How to Identify and Solve Bottlenecks Within Your Business

How to Identify and Solve Bottlenecks Within Your Business

Noah Brier, Co-Founder of Percolate, joins the Content Experience Show to discuss bottlenecks and enhancing creativity through better processes.

In This Episode:

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Full Episode Details

Optimize the Flow

When it comes to content, many organizations feel like they hit a bottleneck somewhere along the way. There’s a plan, a goal, and a process in place, but bottlenecks hold up the flow and keep you from meeting your content goals.

According to research by Noah Brier of Percolate, companies experience content bottlenecks in three ways. There is the quantity bottleneck, when a business simply can’t keep up with the demand for content. A quality bottleneck is when there is plenty of content, but it’s not great content. The coordination bottleneck happens when a company has plenty of high-quality content but can’t seem to get it into the right places at the right time for their customers.

A powerful solution Noah presents for these situations is to move quality control upstream to just before the bottleneck. In this way, you can ensure that only content that meets your standards goes through the bottleneck, and anything that isn’t going to work doesn’t take up space in an already constrained flow.

In This Episode

  • Where many businesses experience bottlenecks.
  • Three types of bottlenecks your business may encounter.
  • How to identify a bottleneck within your business.
  • How to solve bottlenecks by becoming more efficient.
  • Why better processes and systems will enhance creativity.

Quotes

“If you don’t want to spend more money, you need an alternative approach, and that’s really what this theory of constraints is all about.” — @heyitsnoah

“If you want to act more efficiently, you want to avoid any rework or wasted work.” — @heyitsnoah

Creativity and process and systems shouldn't be at odds. Click To Tweet

Resources

Content Experience Lightning Round

If you could do a podcast about anything, what would it be?

Noah is fascinated by mental models and the frameworks people use to make their decisions.

What NBA team do you cheer for?

Despite some tough years, Noah is a committed Knicks fan!

See you next week!

What Great Brands Do That Good Brands Don't in Content Marketing

Okay content is easy. Killer content is hard. This nifty eBook shows you the difference, based on our real-world work with dozens of brands. A must-read!

