The Evolution of an Award-Winning Content Marketing Strategy
Venetta Linas Paris, CMI’s 2018 Content Marketer of the Year, talks about Aon’s B2B content marketing platform The One Brief, what others can learn from Aon’s journey, and how it continues to adapt into the future.
By Stephanie Stahl
One of the never-ending challenges for content marketers is convincing business leaders that branded content should focus on solving genuine audience problems without every solution becoming a pitch for their products and services.
At global professional services giant Aon, Venetta Linas Paris grabbed the opportunity to demonstrate such an audience-focused approach could work. In the three years since launching Aon’s storytelling platform, The One Brief, Linas Paris and team have helped the firm increase awareness not only of its brand but also of the cross-discipline breadth of the firm’s expertise.
As senior manager for content and global marketing at Aon (and one of The One Brief’s two dedicated staffers) Linas Paris puts the audience’s information needs first. Measuring the impact — and learning from the measurement — comes a very close second.
SS: Tell us about the mission behind The One Brief.
VLP: The One Brief started a little over three years ago, and it was the start of our journey to brand storytelling. We saw a real need to move past how we were talking about the organization: Lots of great content, but, for the most part, it was fairly siloed. In different parts of the business it was product focused or it was solution focused. It wasn’t really issues focused.
We saw this as an opportunity to take an outside-in approach to how we present our insights to the marketplace. Instead of focusing on our own solution lines or our own services, it was more: “What are the key issues our clients and prospects are looking to address?” and “How do our insights and our perspective help address some of those issues?”
How has The One Brief evolved since launching in 2015?
It’s evolved considerably. In the beginning, there was a lot of socialization and buy-in building that had to be done — from executive leaders to various marketing leaders throughout the globe. In the past, we had gone to market for the most part fairly separately. With The One Brief, we were looking to break down those barriers and go to market cohesively as a single Aon.
A lot of it was: “Do we actually have a pan-Aon view on so many of these issues?” Depending on who you asked within the organization, it might be “yes,” or it might be “no.” But we started taking a journalistic approach to things, where you have the mindset of “There is a story here, and I’ve got to find what it is.”We took a journalistic mindset: There’s a story here — I've got to find it. @Venetta_Beretta on @aon_plc content. Click To Tweet
We also knew we had to measure our efforts. But how do you measure new stories? How do you measure a different way of doing something? How do you measure different perspectives of what something like this could do and bring back to the organization?
So, there’s the organizational need to shift how we’re talking, but then there’s also the question of whether our audience is responding. How do you map those two things together?
Fast-forward to now, and our challenge is actually a huge opportunity. We’ve got a lot of people raising their hands and saying, “How can we be a part of this? How does this content fit into my campaign? How can we do more with the same resources?” This is a great problem to have because it’s less selling of what it is you’re trying to do, but being as inclusive as possible to ensure that you’re doing as much as you can across the organization.
I love what you said about the journalist mindset because journalists are trained to ask a lot of questions. Did you get pushback early on for questioning things?
I think the pushback in the beginning was based on education. Internally, people didn’t know why we were trying to pull back so many layers of the onion. But I think we’ve gotten that credibility because people have seen what the final output is. And we’ve seen that people are becoming more and more comfortable about connecting their own product and solution to something a bit larger.
The big part of the journey was how to do this in a way that’s cohesive for the audience. How do we put pieces of a puzzle together that might not necessarily fit? At what point do we have to be honest with ourselves and say this part doesn’t actually work here, but we could do a follow-up piece and then dive a little bit deeper into XYZ subject?
It was a learning process with our own subject matter experts who have extraordinary experience in their field. Broadening the conversation is something that we’ve had to work on together.
For the most part, our conversations have shifted. When we start the conversation with an expert now, it’s about the bigger picture. It’s not about the product, service, and solution because we’ve paved that way over the last few years. People understand that everything that they do is hitting something a little bit larger and they’re more comfortable talking at a higher level about the impact of their work.
