The Business Case for Strategic Content in 2024

7 min read

2024 arrives in one month, bringing the chaotic second half of 2023 to a close.

It’s been a weird time. You’ve worked to keep the proverbial lights on as generative AI disrupts marketing and content operations. Social media efforts seemed futile, but sharing great content took on greater importance. And interest in a robust owned-media strategy picked up.

It feels like we’ve been here before.

[Quickly checks the archive.]

Ten years ago, I pondered the disillusionment with content marketing as a practice. While 2023 is different, it feels eerily similar. In 2013, content and marketing teams behaved a bit like the IT department – taking orders, serving internal clients, and delivering enough to get by.

In 2023, you may again feel like doing just enough to get by because you’re overwhelmed by the disruptive changes that might make you irrelevant.

So, how do you snap out of this malaise and go into 2024 with a renewed spirit of innovation, creativity, and inspiration?

Ask (and answer) different questions in your business case

In 2024, your marketing strategy and challenges will center on two questions:

  1. How do you build and merge the teams that work on content management (governance, processes, structured content, first-party data, and technology) with the creative marketers responsible for valuable, purpose-driven, content-driven experiences?
  2. How do you integrate the disruption of content creation and distribution that generative AI will inevitably bring with the continued de-evolution of paid media (advertising) and social media?

The business case for content as a strategic function in marketing has changed. It’s no longer about selling “content marketing” as a concept.

If your business case involves showing the C-suite how competitor X has an amazing blog, competitor Y won an award for its white paper program, or competitor Z drives better loyalty with a podcast, expect shrugged shoulders and a lifted eyebrow.

It’s not that senior leadership doesn’t believe that content marketing can work. They do. But they can’t see how any one project or platform connects to the overall business strategy.

Put simply: Don’t ask to build a new model of car. Show how you’ll survive the disruption of the auto industry instead.   

Make a renewed business case for strategic content operations

Make no bones about it – these challenges will hit every business in every industry. My four most recent consulting engagement inquiries didn’t involve launching a new content marketing approach or measuring thought leadership. Each request involved helping make content creation in marketing and communications more effective and efficient.

“Beware,” one of the inquirers said, “Our senior management team has no concept of the amount of change required to accomplish this. We’re going to have to build a phased case for a long-term business plan.”

So, let’s look at the biggest pushback at the end of 2023 and how you might address it in the new year.

‘More’ is no longer enough

In CMI’s 2024 Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report, I noticed an interesting development. Most marketers (57%) cite creating the right content for their audience as their biggest challenge. For so many years, creating enough content was the most common challenge.

As a respondent in the recent research points out, “As the internet gets noisier and AI makes it incredibly easy to create listicles and content that copies each other, there will be a need for companies to stand out.” 

In other words, just as marketers finally figured out how to keep up with the internal demand for content, generative AI has emerged to make “more content” irrelevant.

At the heart of this struggle lies management, who can’t see how much change is necessary. Now, they ask: “Why should we invest more money into more content when our brand already struggles to differentiate the content we already create?

That’s a legitimate question. So, let’s look at the renewed business case for an evolving, comprehensive content operation for 2024.

Too much content isn’t the problem

Almost without exception, when I begin a project, I look at its total content output. It usually dispels the notion that the business already creates too much content. On balance, it reveals they produce too many digital assets.

In other words, their content and marketing teams aren’t in the content business; they’re in the business of digital asset creation. They do the best they can to fulfill the needs of the business by providing e-books, white papers, landing pages, web articles, blog posts, events, and webinars.

But so many of the pieces go unused by sales or unpromoted or get replaced by a flow of new assets.

So, what gives? What’s the answer?

Too many assets indicate the lack of a connected content creation process. You can build a smart factory of content, but unless you have a well-understood process behind that assembly line, the widgets won’t be valuable, and you can’t know when you’re making too many or not enough.

For many businesses, the first step for content is intake – someone requests an asset, and the team figures out what kind of content will fulfill it. But for content and marketing to thrive, flip the script on the first step by building content as a strategic function.

Among the reasons:

  • Without a strategic content creation process, you never truly know how expensive, cost-effective, or impactful your content is.
  • By focusing on the content and then how it feeds into the digital experiences, you ensure the best content connects to the most optimal experiences.

For example, I recently consulted with a global consumer packaged goods company that sells hundreds of products. Its creation process consists solely of digital marketing teams serving the content needs of product marketing teams.

The vice president of marketing proudly told me they spent $5.5 million a year on content. I asked, “Is that good?” He didn’t know.

Your business challenge in 2024: Act like a media company

As business managers, you must get your arms around this. And soon. Developing a standard, operational model for content helps you track not just how much you spend but how you plan, activate, and measure all the content produced. Often, you don’t create too much different content. You are simply stuck in a cycle, duplicating the same things over and over in a never-ending rinse-and-repeat cycle.

The big rock you should climb in 2024 is acting like a media company. It’s a misunderstood concept, and one generative AI can’t help you figure it out. You don’t need to create stuff that helps you market your brand as a media company would. You need to operate as a media company does.

The 2024 content business case is NOT making an argument for a cool new blog, content platform, or SEO program that will attract more leads. Shake off the idea that you can do just enough to survive by adding some new generative AI tool.

The 2024 content business case is messy, challenging, and ultimately differentiating. You must build a scalable, operational model for content creation. It should create outcomes as important as any product or service you offer in the market. You make a case for the operation that powers everything in modern marketing.

How do you create a scalable, operational content model look like? You’ll find guidance in these articles:

When making your renewed business case for content, remember this: No single marketing approach will change the business. But a new approach to content in marketing can be the reason the business changes for the better.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

 

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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