Interview Michael Schmidtke: “Let the content flow”.

‍Michael Schmidtke is in charge of content flow management and the digital channels of Bosch’s corporate communications. In an interview with AG CommTech, he explains the role data plays in modern communications management and reveals why creativity and fun remain important success factors. The questions were asked by Klaus Treichel of AG CommTech.

Klaus Treichel: Is data-driven communication a new discipline in corporate communications?

Michael Schmidtke: Bosch started early on to make data-oriented communication the driver for its topic control. The topic then really took off with the introduction of content flow management in the early 2020s, when the data-driven approach was introduced not only for digital communication but for all communication disciplines.

Klaus Treichel: How critical is it for the success of an organization’s overall communication to systematically generate data and derive measures from it?

Michael Schmidtke: If a communications department is seriously considering the extent to which its work is having an impact and is successful, then there is no way around a data-driven approach. Data certainly does not provide the only answer to the question of success, but it does provide an important one.

Klaus Treichel: What are the opportunities associated with data-driven communication? What are the main advantages of this?

Michael Schmidtke: Today, the impact of communication can be measured digitally in real time. Communication technologies help to play out only relevant content to the target groups. Intelligent use of data-based “comm tech” infrastructures and “content flow” processes can help organize communications more effectively, reduce budgets, and improve the quality of life.
more efficiently and make messaging more consistent and targeted.

Klaus Treichel: What challenges does Bosch face when it comes to digitization in communications?

Michael Schmidtke: Whether employees, journalists, influencers, customers, applicants or political actors: each communication discipline has specific target groups and, derived from them, specific formats, content and processes. Digitization in communications at Bosch is aimed at cross-divisional collaboration between these different disciplines. The big challenge here is to achieve greater impact through this collaboration and cross-cutting processes.

Klaus Treichel: What do you understand by “content flow” at Bosch? Is that more than what a newsroom is supposed to do?

Michael Schmidtke: The goal of content flow management is to leverage synergies and make messaging more consistent and targeted. In marketing, such an approach is known as “content marketing”. In PR, this is often summarized under the term “news flow management” or “newsroom” for short. We have sought a term that is equally supported by all disciplines. In this sense, content flow management should methodically combine the best of all disciplines, from content marketing and news flow. We have deliberately not introduced a newsroom.

Klaus Treichel: What tools does Bosch use, what is the central tool?

Michael Schmidtke: The central platform for planning and playing out content is a content marketing suite called Percolate, on which more than 2,000 Bosch communicators and marketing experts around the world collaborate.

Klaus Treichel: 2,000 Bosch employees use the central platform. How important is it to work cross-functionally here, across communications, marketing, HR, etc.? And who wears the hat?

Michael Schmidtke: First, each unit or discipline uses the platform for its target groups and communication content and also wears the hat for it. In addition, all teams collaborate across divisions on one topic per quarter. We then talk about “content waves”: One topic per quarter that the content experts from all communication disciplines and regions agree on in advance, for which everyone contributes with their formats as far as possible in terms of content, and for which we can once again significantly increase the impact through joint planning. For these “content waves”, whose content makes up about a quarter of the total communication, Content Flow Management has its hat on as the orchestrating unit.

Klaus Treichel: What role does content marketing play? How do you differentiate that from advertising?

Michael Schmidtke: In my understanding, content marketing describes a process in which content is created, published, promoted, dialogically accompanied, and analyzed in different process steps, and then goes through this process again: Creation, Publishing, Promotion, Engagement, Listening. Especially the last step is important for content flow management: analyzing, listening and permanently learning from user feedback. In a perfect world, content is thus consistently aligned with the expectations of the target groups. Simplistically, one could also speak of an “outside-in” approach, while in certain parts of advertising it is perhaps more of an “inside-out” approach.

Klaus Treichel: Today, data-driven communication allows us to precisely measure media response – even in real time. But your content flow management goes beyond that: What else is important to you when it comes to data analysis and measuring success?

Michael Schmidtke: If you really want to measure the impact of communication, it’s not enough just to measure the output. Instead, it is important to also measure the outcome and directly survey the target groups. This is the only way to verify the extent to which the communication measures have actually changed perceptions.

Klaus Treichel: What was the biggest surprise Bosch experienced when implementing content flow management?

Michael Schmidtke: At the beginning of 2021, we communicated that Bosch was the first major industrial company to achieve CO2 neutrality at all its locations. A great message! And our output analyses have shown that very many German-language and international print media have taken up this topic. We also had record figures in digital. Accordingly, we were surprised that our outcome surveys still revealed some “white spots” and that the messages had not yet penetrated all the target groups important to us. That’s why we decided to launch another “Content Wave” on the topic of sustainability across all trades. With this second wave, we finally succeeded in using a data-driven approach to a central communication topic to then also achieve a consistently measurable effect.

