NO OVERKILL: How creatives and content marketers need processes and systems

We can just write and produce stories. “Give me some space to be creative here.”

And while that may work for some projects, it doesn’t work that well in a high-performance job environment, especially when a project has lots of stakeholders (i.e. more than two).

So, systems can help on many fronts.

“A few years ago when I got my first job, I was overwhelmed by not knowing where we were at over the course of a project. Was a project done? What’s the first step? What do we do next? That kind of thing. So my solution was to put systems into place,” said Lauren Pittenger, a designer/developer who spoke at WordCamp Pittsburgh 2017.

Processes give us a roadmap to complete a project and make it less stressful.

From a content creation perspective, I loved her point that “processes mean less time reinventing the wheel.”

In the case of storytelling, a process could look like this:

  • Here’s how we tell stories.
  • Here’s how they tie into the strategy.
  • Here’s where they are documented.
  • Here’s who actually needs to approve them.
  • Here’s how we share them.
  • Etc.

This is so important to remember because – as I’ve mentioned before in my blog series – we want to spend time thinking about the things that help us be the best digital marketers, content marketers and creatives. If we are thinking about the wrong things, we can’t tell – or even find – the best stories out there.

For example, Lauren mentioned that many clients want to breeze past the brand guidelines discussion, but it’s so important to have this discussion before using or updating visuals. Considering the branding only after the copy and visuals have already been created can cause for a lot of wasted time and effort because inevitably, it’s going to require additional rounds of edits.

The first time somebody put me in charge of a brand, I promptly ended up using five shades of blue – none of them the right brand blue. Ugh. Even though I once wore a Brand Police Halloween costume, I breezed past the brand guidelines. The rework took longer and ultimately cost me my Brand Police badge 🙂

Another thing Lauren reminded me of during my discussion with her was that one process doesn’t necessarily fit perfectly for all projects. I’ve run into this myself before – especially in content marketing.

There’s also the danger of organizations spending too much time trying to develop and finalize a process. For example, if the process to determine your process takes months, you’re likely setting yourself up for potential issues down the road.

Be process-driven but don’t be too rigid.

“Our process is outlined, but it’s flexible,” Lauren said. “Not every piece is exactly relevant for every process.”

Understanding this is important in content marketing storytelling. The way I usually go about this is by looking at the process and trying to follow it to a tee, unless there’s a reason to go off it. If there is, I try to be sure it’s a valid reason and evaluate if the overall process needs to be updated.

Keeping processes top of mind also helps us use them. Some processes can be internalized but as I’ve seen in projects, if we don’t have something documented, it’s easy for people to forget and revert back to an older “process” or habit.

Lauren reminded us that habits can be hard to break.

One of her examples was when a project was kicked off without discussing and documenting a strategy. Everyone was so excited. They just wanted to get going. So they did.

A few months later, an executive asked to be reminded of the strategy.

Here came five different answers from five different people. Whoops. True story!

Now, none of those answers were truly wrong and would have formed a great base for a discussion during the strategy session, but that never happened. In this case, the great ideas didn’t look like great ideas. Rather, they looked like a team that was executing without a plan.

That’s another thing about having a process in place – it makes us look like we’re organized and deliberate. Especially in the content marketing and creative world, its importance goes beyond just making it easier on us:

  • It establishes us as the expert. Experts have processes because they’ve done it before and they know what works.
  • It is repeatable and you can train other team members on it.
  • It can make clients and people we work with feel good about the project. Yes, we are on the right track. Look at the process.

Thanks to Lauren for the reminder of the importance of processes, and more importantly, useful and nimble processes. They help us be better creatives and content marketers.

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