Insights from the Tactical to the Strategic
In this first half of this conversation between blueriver’s Sean Schroeder and the Content Marketing Institute’s Robert Rose, they overviewed the current fragmented marketing landscape. To help marketing teams make sense of the terrain, both are ready with sound advice and critical thinking in part two of this discussion.
Sean Schroeder (SS): It seems to me the reasonable solution on the technology side of things would be something that provides a connective tissue between all of your different data points, and then synthesizes it to deliver experiences that are in sync across all of your different owned content properties, and across multiple devices. Would you agree this is a reasonable approach?
Rober Rose (RR): I think it absolutely is reasonable. Think about it in two ways. One is, theoretically, a great technology is going to help us scale our efforts. That’s really all a technology can ever hope to do. It is a tool. What a tool does is provide us leverage to do more than we could do on our own. If we think about the efforts of the marketing team, the efforts of the social team - the entirety of what it is that's trying to drive marketing strategy - what we're looking for is a tool that helps us do more than we could do manually. That comes in two flavors when we start to think about content connecting the experiences, and using data to drive more value.
The first is pulling data in from all of the experiences that we're creating, to give us more insight into creating better content. This goes back to what we were talking about at the beginning of the webinar, with regard to asking, “How good is the data that you have now?” Chances are, even if it is high quality, it probably comes from one source, which is probably your email newsletter, or some marketing automation process that you set up, so it's all very email and landing page focused. Those conversions are what you have.
How can we supplement that with behavioral data from the blog, with social data that's coming in through third parties, with landing page stuff that we've created, and with the website - by knowing which pages they have reviewed - all of these different experiences that we're creating across these multiple channels? It all rolls up into this more replete data set that we can start to use, to get better insight about what content is resonating, how much value, what personas are getting addressed, et cetera. That's the first thing. If we could do that, we're doing really great.
In other words, can we start to optimize a channel to an anonymous visitor, even before they raise their hand and do something?
The second thing is where the tool really comes into play. As we start collecting better data, can we start using it to truly automate some of this content display? This is the promise of marketing automation, digital experience management (or CEM, or whatever acronym you like). Can we start using this data to optimize one, multiple, or parts of multiple channels to that behavior even in real time? In other words, can we start to optimize a channel to an anonymous visitor, even before they raise their hand and do something?
If they visit the blog and look at these fourteen posts, respond to an email, go to a micro-site, and then come to the website, can we start using content to not necessarily personalize it for them - because they haven't raised their hand yet, we don’t know who they are, and even if we did it might not be that valuable - but can we persona-ize it, to address and optimize a particular part of our website, based on their previous behavior across different channels?
That feels like the promise that we've had for so long across all of these web content management, marketing automation, email, and CRM tools, but it's really a mix of all of them working together in synthesis - you used the word synthesize, and I think that's the right word, orchestration or synthesizing those elements together - to give us the insight, and also the leverage of a tool that helps us expand and deliver content optimally for any user that may be coming to our website. That's the brass ring if you will, and it's really what we're shooting for, if we can try and deliver it.
SS: Let's talk about that in the context of audience development. What are some of the benefits of connecting these content experiences as part of building an audience?
RR: Right, so there are a number of things. Interestingly, I think a number of the benefits that it provides are not necessarily lead- or sales-driven. I probably talk about them too much, but I'm reminded of what Kraft does with their audience - the way they have been able to monetize their audience. First of all, they love to create higher purchase intent with their online recipes database - this wonderful piece of content that consumers willingly give very, very detailed data for. Why? Because the content is very valuable to them. They have created a valuable content property, and by nature of that have created a database of 3.5 million opt-in subscribers. They have created an audience.
Now, they'll tell you that increased purchase intent is a wonderful thing, and they create it, but that's not why and not how they benefit most often from this idea. The idea is that the subscribed content provides actionable insight for them to take action on. In other words, they have more data and better research about their consumers than any research company on the planet. They actually don't even buy external research about their consumers anymore, because they have better research than any research company does.
Now, how does that apply to somebody in a B2B or a smaller company? If you build an audience you can assume that a small percentage of those people at some point are going to be pulled into your marketing funnel. That's a great benefit, and we really like it, so we're going to build this wonderful audience through building a blog or through a webinar program, or through our white paper program, that's going to build this subscription-based audience, and we're going to pull a certain percentage of them into our marketing funnel.
It's looking at multiple ways to generate actionable insight out of data, not just pulling them in through the lead funnel.
Here's the thing. The majority of those people will, A - never go through your funnel, or, B - not go through it immediately. But that doesn’t mean we don't derive value out of having them in our audience database. We can now look at the data that we're assembling by delivering that value, and get all kinds of value from it. What messages are resonating with those people, which ones really test well? We're testing a new product. What should we be calling this new product? What kinds of messaging should we try in our marketing brochures? We can try out all kinds of things, with an audience that's much bigger than our lead funnel at any one time, and get tremendous business value out of it and then, yes, some percentage of them will also come through the lead funnel. It's looking at multiple ways to generate actionable insight out of data, not just pulling them in through the lead funnel.
SS: Even the things that would typically indicate success still have value, because they still provide insights that allow you to move forward?
RR: That's right. Just think of it in this very simple example. If we start putting out content, let's say we target two different groups. One of them is marketing practitioners, and the other is IT practitioners. Let's say we want to start testing, to see where we’re getting the IT practitioners from. We think we're getting most of them from search, but we suspect that there may be some other sources, so we can do a test. We can start promoting blog posts through Google search, through Outbrain, through other types of content syndication, or through native advertising and paid media. We can do banner ads.
We can start promoting content through different methods, and see which one delivers us the highest number of people who are interested in IT-related content. That gives us some insight into a number of things. It helps us really refine and get better at our paid media strategy. It also helps us understand which publications are driving the highest number of the IT practitioners that we really want to get value out of, and it helps us determine what kind of content resonates most with those IT practitioners. It also helps us determine which ones didn't resonate at all, didn't get any comments, didn’t get any shares.
As we start looking at the efficacy of our content, that's acting like a media organization - what content , messages and stories are really resonating with the audiences we're trying to get to - we can really start to build a lot of value for our marketing research, our advertising, our product development, and all sorts of things beyond just generating a lead. It can be pretty powerful when you start to look at it that way.
SS: Are there any other benefits to focusing on audience development?
RR: One of the biggest other benefits, is the way it helps us align content as a function in the business. This gets a little more esoteric, but when we look at it, as the marketing organization, it comes back to what we were talking about at the beginning of the conversation, where we look at marketing being even siloed within itself. You've got PR working. You've got the content e-business team working. You've got the social team working, the web team working. You've got the e-commerce team working. You've got all of these teams that are working on content, to help them facilitate more actions or transactions in their particular world.
PR is trying for more coverage. The web team is trying for more traffic and SEO-related, organic actions. The e-commerce team, of course, is looking at transactions and so forth. In many ways, they've got this focus on creating content for their own purposes. When we start switching over to an audience-focused strategy, or an audience-centric strategy, we start seeing content that works cross-functionally, where we can reuse, repurpose, and reduce the amount of content, and start really using it - maybe it's at the top of the funnel, just to keep this really simple - but we start using it as a central way to create an asset called an audience.
Creating value through content, with an audience development strategy, focuses everybody on creating highly valuable content to be used cross-purpose.
Now, if we create that audience asset using a cross-functional content process, those content assets in and of themselves will also serve the transactional needs of whatever group we're trying to support. In other words, as I like to say, if you're creating content so great that people want to give over data and want to subscribe to it, I guarantee it makes a direct-marketing piece. I guarantee it makes a wonderful social piece, and it will make a great e-commerce asset for people to look at as they're going through the buy cycle.
Creating value through content, with an audience development strategy, focuses everybody on creating highly valuable content to be used cross-purpose. That's one of the other benefits, helping align all of those different silos.
The key with personalized content is that it is rarely personal.
SS: Right. Then how does that translate to some of the other things that marketers are concerned about? One of the things that really occupies our minds right now is the concept of personalization. At the same time, we also want to make sure things are shareable. Are things in conflict with each other?
RR: Yeah, they are. This is one of those things where marketing has gotten wrapped around the axle of personalization. The key with personalized content is that it is rarely personal. I may address you as Sean or Robert or whatever, but this goes back to the quality of data that we have, and the kind and amount of content that we're creating - it's usually not personal.
Now, even if it is personal - and maybe especially if it's personal - you never share personalized content. When I sign on to my banking application and it gives me my detailed portfolio, I'm never going to share that. I'm much more unlikely to share that with my community than I am if it's persona-ized, or if it's for somebody like me. That's the real difference, and that may seem like a subtle semantic difference, but it's really not.
