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Stop the churn and burn: managing content through its 4-stage life cycle

Jada Balster outlines the four stage life cycle of content and why you need to change your approach

Two misleading metaphors are often used to describe content marketing: food and fuel.

Content is either seen as the combustible raw material that powers a campaign engine; the “fuel for the buyer’s journey,” as the marketing entrepreneur Neil Patel once said.

Or content is the all-you-can-eat offer of text, images and sounds that feed customers’ appetite: a rich sensory diet for an age when we’re all hungry to be engaged and entertained.

But these overused metaphors often lead to a quick and disposable mindset where digital content assets are perceived to be short-lived and throwaway. This means we’re churning and burning through material as fast as we can make it as if we’re feeding audiences a bottomless content buffet or never-ending stream of snackable social assets.

Is this really sustainable?

Four-out-of-five UK marketers start the year expecting to make more content than last, according to research by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI).

The problem is, production isn’t keeping pace (or quality).

The same CMI research found only 35% of UK marketers rate their ability to manage the flow of content production as either excellent or very good. Most of us (61%) feel we’re doing okay and just about keeping up.

What we really need is a different way to think about content and manage its production to help us break-out of the fast food or quick burn mindset.

We need to start thinking about content’s life-cycle.

1. Create

Before you let the creative sparks fly – sorry, another metaphor – you start with a brief, clearly defined and measurable goals, and an understanding of the limiting factors: brand guidelines, budgets and deadlines.

Or, that’s how it ought to work.

This phase of work is about delivering ideas and nurturing them through production and the multiple stages of stakeholder feedback and amends.

Process and workflows sound like the enemy of creativity, but without them and the means to quickly capture and act on feedback, moving from production to dissemination of an idea can be a painfully slow and stressful process.

2. Find

Let’s take some more wise words from Neil Patel

Explore your content stack to find the posts that are worthy of republishing.

Neil Patel, Co-founder, Neil Patel Digital

Er, sorry, my what?

Patel rightly points out there’s potential to multiply engagement by repurposing and republishing your best-performing content over time.

But that means you need to be able to find it in your stack, as he puts it. You need a searchable way to store your digital assets – a content library – where anything from logos to videos are stored and available whenever they’re needed by whomever needs them.

That demands clear metadata and naming conventions for files and folders so you know you’ve found the final iteration rather than what you think is a finished piece (AdvertQ118Final_FINALv.12 anyone?).

And this phase of the lifecycle also demands shared access: no more hunting around on colleagues’ desktops or having to hunt down a USB drive to find what you need.

3. Use

UK marketers produce an average of five different types of content – from videos to graphics to blogs and beyond – and use an average of four different channels to disseminate them, according to the CMI’s research.

This is the phase in the life-cycle where the audience finally gets to experience what you’ve produced.

Your content stack, in this phase, isn’t just a repository of what you’ve created, it’s your arsenal, primed with audience-ready content and with everything you, colleagues and partners need within easy reach to make your campaign succeed.

4. Focus

Eight-out-of-10 UK marketers use analytics tools, but six-in-10 rate their ability to align activity to metrics and strategic goals as “fair”, at best, to “we don’t even try to do this”, at worst.

Nevertheless, this phase of the lifecycle should be about reflecting on performance against the goals defined in the create phase.

“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results,” Einstein is reported to have said (turns out, he probably didn’t).

But the simple aim of the focus phase of the lifecycle is to inform future content production based on what’s worked – and what hasn’t.

Focus is about more than just getting stuff done, you want it done right, as my CEO would say.

Less haste, more speed

Ultimately, this is an argument for a more structured approach to content marketing: the nurturing of digital assets through each stage of development to dissemination and final reflection on results.

So, the next time you hear someone talk about content as if it’s fast-food or quick-burning fuel, challenge the metaphor and the mindset.

Life-cycle thinking and using collaborative asset management systems and workflows will ensure that you can see everything, measure anything, and ultimately move faster.

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