Over the last four years, Nick Panayi built an elegantly tuned demand-generation engine at CSC, where he leads digital marketing and global brand for the tech infrastructure and services giant. He tells CCO how he manages the complex ecosystem of marketing technologies, as well as the steps taken to create a centralized, integrated content hub.
Scaling Content Marketing: How CSC Put the Content Hub to Work
CCO: Describe the marketing technology tools on which you depend to ensure the entire system is well tuned.
Panayi: I can’t point to any one tool and say, “This is the one, best tool.” It’s a collection of things that connect to one another – a system of parts that are interchangeable as the technology adjusts and improves.
To give you an idea of scale, we have an ecosystem of 53 tools connected to each other from 37 vendors. Of course, each varies in size and complexity. A few years ago that kind of ecosystem was not possible without millions and millions of dollars for custom integrations. What makes it possible today is cloud connectivity.
At the center of the system is the content management system (CMS). From that central node, we have our marketing automation platform and CRM system. That integration gives us a smooth, complete leads-to-cash process. We are able to follow a lead from a glimmer in the eye to signing a check. The last major system is our analytics engine, which includes predictive modeling, dashboards, and social tracking.
CCO: How do you ensure you are up to date, using the most effective technologies?
Panayi: We are restless. That’s how we stay up to speed. We never assume we’re done because then we’ll be done in a bad way.
The extent to which we change has slowed from the initial build-out stage to where we are now, which is more of a refinement stage. But this is a journey that will never end. We’re always on the lookout for optimizations and fine tunings. And again, it’s made easier because it’s a cloud-enabled, cloud-centered system. So the traditional barriers to entry are not there – or at least not as high as they were.
We have an unfair advantage in that our marketing technology team collaborates very closely with a team in IT called the business technology team. We work closely with that team, but we in marketing call the shots about what technologies to look at, which ones to buy, and how much we can spend.
CCO: How do you create a feedback loop to ensure your content creators are learning from the technology?
Panayi: We have constant training for our content managers; they are in essence a sister organization to ours. Initially this group was incubated as part of my digital marketing team and we just recently centralized all content producers in marketing into what we call the content hub. The content hub is now a peer organization to my digital marketing team and we work very, very closely together. We have great communication lines and tight business processes to ensure the best use of the underlying technology.
CCO: Was there pushback when you created that content hub? Was it immediately clear it was the right way to do it?
Panayi: Yes, it was immediately clear. We set out to create a content hub, but it was a process. We dialed up the centralization element more and more over time. As I mentioned, we literally just finalized the last piece of that centralization five months ago when we made it a solid function where all content producers sit.
To give you an idea of the transition, we started out simply by hiring great ex-journalists – people who understand what great content looks like and how to package it. And we created a very small center of excellence. We then took control of the CMS (before we started, different facets of the organization had access to different portions of the website and they controlled those portions almost exclusively). You can imagine the website before centralization was almost like a quilt.
When we put the center of excellence together and took control of the CMS, we put some rules, regulations, and guidance in place, defining what can and cannot make it on to the website. Next, we made ourselves the final approvers of content, beginning with the top tiers of the website but eventually also including lower tiers.
Finally, we created a virtual content hub. Essentially we said, “Look, we’re going to create this virtual team, meet on a regular basis, and give you guidance and support as content producers. You’re still just a dotted line to us and a solid line to your host organizations.” That moved us a long way toward where we are now, but not all the way. Only five months ago we made it a solid-line organization, bringing all the content managers in under the content hub and setting it up as a true shared service.
So to answer your initial question, yes, there was some pushback early on. It’s human nature; when you take control away it doesn’t feel good. But people saw the vision and understood why we were doing what we were doing. We did it in gradual steps over a period of three years, which helped a lot.
CCO: I wonder whether the term ‘center of excellence’ is a way of helping organizations digest the idea that content should be more centralized – a way of helping people give up more control. Is that unfair?
Panayi: It’s not unfair, but it’s incomplete. Yes, it does help others understand what we’re trying to do here, but there is a lot of truth to the term “center of excellence” in specific tactical areas. For example, before we took over, our content producers didn’t know what good quality content looks like from a journalistic/editorial perspective. We had great technologies but not great writers.
The center of excellence teaches what good packaged content looks like and what digestible content looks like. The same is true for teaching how to write with SEO techniques in mind or even teaching how to keep content fresh and dynamic. There are a lot of techniques and technologies we use to keep that discipline alive. If you leave it up to everyone in individual, virtual content hubs, it just won’t happen in a consistent way. There are some degrees of consistency that can only happen with center of excellence-type of function.
CCO: For you personally, what do you find most challenging?
Panayi: For a company of our size I want to see more invested in exercising this amazing engine that we’ve built. We have a highly efficient engine in digital marketing and you get most value out of the highly efficient engine if you put high-octane gas in it. So feeding the engine with marketing spend and watching the ROI go through the roof is a beautiful thing, but it doesn’t happen as often as I would like.
CCO: What is the biggest hurdle? Not enough invested in creation or finding the right people to create content?
Panayi: There are two levels of investment that improve ROI to a level befitting an ecosystem like ours. One is what we call “air cover” (i.e., brand investment). Without brand investment, it takes multiple touches with prospects and customers to get attention. Without it, you must first explain who you are before you can explain why you’re the right choice.
We haven’t traditionally invested in branding so we are fighting against the current. Digital marketing investments are less effective when you don’t have adequate brand awareness.
Investment No. 2 is going out and doing significant integrated thought leadership and demand-generation campaigns on an ongoing basis. It’s a cluttered world out there. And it’s not enough to write great content. You also have to let customers and prospects know that it’s there; and you have to grab their attention in unique and engaging ways. That takes money and lots of creative energy. We have fantastic personalization tools; we have predictive modeling in place; we have the ability to micro-target messages to the right individuals at the right time. But building awareness, consideration, and preference takes a sustained investment in always-on marketing presence. So we do quite a lot of outbound marketing, but again, not as much as you would expect for a company our size and certainly not as much as you see from software companies or B2C companies. This isn’t unique to CSC; big professional service tech companies tend to spend significantly less of their overall revenue in marketing. That is just the nature of the game.
It doesn’t make it any easier to digest knowing that we have a Porsche here and I can take it out on the Autobahn or I can take it around the block. Yeah, I would like to take it out on the Autobahn once in a while, but usually I’m taking it around the block.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute