Are you trying to build your plane while flying it?
I don’t know where that phrase comes from, but a 22-year-old Fallon advertising campaign for digital consulting firm EDS helped popularize it. Funny TV and newspaper ads shows people assembling a plane in the air and demonstrates how much they love their job.
The ad’s tagline explains the point – that EDS can help you “build your digital business even while you’re up and running.”
Fallon created the ad as part of an integrated campaign with two other funny videos: Cat Herders on managing the complexities of digital business and Running With the Squirrels claims EDS can help legacy businesses compete as disruptive startups.
But the “build an airplane on the fly” metaphor exists in digital strategy, and it is often used when established processes or procedures change.
These days, it seems like companies are building a lot of planes.
Some version of this expression shows up in almost every business I see developing a new content program. Inevitably, the to-do list from the content strategy meeting included redefining roles and responsibilities edit method adjustment, new setting working process and implement new technologies.
That’s when the frustration started to set in.
Teams realize that they can’t shut down anything while they work to implement all the new ideas. They still need publish articles and blog posts, writing program documents, launch campaigns and feed content to existing channels using existing technologies.
The real frustration didn’t arise from the challenge of building the plane while flying it. It comes from not being able to make new planes because they are too busy flying old ones.
Building an airplane on the fly, it’s an (overused) metaphor for the #ContentMarketing change. But it doesn’t & # 039; doesn’t address the real struggle, @Robert_Rose said via @CMIContent. Click to Tweet My advice? Do not try.
Whenever I hear someone quote the airplane cliché at the end of the content strategy process, I suggest turning around the metaphor. Don’t try to build another plane while you’re flying the existing one. Instead, let your existing planes fly while you build the plane factory .
I recently worked with a client in the B2B financial services space. To say that content marketing is hot in the industry is an understatement. Stripe and JP Morgan made a buyback and the crypto giant Coinbase announced they will launch their own media operation.
The company I worked for originally planned to tap its PR and digital teams to modify the existing PR press rooms on the company’s website to create new content marketing platforms. But neither the newsroom nor the website align with a content marketing strategy. Everything from the site hierarchy to the audience it attracts to the tech platform it runs on gets in the way of new content goals.
But the company’s current governance processes and values are built to centralize all of its digital efforts (and paid and earned media) on the company’s website — and its publishers. Early leadership resisted extending that view.
It’s as if the company is saying, “We expect you to bring us into the jet age. But you can only do that by repairing and upgrading our propeller plane while it is in the air. ”
In the end, the leaders realized the futility of recreating the plane mid-flight. They agreed to form a new content innovation team with new technology resources, processes, and platforms. And once they did, the content project was a success.
The current PR team continues to update and manage the existing content “plane” (website and newsroom). And the company built a new “factory” (a content marketing strategy) to support additional content platforms.
They didn’t try to change the existing strategy. They built a new one.
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Sustainability versus disruptive innovation
The idea for my airplane factory metaphor came from Meet the challenge of disruptive change by Clayton M. Christensen and Michael Overdorf. That article (one of my all-time favorites) explores the difference between maintain and breakthrough innovations .
Maintaining innovation improves on something that is already considered valuable (e.g. the decision to switch to original images instead of stock photography for new blog posts).
Breakthrough innovations that create something entirely new (e.g. deciding to start an online university instead of continuing with your blog).
Implement a content strategy new Always a breakthrough innovation.
The new #ContentStrategy is a groundbreaking innovation, said @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click to Tweet The article suggests that when faced with this kind of disruptive innovation, you should not approach it as changing something that already exists. Instead, you should approach it as building something in a new organizational space.
That’s what my financial services client did. And I find it especially helpful whenever I’m consulting for a company that wants to develop a content marketing platform and content strategy.
I know content practitioners as a flexible, resourceful, and creative team. The requirement to build the equivalent of a new aircraft is always present, and multiple teams of assets can hack the plane together and manage some mid-flight maintenance changes and fixes.
But when implementing a content strategy, it is more effective to establish a new space for it. In the paper, Christensen and Overdorf outline three ways to create this new organizational space:
- You can create a new team within an existing organizational structure.
- You can create a new organization and be independent of the structure.
- You can get another organization to become a new part of your existing structure.
Make space for a new content strategy
Every successful new content strategy follows one of those three options. Here are some examples of each approach.
- A new group of content. When a new group of content is formalized, named, and profiled, the chances of content marketing success immediately improve. Red Hat gives a great example. Laura Hamlyn (2019 B2B Content Marketer of the Year) created a new strategy group to handle all of the organization’s content. The group has grown to more than 50 people (from the original six).
- A new organization. As content becomes its own function within a business, it can evolve into a powerful new business model. At the Cleveland Clinic, for example, what started as an embedded team in marketing has now become a separate, independent function. It operates the Health Basics and Health Library as individual products drive revenue, and support the organization’s marketing needs.
- A new group was formed. I’ve covered a few acquisitions in the Financial Services space. Another example is HubSpot acquires The Rush News one of a number of content-related purchases made by the software maker.
The key term in all of these ideas is “new”. You are setting up a new organizational structure – an aircraft factory, if you will – to design, manufacture, and roll out new things. You will need to work on training, socialization and market acceptance. But that’s different from trying to fly an existing plane when you build it.
Trying to build a plane while it’s flying is a good idea – that means you’re already flying. But if you want to be in the air, sometimes you have to go back to earth and build something new from the ground.
That’s your story. Well told.
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Cover photo by Joseph Kalinowski / Content Marketing Institute