Don't know what content you have? You're not alone

September 26, 2014 8:26 am

“People spend millions of pounds on something and they don’t know how to make it work?”

That was a question from a contact’s father when he heard his son made a good living consulting with companies who had bought large IT systems. My contact said he just had to smile back at his dad. He had no good – or short – answer for him.

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The story comes to mind when I think of the way large companies have all kinds of content – on their websites, in brochures, in printed reports, technical documentation and on and on. Rarely does anyone have oversight over all this.

Sometimes it can run to over a million items, never catalogued in one place, certainly not all providing value.

But, as the broad content industry that stretches beyond traditional media, we shouldn’t be down on ourselves about this kind of thing. It happens everywhere.

Tech diaspora
One company I used to work with has an arm whose core business is to catalogue all the products large tech vendors sell around the world. In this market, Apple is the exception. One of the unusual (and highly advantageous) aspects to its business is that you can pretty much lay out everything it sells on a single conference room table. Try doing that with an HP, IBM or Samsung.

As such, for dozens of companies, the organisation I worked with ran a large call centre filled with linguists who would research the unique model of every product a vendor sold in every country. Sometimes a product’s model number would simply change because of local standards (a PAL TV in the UK versus the NTSC model in the US, for example), other times it would be exactly the same product but given a different model number for each country.

What’s amazing about this? The companies themselves couldn’t keep up with this fragmentation. There was a market in keeping an up-to-date database for most large consumer and B2B tech companies who would buy that information. About themselves.

Just do it – though not all of it
I came across another related example recently. Partly out of idle curiosity and partly to test out Q&A site Quora. I asked:
How many unique footwear designs does Nike have available new at any time (aside from the design-your-own options, of which there must be millions of combinations)?

Part of me thought that’s an unanswerable question – which of course makes it ideal fodder for Quora. But after giving up on getting a response, a few weeks later someone describing themselves as a “sneakerhead” replied. Among other things she said: “This question is just about impossible for anyone to answer because of the large number of ‘special makeup’ styles Nike creates as exclusives for specific retail accounts” – coupled with local models for different countries.

Overview
What do these examples show? It’s not just those with a content role who sometimes struggle to know what they have in the locker. (Or Foot Locker, in Nike’s case.)

That’s just the way some industries are. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to work out the answer or that there is no benefit in doing so.

Content audits are the equivalent in content marketing and are rarely perfect. But a best estimate as to what any organisation has is a starting point for working out what needs to be newly created and what can be reused.

This is often the first – albeit frustrating – step in developing a content strategy.

*photo credit: ksuyin via photopin cc

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