By Roanne Neuwirth published January 5, 2016

Reach Executives With Your Best Content Engine:  Your Clients

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Looking for a surefire source for topical, relevant content that grabs your executive audience? Look no further than your own clients. At a minimum, you develop some compelling stories to share with clients and prospects. Done well, content co-creation can help you create a powerful voice, build a market, and deepen important client relationships.

Making the case for co-creation

As I have discussed, executives value hearing from their peers. To connect with them, your content must tap directly into their most pressing priorities and concerns, and help them take action on timely issues. Many marketers fail to realize they have a rich source of the most relevant ideas in the form of their own client base. Your clients provide fertile ground for both extracting the insights and stories that resonate most, and disseminating those ideas in the most effective ways. Here are just a few of the benefits of taking this collaborative approach:

To connect w/ execs, your #content must tap into their most pressing priorities & help them take action. Click To Tweet
  • Establish relevance and authenticity. Integrating your clients into your content program ensures that you can pinpoint what executives care about and what is directly relevant to them. The peer voice provides a more authentic perspective on the ideas and solutions you share than if they come from a vendor, which has an obvious horse in the race. As Cortnie Abercrombie, who runs the Chief Data Officer Community at IBM, explains, “We have them write stories and articles with us. We don’t have our own people as authors. Executives don’t want to hear us talk. They want to hear from each other.”
  • Enhance your role as an authoritative, trusted source. By listening to your clients and helping them share stories with their peers, you not only build trust with them, you build it with other executives who appreciate the value of learning from each other. The more your clients do the talking, the more you will find executives listen to you. Abercrombie notes, “You can’t just be a convener; you have to build the trust and you have to bring people together.”
  • Elevate your clients’ voice and their impact. Bringing your clients into your content agenda helps elevate their ideas with their own peers and raises their profile in the marketplace. Abercrombie explains, “We use the co-created content to accelerate our clients’ agendas.” Marketers know that creating client success is the best way to turn your most valued clients into advocates, which deepens relationships and enhances the bottom line – not a bad outcome from a content program.

Embedding your clients in your content value chain

There are a number of ways to integrate your clients into your content value chain – from brainstorming ideas and insights to lending a voice during content creation. Consider these elements as you build your strategy:

  • Research – Grounding content in research reinforces its credibility for executives. Tap your clients through interviews or surveys to gather insights on challenges, priorities, innovative solutions, and best practices.
  • Storytelling – Help your clients write articles, create case studies, and develop and produce videos for publishing on your own site or in other settings, both internal and external. Invite clients to present or participate in panels at your events or co-present with your own experts at third-party events.
  • Conversation – Bring together clients to exchange insights and ideas to extend knowledge and create additional content. IBM convenes small groups of chief data officers for virtual roundtables on key topics, and extracts the lessons from each session in a paper to share with the participants and beyond. Abercrombie also makes a point to introduce individual CDOs with similar challenges or like-minded ideas to expand the dialogue.
  • Connection – Create the ultimate exchange of insights and learning, and advance your thinking through ongoing forums like client communities or advisory councils. IBM’s THINK Data Community provides an online forum for sharing content, highlighting tools, contributing ideas, and helping to bring CDOs together offline or online. Having client stories to share makes a client community more powerful and valuable as a tool to engage others.

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Any one of these elements creates useful content, but the most value comes from taking a holistic view and integrating the pieces. Abercrombie lays it out this way: “The value is in the way you engage them in the entirety, not just convening them on a periodic basis. We involve CDOs in research, ask them to write articles, invite them to speak, and set up ways to share back to the community and with each other.”

Creating content that resonates with the C-suite is not an easy task; they are a highly demanding audience and a rigorous, targeted approach is required to stay relevant. Client co-creation is a great way to give your program a leg up, and help you focus your resources and time where both you and your clients benefit from content and conversation.

Case study: Making a market with content co-creation

When charged with helping IBM target the newly emerging role of chief data officer, Abercrombie, global-emerging-roles leader for data and analytics officers and data scientists, knew IBM had to take a different approach to establish leadership credibility with this C-suite cohort. “We wanted to be the first company to get behind the CDO role as business critical and go after this group as a key client base – and content was core to doing this.”

Accelerating IBM’s presence with this executive group meant going beyond the usual approach of sharing expert points of view and talking about services and solutions to create conversations and a community of ideas. Abercrombie embarked on a co-creation content marketing strategy: “To launch this effort, we began by interviewing 14 CDOs. Based on the findings, we created a thought-leadership piece describing the emerging role of the data leader and its impact on and value to the business. We went on to create articles, case studies, and blog posts that address the challenges and opportunities identified by CDOs, and offer best practice examples and solutions we heard from them.”

IBM’s efforts did not end with written content, however; Abercrombie and her team added events to the mix to generate another platform for the CDOs’ stories. She explains, “Our first event was hugely successful because it was CDO-led, with little IBM presence on the agenda. We curated the program to only include speakers with the best stories. This helped create a valuable agenda as well as establish a strong community feeling.”

Abercrombie and her team continue to co-create and share content to sustain the momentum, and some of the executives have gone on to blog and post their own stories based on the voice they developed from connecting with IBM. The benefits of this program have been significant, establishing IBM’s dominance within this executive segment, and creating strong relationships to grow the business. Abercrombie sums it up: “Now everyone tries to convene this audience, but for us, because of the trust we built, we can pull in the top CDOs to share in all of our forums, which creates the best learning and exchange.”

This article originally appeared in the December issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our bimonthly, print magazine.

Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute

Author: Roanne Neuwirth

Roanne Neuwirth helps companies engage their executive clients to build deeper relationships. She has worked with a wide-ranging client base, including IBM, GTE Sprint, Wells Fargo, and Chevron. Follow her on Twitter @RoanneNeuwirth.

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