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The Crucial Role of Rule Makers and Rule Breakers in Your Content Team

Are you ready to challenge the status quo?

We crave structure and guidelines, yet the thrill of pushing boundaries is undeniably tempting.

Would you dare:

– Neglect returning the shopping cart after your shopping spree?
– Embark on a business venture sans a meticulously crafted business plan?
– Share your streaming network password generously with friends?
– Utilize a sick day at work when the allure of a day off beckons, sickness or not?
– Add a friend’s MP3 file to your music collection, bending the rules a bit?
– Post content on social media that dances on the edge of terms of service?
– Skip obtaining a city license for your furry companion?
– Selectively present market data to construct a compelling business case?
– Embrace the occasional unsolicited email to get your message across?
– Expect your dedicated team to put in the extra effort beyond regular hours?

Chances are, you find yourself nodding to some and raising an eyebrow at others. Everyone has a line they won’t cross. (And if you’re indifferent to these scenarios, seriously, return the shopping cart—it takes less than a minute.)

The willingness to bend the rules often hinges on three factors: consequences, social context, and the art of convincing oneself that breaking the rules is justified.

In the realm of modern marketing, this last factor is particularly intriguing.

Creativity thrives on rule-breaking

Research indicates that individuals in creative professions, such as writing and design, tend to be more inclined toward rule-breaking than their counterparts in roles like accounting or IT. The reason? Creativity, it seems, plays a pivotal role in constructing convincing narratives that justify rule-breaking.

In the realm of content strategy, this connection between iconoclasm and creativity poses a significant challenge to establishing scalable governance, standards, and processes. Those immersed in creative content and marketing often resist the constraints required for a cohesive and consistent content strategy. On the flip side, teams like sales, customer service, and even the C-suite view content as a realm of boundless creativity, seemingly averse to too many rules.

This sets the stage for a dilemma. Enforcing too many rules feels like stifling creativity, yet without rules, scalability and measurement become elusive.

Rules provide the framework for predictable outcomes in content. People break these rules when they lose faith in their efficacy.

An intriguing paradox emerges: If breaking a rule leads to a favorable outcome, then breaking the rule becomes the new rule.

But this assumes a crucial precondition—that a rule exists in the first place. Without it, there’s nothing to break, and discerning the effectiveness of one approach over another becomes impossible.

No rules, no standards

As owned content platforms assume a pivotal role in integrated marketing strategies, teams grapple with the escalating demand for new content.

Consider a financial services company I collaborated with last year. They aimed to streamline their content marketing functions, managing multiple blogs, a thought leadership resource center, and a microsite showcasing event presentations. Separate teams oversaw each platform, oddly competing for the same audience persona. The company lacked a shared subscription base or editorial process—no common rules.

Was it acceptable for one platform to borrow a content idea from another? Apparently not, judging by the indignant reaction of the platform manager. However, the other team shrugged it off, saying, “Well, sorry, but nobody said we couldn’t.”

Was it appropriate for the sales-enablement team to send a sales-oriented email to another team’s subscriber base? The answer remained the same.

Was it justified for one team to keep their content under wraps until launch, fearing another might beat them to the punch? Strangely, yes.

Order emerged when the company devised a unified content operations strategy, outlining new roles, responsibilities, and rules for cross-functional collaboration (alongside mechanisms for senior management to enforce them). The teams became more organized, scalable, and yes, more creative.

The team leader likened it to governance: “We now have both a congress that establishes rules for all teams and an executive branch that can enforce them.”

Surprisingly, a year later, he disclosed that the rules themselves weren’t the true game-changer. It was the rule breakers.

What he meant was this: Post implementation of the new operational standards, rebellions occasionally surfaced. Interestingly, the rule breakers often achieved superior results, prompting the content team to refine the standards.

For instance, a set of rules governed the prioritization of social media channels against other content promotion platforms. One team broke these rules, integrating their promotional content into another team’s promotions. Despite bypassing the standard, the outcome was superior. Consequently, the operational team revised the rule.

Operations are the beating heart of stellar content strategy

Developing playbooks, editorial standards, and operational policies may not hold the same allure as crafting content, but it’s the linchpin of a more creative and innovative team.

A new rule emerges organically when an existing one is broken, yielding a superior outcome. The true value of establishing rules for creating, managing, and measuring content lies in the creative stories spawned from rule-breaking, evolving into use cases that champion the new rules.

To borrow a sentiment, often attributed to Picasso: “Set your rules like an artist, then change them like a pro.”

Your narrative, your rules. Tell it brilliantly.

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