A lot of brands want to talk about their products and services, but that’s not what the audience needs. What’s your advice to others who are struggling with this challenge?
What we’ve tried to do from the onset — and we’ve evolved along the way — is to have an editorial focus that was completely outside of our own product, service, and solution set.
It was starting with an issue that’s outside of Aon and then mapping it back to how our perspectives can add value to that larger business challenge.
It takes a little bit of creativity as well. Not all angles are cut and dried. But as people start asking more questions of our experts, our leaders, and our clients, we’re able to create more interesting storylines.
What’s the most important measurement for you, your team, and the company to show that this is valuable?
The brand impact is significant. We’ve seen from an ROI standpoint everything we’ve invested with The One Brief has comes back quite a few-fold as it relates to the impact it makes for the brand.
For me, what really gets me excited is that we’re learning something new with every single piece of content that we put out. We might be learning something about how we get better at process. How do we take that learning and apply it across other content initiatives throughout the organization?
We’re learning about how audiences engage with different pieces of content across channels. We might be great when it comes to a holistic story but that might not translate into an email open rate. How do we balance those two things and take that learning across the organization?It’s about learning from and questioning every #content piece. How could we have done this better? @Venetta_Beretta Click To Tweet
It’s about constantly learning from every single piece. It’s questioning every piece that goes out. How could we have done this better? Was there something we were missing? How can teams use this in market? What’s the bigger picture use case for this piece of content or, from a thematic standpoint, how can we continue this and keep learning more and more from it?
What emerging trends in content marketing are you keeping your eye on right now?
I am fascinated by all the conversation around big data, and not just from a marketing standpoint but big data as it relates to large organizations and being able to answer a lot of questions that are usually kept in silos.
When I see the opportunity with content to better serve an audience member, I’m really keen to see big data in action. I think a lot of people talk about it, but I haven’t seen how it’s been brought into an organization to change big picture things like organizational structure, like technologies, like how teams are set up. So, I’m watching big data, but I’m not sure where it’s going.
If I look to what’s next in content marketing, I’d say it’s a focus on less. A few years ago, everyone was rushing to make the viral video and everyone was racing to create a lot of content. There’s a lot of great content out there, but there’s also a lot of not great content out there.
Technology aside, we can all look inward at what is it we’re producing. How much of it is reaching our audience? How can we do this better? How can we start creating more impactful work across teams instead of just creating more work across teams?How can we start creating more impactful work instead of just creating more work? @Venetta_Beretta Click To Tweet
You’ve had great success with The One Brief since you started. How do you future-proof your content marketing strategy?
It’s a great question. When we think about future-proofing The One Brief, we’d really have to go a few rings above it to how we future-proof our marketing priorities. It’s really about taking the pulse of our audience — taking the pulse of what our clients and prospects are looking for help with today, as well as what are they looking for help with two or three years down the line.
Being in lockstep with our client-facing colleagues on the commercial team and being looped into what the field is hearing helps us prioritize our marketing initiatives and what we’re writing about — not just at The One Brief but all the content initiatives throughout the organization.
If you had unlimited budget, what would you spend it on tomorrow?
The big data. The magic question-and-answer machine. We’ve tried to accomplish a lot throughout our organization to map various technology systems so that we have a better picture of the entire customer journey. That’s easier said than done, especially when you look at larger organizations that have legacy systems with legacy processes.
How does everyone within an organization input the kind of data that the system — that magic machine — needs to give everyone that broader picture of what the customer wants?
If I had all the marketing budget in the world, I would want to solve that for large B2B organizations. There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity there, but it tends to be one of those challenges I see in many organizations that systems aren’t mapped to each other. The data we all think is there might not be in a place where we can act upon it.
Looking back, if you could use that magic machine to change anything in your strategy to date, is there anything you would change?
I think always having a finger on the pulse on what our audiences are looking to achieve would have possibly changed the editorial focus of some of our pieces. More of that real-time insight into the exact issue the audience is facing. That gives us a better idea of where to focus.