ServiceNow’s origin story reads like many other successful tech startups.
They didn’t initially need thought leadership. They needed great products and sales.
ServiceNow had that — a cloud-based workflow platform used to automate various IT processes. But ServiceNow lacked a strong brand identity, says Richard Murphy, who joined the company as the editor-in-chief and director in 2017. ServiceNow had 5,500 employees and posted $1.9 billion in revenue that year.
“We weren’t particularly well known outside of IT customers, and our core customer was a director of IT sitting deep in the IT function,” Richard says.
ServiceNow’s presence in the marketplace has changed rapidly since Richard joined the company. It expanded its products and services and adopted a comprehensive content marketing strategy to support that growing and diverse audience. Today, ServiceNow provides an AI-powered platform that automates processes across nearly every enterprise function, from IT to human resources, customer service, finance, procurement, and beyond. In 2023, ServiceNow boasted more than 22,000 employees and $8.5 billion in revenue, and it’s on the way to $16 billion in the not-too-distant future, Richard says.
Its content strategy worked well for the company and led to marketing industry accolades. ServiceNow and its agency partner Message Lab took top honors at the 2023 Content Marketing Awards for Best Content Marketing Program, Agency/Client Content Marketing Partnership, B2B Publication, and Best Digital Publication (distribution). It also was a finalist in eight other categories.
Richard was named 2023 B2B Content Marketer of the Year.
Using content as a growth strategy
How did a business journalist and social scientist develop a content marketing strategy that supported and contributed to the rapid expansion of ServiceNow?
Richard turned to thought leadership. But he didn’t produce those run-of-the-mill white papers, e-books, and webinars. Instead, he adopted a Harvard Business Review mentality and launched Workflow, a digital publication that covers emerging trends in enterprise tech and business strategy. Workflow has been a cornerstone of ServiceNow’s strategy to position itself as a strategic innovation partner to businesses and governments worldwide. The content brand now includes Workflow Quarterly, a magazine that covers a singular theme each quarter, from the digital experience to ESG (environmental, social, and governance) to risk management.
Workflow Quarterly offers a premium editorial experience, packaging proprietary research and deeply reported stories in a compelling format. The result is a magazine that entices readers and educates them about digital transformation.
When ServiceNow’s thought leadership program started, some inside ServiceNow wondered why the brand should invest in building thought leadership. Richard needed to convince them it would move the bottom line.
“Nobody ever got in my face and said, ‘Richard, your work has no value. Why are you here?’” he says. “Everybody was willing to give me a chance, but I wouldn’t say that my job security was super awesome for the first couple of years.”
It helped that ServiceNow was growing its product lines and expanding its target audiences. Until 2017, the audience was made up of IT directors seeking to lower their costs. However, the expansion in product lines and industries meant the buyer profile evolved into people with C-level titles. Eighty percent of the Fortune 500 are ServiceNow customers, along with government agencies around the world.
These decision-makers are senior leaders who may or may not have technical backgrounds. “They’re much less interested in the ins and outs of tech — the speeds and feeds of tech — than they are in the strategic value of tech,” Richard explains.
Senior leaders want to know the answers to these questions if they invest in ServiceNow’s technology for their IT operations, HR services, customer service management, procurement, finance, etc.:
- How much money will I save?
- How will it improve labor productivity?
- What’s it going to do for employee and customer satisfaction scores?
“All these questions relate to the impact of technology, and that’s what we cover in Workflow,” Richard says.
Growing into a brand
Workflow quickly demonstrated non-salesy, product-agnostic thought leadership wasn’t just good for developing brand awareness. It also built trust in the brand, which ultimately translated into marketing and sales leads.
That’s when the C-suite at ServiceNow recognized thought leadership was good for business.
