Welcome to Towards a Smarter World. This is your host Cruce Saunders and I'm joined today and so excited to be speaking with content leader and innovator Simon McAvoy, the global head of Content Services for Anaplan R & D, which is a cloud-based business planning, and decision-making software company. He's got 15 years of content experience across communications, digital experience, tech docs, training, and now he leads a multifunctional content services organization with a laser focus on the customer experience. And that is why we're here. The customer experience. Content is ultimately in service of and creating that which touches our customers, our employees, our stakeholders, our shareholders. It does work in the world. And Simon, as a content leader, has been working to shape the organization around content at his company. And Simon, it's so great that you're here. Thanks for joining today.
Hi, Cruce. Thanks for having me. I really appreciate the time.
Well, I'd love to just start out with passion, which is as we work through the ins and outs of content day-to day, it's sometimes full of challenges and full of needs that are requiring a lot of focus in order to get through. Whether that's problem solving, supply chains, organizational issues, politics, connecting up systems, structuring and managing templates, and all the ins and outs of content orchestration. There are just so many details to lead. But when we zoom out, what's the bigger picture for you? Why are you attracted to this field of working with content and leading its function?
For me, the challenges that you talk about are very real, and maybe everyone listening to this will be familiar with them. But communication, and talking to customers' prospects is absolutely critical. What should I read, what's good? There's just too much of it, and the quality out there isn't great. So my passion is to find really great people to work with and provide digital experiences, content experiences to really help fit the purpose, help our customers, help internal employees, and ultimately save them time. Nobody has time for anything anymore. And this comes back to that fog of content. If there's any way we can be clear with people in what we're trying to help them do or what information they want to do, we need to do that. And that simplification, the challenge of doing that is something that really drives me. I love words, and words are really important. Although I think not everyone is a content professional.
And that might be an instructional documentation that helps them do something really quickly and smoothly without problem, or it could be a company telling you in a really concise, clean, informative way, what their product does. So it's this drive for simplicity that really gets me excited.
Beautifully expressed. And it sounds like the essence of communication, which is using words and pictures and ideas assembled in order to enrich the lives of those that consume it and also advance the communication objective as well. So there's this move that I'm hearing inside of you toward helping to impact that customer experience and those communication objectives through elegance and doing content right.
Yeah, absolutely. And the future excites me. We don't know what we're going to need content-wise, but we know we're going to need to know what our content is for, who the audience is, and what's the purpose of the content, what's the quality of the content. I'm a big fan of the efficiencies of single-sourcing content and then using it somewhere else, for the efficiency and cost saving ... Or maybe part of that content. So it's critical in my mindset that we create content in this way, that we can use it for anything. We look at web experiences, digital experiences. I think the future isn't about a static web experience that someone, a creator, a web designer thinks that the majority of people will want to use because chances are you're only going to get a narrow majority that want to use it. Most people may not like it. So the future is about these dynamic experiences, and your content journey might start on the web, it might then continue in virtual reality or the Metaverse or in the products that you're using somewhere in our store if you're going to make a purchase. So the traditional content experience journeys that we talk about are just going to grow and become even more exciting and more futuristic, and we need to prepare for that.
So, content has been defined as that which is contained. And I think what you're speaking to at this point is this idea that content has the message itself, but also the containers it lives within that need to be managed. So we're managing the strategy, the message itself, and its editorial dimension. But we also as content leaders we also have a responsibility to manage the containers that the content comes in, the forms it appears in within our customer experiences, the forms that it appears inside within our systems that manage the content. So, containers have different levels and shapes.
There are content models and taxonomies, and there are also containers like actual physical places where content lives, like content management systems. So you're managing various kinds of containers, including the organizational container that manages content. Can you speak a little bit to this idea of what content leaders address in addition to the message? Sometimes when somebody says they're in content, the impression is that they're in editorial. But there's all this other dimension that as we're dealing with larger and larger scale organizations, we need to address.
Yeah, I know you call it the invisible world of content. It's absolutely huge. That's a great word for it, because it's one of the big struggles, right? Great content is simple content. And for folks that aren't familiar with that invisible world, everything that needs to go on behind it, the world of content operations, that managing of the taxonomy that you've mentioned, designing models that are fit for purpose. And it can be reused for consistency, and localization as well.
It's a huge amount of work, so that is a challenge, because that does require money or resources to do that. So as a content leader, we really do have to make people aware of that hidden world and what's required to make great content. And it's not as simple as just coming up with something in a short period of time. Most people do learn to learn to read and write at school, many people can do that. But is it great content? It often isn't. But we still have that challenge of folks thinking that creating content is a simple thing to do.
Certainly when I'm at parties and people ask me, "why do you need content", they're astonished when we go into the depths of all the details that we do need to do to drive these efficiencies. It's extremely broad. The world of content strategy on its own is huge. which pretty much every company needs the tactical. But they want the tactical and they want it extremely quickly.
Yourself and folks listening at some point must have worked for a company where folks are building these shiny content experiences. "Let's build a shiny content experience. Let's build it really quickly, and then let's celebrate that." And then six months down the line, without an operational plan, folks start to wonder why the visitor numbers are going down or they're not driving as many conversions. And most of the time it is that lack of afterthought, the operational angle of content, the maintenance, the ongoing work, having key resources. And having efficient workflows in place for content creation, having the right technology that's going to scale to develop the experience.
Without those things, and it's very common to not have those in place, these experiences just die. And that's such a shame, because that's an initial huge investments in the content to get that experience there. So it doesn't help content to have that, and continue to do that. We have the technology to do it. The content is there, we know about the content, and suddenly you drop that initial investment, you're able to be more agile with the experience. You are potentially able to deliver personalization far more easily at a lower cost than creating these somewhat static experiences.
Wow. You've covered a couple of key business drivers that I think would help executives to want to engage more in investing in the supply chains that handle content. But I'd love to hear more of your thinking and maybe some of your experience good and bad, challenging or not, the things that have clicked and the things that have been real struggles in your effort to build consensus and interest at the portfolio view of content. Looking at content in a bigger lens than a departmental function that is output-oriented in a single quarter.
Yes, it is a challenge to do that in most companies. You, for good reason, have completely separate functions. And the folks in those functions, to a degree, are siloed in that area. And the thing that I've been driving with my head of content strategy, Lisa Moore, is that advocacy of taking an approach of looking across the entire company. It's really hard to do because unless folks are measured on that sort of breadth, then they're always going to tend to return to focus on a slice of the experience that they are measured on, and for good reason. Folks are in different functional teams to do exactly that, to focus on that area. But for many people, what we're trying to do to make content operations successful, is to get folks to look at the bigger picture, to step up and see the benefits of looking across the journey.
Many companies will have some sort of customer experience, journey maps and such forth. And many companies are doing a good job of looking into various journeys that maybe from prospect to customer as how they move through and where content sits. But , and certainly execs won't see, they'll be focusing on a much higher level. And it's these paths that we need to get right. We need to stop having broken journeys.
That's been a big challenge to advocate. To get folks to really, "care" is the wrong word. Because everybody that you speak to about the ideal. I don't think anyone disagrees. Nobody's ever going to disagree about how might you improve the customer experience, but actually within a business to get folks to support you materially, with resources to do things, or perhaps with money. You really do need to seek out those champions at C-level, unless you're lucky enough to have a chief digital officer or even a chief content officer. So my advice to anyone listening that is having these issues is really find your champions. They will be there, even if they don't have a wide remit. The more champions you can get together, the more that sort of fills the jigsaw pieces of the support that you need.
And one thing that I found is folks like myself and yourself, Cruce and anybody that supports creating intelligent content; it's really easy for us to sort of feel driven to know what we believe is right and what we need to do. But you have to find a way to translate that belief to various senior leadership in terms of if we take this approach, what goals from different functions are we going to be able to support? If you do that, then it's going to be a much easier story. And I've certainly made the mistake in the past. I am very passionate about content. So I've had to take a step back and think, well, not everyone is as passionate about content as I am, but people are passionate about reaching their goals, their functional goals, the goals of the business.
So if that's certainly an angle that you need to hit up. And again, I'm very fortunate that I've got a great content strategy team and they're able to go in and talk to people about, "well, if we did this, if we start thinking about content this way, it's going to make you able to achieve your business goals much more quickly or with better quality, providing a better customer experience so it can be done. It's just about reframing, like what we do with all content is it fit for the purpose you're trying to achieve. So
Yeah. That battle for support is one that sometimes is two steps forward, one step back. And I think with many content champions that we work with, there's an ability to make the case, but there's a distraction that then happens as some progress is made, and then all of a sudden funding that was there moves along with reorganizations. Because cross functional content teams are not yet normal in the enterprise. I do believe they will become more and more normal, but because it's still novel and new for there to be a content services organization of some kind that is cross departmental, that has a portfolio across an organization with multiple department stakeholders, we end up kind of rejustifying as new leadership get added into the executive ranks.
Can you comment a little bit on that forward back movement, as you've seen it, and some of what helps keep your head up and keep rolling?
Yeah. Everywhere I've worked in content, it's been within an organization where content is not the primary focus. So in terms of priority, content rarely makes it to the top of the list because it's not the main functional requirement. So it is very tricky to do that. It's not just changing execs, but changing heads of various other departments. You do find that you are repeating yourself over and over. It will happen that you will have support. You'll put the advocacy, the investment in helping a particular leader in an area, you'll get them on board, and then when they leave the company, you're sort of back to square one. And I agree with you. I think the only solution there is when we arrive at the point where content is its own function across an enterprise with its own roadmap. And that's critical because road maps are all about prioritization and content center design as well. They need their own roadmaps. They're equally as important as any other function, whether that's marketing, whether it's engineering, whether it's product. They should be peers. And we're still not seeing that at the moment.
