How 3 Content Brands Tackle Their Toughest Internal Challenges
What keeps you up at night about your content marketing program? I’ll bet one of your top concerns is how to prove its value to the company.
There’s also a good chance other stress-inducing concerns include your tech stack and/or your team. Well, guess what? Your peers – even at brands lauded for their content approach – struggle with the same issues.
At the recent Intelligent Content Conference, Robert Rose, CMI’s chief strategy advisor, questioned the leaders of notable content brands about how they tackle the issues. Their advice during the keynote panel Let’s Get Real: What Does It Take to Run an Enterprise Publication may help you take on your tough challenges – and maybe even get some sleep.
Meet the panel:
Dusty DiMercurio leads Autodesk’s content marketing and social media team and serves as publisher and editorial director for Redshift, the company’s digital publication about the future of design and making things.
Luke Kintigh and Deb Landau are head of publishing and managing editor, respectively, of iQ by Intel, which features long-form journalistic stories about tech designed to inspire.
Whitney Kisling, senior content strategist at Capital Group and managing editor of the investment fund’s content destination Capital Ideas, which educates financial advisors about the impact of economic and political trends and events on the investment environment.
Challenge: Stay true to the editorial mission and show value to the company
All three of the panelists’ publications sit at the top of the funnel, attracting audiences with compelling stories and typically keeping brand and product mentions to a minimum. Each team focuses on creating a sustained cadence of editorial content, not white papers, e-books, or other demand-gen pieces.
It’s no surprise, then, that the panelists acknowledge how difficult proving value can be.
Sure, the problem is partly technological: Collecting the right data, analyzing it, and delivering it to the right people (not to mention getting them to read it) often involves plugging a “leaky bucket,” as Intel’s Luke Kintigh put it.
But the answers, they all agree, aren’t purely tech driven. They’re about people: helping, educating, and collaborating with internal teams, just as you would for your external audience.
What to try: Invest in other teams’ success
First, lay the groundwork for proving value by making the right friends. For both Capital Ideas and Redshift, some of the best friends come from the sales team.
In fact, the Capital Group’s sales force was once its content distribution strategy. Salespeople delivered content pieces when they paid quarterly visits to prospects and customers. When Capital Ideas launched, the team’s de facto Chief Content Officer Will McKenna tapped into the relationships he had built over 16 years with the company to help the sales team understand how the new online resource helps them start conversations with their prospects more often.Capital Group’s sales force was part of its distribution strategy. They delivered the #content. @KMoutsos Click To Tweet
At Autodesk, Dusty DiMercurio takes a similar tack. “We go to sales and say, ‘We know you’re trying to strike up conversations in this sector. Here’s a bunch of great content that will allow you to start conversations (with new prospects) or give you proof points for conversations you might already have started with leads.”
Why this works
Enlisting salespeople as champions isn’t the only tactic Capital Group’s Whitney Kisling uses. She educates leadership about the role thought-leadership content plays in the broader marketing mission of engaging and educating financial advisors to increase the likelihood they’ll choose Capital Group’s funds. But sales support provides powerful anecdotal evidence.
“We get a feedback loop from the sales force saying, ‘We love having this website we can go to to quickly find what we’re looking for,’” Whitney explains. “We can take that to senior leadership and show there is value.”
Dusty’s strategy of understanding his internal audience’s goals and explaining how content can help has made Redshift popular with the sales team. “They go there all the time. In fact, they sign up for the newsletter so they get the content when it’s first published,” he says.
Building “a coalition of the willing,” as Dusty calls it, helps prove your own team’s success. “Not everybody’s going to be on board, but there will be some people who really are,” he says. “Find those people and make them an extended part of your team. Make them the hero. Make them successful. Then you’ll create demand for what your team does.”Building “a coalition of the willing” helps prove your own team’s success, says @dustycd. #contentstrategy Click To Tweet
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What else to try: Share the audience-insight wealth
One of the benefits of an “always-on” digital publication, of course, is the ability to observe audience behavior over time. It’s an idea that Robert Rose and Joe Pulizzi have pushed for years – the content you create isn’t the asset, the asset is the audience that content helps you build.The content you create isn’t the asset. The asset is the audience content helps you build. @robert_rose Click To Tweet
At iQ, Luke and his team fully bought into that notion, and they use it to feed insights into what the audience cares about to other teams.
Why this works
Without the built-in end date that accompanies many campaigns, the iQ team develops much deeper insight into what people care about. Luke shares the example of artificial intelligence, a pillar concept for the company. iQ created dozens of content pieces about AI over a year, enabling the team to report on the key attributes of what the audience consumed.
By promoting the content on social and engaging with followers, the team also gathers feedback and shares any questions people had with sales and other relevant teams.Promoting content on social enables #content team to get feedback for sales & other teams. @LukeKintigh Click To Tweet
One more tip: Collaborate at the planning stage
Editorial teams often sit within larger marketing organizations, yet operate with a mission that’s somewhat removed from traditional marketing efforts like demand generation and direct brand promotions. Still, coordinating with other marketing teams is essential to delivering value to the business.
Dusty sees his team’s mission as making people fall in love with Autodesk by showcasing big ideas. Other Autodesk marketing teams try to generate product demand. The goals are related, but the execution is different. They collaborate to align the right content with the specific goal.
