150714_shadow_marketerWe have all seen the type. The rock-star salesperson, or brilliant marketer, who treats authorised branding and assets as so many shackles. Too dull, too slow to produce, not personalised enough – whatever the reason, they decide to ‘do better’ on their own instead.

And before you know it, there are ten different spins on your collaterals and messaging out there, playing havoc with your brand image.

Shadow isn’t just an IT thing. Just as cloud services made it easy for business units to get the tools they want behind IT departments’ backs, it has never been easier for individual, client-facing folks to go rogue with company content. They may have good intentions. But ultimately, the risk to your brand image and marketing vision is too great.

No marketer likes to be cut out of their own ambit, so let’s look at how shadow marketing could be curbed.

The campaign conundrum

The rise of content marketing as an important business practice has added another dimension to marketers’ jobs. Combined with traditional campaign-driven marketing and promotions, they now have a continuous and ever-evolving content stream to maintain. This raises two issues.

Firstly, ‘shadow marketers’, more often than not, merely step up to the plate when marketing teams struggle with these demands. There is little to do here besides acknowledging and addressing the manpower angle; it is the second issue that bears examination.

Without a complete understanding of what content marketing is designed to achieve, ‘shadow marketers’ may approach it with the old campaign-oriented mindset. Perhaps they launch promotional email blasts that clash with lead nurturing newsletters. Or they create independent blogs focused on topics at odds with the content direction.

People are used to setting a goal and working towards it – and when that goal is short-term business, content marketing efforts get derailed.

If they’re going to do it, do it right

For marketers to regain control over their content, they first need to make the content strategy a matter of company-wide knowledge. Policy-making is not sufficient here. What is needed is honest sharing between marketing and the various business units, town-hall style, to ensure any doubts are ironed out.

Next comes making it easy for rogue creators to ‘officialise’ their work. This entails providing avenues for content to be contributed and aligned with the content strategy. Search Engine People has some great tips on fostering a culture of internal content creation – in your case, with marketing oversight, of course.

Taking this approach would lessen the burden on marketing teams by allowing them to take a more editorial role, as opposed to actual content generation. In addition, it encourages cross-functional dialogue and collaboration, which helps greatly in gauging and improving content efficiency.

Organisations where ‘shadow marketers’ limit their rogue efforts to conventional sales enablement assets, such as product decks, are likely to experience lower barriers to such initiatives. After all, contributing ideas on refining existing content is considerably less of a burden than regularly generating fresh content – and, at the same time, marketers can look into why that existing content is not being used.

At its core, shadow marketing is an often well-intentioned effort to bridge the chasm between client demand and marketers’ supply. Business needs always take precedence – no policy will stop determined achievers from taking ownership of your content, as long as it works. Perhaps this should be turned to the organisation’s advantage instead of stopped.

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