Episode Transcript

Randy: Welcome to the Content Experience Show. Usually I get to see that its Randy with Anna by my side, but Anna is off on an airplane today so it was just myself with someone who I was really excited to chat with, Noah Brier. Randy: I know these guys at Percolate, I run into them pretty much at every event I see you at there. They're very much invested in the content world and solving for a particularly different problem though than my company does in Uberflip so it's interesting just to hear Noah's perspective on first of all, what is content marketing? Randy: I mean it's such a loaded term and we talk about this a lot on this podcast, this idea of where does content marketing start and where does it end but what I've found most interesting that we got to hit on is this idea of bottlenecks. It's a term that Noah traces back I think it was Gartner or Forrester, definitely an analyst, and you'll dig in and kind of hear how he suggests first how to identify when we have a bottleneck but I think even more importantly in the second half of the show, is how do we overcome some of these bottlenecks and what are some of the very basic things that we can do to make sure that we don't make the mistakes to just go down the track of saying "we need more people" or "we need an agency brought in." Randy: I love agencies and I love partners but there's no sense in layering on more human capital on a very inefficient process and I think that's one of the key findings that came out of the podcast today. I'm very confident you'll enjoy listening to this one. We did miss Anna, if you're listening Anna, next time we gotta have you on with us but let's roll this. We'll go right into this one with Noah Brier, CEO, I'm sorry CTO at Percolate. Randy: Welcome Noah, I'm so excited for us to get this opportunity to hang out together. It's amazing in the world of content marketing that we've never really connected but with Anna not even here today, it's just the two of us to really dig in and help people understand what content marketing is together. We're both big advocates for this space and you've been doing a great job at Percolate so maybe before describing what Percolate does, tell us about your journey, starting Percolate, and how you're solving for customers. Noah: Sure thing, so we started Percolate in 2011. My background, I spent a lot of time in the world of agencies and I was sort of seeing these two big problems. On one side, the challenge of how do you translate strategy to execution. So I was working with these big brands on how to create global communication strategies. What would happen is we'd spend a lot of time putting it together, become a PowerPoint that would then go to people's desk drawers so to speak and I just kept thinking there's gotta be a better way, strategies and attempt to codify ways for people to work and we've got to be able to actually put that in code. Noah: On the other side, I was just seeing this challenge of brands creating more and more content and not enough tools to actually help them in the process of creating it. Right, and so when we looked at the landscape back in 2011, I still think in a lot of ways today, we saw a lot of tools that were very focused on the end, the distribution of that content and just not enough to help brands in the creation and the management of it so what Percolate is today in a lot of ways is a little bit like [inaudible 00:03:21] for content marketing so it's helping brands manage the whole process of creating the campaigns and content and assets they need to drive effective marketing forward. Randy: That's great and it's a helpful overview. It's funny the timing we were chatting about when you started the company in 2011, we started Uberflip in 2012 and I don't know I'm oversensitive to this, but at the time when we started we felt like we had missed that ode to help with the creation. We felt like companies like yourselves and some others were already digging in deep there, had some cool solutions so we actually wanted to figure out what would come next after that which we refer to as the experience but you're solving for such an important part in organizations which is creation and there's this term that you've mentioned to me, this idea of a bottleneck that sometimes happens to organizations and you know I think for some of us we just think okay well we'll just pump out as much content as we can but you're working with some really large organizations, where do you see that bottleneck happen the most? Noah: The bottleneck, actually, I'm not the one who came up with this. This came from Gartner 2018 predictions at the end of last year and they said by that 2020 content is going to be marketing's biggest bottleneck. I just thought you know I mean obviously it sort of aligns with the thesis that we have but I also thought it was sort of particularly interesting set of words that they chose and I spent a lot of time thinking about the bottleneck and talking to customers about it. When it sort of really broke down, what I heard from folks was that the bottleneck in their organizations really kind of came and manifested in one of three ways. So on one side, you had this quantity bottleneck which is that you know there are a lot of folks who are simply, they need more content and they don't know how to make that happen, they don't know how to turn the organizational wheels and the process wheels to just get more out of their org. Noah: There's another set that say we have enough content but it just needs to be better, it's not high quality enough and that's a quality bottleneck. And then there's this third that actually this one came from customers. I was sitting at a customer advisory board when I was first kind of work shopping this theory and presentation I was doing and I originally only had the quantity bottleneck and the quality bottleneck and they said to me, "Well no, it doesn't really feel like we have either of those, we have lots of good content. Our problem is it just never seems to get where it needs to get to at the time it needs to get there" and they talked about it as a coordination bottleneck. That was the thing I just kept hearing over and over again, that they