But I agree with you, Cruce. I think that's definitely going to come in terms of keeping your head up and not dying of advocacy exhaustion. Now that is a tricky one. I'm not sure I can answer that for everybody. For myself, personally, I love playing music, so that always cheers me up. It would be great, wouldn't it, if every company had a big content function with its own budget and it could drive its own road map and priorities. But we don't have that everywhere yet. So it is often a very slow road to get to where we know we need to be. And that is frustrating, but at the same time, it can be done slowly, but it can definitely be done. A couple of things we've done over the last year is consolidated a number of style guides from across the company into a single company-wide style guide. And that's exciting. That brings you the governance there, it brings you the consistency for the content, improves the customer experience.
It makes sense from a financial perspective because you can just have one streamline the work involved with that, but still do it in a way that involves all the right people from the right content teams across the company. And that's been hard, because functional teams will be used to working in a certain way. It might be with a style guide, it might be just coming up with ideas for how they want to do, the tone of voice for their content, the ways of working. And some of the concepts that we're trying to bring in with content service organization, content operations model are all about coming up ideally with these sets of standards across the enterprise and teams. It's only natural teams that are working in the way they're working don't really want somebody else coming in saying, "hey, why don't you work this way?"
So it's again about that advocacy, about explaining to people, "well, if we try these things, it's going to make everyone's lives easier." And I mean, the content creators themselves, certainly from my perspective Anaplan. I'm not trying to own anybody's individual functional content strategy. Far from it. What I am trying to do is to support other content teams with these foundational elements that I truly believe we need to be successful with content and content experiences in the future. And free them up from doing what many would see as admin type tasks and helping folks create workflows that are efficient, that work for them, that can somehow help with the age-old problem of waiting for SMEs to do reviews and come back to supply technology that again, decouples the content from the technical side of things or having to ask a developer to make a content change, but to empower content creators to make changes themselves.
And certainly we're doing some great work within our CMS, which is a headless CMS, and it's all API driven, but we're doing things to empower the content creators to be able to change things. For example, a table, a simple table. We've created a function where within the content model, the content creator could select one of many table styles, and that means they're empowered to do that. They select a different table style in the web experience or wherever that's going to show up. That style will change. And software engineer, software developer hasn't been involved in that. So
Yes, I love it. This is essentially a content leader's significant role is to remove friction for the internal teams as well as for the customer. Right? Because the content is enabling fluid or more streamlined experiences like you talked about at the beginning of our discussion where we want to create ways that very busy people can get to what they need and understand, create understanding, and enact some sort of action emotion in the most efficient possible way without having to wade through our department structure or our arcane navigational system or our obtuse content that's poorly written and incoherent and not well connected to the other content.Or something that's not relevant to us. All of that is a form of friction. The same thing is happening within teams. There's friction happening in between content getting from place to place, from silo to silo, from experience to experience. And all of that friction ends up slowing down our organizations, making us less nimble ... making the entire organization less able to generate revenue, serve customers, retain customers, grow share of wallet, and generate shareholder value. So these things are significant portfolio-level impacts that come from paying attention to the orchestration of the content assets driving the customer experiences that drive our companies.
And that ability that you're describing to connect the dots in a coherent way by introducing systems and patterns reminds me of music. It very much reminds me that I don't want to take over anybody's individual content strategy, anyone department's content strategy. I want to help them do their job better and remove the friction from those content strategists so that their content can get created according to that strategy, delivered into those systems in a way that's more effective. So as a Content Services Organization, I'm hearing you describe that orchestration function to help music from all the individual players in the Orchestra come together in a coherent way. And improvisational music is fine with small numbers of people and small teams serving isolated audiences. But when there's large numbers of musicians with large numbers of pieces needing to perform for many different audiences and many different geographies, we need to standardize things. We need to have a standard around musical theory and what notes we're going to play. And there needs to be orchestration around it in order for all of the pieces to be coherent together. And what's surprising to me is that we're not already at this point.
I think we're going to get there soon, as you and I have spoken about it in the past, that we think we are kind of at a precipice of this place where content services organizations are widely understood as necessary. But it, and there would be a centralized function for managing infrastructure. But we handle our content organizations as though everybody's going to do their own electrical systems, their own plumbing systems, their own roads. Just figure it out.
Yeah, it's crazy. I think it's because it's largely what since the reduction in print. It's not tangible, is it? It's in the ether. The memory isn't an issue. It wasn't like when hard drives came out and you had to be careful how much file sizes were. It's not an issue anymore. So these are these intangibles that don't help the situation. But if you can compare it to real life three dimensional goods, they certainly would be managed and there certainly would be a supply chain and people would pay very close attention to how real good to sell would be moved around, the cost, the cost of storage, the life cycle of those best before dates and that sort of thing. But it's just trickier to do with content. By the way, I love your analogy with the Orchestra. Maybe we should change the Content Services Organization. We call it content Symphony organization might be more appropriate. But yeah, But as we all know, to make things simple is very hard.
Well, yeah, I think executives want things to be simple. It's like just get me a website, just get me a campaign, just give me some business outcomes and all this content stuff. Just figure it out. And we don't want to over involve executives and needing to deal with the details of these systems. What is the level at which it makes sense to educate senior executives about this stuff?
Well, I would advocate for trying to educate and show execs the value of content whenever you can. But at the point you don't get the support that you need, then you only really have one choice. And that is to show by actually doing something, looking for peers in different content organizations within a company and work with them. Very fortunately, we have a wonderful partnership with our community team at Anaplan and the leadership, the entire team are totally open to the ways of thinking about content. That modern approach and of sharing foundational aspects, working within shared taxonomy, for example.
So it's finding those people that will support you and building on that, because like anything, the more people that support you, the more people they can then go and explain and advocate on your behalf. So that's the way to do it. And then that will filter up through the different teams who will no doubt will have different executive leaders. So it's by the actions that you can do and start small and build out until you find yourself in a position where people are listening and then people will start coming to you and asking you questions.
And how can we get involved? We do things like work with other teams and go through the reviews of their processes and advise on ways of improving content, whether that's a workflow or technology. So it's just about getting out there and advocating. Once you show people a value, In every case, they will get on board. But not everybody can conceptualize the value upfront. So it is important not to lose faith, and it's very important to actually do something tangible that you can show people and show the success. You show people who are doing things manually and taking exporting files, CSV files, PowerPoint files, even, and they're emailing them off to a localization vendor and having to manage that in a highly manual way, But you can't beat that personal value because it's going to get recognized instantly.
Thank you for everything that you do to advance the content supply chain, the content services organization, content best practices, really the state of the art in content. It is driving leadership like yours that really changes the entire ecosystem of understanding around content for everybody. It's pioneering a new way of working with content by working on the front edge of it.
I congratulate you for the incredible traction you've made in your career on the forward edge of content. As a last question, what is your vision for what the idealized world of content and customer experience with the involvement of a CSO or a content services organization looks like inside of an organization? If you could have all the funding, all the support that you needed to get content done right, just paint a picture of that enterprise and how it works with content.
That's a really great question. One needs a Chief Content Officer or Chief Digital Officer. It would make things so much more easy and we are starting to see that. And that's only going to grow amazing in the US at the moment, not so much Europe, but I'm sure we will see that with the content service organization, with the right funding, I don't believe that it necessarily needs to be expensive. So we're talking about efficiencies here. The level of investment is important. You need people. We've proved this that in the last year after hiring my head of content strategy. The advancements we've been able to make in just over a year with one person dedicated and focused on driving the vision forward, it's been immeasurable. So yes, there is an investment element. You can't do things for free or can't do things without people. But it's about the recognition from an enterprise at the highest level, that content is the experience of that company, is the customer experience of that company. And it's absolutely critical in every aspect of the company. It includes the brand, the value. You're talking directly to individuals. In a world where companies rarely talk to a company anymore, the only talking interaction you're doing is with their content.
And folks are starting to see this. So content does deserve to be its own function and have that priority. Because it's key to a company. It needs to be seen as the asset that it isr o the asset that it needs to be. Because in many companies, it's not an asset for good reason. Content support experiences are all broken, inconsistent experiences. You feel like you're talking to completely different organizations within a single organization. There is no unified experience. There needs to be.
And if you get it right. and the buy in from a company that this is something that we need to value as an asset. And get the buy in automatically from other teams so that where folks are trying to drive content vision from the bottom up aren't going to die of that advocacy exhaustion. They're already there. And folks know that they need to work with you, if they're going to propose a new content feature, for example.
So it's never always about the money. But the beautiful thing about this is all about those efficiencies. Empowering others to focus on the really important aspects of content. So it's a no brainer. But it's easy for us to say. That right. We need to convince execs in companies across the planet. That content is the future.
It's conversations like this that move the needle. And the work you do every day in demonstrating business value. So again, thank you, Simon. For all you do in the industry. And for this amazing conversation. I feel like we could continue this at Infiniteum. There's so much to discuss. But we've really given everybody a lot of good food for thought. Especially those who are peers in the leadership of content, at various parts of the organization, and looking for hats to making content more experienced as an asset. As part of the whole organization. And not an isolated orphan in a department. But part of that larger orchestra. Thank you.
Thank you, Cruce.