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The Digital Content Lifecycle in 6 Stages

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Graphic illustration with the tip of a yellow pencil in the upper left with a text document on the right side of the frame.


Videos, infographics, brochures, blogs, white papers, and on and on —  there’s no shortage of content floating around the digital stratosphere. And this makes sense. Both business-to-business (B2B) and business-to-consumer (B2C) marketers create content for an average of four different audiences each. Apply that at large, and we’re talking about a heck of a lot of content.

Now depending on the maturity of your brand and your content efforts, you may already be feeling the weight of this within your own organization. Content takes time, money, and resources, which are all lost if you don’t have a plan for creating, maintaining, improving, and storing your valuable content. 

How you interact with your content should be dictated by where it falls in its lifecycle. For instance, you will treat a new case study differently than one that’s been around for years. In some cases, as content reaches the end of its lifecycle, it may be time to retire it altogether. Having a solid understanding of your content lifecycle will help you keep track of your content during each stage of its life and get the most out of your investment.


What is the content lifecycle? 

The content lifecycle refers to the various phases that your content goes through, from conception to archive. All of your existing and future content should fall into one of these phases. 

The content lifecycle is comprised of six main phases:

  • Plan
  • Create 
  • Manage
  • Distribute
  • Optimize
  • Preserve

When talking about the lifecycle of your content, it’s also worth noting that your digital assets — the photos, logos, videos, images, and other creative elements that make up your content — have the same lifecycle stages as your content. The differences between “digital assets” and “content” are nuanced, but the lifecycle is the same.  


The stages of content lifecycle management

Managing your content is not a linear process, so it makes sense that the content lifecycle isn’t either. While planning usually comes before creation and creation most certainly comes before distribution, not all phases follow a set chronological order. Rather, the lifecycle stages flex to support your unique content needs. 

Planning should come first, but it can easily resurface at any stage in the lifecycle — just as management and optimization can plug in where you need them. The important part however, is that you touch each stage in the lifecycle. To do this, you need to know what goes into each of the six content lifecycle phases. 

Two circle outlines, one bigger, the other in side of that larger one. The one in the middle has the six stages of the content lifecycle placed on the circle clockwise starting with "plan."

Plan

Before you dive into creating content, you need a plan to ensure your efforts are warranted and that they’re headed in the right direction. Think of this as your take-a-step-back stage. How does your existing content, or the content you have in mind for the future, tie to your overarching business and marketing goals? Furthermore, how will you measure its success? Having a clear vision (and documented strategy) before diving into creation will help you prioritize, remain agile, and quantify your content’s value down the road. 

Process and tools are also part of planning. You need to put the right technologies, people, and workflows in place to bring efficiency, control, accuracy, and ease to your content efforts. Plan ahead and take the time to talk to your creative and marketing colleagues to understand what’s working and not working with existing infrastructure. Then fix it.

Tip: To get the most out of your content, make sure you’re utilizing insights from previous campaigns. Understanding how similar content was used and engaged with in the past can help determine what to invest in next. Use data and analytics from your marketing technology tools to inform your content and decisions.


Create

The creation step in the content lifecycle might be considered the most exciting. This is the time when videos are shot, photos are taken, and creative muscles are flexed. This phase includes brainstorming, execution, collaboration, reviews, and approval of your content for upcoming projects and campaigns. 

Tip: There’s nothing more frustrating to teams than having to spend time hunting for the creative files and content they need. Consider how connecting your day-to-day tools can streamline creation. Rather than requiring content creators to bounce between tools and file locations, what if they could simply access the content they need directly in their design tools? What a beautiful thing!

 

Manage

Your team created some fantastic new content — now what? During the management stage of the content lifecycle, you’ll focus on the administration of your content. This touches a lot of areas throughout the entire lifecycle, both prior to distribution and after. The manage phase involves tasks like uploading and organizing content to a set location, implementing governance strategies to control how everyone uses your content, and keeping it all up-to-date for future use. It’s a wide-reaching stage that impacts and melds with all stages in the content lifecycle.

Tip: Adding your content to a secure, searchable, centralized location gives your teams a consistent access point for approved, up-to-date files. This is critical in protecting the integrity of your brand, extending the lifetime of your content, and ensuring people actually use the content you develop.

 

Distribute

This phase is the one that teams often focus on the most because you’re sharing all of your hard work with the world. Whether that means sending content to affiliates to use or publishing it on social media or your blog, all of your content will likely be distributed at some point. And distribution relies on providing quick and easy access to relevant content. Although marketing channels are numerous, almost all involve a digital element. So it's important to distribute your assets in an easy, secure, and trackable manner.

Tip: Emailing files back and forth is cumbersome and hard to manage. And because large creative files often can’t be sent via email, relying on this method of distribution and collaboration won’t scale. Uploading files for a single use in a blog, website, or marketing email works, but you can lose the ability to track where your content goes, who interacts with it and how.


Using portals, embed codes, and share links to distribute your content not only makes content easier to use and receive, it captures how people interact with it. For example, if you know your sales team views and downloads product videos more often than product sell sheets, you can refocus your efforts and budget on the content they value.

Optimize

Optimize is similar to manage in that it’s a stage that happens across the entire lifecycle and is part of the other stages. Before you plan for and develop content for a campaign, you’ll likely analyze past initiatives to determine your best path forward. Before, during, and after distribution, you’ll gauge effectiveness of channels in order to optimize. And lastly, before you retire or resurrect existing content, you’ll evaluate if it’s a good decision.