“We brainstorm with partners in the verticals who are driving lines of business. They might tell us they’re doing a video on a cool robotics startup that’s using our product,” Dusty says. “We’ll do a story, too, but ours is about how neat the people are and how they’re an interesting example of where the industry is going. We up-level it.”
Why this works
Autodesk’s Redshift angle attracts visitors who might be interested in stories about trends in robotics in a way that more product-oriented content might not. That audience gives the demand-gen team the ability to retarget people, offering content that goes a step deeper. Dusty frames an example follow-up piece as, “Want to learn more about how they’re doing the neat thing they’re doing?” Audience generation, he says, replaces the top of the funnel and gives other teams opportunities to move the audience along its journey.
Challenge: Make the best use of the right technology
The array of technologies for companies is dizzying: Trello, Asana, WordPress, Adobe Experience Manager, Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, Adobe Target, Box, Eloqua, Simple Reach, Kapost, Opal, Excel, Sprinklr, Slack, Dynamic Signal.
The list goes on – forming a stack that Luke compares to the Leaning Tower of Pisa.
“It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the tech that’s available,” Intel’s Deb Landau acknowledges. “We have a huge tech stack that most of us don’t use well. It’s like when you have a toolkit and you always use your favorite screwdriver and hammer. The rest is there in case you need it.”
With so many options available, getting a single team to stick to an agreed-on set of tools and to use it to the best effect isn’t easy. Simply communicating the requirements to the development team and understanding the impact of seemingly simple requests can be a struggle. One team understands the tech side, the other team understands the content side.
What to try: Create a shared road map and language
Luke finds that a one-pager he developed to show the kinds of visitors iQ attracts (from fly-bys through fanatics) serves as a useful guide to share with Intel’s internal tech team.
When Whitney struggled to help her dev team correct a related-content algorithm that seemed to return the same four Capital Ideas stories again and again, she created a spreadsheet to show the dev team the relationships among the stories and to clarify the taxonomy.
Why this works
Mapping the tools to their function within the audience development strategy gives Intel’s tech team insight into the business need behind iQ’s requirements. At the Capital Group, Whitney’s spreadsheet helped her bridge the understanding gap between the content need and the strain on page load times on the tech side.
“The ability and the need to communicate with the dev team is so important,” she says. “Understand where they’re coming from and create a shared language so you can meet objectives.”
That shared language has come in handy. Since its launch on Adobe Experience Manager two years ago, Capital Ideas moved over to WordPress – and back to AEM. But that’s a story for another post.
Challenge: Build publishing skills within a marketing team
If you think an enterprise content brand comes with a sizable team, you might be surprised how lean the teams really are. iQ, for example, runs with a publisher (Luke, who doubles as audience development and content distribution wizard), a managing editor (Deb), an executive editor, and one additional editor who helps with WordPress publishing. All four come from journalism and PR backgrounds, and they supplement their writing with a team of contractors and freelancers.
Whitney works with a team of six internal writers, also with journalism backgrounds, and experiments with agency resources for human interest stories. Will McKenna and Fred Macri, who shared the tale of how they built Capital Ideas at Content Marketing World 2017, round out the publication’s leadership.
Dusty’s team includes a managing editor for operations and measurement; a head of video, design and UX; and a person in charge of engagement, distribution, and promotion. Editorial is produced by a blend of contractors and freelancers.
While freelancers typically bring storytelling expertise and a journalistic approach, they can struggle with the tricky balance of audience and brand interests.
What to try: Create a roster of reliable contractors and stringers with journalism backgrounds
“It’s hard to find writers who get it,” Deb said. “The core values of journalism go against traditional marketing. Marketers only want to talk about the thing they want to sell or ourselves. But we know if we keep talking about ourselves people will leave quickly.”We know if we keep talking about ourselves people will leave our site quickly, says @debword. Read more>> Click To Tweet
At Redshift, Dusty and the team cultivated a set of writers who understood the message well enough that they can now pitch stories rather than just accept assignments. That takes time, though, so once you find your reliable stringers, hang onto them.Cultivate writers who can pitch stories, not just accept assignments, says @dustycd. Click To Tweet
Why this works
“We’ve learned to refer to freelancers as longtime contributors. The more they work with you, the more they understand your voice and tone,” Luke said. “It becomes more efficient to work with them, and they have more skin in the game when you hire them to do, say, four stories over the next two months.”
The reasons to look for a journalism background over a marketing background go beyond writing ability.
“Think about where they’ve come from: They’ve been trying to earn the front page of the paper. To do that, you’ve got to know the audience and make it so engaging that it earns that position,” Dusty says. You need a blend of marketing and journalism skills on a team. As he says, it’s “easier to find a journalist and turn them into a marketer than to find a marketer and turn them into a journalist.”
If nothing else, do this one thing
“Nobody starts one day and says I’ve decided content marketing is really important and we’re just going to do it. You have to sell it to people,” Whitney says.#Contentmarketing is important & we’re going to do it said no one ever. You have to sell it. @whitaknee Click To Tweet
That’s why her recommendation for something anybody can do to improve their content marketing challenges is this: “Communicating with people outside your department. Leaving your cube and going to talk to your developer or the sales team and get to know what they’re trying to do.
Here’s an excerpt from their keynote panel discussion:
Editor’s note: No one post can provide all relevant tools in the space. Feel free to include additional tools in the comments (from your company or ones that you have used).
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute