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How Your Content Marketing Benefits From a Listen, Ask, Share Approach

content marketing, Zoratti from Ricoh
Sandra Zoratti

A published author and accomplished marketer, Sandra Zoratti currently serves as VP of Marketing for Ricoh. Her formula for creating content that sparks a business conversation has found great success for the international technology solution provider.

She recently offered some insights for CMI readers on her “listen-ask-share” formula in Ricoh’s content creation and outreach. 

CMI: What business challenges are you addressing with your content?

Sandra: Content marketing, to us, is an approach to help us better understand and engage with customers and prospects. Our marketing at Ricoh focuses on vertical industries.

A few years back, we initiated a content marketing plan with the insurance industry and started with the most important step: listening. It’s hard to join the conversation and provide relevant content unless you first spend time listening. In our case, we sponsored research with the CMO Council with the goal of listening to both our customers and our customers’ customers. The research revealed what the insurance consumer wanted versus what insurance companies delivered. By identifying and understanding these gaps, we were then able to start a relevant conversation with insurance companies around key business challenges.

Ironically, some of these challenges were “blind spots” to insurers, so we were able to provide value from the start with our research content. The conversations began the process of asking customers and prospects more targeted questions and then working to deliver valuable, consistent, compelling content. In our case, the discussion centered on the value of using data-driven insights (what I call “Precision Marketing“) to improve customer engagement. Finally, we shared this research publicly so that everyone could benefit. We have subsequently mirrored this approach —  listen, ask, share — in the utilities, banking, and finance industries. 

How do you get internal buy-in? What challenges have you faced from those within the organization?

We already had several proof points to justify the practice internally because we started our content marketing journey by proving the value of relevancy to customers in a variety of industries. If relevancy could boost engagement and our customers’ ROI, then certainly the same could hold true for us. We just needed to “eat our own cooking” so to speak — and truthfully, we’re still learning best approaches. We stay connected with CMI and others who are experts in this area and are just now embarking on the path of putting full-time resources into this internally.

In any organization — perhaps especially in large organizations like ours — we face the challenge of silos, as well as resistance to change the way “we’ve always done it.” To combat that, we have been careful to build content marketing as an approach, instead of a tactic. We believe that content marketing should not compete with other tactics; it should make them better. That’s a new way of thinking that can be difficult for some to embrace initially. I’d say that people intuitively understand why content marketing works. The challenge is transforming intuition into intention.

What tactics are you using (e.g. blog, eBooks, video, etc.)? Which are most successful? Disappointing?

delivering content marketingRicoh is committed to implementing multichannel, integrated marketing. To that end, we use the many avenues of social media, as well as email marketing, webinars, face-to-face events, public relations tactics, traditional books, eBooks, videos, reports, and websites… you name it, we’ve tried it! We also contribute to several blogs in the industries we target. In our experience, the content and its relevancy greatly trump the channel. We say, “It’s the message, not the medium.” So our first order of business is to get the right content and from there, offer it broadly via channels so our readers can digest the content through the channel of their choice. 

Ricoh uses many avenues of social media 

Once you generate content, how do you distribute it? 

Well, it depends. The industry and community knowledge we gather and observe helps us identify where and how members like to receive content. We create target personas to help us focus. Iterative learning is key here. To keep organized, we generate a detailed editorial calendar that lists the conversations we want to have with our target personas and industries. Then, we map our content to these conversations and overlay that with the sales cycle. Our editorial calendar includes a master view, as well as tabs for each of our tactics. Everyone on the team can see which content is being created when and can make plans to repurpose it for magnification of our message in each of our channels.

What kind of results have you gotten since you started using content marketing?

Let’s go back to the insurance example. When our research was published, we generated interest from a leading CMO in the insurance industry who invited us to meet with him and his executive team. The content resonated with him and the challenges his team was tackling. The content also pointed out some areas that were surprise findings (those blind spots I mentioned) to the CMO who wanted to have a deeper discussion and understanding. In essence, the content opened a door to have a meaningful conversation that was the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship.

This year, Ricoh was honored with the BMA Gold Key Award for our content marketing campaign targeting the utilities industry. After a success with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, we marketed the solution throughout the utilities industry with a content marketing approach. Using our listen-ask-share approach, we developed a six-month long outreach and awareness building process that culminated in a multi-day industry event. From our initial event, we influenced $14 million of incremental revenue for our business. Our utility industry approach was a great example of content marketing at its most interesting, its most relevant, and its most impactful. The multi-day event received impressive feedback from our attendees. And what we found even more valuable was that the event promoted deeper engagement with the industry that translated directly into the partnerships and results.

Where do you expect to go next? What challenges are you still facing? 

In 2013, we are launching a new campaign for a new industry. We’re using our past to inform our future. You can bet that before even one piece of content is generated, we’ll be listening, learning, and partnering with a third party to keep the content objective. In fact, we are partnering with both a third party and three university marketing classes to help us listen and learn in 2013.

As the proliferation of options to magnify the message continues to grow quickly, it can be hard to keep up! We need to stay focused on honing our content creation and curation function and learning how to place our bets prescriptively.

What are the most exciting examples of content marketing you’ve seen outside of your business?

Although it’s a consumer brand, I’m excited by Target’s recent short web film “Falling For You.” It gives quality content with a fun story, while also subtly allowing viewers to shop the movie. Branded entertainment has been a hot trend for the last few years, but this campaign linked the plot of the video to a real-life event in New York City at the end, extending the life of the content and building more anticipation.

Target’s CMO Jeff Jones gets it — he’s proclaimed that Target’s future is in content and understands that engagement isn’t fueled by broadcasting a highly-structured campaign, but instead by responding to customers as they speak to the company, and then empowering those customers to become brand ambassadors who speak on Target’s behalf. As a B2B marketer, I can appreciate Target’s strategy of pushing content beyond the screen (or the page) and into real-world events that engage customers even further.

Do you want to see how other brand marketers have incorporated content into their strategy? View our series of interviews with marketers at mid-to-large B2B and B2C brands.