had the coordination bottleneck. Noah: I thought that was fascinating. I heard it from big B2B tech companies, B2B software, I heard it from B2B industrial, they all seemed to feel the same way and actually one of the things I've been working on lately is spending a lot of time thinking about what is it about those companies, what do they have in common? What is it about B2B, large B2B marketing organizations that kind of creates that coordination bottleneck because I think there is some interesting commonalities but that's really the bottleneck is in that front part of the process and you know, Gartner actually says, they say the bottleneck kind of came to be because marketers have done such a good job of implementing things like marketing automation and different parts of managing the customer experience that now the challenge is how do you create all the content to fill those spaces, right? Because we can do better [crosstalk 00:06:42] in personalization, we can place content in more places and so that's really been what we mean when we talk about the bottleneck or that's what Gartner means when they talk about the bottleneck and that's something that I've spent a lot of time thinking about and continue to cuz it seems to be a fruitful area for conversation and for thinking with customers. Randy: It's really interesting first off, I like those three different buckets between quantity, quality, and the last one really caught me because I often hear people talk about the quantity and quality debate and how do you handle that but the coordination I think is probably the part that ensures the first two happen properly and it's funny, kind of two real life things that happened to me today. Randy: One was I sat a couple hours this morning in a customer meeting with one of our large organizations and they were talked to an agency that we brought in to help them with some of the scale issues that they're having and they kind of put it this way, they're like, "You know, we wanted to be at that executive table more and more and now that we're there we're kind of like what did we ask for?" Right? And it's that overwhelming feeling of all these asks and the second story there is during our weekly town hall that we do with our company I got up and I walked people through how we're handling the fact that we just have this huge backlog of requests when it comes not just to content when we think about it from a blog post or a video perspective but like everything counts as content in some way. If we're doing collateral for an event, or we're doing designs for a Facebook ad, or what have you, and just explaining to people in our own organization that challenge and how we're going to handle requests going forward. Randy: So I'm wondering like, when do companies realize they have this? Or do all companies have this bottleneck and they just don't know it? Noah: I think all companies have some bottlenecks. Right and whether they have a content bottleneck is probably dependent on how they handle it. There's definitely some companies that feel it less, like there are companies that for all intents and purposes, outsource all of their problems to agencies and so they might not feel it in quite the same way. I think you see it more in B2B than you see it in B2C, though certainly not exclusive. Noah: But you know, I think to your point we see this the same, you know we've been driving down the road of doing more account based marketing and as you do more account based marketing, you add more segments then all of the sudden, you know, what used to be one piece of content is now three pieces of content, or five pieces of content, right? Because you need to do it in a verticalized manner so I think that most modern organizations feel it in some way and certainly every company feels a bottleneck in their organization and you know, in fact one of the things that I spent a lot of time this year digging into the supply chain theory which sounds less exciting than I found it to be I'll say. Noah: One of the books I ran across, a book called "The Goal" which is kind of a classic supply chain, it's about factories, but it's all about bottlenecks. In fact, it's all about this idea of the theory of constraints and how do you avoid constraints and the big kind of thesis of the book is that if you're not dealing with your bottlenecks, you're just kind of wasting your time because the real definition of a bottleneck is that it's something that constrains everything that happens after it. It constrains all the downstream systems because naturally, if you think about a bottleneck on your beer bottle or wine bottle, it's the thing that slows down the flow so you can pour it in the glass. If it wasn't there, it would be really hard to keep control of. Noah: And so I think bottlenecks happen in every process in every company, it's something you're constantly tweaking. I think within marketing, the challenges that we dealt with the bottleneck that was our ability to actually kind of deliver messages, to distribute things. And now the bottleneck's moved up in the process, right? It's moved to the point of creation, that's what Gartner says. And how do you deal now with that? How do you approach the bottleneck? So the theory of constraints is kind of one approach to the problem and essentially it says you take these five steps, I think it's called the five focusing steps, but you go through and you basically figure out what your constraint is, or your bottleneck, that's step one and so you know, in the case of content, that would be is it a quantity bottleneck? Do you have a quality bottleneck. Do you have a coordination bottleneck? If we're talking about the process, we're dealing with incoming requests, it sounds like it's probably more of a coordination bottleneck, but it might also be a quantity one, right? Like if you're not getting the things to the team that needs to get there. The second one is you figure out basically how to optimize it. I've spent a lot of time thinking about how you optimize bottlenecks. One of my favorite ways to think about it is if you take all the steps we go for the inbound request process. Noah: That's something we hear from customers all the time, again. We