The good news: Digital marketing technology is advancing rapidly. The bad: We mortals are struggling to keep up.
Not that anyone could blame us: The average company is now using 88 apps, a 22% increase over the past four years, according to research from Okta. But digital transformation is so much more than just logging into an app. It’s a mindset shift, away from thinking about change as a discrete project centered on adopting a specific piece of tech toward accepting that change is fluid and affects every aspect of the organization.
Content marketers have a critical role to play in digital transformation, but first we must acknowledge and embrace the power we wield. When we’re doing our jobs well, we informally touch many areas of the business, a perfect position for bringing new models for marketing to the subject matters experts embedded in the organization — and bringing compelling stories about the industry and customers back to the marketing team.
For David McCarthy, an experienced B2B content marketing manager, that facilitator role is absolutely critical to his work in supporting digital transformation at his organization. “Since digital is so dynamic, change management is a good way of describing 20% of my role.”
I asked David how he spent that 20% of his time. Here’s a recap of what he shared.
Leveraging Influence to Pitch Upward
If you want to influence change, you have to be able to market and sell your ideas.
Successful buy-in for a change comes down to how you communicate it. “It’s basically another campaign that you’re running internally,” David says.
David says there are two channels: formal and informal. Formal channels consist of traditional pitches to managers and leadership. But the real power often lies in informal channels. David’s grassroots efforts include sharing interesting data points, trends, and competitive intelligence among team members to see if they arrive at the same conclusions that he has, without prompting them.
Having team members contribute to developing the idea legitimizes the concept, increases buy-in and builds excitement for the change. “They become a social network, amplifying the concept either up to leadership and other decision makers on the team,” David says. Once everyone has arrived at the same benefits of the change, implementing it becomes far more manageable.
The language you use when communicating with leadership sets the tone for change, too. For example, when David proposes changing an element of his organization's content strategy, even if it's a minor tactical adjustment, he communicates the idea in a way that aligns with leaders' priorities and points of view — and their appetite for risk. This approach can make a huge difference in leadership buy-in, he notes. “Rather than position every recommendation as a long-term commitment, position it as an experiment. Look for ways to make the change low-risk, high-reward.”
Let’s say you’ve taken these steps and are still struggling to enact change, though. Maybe it’s time you brought in reinforcements.
Powering Transformation Through Lateral Influence
If you really want to implement change to transform your organization, you’ll need to foster collaboration in the truest sense.
I asked David how he keeps “collaboration” from turning into what I call “mutual micromanagement.” AKA death by review cycle.
David finds many problems can be avoided by treating one another with respect. SMEs need to view marketing as a partner to help shape their messaging and sharpen their expertise. Your colleagues need to see you and the marketing function as strategic partners in content creation and distribution processes, not just as an empty vessel for their unfiltered “insights.”
When you seek out expertise from your colleagues, take the opportunity to educate them. Share how the content will be used and connect it to larger business goals. If they know where the content will be distributed and the purpose behind it, they can focus their expertise and collaborate with you in the later stages of production, too. Your colleagues in other departments can become allies in transforming the business through content.
Of course, before you start enlisting others, you first need to know exactly where you stand and where you want to go.
Taking Control of Personal Change
You can’t guide organizations towards change without staying ahead of it yourself. If you want to exert strategic influence, you must walk the change management talk.
From his own experience, David recognizes two distinct approaches for staying sharp and expanding one’s skills. The first is throwing yourself into a high-growth, sink-or-swim environment. Environments like these challenge you to remain agile and push the boundaries of what you thought you could do. David recalls how working in such conditions compelled him to grow: “I feel like I’ve exponentially improved my skills, transformed how I think of content and content’s purpose.”
You may find yourself in a far more stable environment, not quite stagnant but where change is gradual. This is where David says you need to take more personal initiative and double-down on training. (David practices what he preaches, as he has recently focused on studying product marketing and brand strategy.)
In general, David makes managing his own personal and professional change a priority: “I feel like it represents 20% of my role, wherever I am. It just depends on if I’m changing my perspective from the day-to-day drafts and goals that I have or finding my own training to continue to evolve.”
Ideally, this enables you to recognize when a change is needed before putting your communication skills to use to help make it a reality, ensuring you and your colleagues can ride the next wave and not wake up one day and realize you’ve been swept out to sea.
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