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PHOTO: Tachina Lee

There’s talk around the martech water cooler about dropping the "digital" when it comes to “digital experience” and “digital marketing.” The thinking goes that everything today is digital. Even direct mail and in-person events (remember those!?) are digital, due in part to how we design, track and measure their success. And further, digital marketing (and the tactics it describes) isn't all that different from traditional marketing, it's just a fundamental component of the modern marketer's skillset. 

I’d argue we’ve transcended "digital." But in the end, we still need to serve something higher, and my argument is let it be brand. 

As customers we experience the brand, we don’t experience the discrete digital tools and tactics that help deliver them. If we look at digital marketing then as a category of tactics, not a thing in itself, where does that leave us? That doesn’t mean DX is unimportant. Far from it, it simply means that we have to rethink the operational models we use to deliver holistic brand experiences. 

DX Is Dead (Long Live DX!)

Here’s the basic thesis: DX should be in service to brand experience. And all brand experience requires an operational model in order to deliver surgical, personalized experiences that capture an audience, turn them into customers, and eventually into advocates. If the brand experience is the “Why,” DX is part of the “How” that gets you there. “Digital” is simply then the set of tools that support the campaigns designed to reach and inspire people, the tools that help build modern brands. This is an important distinction because it directly applies to the rampant growth of the modern marketer’s tech stack.

The job of today’s brand experience teams is to understand their customers’ “Why” on a deeply personal level. This requires talking to sales, talking to customers (happy ones, unhappy ones, indifferent ones). Understanding where your customers are to deliver content they want to consume comes before building that long list of martech tools you hope will get you to that “Why.”

I see brand experience as a sort of code to live by for the modern marketer. If we all have to serve something, why not big “B” Brand?

A common mistake for brand experience teams is trying to execute on content strategy that allows you to be everywhere at once — but you can’t be everything to everyone. You need to pick your battles. To quote "The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing" by Al Ries and Jack Trout, "The essence of marketing is narrowing the focus. You become stronger when you reduce the scope of your operations. You can’t stand for something if you chase after everything."

Related Article: Digital With a Soul: Building More Human Digital Experiences

Let Content Lead Your Brand Experiences

So, let’s focus. Content powers demand. Demand powers the need for the amount and types of content that is produced. The modern business literally runs on content. And if that’s too grandiose for you, let’s at least agree that content powers the perception of your brand. 

So why then is content in most organizations seen as task executors who don’t have a seat at the strategic table? As Robert Rose has noted, while content is the one thing that companies make the most of, it’s not typically seen as a strategic function of the business. In these cases, either as a symptom or as a result, there’s often no operational model for content and its creation, production, optimization and delivery. But production volume is high! Projects are on time! Sure, sure ... but what about the quality? What is it doing to surpass the status quo? In these scenarios, the joy of creation becomes the job of creation.

This constant game of catch-as-catch-can means it’s everyone’s chore, a grind where no one owns the strategy. Operationalizing content, as it were, setting rules, guidelines and protocols to the set of processes, people and technologies for strategically planning, producing, distributing and analyzing content helps you think 10 moves ahead, let’s you consider what your teams should be spending their time on and where the content they create should be distributed to reach the right audience. 

I used to live in the North Beach neighborhood in San Francisco. It was heavily trafficked by tourists and had a bevvy of bars and restaurants, a lot of them competing for the tourist spend. But others, those for locals, or those that had been there long enough to just be who they are, crafted intentional experiences. These spots are a great example of knowing your audience, sticking to channels that work, not trying to be everywhere at once while still standing out from the noise.

Tosca Cafe was a San Francisco institution — an end-to-end intentionally crafted experience. The bartenders all wear spotless white coats, the menu of prohibition-era cocktails, right down the red vinyl seats and the carefully curated crooners on the old jukebox. It also had a backroom typically reserved for celebrity guests. Tosca was clear about its brand: the world’s best last dive bar that only served booze, ambience, attitude and prestige. 

In building your brand experience, content is critical. It’s what sets the table for your customers, establishes how you expect them to perceive your brand, which is necessary before you can deliver them a personalized experience. Tosca Cafe is a masterclass for brands looking to “know thyself,” it has that thing that sets it apart from every other bar in the neighborhood, that spark, that special touch that drives intent. 

Related Article: Don't Let Your DX Stack Fall Prey to the Content Fallacy

7 Tips on Building a Bolder Brand Experience Through ContentOps

  1. Make the case: Getting buy-in to make content a strategic element of your business is like making sure you have running shoes before you enroll in a marathon. Operationalizing marketing through contentops helps you immediately start moving towards a more agile way of working that prioritizes speed, quantitative and qualitative data, and customer needs first. 
  2. Don’t try to be everywhere all at once: Know your customers. Do the leg-work to understand where they are. Then work on your distribution model. You don't have to be on every channel all the time in order to have an effective BrandEx strategy. 
  3. Act like an agency (kind-of): Consider new, leaner operating models, get clear on your approach, start to act like an in-house agency. Don’t have one? Develop one and tie it to your content operations and brand experience objectives. But be sure to re-evaluate your project management workflows and organizational models first. 
  4. Scrutinize the tech stack: Audit what’s working, any overlaps, who in your org benefits, who even knows it’s in the stack? Start by asking hard questions before you start adding more point solutions. Get your core stack in order (marketing ops, DAM, CMS, campaign management, for example) and only then evaluate the gaps. 
  5. Get modular: This is like meal prep for the content operations diet. By operationalizing the use, reuse and repurposing of every piece of content you change the governance model, its creation, its workflows and the valuable time of your creatives. It also gives your content legs, extending the lifecycle of individual pieces and lets you start thinking about ROE (return on effort) rather than ROI.
  6. Eliminate random acts of marketing: It’s wild how common this is across marketing teams. If tasks, projects, and ideas aren’t in service so something higher, core strategic elements of the business for example, then it’s time to rethink priority and alignment.
  7. Know your plan, know your spend: Generating an actionable ROE requires diligent cost analysis and reporting, and you’re going to need to explore some tools to help you manage planning, financials, workflows and project management. Again, you don’t need a ton of martech tools, but you do need a backbone for your content operations platform.  

Related Article: Unlock One-to-One Personalization With Structured Content

Chartering Your BrandEx Journey

Any good experience-driven journey begins with clear goals, defined by measurable data points. Digital marketing tools and tactics are nothing without the data that moves through them. Your brand then becomes not only an idea, or a notion, its "Why" can be measured, and what can be measured can be improved. Content operations give transparency to brand experience. And with useful data at their fingertips, marketing leaders can ensure all campaigns are aligned to corporate goals.

This model isn't rigid. It supports multiple ways of working — ad hoc, Agile, hybrid and structured — so each team can work the way they work best. It informs how you structure your content lifecycle, from ideation to delivery so things are done in an intentional, meaningful way on the backend and reflected in the experiences they produce on the front. If anything, brand experience is a call to action: It's time to think of how to take end-to-end control of the content that powers your customer experiences that are mission-critical to the health of your brand.