Seeing Clear in Muddy Content Marketing Automation Waters

When you hear the word “automation”, what comes to mind?

The Terminator? Artificial intelligence? A Ford Model T? The word conjures many myths and hollywood lore in our minds. Which is why when most marketers discuss content marketing automation, there’s bound to be confusion.

“You said automation! Where are my sentient content robots?!”

While artificial intelligence tools like Wordsmith can draft basic original content via algorithmic and rule-based intelligence, they are far less sophisticated than hype would have you believe. Let’s just get this out of the way as long as we’re on the topic; content marketing automation does not equate to AI software applications or robots that can automatically generate all the content for your brand.

You still need writers, marketers, thinkers, creators, designers, data scientists, and human nerds galore – even if you are going to automate select aspects of your content marketing workflow.

So, this begs another question; what the $%#& is content marketing automation?

Content Marketing Automation Defined

Like its cousin, marketing automation, content marketing automation seeks to transform traditional content tasks into automated processes that can save your team time and money.

On one hand, marketing automation platforms like Hubspot and Marketo transform what used to be manual marketing activities like lead database segmentation, email and landing page creation, into automated tasks that can be managed from a single interface.

On the other – In the content marketing automation world – software applications like DivvyHQ streamline manual, content-centric processes like idea aggregation, editorial scheduling, workflow/task management, team communication, deadline accountability and content strategy analysis/reporting.

In a recent study, we discovered that of the respondents who reported being most effective with content planning, a full 80% use online content planning tools (either free or paid).  We also uncovered the fact that budgets for a team’s marketing technology stack range from $0-$1000+ per month, with the largest group of respondents reporting they have no monthly budget.

Now you may read this and your sales pitch antennae are firing, but we want you to understand which areas of your content planning, production, and distribution could be automated, if you chose to do so. With all of the marketing technology options at your fingertips, we hope to help you make the most of your technology budget.

In full transparency, it’s best to start small, and automate select aspects of your content before ramping up.

5 Muddy Content Habits Content Marketing Automation Can Clear Up

1. The Spreadsheet as Your Content Calendar

We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again, spreadsheets are ruining your content marketing strategy. While using an Excel spreadsheet works great for expense reports, it becomes extremely cumbersome when used as an offline content calendar.

In our recent research, we found that marketers using offline tools for content planning simply didn’t see as much success. Wondering why? It’s simple. The best teams use content calendars collaboratively.

Perhaps only a small number of managers are fleshing out the content calendar, but the rest of the cast of creatives and executives can benefit greatly from real-time access and visibility. For example:

  • Senior management needs real-time visibility to help them make resource decisions
  • Management (or clients) need access to content to review or approve
  • Writers need visibility and access to manage their personal schedules and tasks
  • Search engine wizards need to weigh-in on topic ideation and content access for keyword optimization
  • Your social and paid media teams need real-time updates on publishing deadlines to launch promotions/campaigns
  • All parties benefit from seeing what others are working on in real time.

With all those parties involved, a spreadsheet constantly getting passed back and forth offline creates multiple dependencies and bottlenecks. This is insanity, not automation.

Content marketing automation software can clear this up, arming you with collaborative online content calendars that are far more visual, nimble and real-time than any spreadsheet. Using online tools you can assign roles for specific team members, and get everyone working on different aspects of content at the same time.

2. Using Email for Team Collaboration

Many teams dealing with content use email to communicate. No surprise there. But using email as the de-facto tool for collaborating simply doesn’t work.

According to the Washington Post, professionals are spending nearly 20 hours a week checking their email. The Post went so far as building a calculator to calculate how much of one’s working life has been wasted playing email ping-pong.

Keeping a team of people organized around ideas, drafts, strategy or results via email can get stressful fast, especially with more than a handful of people involved.

The problem with email is that it forces us into a state of constant distraction and multitasking. Productive collaboration, idea generation, and staying organized require focus. Trying to use email as a content collaboration tool is simply painful, unproductive, and will end in lost documents, missed connections, and frustrated team members.

3. Conducting Meetings in Place of Process

“I love meetings” is not something you’ll hear echoing through the halls of many companies. And for good reason, too.

According to Atlassian, your average meeting goer spends 73% of their time doing other work while in meetings, and 91% report they also daydream through meetings. If you can look yourself in the mirror and honestly say your meetings are any better, than congratulations – you’re an anomaly.

So why are the majority of meetings unproductive, and meeting goers so disengaged? Because most of them are unnecessary.

The problem is twofold. In many of our organizations, meetings are used quite literally as process. When someone needs to see departmental action, what do they do? Call a meeting. Develop a steering committee. Huddle up to “get to the bottom of it.” But 99% of the time, nothing happens in meetings. It’s talk, and more talk. Reviewing the status of projects, deliverables, and timelines? Also just talk.

If you’re using meetings to drive process when it comes to content, you simply won’t see much progress. Equipping each team member with the right tools, the right strategy, and the room to do their work is how you make the gears of process turn. Content marketing automation software can play an enormous role in reducing meetings, facilitating process, and equipping team members with everything they need, when they need it, to do their jobs.

4. Leveraging Brainstorming as Creative Ideas

As we recently wrote on this blog, the way you go about brainstorming writing ideas will have a big impact on whether or not you generate audience-centric content. While brainstorming can often produce a large volume of ideas, the first ideas out of the gate, and the loudest voices in the room tend to dictate which ideas gain traction. The problem is, those are rarely the best ideas.

Subsequently, without ample documentation, many brainstorms do not translate into content marketing success, ideas, or help in conducting more productive content planning meetings.

Using brainstorming in place of a broader idea generation and content marketing strategy process will only result in frustration, and failure.

Content marketing automation software can significantly improve upon brainstorming by offering repositories for storing ideas at various phases of development.

Many content marketing automation softwares provide workflows for logging content ideas, outlines, drafts, and more. In addition, automation software allows you to attach audience details, meeting notes, screenshots, buyer journey summaries, SEO keyword research to each idea or outline in your queue. Many automation platforms add a layer of task management to this mix, allowing project managers to distribute tasks right from a dashboard that shows ideas, calendars, and outlines.

5. Using Individual Calendars as Project Management

A good plan, a solid workflow, time management, staying on deadline, and keeping content professionals motivated to do quality work are all keys to successful content production. But all too often, team members live in isolated worlds, with varying degrees of self-management abilities. Hours of their days are swept away as email, meetings, interruptions and competing organizational priorities vie for their attention.

So with deliverables scattered across individual calendars, how can writers, designers, project managers and executives stay aligned and in tune? The thing is, they don’t.

Manual project management via calendars, email, and whiteboards can only get you so far. If you’re going to scale your content, you can’t afford the unavoidable inefficiency of trying to keep everyone’s offline calendars in sync. You don’t run payroll, or your 401k program out of a spreadsheet, so why would you run a content program out of a calendar?

Again, content marketing automation software can clear these problems up by giving all team members access to a shared calendar, with varying degrees of read, and write access. Many automation tools will send reminder emails when tasks are not complete, and allow content production team members to be more heavily involved in long-term planning.

For any marketer working in content, brilliant writing robots have their appeal. Unfortunately at this time, it’s complete fiction. In the meantime, make the most out of your content marketing automation by implementing any one of the tips above, with any number of content marketing automation platforms.