June 30, 2010
If candidates were required to pass an entrance exam for a career in marketing, the test would have historically included the following analogy:
Content :: Design as Substance :: Style.
“Business thinking” and “creative thinking” have long been considered discrete disciplines, complementary at best (think: word-heavy Word-doc reports and taking on the task of “prettying up” a PowerPoint for a less-than-artistic exec). Fortunately, conventional thinking has shattered under the weight of the social Web, and as we reassemble the pieces, it’s becoming clear that the new reality doesn’t distinguish between the product and the package. The two fuse into a cohesive whole – and that unit is called, simply: really great work.
Nowhere is this reality more obvious than in the world of Apple, where it’s impossible to tell where function ends and form begins. But one doesn’t need to turn to Apple to discover really great work. A recent collaboration with a business-to-business client signaled to me that the partition that once separated those who “build stuff” from those who “make it pretty” was verging on collapse. After all, enterprise software tends to be the last link in the chain of change, not the first.
You see, our client, a marketing automation SaaS company called Eloqua, had just created a new, vaguely defined position in place of a traditional director of communications role – “director of content marketing” – and it appointed Joe Chernov to the post. A PR person by trade, Joe worked out what his role would be by scribbling a crude chart that depicted a mash-up of types of content and ways to distribute it. (And believe me, the word “scribble” is a compliment – remember, while a talented boxer and beer maker in his down time, Joe is a communicator, not a designer!)
We were working with Joe on a number of other projects when he showed us the “illustration.” As information designers, we immediately recognized the potential in the image. And as someone who has worked on enough social media campaigns to have experienced the good, bad and ugly, I couldn’t agree more with the “illustration’s” premise: that campaigns and engagement efforts with good, meaningful and entertaining design at their core would succeed where other message-only campaigns would fall flat.
In short, we all saw a way to visualize a solution to a problem that most marketers struggled to articulate, much less overcome. We call the finished product “The Content Grid” because it plots content type and channel along two axes (role / responsibility and sales cycle, which I walk through on JESS3’s blog).
And in a weird sort of way, what we ended up with – like our Conversation Prism with Brian Solis and our State of the Internet digital short – was not only an explanatory infographic, it was itself proof that content marketing worked (just over a week into releasing it, we are pushing 600 tweets and 30 blog posts hailing it as such). To me, the project represents something greater than a universally applauded framework for content marketing. To me, it also represents the moment when content and design became inseparable from one another: substance and style, fused into a mutually reliant, utilitarian, entertaining whole.
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