Football in the 1970s was a simple game. Goalkeepers kept goal, defenders defended, attackers attacked and midfielders did the bit in the middle.
As an analogy for the way in which many corporations structure their marketing operations, it’s surprisingly relevant. PR people do PR, brand people do branding, social media people do the social and the SEO team does the Google-related stuff.
But when Rinus Michels was given the job of leading the Netherlands into the 1974 World Cup, he didn’t believe that this notion of defined roles and responsibilities would be what guided his team to victory. What he went on to do was introduce a concept that truly redefined the concept of team.
He realised that while everybody in his team wanted to win, they all had different ideas on how to do that. Defenders and goalkeepers felt that the best way to win was to be careful and conservative to stop the opposition scoring, while the attacking and the flair players felt that the best way to win was to be adventurous and creative to score lots of goals.
Michels believed that if the people that made up his team weren’t constrained by their role, but if their role instead became a fluid, moving part in pursuit of a singular goal, his team would work more effectively.
40 years on, and the lessons are more relevant than ever.
There remains so much that Michel’s philosophy can teach the world of marketing and, as terms such as ‘omni-channel’ and ‘digital transformation’ increasingly become a part of the marketing lexicon, the lessons are arguably more pertinent than ever.
It doesn’t matter what our job role is, and whether we like it or not, but content has become an even greater part of our respective remits. The branding team uses content, the marketing team uses content, the PR team uses content. Even your customer service team will be using content to better serve your customer’s needs.
And it is that growth of content as a tactic, in so many different business operations, that has actually created a degree of confusion about what content actually is. Different people have different ideas about content because they are all using it for different reasons and to different ends.
It creates a very ‘incomplete’ concept of content, where teams produce content based on the individual needs of the department, or in order to hit a specific set of KPIs, and not produced in order to align with wider business objectives. Content that meets the need of one team may not support the needs of another.
So we need to move away from this ‘incomplete’ view of content, and towards a ‘complete’ content ideal. The question is how we do that, and this is where Michels’ philosophy provides the inspiration.
The concept of Complete Content
In Michel’s footballing philosophy, he didn’t have defenders and attackers; he simply had 10 outfield players. When one player went forwards or backwards, another would move in to cover them. When there was space to exploit, somebody would move in to exploit it. All of his players were judged on the same metric; the scoreboard at full time. Individual KPIs and micro-metrics didn’t come into it.
Complete Content can take inspiration from this approach.
Complete Content is a philosophy that realigns the priorities that go into content marketing. It is not about making huge and transformative changes to business operations but instead, it is about changing the way in which an organisation thinks about what it wants content to actually do.
It is designed to move away from a culture of different departments creating content for their own respective ends, and instead fuse those individual content demands together and align them with the wider objectives of the business.
At its heart, the concept of Complete Content is understanding how your audiences interact with the four distinct types of commercial content: functional, informational, engaging and advertising.
Different forms of content will attract, engage and perform different roles at different points in the user journey and the whole point of Complete Content is to ensure that organisations are fulfilling the needs of their audiences and diverting resources to the right areas and priorities.
Understanding these forms of content and the roles that they play allow organisations to effectively determine the commercial objectives and the tactical role of their content. It guides brands on how to approach that content and how that message is promoted. Some content will need to be pushed hard, while other content will naturally be more discoverable.
Complete Content is not necessarily about content that makes huge waves in terms of traffic and social engagement, but about what is effective and what is needed. This is Michels’ concept in action - understanding where the spaces are, and ensuring that you have the fluidity for someone (or something) to move into to fill that gap.
This is where the investment in content marketing really starts to become measurable. When it becomes more audience-centric, when we lose the departmental ‘arms race’ where every business function is knocking on the CMO’s door for more resource, we can start to see the function that content should be performing for the business, not a KPI.
Just like Total Football in 1974, it’s time for content marketing to focus much more on the result, rather than our own individual goals.
Michael Hewitt is content marketing manager at Stickyeyes