How to build a strong content value chain

The content value chain can help content teams develop a consistent process to make their content valuable, so it will deliver sustained results.

Michael Andrews

Published on Mar 13, 2023

Content operations should enhance the value of content continuously. Enterprises need a strong content value chain that enables the content to progress through the lifecycle successfully, from concept to development to post-publication enhancement.

Yet, we find evidence that the content management practices in many enterprises do a poor job of supporting their content’s value. In numerous cases, their CMS degrades the value of their content.

We need to diagnose why content value isn’t realized—and why the CMS is often part of the problem.

The problem of CMS-avoidance

Content professionals routinely complain about their CMS. In one large online community of content professionals, someone asked if anyone liked their CMS, and hardly anyone said yes—instead, a torrent of complaints followed. Numerous people also remark that they do most of their content-related work outside of their CMS and avoid using it as much as possible. That’s not surprising, given their dislike of their CMS.

Many CMSs are failing to create value for their users and the organizations they work for. And that’s a huge problem. Individuals can’t make content great if their CMS is so unhelpful that people avoid using it.

Business operations should be guided by a value chain that recognizes the contribution of various activities to the results sought. A value chain charts the progression of goods from inputs into outputs and onward to their distribution and servicing.

The content value chain shapes the value of content across different phases of content operations. Content teams need a shared understanding of how content value gets created and how a CMS can support them in realizing that value.

Drivers of content value

A common misconception, fueled by the low expectations of users, is that a CMS exists simply to publish content. This view reduces the process to two steps: first, you paste your content into the CMS, and then, you click the publish button.

Content professionals should expect more from their CMS. Their CMS should help them develop the value of the content. Content value is determined by how well it performs over time: whether it is widely used and delivers the outcomes expected of it.

High-performing content is durable, meaning is actively used for a long time. Less valuable content will be fragile because it lacks sustained use.

High-performing content embodies three characteristics:

  1. The value of the content is realized through its use over time—the longer that content continues to be used, the more valuable it is
  2. It is rarely the product of a single person—it requires collaboration
  3. The content is often not in its final form when first published—its value generally is the result of iterative enhancement

Content becomes durable when the content development process is iterative and collaborative. The CMS needs to support such iterative, collaborative development.

Individuals need the backing of a team. While individual contributions are always important, especially during certain phases of the process, the performance of the content over time is not the result of a single individual. It will depend on the coordination between individuals, teams, and processes within a CMS. 

Individuals can endeavor to create great content, but their work won’t achieve lasting value unless organizational processes are in place and followed. 

Content is a team sport. Its development involves many decisions made by different people. How your organization develops its content will greatly influence how successful the content will be.

Many kinds of decisions contribute to the content’s value. We can distinguish four kinds of decisions during the process of developing content:

  1. Individual decisions that rely on the discretion of a single person
  2. Distributed decisions, where different individuals have responsibility for specific facets of a content item
  3. Group decisions, involving the collective input of different people or roles
  4. Directed processes, where decisions by individuals or groups are directed by collectively agreed procedures

Each of these approaches can be helpful in certain situations.

Decision modeBenefits
Individual decisionNurturing good ideas and drawing on the judgment of a skilled individual
Distributed decisionsApplying specialized expertise and knowledge to address specific aspects of the content
Group decisionsSoliciting different perspectives and viewpoints, gaining completeness and consensus
Directed processesEnsuring consistency of outcomes, organizational coordination, and the application of best practices

Latitude is necessary for some tasks. Individual autonomy is most important when making creative decisions about ideas, themes, or messaging. There’s no uniform way to develop creative content. Many authors rely on personal workflows to gather initial ideas and develop early drafts of larger content items. Some authors like putting ideas on cards, others in outlines, and still others in mind maps. Informal brainstorming among several people is another option. In many cases, the material developed by individuals will be provisional and will require wider review and vetting before it gets published.

Some tasks are best done by dividing the work by specialization. Distributed decisions bring the expertise of various people to address specific dimensions of the content. They rely on defined roles and responsibilities. Different individuals may have subject matter expertise about a topic or a method. They may have specialized technical or legal knowledge or a special proficiency in writing certain kinds of content. For example, writing headlines that drive clicks will be different for email than for search results. When decision-making is distributed, a person may be assigned to handle a specific aspect of each content item.

Many decisions benefit from collective input. Group decisions provide multiple viewpoints to assess and incorporate a broader range of considerations and options. Group decisions are often better ones, provided that the process is transparent and inclusive.  

Tasks can also benefit from cumulative learning. Recurring tasks should be refined and improved so they can become a standard process. When an activity is routine, organizations will want to implement best practices to ensure consistency in outcomes rather than leave it to individual discretion. A process-driven decision will ensure that critical activities aren’t overlooked, that separate activities are coordinated, and content changes can be promulgated and amplified.

Content development involves different modes of decision-making. Content operations should support collaborative, iterative content publishing and serve the needs of many stakeholders who have distinct goals and responsibilities. 

How decisions at each phase of content development build content value

Content either builds or loses value in different phases of its lifecycle. Various stakeholders will make decisions in each phase that will influence the content’s quality, timeliness, and value.

Enterprises should recognize the diverse range of decisions being made in each phase so they can evaluate how well those decisions are supported by the tools that teams use. How stakeholders make decisions will depend on the phase of the content’s development. Notably, only in the early phases do individuals work alone. It’s more common for individuals to coordinate activities with others or coordinate their work with a group-decided process.

PhaseDecision approach

Content planning and assignments

Highly variable – decisions can be based on group discussion, taskings from stakeholders, production backlog, calendar-driven dependencies on product or marketing campaign launches
Content ideation and researchIndividual discretion, but sometimes guided by an existing process
DraftingVariable: Sometimes individual discretion, often group decisions through collaborative development, sometimes distributed content creation
Formal workflow review and approvalDistributed decisions and process driven
Optimizing content following publication based on split testing alternativesProcess-driven
Revising published content based on user feedbackProcess-driven
Extend published content by incorporating it in new itemsProcess-driven
Updating published contentProcess-driven

Let’s examine the decision process in each phase in more detail.

Content planning approaches vary as they are dependent on the content’s novelty and objectives. In routine cases, planning may be a straightforward process of scheduling items on a calendar. In other cases, the content planning will be linked to other business projects.  

Content ideation and research are generally done by one or more individuals working independently. Once the requirements are understood, these can be captured in a “content brief” describing the intended audience for the content, the points that need to be covered, and the goals for the content. If the content is about something routine, writers might have an outline of the topic they use to build out the details.  

Don’t assume only one author will be drafting the text. In some cases, a single author will draft the content. But often, drafting is a group exercise. It can involve:

  1. Simultaneous editing of text, involving multiple people adding or changing words, or making comments about the wording
  2. Distributed drafting, where the content is structured into distinct sections that different individuals are responsible for 

Once a draft is ready, it will undergo a formal review process.

Mature content operations will avoid ad hoc approaches, such as circulating content by email for review. Editorial discussions that happen in unmanaged channels and separate from the source content will erode the content’s value.

To provide the right expertise in the review process, teams should map defined roles and responsibilities to specific steps. For each content item, the workflow will indicate what needs to be done and who is responsible for doing it. A defined workflow ensures that:

  • No task is overlooked
  • The person with the appropriate expertise or authority is always involved
  • Decisions are made in the right order
  • Standards are enforced
  • A record of the decisions is available

Publishing marks the phase when the content can begin to realize its value. Only once audiences view and use the content does it begin to deliver results. The publication process will determine where audiences are able to access the content and how they can use it.

Even with the care given to the content prior to its publication, organizations should not assume the content is good enough and can be forgotten.

Once the content is published, it can be improved. Teams can improve content through optimization: comparing different versions to see which one performs better.

Another possibility is to revise content items based on customer feedback, which may come from search logs, customer queries in chatbots or call centers, or survey data about whether the content is helpful. This feedback can suggest if any information is missing or if any statements are confusing.

Content that performs well can be incorporated into other content items. Valuable content is amplified by being incorporated into new contexts. Reusing existing content can add value by:

  1. Customizing by adding contextualization (building more targeted content from more generic or widely relevant cores)
  2. Reuse items as examples within larger items

Content that is useful for a long time will need to be updated to reflect changes in information or terminology.

We can see that numerous activities shape the success of content over its lifespan, and these activities involve a mixture of individual, distributed, group, and process-driven decisions. Now, look at how well CMSs support content development.  

Common problems in CMS implementations that diminish content’s value

When a CMS fails to support how people make decisions and do their work, individuals will make poorly informed decisions. They may avoid using the CMS and choose instead to use outside tools such as emails to make decisions, which hinders coordination and prevents stakeholders from having a common understanding of the content’s objectives.

  • Poor task support results in poor CMS adoption. Staff will feel disenfranchised when the CMS seems to cater to certain roles but not theirs or when it seems too basic or too complex for their needs. Many CMSs have a reputation for being developer-centric or having too many features that are rarely used and that are confusing to navigate through. People will not use the CMS if they find it off-putting, leaving essential tasks undone, or done in an ad hoc manner elsewhere.
  • Friction occurs because the CMS doesn’t effectively coordinate the team’s operations. Often the CMS dictates a process that is highly procedural in its focus, which prevents the team from coordinating and having visibility into related activities. Instead, the procedural focus splits activities into siloes and fragments processes, making it hard to see what’s happened and what needs doing.
  • The CMS creates a barrier between users and non-users. Many CMS setups require writers to do most things themselves or prepare their tasks in a certain way for technical colleagues. They aren’t set up to enable the right people to contribute easily. Other contributors can’t access the CMS or find it too complicated to use. When participation is limited or lopsided, the result is burnout, delays, and poorer quality content.
  • The CMS encourages decisions that hurt group productivity. The value of content is reduced when the CMS lets individuals decide settings that hurt the work of other team members.

An example of this problem occurs when writers decide to visually “style” their content. Some CMSs and “site builders” introduce the concept of “blocks” or “components” that can be styled. The writer adds their own styling (such as changing the justification of the text), but that styling gets embedded in the content. If someone else wants to use that content, they need to reuse the styling. The blocks trap the content, rendering it unusable for other colleagues who might need to use it for a different purpose.

Each of these problems is a consequence of the CMS not being designed to support the content value chain. 

How a CMS should support the content value chain in each phase

Many stakeholders contribute to the development of the content’s value both before its publication and after it. The CMS should serve the needs of all stakeholders.

  • The CMS must provide transparency and parity in participation. It must allow all stakeholders to add their perspectives and make decisions in one central place. A CMS will add more value to content when it enables collaboration and allows teams to implement repeatable processes that promote the iterative improvement of the content’s quality.
  • A cloud-native headless CMS can support better participation because it manages the content as a service. It can be easily accessed by anyone through a web browser and can be connected to other services to notify stakeholders when they need to review something or contribute information. A cloud-native headless CMS can also integrate with other enterprise tools so that the content developed is aligned with other business functions and metrics.
  • The CMS should promote the iterative development of content, both prior to its publication and after it. Content value is built up iteratively through continuous attention. Like a garden, content requires constant tending. Content becomes more valuable when it receives attention over time. It loses value if it doesn’t receive attention.

The CMS should help staff nurture the content so that it becomes more valuable over time. Published content becomes more valuable when it is optimized, revised, and updated, but these are often overlooked activities, or done inconsistently. The CMS should make these tasks easy for staff to do.

The content value chain involves various kinds of decisions

Let’s look at CMS capabilities that can promote content value throughout the content lifecycle.

Capabilities to support content planning and assignments

The CMS should provide an overview of items that are scheduled and in process. When content planning is linked to other business projects, the CMS should be able to integrate with other planning and project management tools.

Because planning approaches vary and sometimes need to change, the CMS shouldn’t dictate how content should be planned. A prescriptive approach will inevitably restrict the freedom of various stakeholders.

Capabilities that support content prior to drafting

Many tasks done prior to the drafting phase will happen outside of the CMS. However, the CMS can help guide the drafting process, so those who are planning the content can add instructions to CMS that will facilitate the drafting.

A common kind of instruction is a content brief that provides a summary of the intended audience and goals for the content. A content brief can be added to the CMS to support the drafting of the content. Everyone who will be involved in the drafting and subsequent review can refer to the content brief to understand the intent of the content being developed.

When the content relates to information or messages that are routinely created, such content can be organized within a content type that supplies a structure for authors to use when developing the content. The structure will indicate what specific information or messages are required. The CMS can even provide guidelines to help authors understand how to create the content.

Capabilities that support collaborating during drafting

Collaboration is often necessary during the drafting of text. It’s important that all stakeholders involved be “on the same page” and work from a common draft instead of different versions. The CMS should enable access to the draft to everyone who should be involved with its development. It can encourage participation by allowing writers to:

  • Invite colleagues to collaborate and notify them of changes or issues
  • Draft text collaboratively (simultaneous editing)
  • Add in-line suggestions (proposed changes) relating to substance or wording
  • Add comments about the content on what is working well or is missing
  • Focus on specific sections of the content for which they have primary responsibility

Capabilities that support more consistent review and approval

Once the draft has been completed, it is ready for other stakeholders to review it and make it ready for publication. The content might require approval from a sponsor or a compliance officer and will require specialized contributions from staff with expertise in graphics, SEO, accessibility, metadata, social media, or other areas.