Klaus Treichel: What do you do to avoid getting lost in the flood of data? How do you prioritize so you don’t get lost in the details with all the dashboards and analytics?

Michael Schmidtke: We focus primarily on content. A clear communication goal and correspondingly clear questions are the best insurance against drowning in the flood of data. We have made great progress in this area in recent years and can thus also use the available data much more effectively and efficiently.

Klaus Treichel: How much time should a communications department give itself to develop a digital process? What should you start with?

Michael Schmidtk e: It’s a good idea to get a process like Content Flow up and running in one discipline first, and then use it to achieve concrete results. The second step is to analyze processes in other disciplines in detail and, on this basis, to establish a new overarching process that reflects the best of all disciplines without weakening the successful processes in the disciplines. It takes time to find the right balance here. Cross-divisional collaboration is always a change process, and we communicators know that such processes often take years.

Klaus Treichel: Is content flow management also suitable for small and medium-sized enterprises?

Michael Schmidtk e: The content flow process with its five core elements (creation, publishing, promotion, engagement, listening/analytics) is a core process of any communications department regardless of size. It also connects the various communications disciplines from PR to marketing and strengthens cross-divisional collaboration. That is why I am convinced: Content Flow Management is suitable for all company sizes and disciplines, the flow is there for everyone.

Klaus Treichel: Anyone who handles data can measure anything. But is it really desirable to show the success of communication only on the basis of numbers? Isn’t there a danger that creativity will fall by the wayside?

Michael Schmidtk e: Under no circumstances should one overstate the data-driven approach. If creativity and enjoyment of work diminish over an extended period of time, something is wrong. In the “flow” concept, the theme of creativity is firmly anchored: we all know the state that psychologists call “state of flow”, when you forget everything around you because you are making music, dancing or doing something else creative. Think of kids in a “state of flow” when they are making something. Creativity is firmly anchored in content flow management. But in the content area, there is not only creation, but also publishing or analytics. The focus is always on the question of collaboration: How can “creatives,” “techies” and “numbers people” bring their different strengths to bear in a joint process?

Klaus Treichel: How do you deal with potential conflicts in cross-divisional collaboration?

Michael Schmidtk e: Sometimes collaborating across disciplines isn’t easy and feels like a “hip hop battle” like Shawn and Shawna have with each other in the “Live Sustainable #LikeABosch” video. The important thing is that even in these situations, you do everything you can to stay in the flow together, not lose sight of the unifying goals, and resolve the conflicts creatively. You shouldn’t be afraid of conflicts, they can be very productive, every storyteller knows that: Every great story has a conflict!

Klaus Treichel: CEOs and CFOs have the advantage that their classic KPIs such as revenue or profit are recognized metrics. Is it possible that one day we will also be able to agree on comparable metrics in communications? Or does communication elude standardized evaluation?

Michael Schmidtk e: Data-driven approaches can help increase impact with specific communication goals in mind and make it measurable. Integrated metrics such as viewability, sentiment, share of voice, or specific survey metrics can help establish a single “currency” for communications success. I would concentrate on that first, because in many areas we are only at the beginning. From today’s perspective, it is still difficult for me to judge the extent to which a larger picture can perhaps emerge from these approaches that is capable of capturing the effect of overall communication.

Klaus Treichel: Bosch has already made good progress in its claim to use digitization for greater efficiency in communication. How much further is there to go to achieve the ultimate goal of digital communications, namely a stakeholder journey?

Michael Schmidtk eThe important thing for us communicators is that the right content gets to the right people and has an impact there. Of course, the stakeholder journey plays an important role here, but for me this is not an “ultimate goal” of digital communication. There are also other ways of consistently aligning content with stakeholder expectations, such as I have outlined with the outcome approach, i.e., using surveys or other interactive feedback.

Klaus Treichel: Do you think it’s realistic that we can automate the stakeholder journey in communications?

Michael Schmidtk eIn clearly defined application areas, such as websites or chatbots, I see promising approaches for making attractive offers to target groups. As far as dialogic exchange with stakeholders is concerned, it remains to be seen whether sufficient added value is generated here. I do not consider automation as an end in itself to be expedient.

Klaus Treichel: What do you see as the next development step? What trend is emerging?

Michael Schmidtk eInstagram & Co have changed media usage behavior for visual content enormously. For a communications department, the ability to operate these new formats properly is, in my view, a similar far-reaching challenge as when we built up the ability to engage in dialog in real time through social media. And looking to the future: When the Internet of Things turns cars, kitchens and other smart objects more and more into media, this will permanently change communication. In this context, the voice, the spoken word and the associated digital dialog will certainly take on a new significance. I’m already looking forward to seeing what new formats will emerge here.