of course, there are obstacles to a “Content First” workflow. For example, you need to get product samples to your copywriters sooner and you probably need to shoot photos earlier in the process. A lot of organizations struggle with those two tasks, and there’s no magic solution to solve those problems. You just have to roll up your sleeves and commit to getting information, images, etc. into the hands of copywriters (and others) more quickly.

For the copywriters, creating content upfront means living with – and writing around – ambiguity. It’s also important to remember that you’re not writing the next great American novel. You’re trying to sell shoes, tools, gadgets, etc. Get it done and move on.

A “Content First” workflow is a foundation for a flexible marketing campaign that enables your organization to respond quickly to the demands of the marketplace. Without such a strategy, you will always be struggling to keep up with the latest demand – unable to dig yourself out of the daily muck and plan ahead, to anticipate what’s coming next.

A “Content First” workflow frees up time during the later phases of a campaign to adjust to new information and to take advantage of opportunities when they pop up.