The CMS can play a critical role in making sure that the content to be published is of high quality. The workflow within the CMS should ensure that the right people complete all essential tasks. It can do this by:

  • Indicating the steps required for completion to ensure the completeness of content developed
  • Assigning which roles will be responsible, accountable, or notified for each step, thereby promoting sound governance and quality assurance of the content that’s developed
  • Allowing staff to add notes about decisions and their rationale so that everyone understands the basis of decisions so they can be resolved or will be understood in the future

Capabilities that support publishing flexibility and reach

Publishing makes the content available so it can be accessed and used by customers.

Only once content is live and discoverable will it start to realize value.

While all CMSs can publish content, how they do this can vary considerably. Publishing should be flexible to allow the content to be distributed in a multitude of ways so that it can reach the widest audience possible. The CMS should support publishing content so that it is:

  • Available to any channel that customers may need to access it
  • Can be customized as required, for example, as short and long versions for different touchpoints

Capabilities that support optimizing content following publication

Live content offers real-world feedback on how audiences respond to the content. In many cases, those developing the content aren’t entirely sure which variation of the content will be most effective. They want to try different headings, images, or calls-to-action to see which one yields the best response. A headless CMS that supports a modular approach to content makes it easy to create content variations that can be “split tested” using multi-variant testing. 

While A/B testing has been a widespread practice for many years, enterprises now have a much broader range of dimensions they can optimize due to the modular construction of the content. Working in conjunction with granular taxonomy tagging, the content variations can express different intents and reveal which intent is most relevant to different customer segments.

Capabilities that support revising published content

The CMS should make it easy to revise content based on user feedback, such as chatbot inquiries, search log data, and customer discussions with staff. Such feedback can help determine if any critical information is missing or needs clarification.

Two capabilities can make it easier to revise content. 

First, the CMS should support a modular approach to managing content. A modular approach allows enterprises to add and remove material to boost engagement and outcomes. They can shorten or lengthen the content based on the feedback about the original content.

Second, the CMS should provide content versioning and the ability to see changes between different content versions.

Capabilities that enable organizations to extend published content

Content is more valuable if it can be used for more than one purpose. The information and messages in existing content can be amplified when they are presented in new contexts. The content is reused by being incorporated into new items.

The CMS should allow enterprises to reuse their existing content in new ways. It can extend the value of existing content by:

  1. Incorporating smaller items within the body of larger new items by citing these items as examples to illustrate a point or by using items to reinforce a recurring campaign theme
  2. Using larger, broadly relevant items to build customized variations that are tailored for specific audience segments to make the content more contextually relevant by adding customized introductions and conclusions or segment-specific examples

In both these approaches, a CMS that enables content reuse allows existing content to be a foundation upon which other content items can be developed. Modular content items are more versatile. The value of the existing content is enhanced when additional items can be derived from content that’s already created.

Capabilities that facilitate the consistent updating of published content

Out-of-date content is one of the most pervasive problems on the web. When staff avoid their CMS, organizations are prone to publish content and then forget about it.

While the topic of the content may remain relevant for a long time, the specifics within the content are subject to change. These specifics include facts, terms of offers, dates, or terminology.

When content is consistently updated, it remains valuable. If it is not updated consistently, it will hurt the customer experience, damage the brand, and in some cases, create a commercial liability if inaccurate information is provided.

The CMS should help staff to update content consistently. Two capabilities can support consistent updating:

  1. Setting unpublish dates, which can trigger notifications so that content can be reviewed to determine if it is still accurate and whether to update it
  2. Enabling the structuring of the content to provide a single source of truth so that content can be updated in a single place 

Gaining control over the content value chain

Content teams should share a common understanding of the actions and decisions that are necessary to make their organization’s content durable and valuable. They should also be able to coordinate these decisions and actions and facilitate the participation of all stakeholders who need to be involved.

The content value chain gives content teams a tool to plan their content operations holistically. It enables them to identify gaps in their CMS support for different phases. It can help ensure that the CMS provides the right capabilities to add value in each phase of the content’s lifecycle.

Subscribe to the newsletter

Get the hottest updates while they’re fresh! For more industry insights, follow our LinkedIn newsletter. Check out past issues here.