Natasha Jen, a designer at Pentagram, had a problem that directly related to enterprise content marketing. She and her small team of four designers were tasked with creating an identity for the US Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale that covered a 100-year history and consisted of 1,000 unique pieces of content.
The following screenshot sums up her reaction:
She realized she would have to divide the task of creating all this content among the 30 MIT architectural fellows who worked at the Pavilion. However, none of the students were graphic designers. How could they be expected to do the complex and important work of creating a graphic identity?
The solution she came up with was a branded style guide that emphasized a set of simple guidelines and constraints that allowed even a nonspecialist to produce consistent work of acceptable quality.
Natasha Jen’s style guide, and the line of thinking behind it, can serve as an enlightening model when tackling two major issues facing content marketing for enterprises: inconsistency and understaffing. Global content marketing presents a unique challenge because it must communicate the central brand message while also remaining culturally relevant and appropriate.
Juggling these two important considerations can often lead to compromises that fail to fulfill either requirement. Due to the massive demands in volume and quality that a global content strategy creates, even teams that know what content is appropriate may lack the skilled workforce to execute it effectively.
When framed like this, the problem Jen faced and the problem enterprise content marketing teams face begin to look very similar: Both require maintaining quality standards on limited resources, and both ultimately aim to present a brand in a favorable light. Enterprise marketers can therefore learn a thing or two from Natasha Jen’s solution by building a similar best-practices guide for global content marketing.
While most companies and brands have adopted some sort of content marketing strategy, a shocking amount have not formally documented it. According to a content marketing report by Technology Marketing, 72 percent of brands have a content strategy, but a staggering 42 percent of them have not put it down on paper:
Source: Technology Marketing
Not having your content marketing strategy documented in a small or midsize business might be workable; however, failing to document strategy at the enterprise level is tantamount to not having a strategy at all.
The same study found that organizations with a documented content strategy are 25 percent more likely to find their strategy either “very effective” or “extremely effective” when compared to companies without a documented strategy.
While this discrepancy makes sense for any company, the benefits of documentation will likely be more pronounced the larger the organization is. Considering the problems we highlighted earlier, it’s clear that a lack of documentation could make already difficult issues all but impossible to navigate.
In much the same way Natasha Jen worked around her project issues, a corporate content style guide can help enterprise-level organizations standardize and streamline content creation. Let’s take a look at Jen’s solution and determine what made it so successful:
1. Leverage Tools the Nonspecialist Is Familiar With
Jen knew she was writing a graphic-design document for a non-graphic-designer audience, so she purposefully made concessions. For example, instead of using a refined typeface, she chose two of the most ubiquitous fonts—Arial and Times New Roman—and, along with stock icons, made them the centerpiece of the design language. Although this might not have been the most nuanced or effective approach, it ensured her instructions could be followed by even the most obtuse architecture fellow.
When creating your content style guide, distill your guidelines down into their most essential elements. By avoiding fancy terminology and high-minded ideals, you’ll ensure you are giving clear instructions to even the most junior-level content marketers.
2. Break Down a Complex Process into Simple Steps
No matter which McDonald’s you go to, your Big Mac always tastes the same. That level of consistency is something chefs spend years honing, yet teenage McDonald’s employees pull it off with ease.
That’s because McDonald’s has distilled every aspect of the Big Mac process into tiny, itemized steps. They are laid out in terms even a moderately skilled worker can understand. It requires a great deal of expertise to design such a system for your content, but just about anyone can execute it.
3. Allow Room for Creativity
Content marketing is a little more creative than a Big Mac, so instead of requiring a set of rigorously defined steps, Jen provided constraints that made projects idiot-proof while still allowing for creativity.
By relying heavily on templates, the branding was consistent but interesting enough to make the content worth engaging with. A great content guide will employ templates and other semiflexible controls to enforce consistency while promoting healthy variety.
4. Link to High-Quality Content to Elevate Standards
On their own, the fellowship students’ templated designs would have been inoffensive but unremarkable. The linchpin of Jen’s strategy was to employ the same design guidelines to create world-class content.
The above graphic is an example of the impressive method executed using the rudimentary design language her plan laid out. Linking the work visually and conceptually to professionally designed core material elevated the entire project and created an overall identity that was greater than the sum of its parts.
This is exactly how an enterprise company should go about incorporating its broad content marketing efforts into its core marketing strategy. Instead of spending millions of dollars on an ad campaign and professional content that exists in isolation, why not leverage the power of consistency and association to produce a system that allows even untrained employees to contribute to the global content strategy on a regular basis?
By embracing the idea of a corporate content style guide that interfaces well with more polished efforts, enterprise organizations can simultaneously address the inconsistency and understaffing that plague enterprise content marketing teams and turn them into assets.
What problems has your organization encountered when scaling content marketing on a global scale? Let us know in the comments below.
Want more stories from Brian Honigman? Subscribe to the Content Standard Newsletter.