Rethinking content: how an atomic approach can reduce waste and increase return - Brilliant Noise

Rethinking content: how an atomic approach can reduce waste and increase return

By Brilliant Noise, January 2023. Posts

When budgets are tight and the future uncertain, the best investments are ones that can reduce waste and increase return.

For any brand that makes things, success comes from those things being wanted and used by people, with as little as possible going to waste. It’s a truism that, if put to an accomplished business leader, might invite a terse “Well, obviously” in response.

And yet…

For over a decade, we’ve worked closely with international brands from across the globe. During that time, we’ve seen over and over again that there’s one area of production failing to meet this fundamental measure of success. One which remains hidden in plain sight: content.

The cost of content

So much of the content that gets made just isn’t used, and that which is used is almost always single-use by design. In fact, we estimate that all this inefficiency adds up to as much as $5 million in waste for every $1 billion in revenue.

It’s a costly problem, for sure. But there’s a solution: atomic content. It’s a radical new way to think about your content operations, but it’s the smart way. It’s an engine for personalised brand storytelling that reduces waste, supercharges return, and transforms the way your teams think about content.

What is atomic content, exactly?

Right now, atomic content isn’t at the forefront of content thinking, but it has the potential to transform content planning in organisations around the globe.

Atomic content is inspired by atomic design, a term first used by web designer and consultant, Brad Frost, to describe a method for designing user interfaces. Its guiding principle is that web pages should be planned as a collection of smaller parts, as well as a cohesive whole.

And so it follows with atomic content. A content atom is the smallest possible functional unit that can still be considered a whole. For example, an image is an atom, as is a headline, a line of copy, or a video snippet. If we can view each atom individually, we can appreciate the myriad ways that they can be mixed, remixed and reused in multiple combinations, time and time again.

This is why we believe atomic content is also the engine for deeply personalised customer experiences. With the right technology in place, all these atoms have the potential to be combined in endless ways to create unique experiences that have real connection at their heart.  

Becoming atomic in our content practices requires a shift in mindset. It requires us not to work towards a final, fixed asset consisting of an image, a headline, some copy, and a call to action. Instead, it demands that we think of our content as a group of individual atoms that can be combined to create a wide variety of assets in multiple ways, many times over; assets whose atoms we can continually adapt and change based on customer insight and market performance.

A twin-win for content effectiveness

Atomic content brings real business benefits and can be a transformational experience for brand teams across both content operations and market performance.

The starting point for a brand’s atomic content journey might be operational, driven by frustrations about content efficiency. Specific efficiency concerns include wasting money, wasting time, low usage rates, and little to no reuse at all. From our experiences, it’s likely that all these concerns exist at once, creating an all-pervasive, generalised content anxiety that you can’t shrug off or find a way through.

Equally, atomic content is attractive to marketers wanting to improve the commercial performance of content. Triggers might include the desire to provide a brand experience that is truly personal to each customer, or to be able to adapt and optimise a campaign during its lifecycle.

Atomic content does both. Put simply, it ups your content efficiency whilst also upping performance.

We describe this twin-win as overall Content Effectiveness. And we break it down into five KPIs that speak to both internal content efficiency and content performance:

  1. Time: Less time spent planning, creating, finding and publishing content
  2. Take-up: More content used, less wasted
  3. Reuse: Ongoing usage potential beyond its original purpose
  4. Relevance: Personalised to each and every customer
  5. Return: Commercial performance in-market

What’s required to make atomic content happen?

We’ve seen firsthand that content operations in global organisations are notoriously complex systems. They consist of distributed teams with varying skill sets, multiple technology platforms that aren’t always working together as well as they should, and unwieldy processes slowing everything down. And each of these is buckling under the daily, weekly, and monthly demands of a packed marketing and communications schedule.

Whilst every organisation has its own unique character, we have identified four broad pressure points in content workflows:

  1. People: the connections between teams, be it global planning and local delivery, or product teams and marketing functions.
  2. Process: the movement from content planning, through creation to targeting and publishing, and on to optimisation and insight.
  3. Platforms: linking and optimising asset management and content management systems, and improving tagging.
  4. Performance: the loop from market performance back to content planning.
  5. Purpose: the company goal of personalised storytelling and the imperative from leadership to reuse, adapt, and learn.

It’s fair to say that establishing an atomic approach to content means touching on every one of these pressure points, sometimes deeply. For some people, that can feel uncomfortable at first because working patterns tend to be pretty entrenched, even if they’re not optimal. But it’s a healing touch that, in the end, helps take away the pain.

How we help

We believe in the possibility of radical change. And we believe that, very soon, all digital content will follow atomic principles. To borrow a term from one of our clients at the forefront of atomic content adoption: it’s content that’s made to be remade, not wasted or used once, then discarded. Not only is that good business, it’s a noble intent that’s fitting of the times.

First of all, we rally teams around a tangible model and a common goal for atomic content. It’s this shared belief that becomes the launch pad for rapid progress; transforming content planning and creation; designing asset storage that is fit for purpose; personalising and adapting content; and treating measurement not as an end point but as a starting point for improvement next time around.

In our consistent and proven approach, we:

  1. Engage stakeholders so we can communicate and understand the challenge.
  2. Identify the atomic content capabilities we need to build at each stage of the content workflow.
  3. Learn by doing, using our low-stakes, high-return Test-Learn-Lead™ approach.
  4. Scale through rapid gains rather than an expensive ‘Grand Plan’.

We’ve helped global brands like adidas, BMW, Asahi and American Express to transform their global marketing. We’ve seen first-hand the extraordinary challenges inherent in content operations and how they create waste and compromise performance.

Brilliant Noise is leading this change with some of the world’s biggest brands. Contact us to discover how an atomic approach could quickly transform the way your brand makes, measures and moves forward with high-performing, highly efficient content.