My Prescription for a Better Content Feedback Process
When content marketing was a new thing, just being a publisher and sharing content on social media was a differentiator. As more companies gave content a try, people attempted to fight through the noise by producing and sharing more stuff.
Now, marketers recognize that the space is crowded and that this approach is a losing game.
They have accepted that unless you’re a celebrity, organic engagement on social is dwindling. They realize you need to apply just as much time, money, and effort to producing content as you do promoting it. The tide has shifted, and marketers are focused on Quality Content™. There’s this mindset that if we’re going to put money behind promoting a piece, it better be good.
In general, this is great. There is too much noise. You should have pride in what you do.
But has the pendulum swung too far?
Some teams get so focused on achieving quality that they get analysis paralysis. People debate a piece for so long that they lose sight of what the original intention was, and could-have-been content gets trapped in untraceable feedback cycles — never to see the light of day.
If you asked me a few years ago, I would have said the solution to this problem was simple. Just test it!
But teams get stuck in this vicious cycle before they even agree on something to test.
Better processes are needed, and these are a few of my ideas.
1. Get Stakeholders Involved in the Beginning
Marketing is forward-facing and representative of the company as a whole. This is why it’s so susceptible to feedback.
Marketers have a tall order: They need to have a strong creative vision, but they also need to be collaborative in how that vision gets implemented.
I recommend inviting stakeholders from sales and product into the content process early on. It’s a useful step to align content calendars to corporate initiatives like product release schedules, target accounts, or top-performing verticals. Regular check-ins with stakeholders are a good start for removing silos, and input sessions should be a first step before launching any major content deliverable.
2) Use These Magical Tools: Creative Briefs, Project Plans, Outlines
Creative Briefs, Project Plans, and Outlines are the deliverables from any major input session. These tools help stakeholders see the project take shape before content teams invest a lot of time in drafts or design.
These tools can be compiled in a shared project folder for stakeholders to refer to throughout the project. They serve as a reminder of the original intention of a piece that was previously agreed to. Simply put, they keep things moving!
A little bit about these tools:
Creative Brief: There are a lot of different formats for these. For something like an Ebook, a creative brief can lay out the project goals, audience, use, approximate word count, and a short summary of what the content will entail.
Project Plan: This is a document that lays out dates for major project milestones, such as brainstorm sessions, drafts, and final deliverables.
Outline: This is a bulleted, non-designed version of your final product.
3) Bring Design in Sooner
I’ve found that most executives (and people, really) are very visual. This is why I recommend that your first draft be a high-functioning prototype of the final product.
Even if you’re not a designer, it’s simple to lay out content in Keynote, Powerpoint, or Google Slides and use text formatting to give your content some visual flair. If you offer stakeholders an idea of what the final product will look like, it will be received much more positively.
4) Be Specific about Feedback
Give people direction on what kind of feedback you’re looking for. If the project is pretty much baked and you’re just looking for a copy edit — say so. If you have a specific question about a piece of messaging, point your stakeholder to that.
I have learned that being really direct about the feedback I’m looking for not only provides me with more helpful advice, it also engages the other person more and makes them feel more useful.
5) Focus on Tentpole Pieces
God, this sounds like a lot of effort for one freaking piece of content, right? Well, yeah. But the good news is that all the meetings, briefs, feedback, and drafts are worth it if you’re able to produce something everyone is excited about in the end.
My suggestion: Focus these efforts on tentpole pieces (decks, Ebooks, research reports) related to content themes (vertical GTM strategies, product releases, branding campaigns). To start, pick one piece each quarter to run through this process with. Then repackage that content into other materials.
This is how you can ensure alignment with broader corporate initiatives, achieve consistent messaging across materials, and also make sure you’re spending time on things that will pay off in the long run.
I’ll end with a piece of encouragement. Usually, once content starts to pay off — despite promotion costs — the momentum picks up, the anxiety about putting stuff out there fades, and content feedback processes tend to improve. If they’ve witnessed the pay-off from content before, people will be excited to create that value again and will usually be less inclined to hold projects up for small edits or last minute changes.
Any content process tips you'd like to share with the class? Let me know in the comments.