In six years, Workflow’s audience has grown to 1.5 million unique visitors and 2 million total page views – up by 1 million views in the past year alone. On average, Workflow visitors spend nearly six minutes on the site, up 71% year over year. Senior business leaders — the core customer — dominate the audience. The metrics show Workflow readers are more likely to take desirable actions, such as visiting the company’s website (ServiceNow.com), giving up their email address to download a white paper, and learning about the company, compared to ServiceNow.com visitors who have not previously consumed Workflow content. (Read more about how ServiceNow tracks content performance in this 2022 article.)
“We have seen that the more of our content they consume, the more likely they are to buy,” Richard says. “Because at the end of the day, even though we’re not pushing the products directly, everything we talk about at the thought leadership level does need to provide intellectual air cover for specific products.”
Rising to meet the next challenge
A little over a year ago, ServiceNow launched RiseUp, a program to create a million skilled professionals who can operate ServiceNow solutions inside an organization and thrive in this digitally transformed economy by 2024.
It became a big opportunity for thought leadership. “Suddenly, you can analyze the whole world of skills development and reskilling in a world where AI and generative AI are rapidly changing how organizations operate, how they go to market,” Richard says.
ServiceNow partnered with Pearson AI, which uses machine-learning algorithms to crawl census data, job boards, and other economic data sets worldwide. They used AI to predict how AI is going to change the mix of skills needed for individuals and companies to succeed in the global economy.
The research evolved into an immersive content experience that incorporates the findings, explains their impact, and relates the stories through experts using video, graphics, text, and more. “We were able to position ServiceNow as a company that not only provided AI solutions but was also keenly aware of the impact of AI on people and organizations,” Richard says.
ServiceNow marketing and sales teams can now use this thought leadership package to address the labor disruption conversation and talk about the solutions the company provides to minimize the impact.
Getting the work done
When Richard launched ServiceNow’s thought leadership program in 2017, he was a team of one with a small budget to hire an agency — that’s when Message Lab came on board. Today, the internal team totals 15 and sits in the global brand team. Richard co-leads the initiative with publisher Sheila Dowd. The pair operates in a traditional editor-publisher partnership. He focuses on the content, and she looks after audience development, paid and organic search, etc.
With a robust editorial team, Richard has broadened his focus from creating original thought leadership content to moving the audience along a content journey. “It’s all about helping build this holistic story that goes from brand all the way to demand,” he says.
Now he spends his days talking to colleagues across communications, including product, industry, and partner marketing, as well as external partners, such as Accenture, Deloitte, and PWC, who implement ServiceNow solutions in organizations worldwide.
The team’s agency roster now includes Message Lab for brand journalism content, Barretto for creative design, and Thought Lab for research help.
“It’s finding the right balance between your external partners and your internal team, then it’s about bringing the right skills. All of it together is where you get the success,” Richard says.
Focusing on what’s next
Richard grew up in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, where his father worked as a U.S. diplomat. He studied literature at Harvard and later earned a doctorate in social anthropology from Oxford based on fieldwork in Pakistan. He started his journalism career as a freelance reporter in Afghanistan and went on to cover business, tech, and international affairs for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Fortune, among others.
Richard served as the editor-in-chief of Fortune Small Business magazine. When that publication closed in 2009, he shifted his path slightly. Working as an editorial strategy consultant, he found some of his most interesting projects were creating thought leadership content for management consulting firms like McKinsey and Bain.
When Hewlett Packard Enterprise spun out from HP in 2015, Richard joined the new enterprise tech company as editor-in-chief on the global brand team. He helped define HPE’s editorial voice and launched a publication called Enterprise.nxt to educate business leaders about IT strategy and the future of computing.
That journalistic, thought leadership, and branding experience served him well when he moved to ServiceNow in 2017. Over the six years, the resources have grown, enabling Richard and the team to expand and deepen the coverage, publish more original reporting, and conduct proprietary research.
“Ultimately, that’s what matters to me. I’m 100% a journalist and an editor in terms of just my background and how I think. And it’s always about advancing the story. If you’re not advancing the story, what’s the point? You’re not a thought leader; you’re a follower.”
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute