In-depth: Robert Rose at the Content Marketing Institute

by Jessica Ramesh

Figaro Digital chats to author, speaker and Chief Strategy Officer at the Content Marketing Institute Robert Rose about content, digital assets and adapting to constant change

It’s not often that rock legends Van Halen are invoked in a digital marketing context, but Robert Rose draws a salutary lesson for marketers from the band’s famously extravagant touring arrangements.

At the height of their success, Van Halen stipulated that their dressing room should contain a bowl of M&Ms from which the brown ones had been removed. The request didn’t do their cred much good; demanding colour-coded confectionary suggested a band enduring a strained relationship with reality. But in fact, explains Rose, it served a very strategic purpose. If the venue had read the rider and whipped out the brown M&Ms, the band could assume that their complex technical and safety demands had also been met. If there were brown M&Ms in the bowl, it meant they needed to inspect the entire stage set-up.

“The M&Ms operated like a canary in a coalmine,” says Rose. “It’s a great metaphor for marketers now because as we set up more collaborative processes – from digital asset management to analytics and working across channels – we need to set up warning bells to ensure everything’s properly managed. When it comes to digital asset management, it’s all about the way we scale it.”

Publishing at the speed of culture

Rose is a writer, speaker, Chief Strategy Officer at the US Content Marketing Institute, author of the Amazon bestseller Managing Content Marketing and recently produced a whitepaper on digital asset management (DAM) for North Plains. There he sets out a three-step plan towards a DAM strategy that rocks. Top of the agenda is teamwork. It’s rare in any organisation that a single person conceives, creates and delivers the entire customer experience. The process relies on collaboration between a diverse range of partners, within the organisation and outside it.

“The idea of managing digital assets and content is nothing new,” concedes Rose. “That’s been around for 15 years. What’s new is that as content becomes such a strategic aspect of marketing, the speed at which brands manage and use it becomes more important. Traditionally, content and digital assets were managed with governance in mind: issues like compliance, workflow, rights and approval. But the omnichannel environment means that everything has to be much more fluid. The DAM systems we put in place need to be focused on de-siloing the process and making it easier for marketers to collaborate.”

Which brings us back to Van Halen’s M&Ms and the need for joined-up thinking. ‘Publishing at the speed of culture’ is how Rose describes today’s marketing imperative. But that’s only achievable through rigorous planning and collaboration. Oreos’ famed ‘dunk in the dark’ Tweet at the 2013 Super Bowl, you’ll recall, was the result of 18 months spent planning for every eventuality.

“First, recognise that content is a strategic asset and that it’s worth managing,” says Rose. “Right now, in most organisations, marketing, content and managing digital assets is everybody’s job and nobody’s. The marketing department is charged with creating content as a service to other parts of the business. Whether it’s sales, branding or PR, it’s the content marketing people who create it.”

What that means, says Rose, “is that the brand will say, okay, there’s Mary in marketing – she can handle this in her spare time. If the business thinks about content as something that creates value for the customer, then it becomes much easier to create a function and measure it. Then it really becomes part of someone’s job.”

Feeding the machine

With that in mind, are there any errors Rose sees marketers making with their content marketing and asset management, and if so what can we learn from them?

“We get so wrapped up in the idea that we have to be continually creating something new that we don’t leverage what we’ve already got,” he says. “What happens with a whitepaper, for example, is we create this wonderful thing which creates value. We stick it up on the website. And 30 days later we’ve completely forgotten about it.

“Instead we need to look at content as an approach. First ask what’s the story? Then ask how you leverage that story across multiple channels. As classically trained marketers we tend to think in terms of a campaign with a beginning, a middle and an end, when in fact we always need to be pushing the rock up the hill.

“The second point, and this feeds back into the first, involves quantity over quality. In the States especially we’ve made the mistake of getting wrapped around the axle of SEO. We think of SEO as the primary driver and we’ve developed the idea that you need to feed the machine constantly. We had gurus telling us if that if we’re not blogging five times a day we’re doomed. But what happened is that companies ended up spewing out a load of confetti. The mentality is ‘if we’re busy, we must be productive’. But it’s like throwing spaghetti against the wall.

“Success involves stepping back and developing some planning – creating an editorial calendar, a DAM strategy for how we’re actually going to use this stuff. Then, instead of producing a hundred things where maybe 10 of them work, we’re producing 15 great things and 12 of them work. That shift is hard for a lot of companies because it means more time is spent thinking, brainstorming and iterating content. There can also be a tendency to come up with pat answers in content. It’s what I call writing at the ‘cubicle level’. The challenge is that enterprise companies are complex entities. It’s not enough just to say “write better”. You need to plan across regions and product groups. Content and DAM are integral, but they’re just one part of your marketing plan. It’s not enough simply to create a corporate blog. You need to ask why you’re creating this content in the first place.”

Change is the only constant

Rose’s next book will examine some of the issues likely to shape digital marketing as we approach 2020. The future, of course, is unwritten. Which is why the biggest challenge is adapting to the idea of change.

“Things are changing so fast that it’s more productive for us now to change our organisations so that we’re simply able to adapt, period. This is something media companies understand implicitly. It’s the way newsrooms work, how production companies are organised. There everybody wears multiple hats and gets assigned a priority. That’s so different from the way marketing teams are structured now. People need to get out of their traditional roles and understand that a marketing team is just a networked group of people who change and adapt as the conditions change. That’s the challenge.”

More specifically, says Rose, the dominating medium over the next five years will be video. “It will be massive. The web is already a multimedia channel driven by short, interactive, immersive experiences. Beyond that, marketers are going to have to deal with the internet of things. How do we assemble consumer experiences that transcend a single person in front of a screen and involve interactions with other objects?”

That proliferation of content across devices and channels – and the eradication of traditional boundaries between those channels – makes efficient management of assets vital. Asset management, says Rose, should be an ongoing rather than a reactive process. If you want to rock your customers’ world then give them the content they want – right here, right now – and maximise your value to them, as well as their value to you.


Article by Jon Fortgang