see it inside our own organization, too. The sales team asks us for lots of stuff. We run it through [inaudible 00:11:35]. That process of optimization is a big part of it, and one of the ways I like to think about that is if you take all the steps down that exist within that, so you say, "Okay, what's the process for actually dealing with an inbound request? What are the steps we go through?" And you look at them, and you say, "What are the strategic steps? What are the steps that actually take thinking, and what are the automatic steps?" Somebody just needs to get this to the right person. Noah: Through all those automatic steps, you basically have to crunch that time down as much as possible. That's a super, super important key to dealing with those is taking all of those ... I call them low-variance steps, but they're really the ones that are just the administrative acts, and you need to figure out how to do those efficiently as possible. There's some limit to the thinking part of it, and how efficient you could ever do it. You need to create a new bit of sales material for the sales team, they need to do presentation or a one-sheeter. It's gonna take some thinking, and you can only constrain that thinking as much as you can. Randy: So I want to just pause you there because we gotta take a short break to hear from some sponsors, but then I want to dig a little deeper because I feel like we hit on the why really well, but I want to get deeper into "How do we solve for this?" We'll hear from some of our sponsors on the Conex show and we'll be right back with Noah Brier. Jay Baer: Hi friends, this is Jay Baer from Convince & Convert, reminding you that this show, the Conex show podcast, is brought to you by Uberflip, the number one content experience platform. Do you ever wonder how content experience affects your marketing results? Well, you can find out in the first-ever content experience report, where Uberflip uncovers eight data science-backed insights to boost your content engagement and your conversions. It's a killer report, and you do not want to miss it. Get your free copy right now at uberflip.com/conexshowreport. That's uberflip.com/conexshowreport. And the show is also brought to you by our team at Convince & Convert consulting. If you've got a terrific content marketing program, but you want to take it to the very next level, we can help. Convince & Convert works with the world's most iconic brands to increase the effectiveness of their content marketing, social media marketing, digital marketing, and word-of-mouth marketing. Find us at convinceandconvert.com. Randy: This episode is brought to you by TechSmith. TechSmith makes it easy to create professional videos and images. With their tools like SnagIt and Camtasia, everyone can create custom screenshots, screencasts, and videos, and you really need no experience to do so. You can use SnagIt to capture results displayed on your screen and share them out of screenshots and screencasts, or if you need videos and you don't have the production team, Camtasia is an all-in-one screen recorder and video editor designed for those who have never made a video before. It's never been so easy to do this stuff if you have TechSmith, and for those who are Conex podcast listeners, then you can get a 10% off when you buy Camtasia and SnagIt as a bundle. Simply go to techsmith.com and use the promo code SOCIALPROS. Randy: Welcome back to Conex Show, Noah, this has been great so far. I feel like we've unpacked the why of a bottleneck, and we've just started to hit on how to break it. But when I think of breaking bottlenecks, too often, and I'll admit to being the guilty one here, I often think, "Okay, well we gotta just hire more, or maybe we gotta go external and bring an agency in who can help us," which, I love agencies, I love partners, but sometimes too quickly we're like, "We just need more manpower." But I hope you can shed some light on how, in your words, on the coordination side, we can just be more efficient, more lean. Noah Brier: If you step back for a second and just say, "What's a bottleneck," what you're pointing out is that a bottleneck is constraining your capacity, right? There's a good way to un-constrain your capacity is to just add more of it, whether it's more people, or you add an agency, and that is certainly one effective way of doing that. But if you don't want to spend more money, you need an alternative approach, and that's really what this theory of constraints, as an example, is all about, or any of these kind of supply chain theories, is not, "How do I expand the size of my factory?" It's, "How do I figure out where my bottlenecks are, and how do I do things to make them more efficient?" One really good example of how you do that from a process standpoint is that you move quality control up right before the bottleneck. Noah Brier: So if you are working in a factory, this is kind of a classic thing. If you make cars, for instance, then your bottleneck might be how long it takes paint to dry, literally, when you paint the car. That means you want to make sure that you check to make sure the car is of high quality before you put the paint on, right? Because paint is going to be your bottleneck. If you work in marketing, I think one of the big points here is that your bottleneck is your creation process. It's the number of people you have, or the number of agencies you have, whoever it is, to actually create the content that needs to go out the door. One of the really good ways to move quality in front of that is to do a better job with briefs, right? Even if we go back to the example you gave earlier about fulfillment and requests, it's still, "How well defined is the problem, and do we agree on what needs to be solved?" Noah Brier: When I think about what is a brief, what is a good brief for content, it clearly lays out what the problem is so we get it solved. You agree on the basics, right? You agree on what is the strategy we're aligned ... and then it becomes a contract. We both agree that nothing else will be added to this. You're not going to tell me afterwards that you hate the color yellow and you wish I hadn't used it in any of the content I produced, and in exchange I'm going to produce the thing that we talked about. That's why briefs matter, and I think that's one interesting way of dealing with a bottleneck is that you do a better job. Noah Brier: If you're talking about how you process requests, one of the ways you do that is you create an intake request process. You put a form together, lot of organizations have this, there are lots of tools that can do this. You put an intake request form in place, that intake request then comes from sales, or it comes from product, it comes from wherever it needs to, and then it goes to marketing, and the marketing team deals with it. It has all of the requirements. That's one good way of putting a version of quality control before your bottleneck so that you're not spending any cycles doing things that ultimately is going to get thrown away. That's the thing that you're trying to avoid if you want to act more efficiently is you want to avoid any rework or wasted work. Randy: I love that example/strategy, and too often I see that break down. Even here at times, on our own team, I had one of our newer content creators ... this was a number of months ago. They went to write a piece for one of our partner sites. We were going to get a piece of content posted. When I read it, just before it was going to be passed over, I said, "It's a great piece, but that's not the audience over there." And to your point, had we had more of a brief from someone to say, "Here's who the audience is." Writing from that lens, not only would we have gotten that piece out faster, but this writer in this case could have moved on to that next piece sooner, I believe is your point, which is such a simple approach to efficiency. Any other tips that you can give us [inaudible 00:19:11]? Noah Brier: Yeah, I want to hit on the point you just made too, because I also think it's a really important example, because the pushback a lot of the times on process can be that it hurts creativity. Your example of this writer, what really hurts creativity is feeling good about something you did and then getting it thrown away. That is the most hurtful. As somebody who was a copywriter at one point and a creative director, I can tell you that going through the hard work and feeling proud of something I did only to find out that I hadn't been fully briefed or that some piece had changed and now I needed to throw away the work, that is the biggest creative killer. I think that that's a big and important point is that creativity and process and systems, they shouldn't be at odds, right? They are ways to get more out of everything, and I think creativity can get better by adding better process and by having a better contract that exists at that point. I just wanted to make sure I hit on that, because that is one piece of pushback I hear often, on thinking about process and thinking about systems in marketing. It couldn't be further from the truth in my own experience, both as a creator and as somebody who's worked with brands. Randy: That's great advice. I couldn't agree more on that. We've only got a few more minutes left on this segment, and I still want to keep you around after to get to know you a little bit better, as we always do. One area that you and I were chatting about just before the show was, and I'd love to get your take on this, is the reallocation or redistribution of content marketing as a term, because it's a term that both you and I agree is often confused as to what it means. I'm really intrigued by what G2 Crowd recently did, which is, they said it is confusing, and especially when it comes to the software side, where I'm sure there's things that Percolate does and Uberflip does, as an example, that may overlap, but for the most part, many of our customers would use both or for different use cases. And what they went and did is created a few different buckets for content marketing around creation, experience, and distribution. And I'm wondering how you think of that term, "content marketing." What should it stand for, what has it come to stand for? Noah Brier: Sure, yeah. I think that part of the challenge here is that it's that word "content," right? I think a lot of people have a lot of different opinions. I actually wrote a piece a month or two ago putting my perspective out there that content is a perfectly good word, but I think we have to start there. I think part of the confusion in this space is that as brands and marketing has shifted to being digital, we needed a word to describe the broader set of marketing outputs than just "advertising," which I think- PART 2 OF 3 ENDS [00:22:04] Noah Brier: Set of marketing output than just advertising, which I think for many people meant purely putting a message in a space that was paid for. Right? That box could be a banner ad, it could be a television, could be a billboard. But that was an advertisement, I think as most people came to understand it. So to me content is the meta-bucket. Like advertising is a kind of content, but content is not necessarily a kind of advertising, if that makes sense. So, I think we have to kind of start there. And I think the confusion just lies in the fact that we're seeing more and more marketing energies being spread out across the broad realm of different channels and content types. So content marketing to me, at this point, is in a lot of ways synonymous with marketing. Which is maybe helpful, maybe it's not. Noah Brier: I think that the split that they have which is the creation, distribution, and experience, is an interesting one. I struggle with some of the sort of language around those things. One of my favorites is the way that Forrester is describing Ameren. So they have their Ameren category and they're saying it's made up of content, brand, people, and money. I know maybe this is less helpful because content is in and of itself a whole segment. But I think what we're seeing is there's not clean edges around these different things. So I think distribution is certainly a clear piece. It's not totally clear to me the differentiation between distribution and experience. Because I think a lot of the time people mean the same thing when they're talking about those. You know, the experiences ultimately being what happens to the content after it starts to live in the world. Noah Brier: I think, we talk about it a lot at Upstream, I don't think this is a term that would be used by the analysts, but I think the way they're using creation is a lot of how we talk about Upstream which is the planning, the ideation, the creation, the approvals, all the things that happen before a piece of content is ready to live out in the world. So I guess to my mind there's a bunch of different ways of cutting this. And I think the reality of what we are going to see for the immediate future in the MarTech space broadly and [inaudible 00:24:30] marketing specifically is a continued spilling over between the different categories whether it's digital asset management, content marketing platforms, the experience. Noah Brier: To me the best point of demarcation is does it display... is it responsible for the delivery? I think that distribution is very clear. Is it responsible for the delivery of something? Is it showing something to a customer or consumer? That's a really clear distinction between the what happens upstream and what happens downstream. That to me is a good one. I think as you go into the rest of it's still really got to work itself out. Gartner put out there Ameren 2.0, they didn't have a full report yet but they put out their thoughts on Ameren 2.0 and they talk about it as you had work management, which is the work that goes into the content of marketing, you had asset management, and then you had performance management. Those were the three pieces. Noah Brier: So I don't know that there's a single answer yet. I saw the G2 crowd point of view. I think there's still a lot of confusion here. And I think the confusion is just because marketing is in this transition. Right? Where... I think the good news for those of us on the content marketing side is that it seems clear content is the future. And our definition which is pretty broad seems like it's where marketing is moving. But I think it's going to take a little longer for us to figure out, or for the analysts to figure out, how to best set boundaries around this space for the purposes of technology buying. Randy: Really interesting perspective, and I think with that loaded answer that could be unpacked for hours we're going to have to cut it there for people to dwell on because our time here's pretty much up. I willing et you to stick around though, Noah. We'll take a brief pause here and then we'll be back just to learn a little bit more about everything behind the scenes of Percolate. Randy: Hey, Noah. Thanks a lot for sticking around. So we got to hear your story of how you started Percolate, where you spend a lot of your work time focused. But we always like to get to know people's passions, what keeps them ticking, what keeps them going when they're outside of that work environment. So, one of my go-to questions on this part of the show ties back to podcast, but from a different angle. Not the podcast you listen and things like that. But I'm going to put you on the hot seat here. If you were to do a podcast on any topic that's just purely a passion of yours, side passion. Can't be content marketing, it can't be work-flow management. What would your topic be? Is there a sport that you follow, is there some sort of hobby that you have of a collectible? What would you do and what type of guests would you love to have on that show? Noah Brier: Yeah, you already stole the content marketing podcast, so I can't get that one I guess. So, I'm a big NBA fan but can't say I spend enough time with the NBA to make that my answer. Really, I'm a nerd. And one of my passions for the last couple years, and I'm actually working on a book about this, is mental models. So I am fascinated by the frameworks people use for making decisions. Mental models. The idea, I first ran into it because Charlie Monger is Warren Buffet's business partner. He gave a speech, a famous speech in the 90s where he talked about how he and Buffet make all their decisions using 100 mental models. And that's sort of how their whole view of the world. So I think my dream podcast would be talking about mental models with folks from a variety of fields and understanding what can you learn from psychology, what can you learn from physics, what can you learn from art? And how could you interpret, and how can you take in their models and start to use them in your own decision-making on a day-to-day basis. Noah Brier: That's something I've been spending a lot of time thinking about. Actually it's something I've been writing about a lot on my own personal blog and doing research on these different mental models that exist and how they can be utilized inside organizations. So that would probably be my choice. Randy: Very cool. Well, we can't not hit the big question though that you kind of tucked within there. Which is, what NBA team do you cheer for? I mean, from what I know you're in New York, so you've got some choice. But I don't know where you're really from. Noah Brier: I am a Knicks fan. It's- Randy: You went through some tough years. Some tough- Noah Brier: Mostly been suffering, but we've won a couple games here over the last couple weeks and hopefully things are looking up. Randy: Nice. Maybe they just need a better mental model to their game. Right? Couldn't resist. All right. Well, Noah thanks so much it's been great having you on the show. Where should people go to learn more about yourself and/or Percolate? Noah Brier: So yeah. You can find out more about Percolate at Percolate.com. As for me, I'm Hey It's Noah on Twitter and I blog occasionally at NoahBriar.com. Randy: Amazing. Thanks so much. On behalf of usually Anti-Iraq, [inaudible 00:29:49] team, just me today it's Randy from Uberflip. It's been great to have everyone choose us as part of your podcast listening. If you've enjoyed, please check out other episodes on Spotify, iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, pretty much anywhere where you can find your podcast, and especially when you can leave us feedback please do. Until next time. Thanks to Noah and thank you to all of you for tuning in.
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