Four Key Capabilities to Look for in a Content Automation Solution
For most asset management firms, data-driven materials like pitchbooks, fund fact sheets, and quarterly commentaries are key business drivers. Yet, those materials are also often the cause of the biggest bottlenecks in the sales and marketing process. That’s why many firms are automating their content production. They know automation means reducing the time it takes to get materials to the sales team and then prospects. In addition, by minimizing the manual effort entailed in creating materials, automation will allow marketing teams to reduce the risk of errors and gain efficiencies that lead to significant long-term cost reductions.
But not all content automation solutions are created equal. If you’ve been contemplating investing in automation, you may be asking: Which solution is the best? The short answer is: the one that removes the most time and risk from your process. Below are some key capabilities to consider when evaluating content automation providers.
1 . Data source flexibility
A surprising number of content automation tools are not much better than Microsoft Office when it comes to importing data. Just as a location in a Word document can be mapped to a cell in an Excel spreadsheet, these tools simply pull the data, as is, into the software. As long as the cell doesn’t move or change, and the data format matches what the tool requires, there’s no problem. However, that’s rarely the case. Chances are that the multiple data sets needed to create your marketing materials — such as characteristics and performance for the portfolio and benchmark — come from multiple internal and external sources, and in different forms and formats. For example, a percentage might be expressed as a decimal or a whole number with or without a percentage sign.
In addition, even the same data point may change formats over time, whether because you switch data sources, or because your data vendor makes a change on their end. Furthermore, sometimes different pieces of content (i.e. the fact sheet versus the website) might seek to display the same data in a different format. A content automation tool that cannot automatically adjust to these inevitable changes and variations will perpetually require manual intervention. As a result, it might not be able to generate the kinds of efficiencies you need to significantly scale up production, decrease time to market, or reduce costs.
In contrast, some solutions perform “smart” database-driven data imports and transformations using structured query language (SQL). They can accept data inputs in just about any form and format, then return the exact right output, in the right format, for the right document. These types of solutions not only eliminate the need for time-intensive manual data review and correction each quarter but also dramatically reduce the risk of errors.
2. Data visualization
Some content automation solutions offer only simple desktop publishing charting capabilities, like those in Microsoft Excel, which don’t allow for a high degree of customization. To get the look you want, you’ll likely need a professional graphic designer to make refinements using design software, such as Adobe InDesign. But those additional people hours can offset the efficiencies gained with your content automation solution. Some firms compromise by removing charts and graphics when they implement a content automation tool, in the name of efficiency. But dense materials full of text and numbers, which can be difficult for your audience to read and digest, aren’t the most effective sales tools. In fact, many firms rely on unique and compelling charts and graphs for differentiating themselves to their prospects.
If you don’t want to give up the ability to generate eye-catching visuals, look for a content automation solution with strong native charting and graphics capabilities. They should be able to create a distinct, high-quality design and product vector art, which can be scaled to any size without distortion or loss of clarity.
3. Real scalability
Some desktop publishing tools offer data and content mapping plug-ins but fall short of true automation. These lower-cost and less-sophisticated solutions may make sense for some firms. For example, if you’re unable to come to a consensus on templates and designs, you’ll likely need a lot of manual intervention regardless of how much you automate. In addition, if your published page counts are very low, the total people-hours you spend creating materials, even over many quarters, might not add up enough to justify a big upfront investment in a sophisticated content tool.
However, if you publish large volumes of materials, generate multiple related types of materials in parallel, or plan to in the future — and have the discipline to embrace some templatizing of materials — then look for a solution that’s fundamentally designed for complex scenarios related to volume and multiple templates. Over time, the greater efficiencies from a true automation solution add up to a lower total cost of ownership than tools with a lower initial price tag.
4. Integration capabilities
Most asset managers rely on multiple technologies to help them effectively perform a wide range of marketing and sales functions. In addition to content automation, they likely need tools for email marketing automation, sales enablement, portfolio accounting, records management, compliance workflow, marketing database support, and customer relationship management (CRM). No single system can effectively do it all. Some vendors offer a multi-purpose tool that sits in the center of your data universe, controlling all the data flows. Some tools don’t integrate at all with other platforms and require that you use the vendor’s other proprietary tools.
When building your technology stack, you should look for a best-in-class tool for each required function, while also prioritizing its ability to integrate with your entire technology ecosystem — with strong application programming interfaces (APIs) and experience with multi-vendor scenarios.
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