You Could Build a Content Strategy While ‘Flying’ It – But Here’s a Better Way [Rose-Colored Glasses]

Are you trying to build your plane while it’s flying?

I don’t know where this phrase originated from, but a 22-year-old ad campaign from Fallon for digital consultancy EDS helped popularize it. Comic TV and print advertising showed people putting together a plane in the air and testifying to how much they love their jobs.

Advertising slogan explained the point – that EDS can help you “build your digital business even while you work.”

Fallon created the ad as part of a campaign integrated with two other funny videos: Cat Herders, about managing the complexity of digital business, and Running With the Squirrels, which claimed that EDS could help legacy companies compete like disruptive startups.

But the “build the plane in flight” metaphor still lingers in digital strategy, and is usually invoked when established processes or procedures change.

These days, companies seem to build a whole lot of aircraft.

Some versions of this expression appear in nearly every company I see developing new content software. Inevitably, the to-do list from a content strategy meeting includes redefining roles and responsibilities, adjusting editorial approaches, developing new workflows, and implementing new technologies.

This is when the frustration begins.

Teams know they can’t close anything while they work on all the new ideas. They still need to publish articles and blog posts, write program materials, launch campaigns and feed content to existing channels using existing technologies.

The real frustration does not arise from the challenge of building the plane in flight. It comes from not being able to create new planes because they are too busy flying old planes.

Building the plane in flight is a (overused) metaphor for dealing with #ContentMarketing change. But it doesn’t address the real conflict, says @Robert_Rose via CMIContent. Click to tweet

My advice? Do not try to.

Whenever I hear someone cite an airplane metaphor at the end of the content strategy process, I suggest spinning on the metaphor. Don’t try to build another plane while you’re flying the current one. Instead, let your existing planes fly while you build one Factory.

I recently worked with a client in the B2B financial services industry. To say that content marketing is hot in this industry is an understatement. Stripe and JP Morgan have made acquisitions, and crypto giant Coinbase has announced that it will launch its own media operations.

The company I worked with initially planned to leverage its PR and digital teams to tweak existing PR newsrooms on its website to create new content marketing platforms. But neither the newsroom nor the website itself fits into a content marketing strategy. Everything from the website’s hierarchy to the audiences it attracted to the technology platform it runs will stand in the way of new content goals.

But the company’s current governance processes and values ​​were built to focus all digital efforts (and paid and earned media) on its website — and leaders initially resisted expanding that view.

It was as if the company was saying, “We expect you to usher us into the age of jet planes. But you can only do that by repairing and upgrading our helicopter while it’s in the air.”

In the end, the commanders realized the futility of rebuilding the aircraft mid-flight. They agreed to create a new content innovation team with new technology resources, processes and platforms. And once they did, the content project took off.

The current PR team continued to update and manage the existing content ‘plane’ (website and newsroom). The company built a new “factory” (content marketing strategy) to support additional content platforms.

They did not try to change the current strategy. They built a new one.

Do not attempt to change the existing #ContentStrategy to support a new #ContentMarketing program. Instead, build a new one, says @Robert_Rose via CMIContent. Click to tweet

Sustainability vs. disruptive innovation

The idea to borrow my Aircraft Factory comes from facing the challenge of disruptive change by Clayton M. Christensen and Michael Overdorf. This article (one of my most favorite) explores the difference between . files sustainable And disruptive innovations.

Constant innovations improve something already considered valuable (for example, deciding to switch to original images instead of stock photography for new blog posts).

Disruptive innovations create something completely new (for example, deciding to create an online university rather than continuing with your blog).

Implementing a new content strategy is always a troublesome innovation.

Robert_Rose via CMIContent says the new #ContentStrategy is a disruptive innovation. Click to tweet

The article suggests that when you encounter this type of disruptive innovation, you should not treat it as changing something that already exists. Instead, you should treat it as building something within a new organizational space.

This is what my financial services client did. I’ve found it particularly useful when recommending to a company that wants to develop a content marketing platform and content strategy.

I know that content practitioners are a fickle, resourceful and innovative crew. Demands to create equivalent content for new planes come in all the time, and multiple content teams can hack the planes together and manage some of the ongoing repairs and changes mid-flight.

But when it comes to coming up with a content strategy, it’s best to assign a new space to it. In the article, Christensen and Overdorf identify three ways to create this new organizational space:

  1. You can create a new team within the existing organizational structure.
  2. You can create a new and independent organization from the structure.
  3. You can have a different organization become a new part of your existing structure.
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Creating space for a new content strategy

Every successful new content strategy follows one of these three options. Here are some examples of each approach.

  1. New content team. When a new content team is formalized, named, and documented, the chance of content marketing success immediately improves. Red Hat provides a great example. Laura Hamlyn (B2B Content Marketer of the Year 2019) has created a new strategic team to handle all enterprise content. The team has grown to over 50 people (of the original six).
  2. new organization. When content becomes its own function in the organization, it can evolve into a powerful new business model. At the Cleveland Clinic, for example, what started as a team within marketing is now a separate, independent function. It operates the Health Essentials and Health Library as individual products, increasing revenue and supporting the marketing needs of the organization.
  3. newly acquired group. I already mentioned some acquisitions in the financial services space. Another example is HubSpot’s acquisition of the newsletter The Hustle, one of several content-related purchases the software maker made.

The key term in all of these ideas is “new”. You create a new organizational structure – an aircraft factory, if you will – to design, manufacture and launch new things. You will need to work on training, socialization, and market acceptance. But that’s different from trying to fly an existing plane while you’re building it.

Trying to build an airplane while it’s flying is a good problem – it means you’re already flying. But if you expect to stay in the air, sometimes you have to go back to Earth and build something new from the ground up.

It’s your story. Say it well.

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Pink glasses is a new weekly column in which Robert Rose shares his view on the challenges of content marketing. Every Friday, he presents reasoning, rationale, and rhetoric to help you advance your organization’s content marketing practice.

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Cover photo by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

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