Tip: To optimize, you need to analyze. Ensure your marketing tools provide you with the content insights you need to understand when, where, and why your content is being accessed, and how it performs out in the world. Also, think creatively about how you can apply what you learn. If you have a top-performing piece of content, how can you adapt existing copy, imagery, video, or creative for another use? Reimagine, repurpose, and reuse your content to squeeze the absolute most value out of it. 

 

Preserve

Many teams forget about this step in the content lifecycle altogether. Preserving or archiving content is actually an essential part of its lifespan. Once it isn’t needed for distribution in the foreseeable future, you can choose to preserve it for historical or future use. 

Archive, or cold storage, preserves inactive content at a cost that is often lower than active storage. Moving files to an archive also keeps your content repository clutter free, helps ensure that only current content is used, and keeps inactive content safe until it’s needed.

Tip: Which assets should be archived? That’s a million dollar question. The answer often depends on your brand standards, your company’s policies, and your personal preferences. Old logos show the historical evolution of your brand, but you might not need to save every file format. Campaign elements are helpful to refer back to when trying to remember what you did last year. And key documents provide access to past policies, details, and communications. 


But not everything added to the archive needs to be old. Archiving large files used in the creation of new content — like raw video footage or unused photos from a recent photoshoot — can save space, money, and time. Remember, an archive isn’t where content goes to die. Use it strategically. You can always resurrect content or digital assets for reuse or repurposing at a later time.

Handling challenges in the content lifecycle

As most organizations can attest, it’s not uncommon to encounter challenges throughout the content lifecycle. How you handle them, however, is the important part. Here are a few real-world examples of brands that overcame challenges at the various stages in the content lifecycle and have lived to tell their stories. 

Plan stage: The Houston Astros (case study)

Game-day photography is incredibly important to the Houston Astros. But with thousands of photos taken in a single game, the burden of capturing and managing all of the team’s photos fell on one individual. To support their long-term content plans, the Astros needed to hire additional in-house photographers. By leveraging robust content analytics, the Astros were able to prove the effectiveness of their photography and make a business case for additional headcount — a critical and foundational piece of their content plan. Learn more about the Houston Astros story here

Create stage: YMCA England & Wales (case study)

With 116 local YMCAs and 90 charity shops, YMCA England & Wales struggled to uphold the consistency and integrity of their brand across their various locations. Part of the issue was that many locations didn’t have in-house designers, so staff (while well-intentioned) often created low-quality, off-brand marketing materials to promote their local initiatives. To solve this challenge, YMCA England & Wales rolled out Templates, a user-friendly design tool that now empowers staff to adapt brand-approved flyers, social media images, brochures and other collateral without the help of a professional designer. Fast forward to today and YMCA England & Wales is happy to report that they no longer waste time worrying about or policing their brand! Learn more about the YMCA England & Wales story here.

Manage stage: Hootsuite (case study)

With offices located all over the world, Hootsuite has to manage their content across numerous teams, continents, and time zones. This made finding, sharing, revising, and distributing content particularly challenging. However, through integrations with Adobe creative tools, their content management system (CMS), and their own Hootsuite software, they’ve successfully reduced the back and forth between teams and improved their content management workflows. Learn more about the Hootsuite story here

Distribute stage: Timberlake (case study)

Without a convenient, dependable way to access marketing content on their own, the Timberlake sales team relied on their marketing team to hunt down and send them the content they needed to engage prospects. To replace this inefficient and unsustainable process, Timberlake now houses all of their content in a single, self-service location that allows their sales teams to easily and quickly search for and find the content they need, without the help of anyone. With an empowered sales team and more time on their hands, the marketing team can now spend their time on more productive work.  Learn more about the Timberlake story here.

Optimize stage: Elsevier (case study)

Considering that Elsevier is a global information and analytics company, it’s no surprise that they want to understand the effectiveness of their content investments. However, without a robust, data-driven technology to manage their content, Elsevier didn’t have the visibility they needed to understand how their teams leveraged their content. Now, with the right digital asset management (DAM) technology in place, Elsevier has the insights they need to make more informed decisions. Learn more about the Elsevier story here

Preserve stage: The Boston Ballet (case study)

The Boston Ballet has a rich history that is reflected across over 55 years of photography, posters, pamphlets, and other artifacts. Unfortunately, many of these materials lived on outdated technology buried in a mess of unorganized boxes. Knowing that their current approach was unsustainable and risky, the Boston Ballet adopted an archive solution that allowed them to digitize their artifacts, store and catalog them in a single location, and capture searchable information about each artifact that allowed them to actually use their legacy content in their present-day marketing efforts. Learn more about the Boston Ballet story here


Where does the content lifecycle end? 

Just like plants and animals, we’ve learned that content goes through a lifecycle. If you’re not careful, you can lose track of where your content is in its respective cycle, leading to content overload. Creating the right process and using the right tools keeps your content in check and ensures that it'll always live its best life. 

Looking for the right tools to help with your content management? Contact us to see if our solution, the Widen Collective®, is right for you. 

 

Note: This article was originally published in April 2019 and has been updated to include additional information about the full content lifecycle — it was originally the digital asset lifecycle — as well as new case studies. 

 

Topics: Creative, Content, Workflow

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