Delivering the right message to the right person at the right time, is basically getting really good at push marketing.
If we start thinking about developing content that's relevant for audiences, it helps us think about reducing the amount of content. But it really helps us focus on what is person-able, or relevant to an audience, rather than getting wrapped around the axle of “How do I make this right for Bob today?”, because we're usually guessing at that point. We can spend so much time trying to get something personalized, that we rarely get it to be personal, and we very rarely forget how to be relevant to that person in their need. It doesn't matter if it's personalized. If it's not relevant to me, I'm immediately ignoring it. I think we can get lost in this idea of trying to personalize content, when trying to focus on value and relevance is much more productive work.
SS: Agreed. Something that you talk about in the white paper, which I really like, is how you turn the idea of “the right message to the right person at the right time” on its head. Instead, you rephrase this as the right value, to the right audience, in their time, which to me absolutely speaks to the heart of content marketing as you were mentioning earlier.
RR: That's exactly right. Delivering the right message to the right person at the right time, is basically getting really good at push marketing.
If we can be really great at delivering and targeting a message to somebody that just happens to be in the market for that particular thing when you hit them, we're geniuses. That's when we're marketing and advertising geniuses, and that's rare. There are people who are really good at it, and I'm not suggesting for a minute that the practice should necessarily go away because it's a great talent. However, we can turn that on its head, like you said, and start thinking about delivering the right value to the right person in their time - in other words, stop trying to map everything we do to some micro-decision in the buyer's journey - and target them at the right specific moment.
Instead of trying to figure out how to map every piece of content to some micro-decision in the buyer's journey, why don't we just focus on developing three experiences?
Instead, we create this brilliant, remarkable, powerful experience somewhere and let the audiences find it in their time, and let them explore it on their time, and build an audience and deliver value in their time, so that they actually bounce around as an audience member for however long they need to. They will eventually come to the conclusion that your solution is the right one for them. I think it's the new way of approaching a content-driven marketing approach. It is inbound marketing at its core, but it can be approached at any level of the funnel, where I look at inbound marketing at the very top of the funnel. This is a loyalty approach. This can be a nurturing approach.
At the end of many of my talks I'll say, you know what? Instead of trying to figure out how to map every piece of content to some micro-decision in the buyer's journey, why don't we just focus on developing three experiences? Let's reduce the amount of content, and focus on three experiences. Let's create an amazing awareness experience, and let's connect it - data and infrastructure-wise - to an amazing, nurturing experience. Maybe that's on our website. Then let's connect that to an amazing and remarkable loyalty experience, where we illustrate our shared values with our consumers and we make sure that they understand that we're in it for the long run with them, and connect those three. If we can create those three experiences, we're in a great shape, and we can, of course, scale up or scale down from there, but if we can just do those three things, we're going to be in wonderful shape for creating success for the business.
SS: How do we do this? How, as marketers, do we develop an audience-centric strategy that offers all of these benefits like aligning sales and marketing, and building a rich database, that allows us to connect our content experiences, and that becomes a valuable asset in its own right?
RR: The longer answer to that question is that it can be relatively difficult, but it's as difficult as you have appetite for change in the organization. The process and cultural hurdles that you have to jump, in many cases, are very difficult indeed. Convincing people that audience development is something that's worth doing is the first step. Certainly, I mean, without putting too fine a point on it, this is something that my new book is all about, which is crossing that cultural hurdle. Certainly, the white paper that we worked on together, which we've been talking about, certainly talks about that, and about the technical infrastructure that pulls all of those cross-functional things together.
We look at it in three different tiers. First, what is the core data management layer? How can we connect these experiences in a way that, when data is being collected from the blog, data is being collected from the website, from email, from social, that it's all going into a layer that starts to append and amend itself, and build that audience database?
Then above that, layered over that, we have what we would call the “engagement management” layer, which is all of the different channels that we may be delivering content and value through. That may be the website. That may be the blog. That may be social. These things need to be agile and move quickly, for us to stand them up quickly and then also pull them down quickly. That really gets to what we were talking about earlier - what does this technology solution look like? Is it a CRM system? Is it a marketing automation system? Is it a content management system? The answer is yes. It's probably all of those things, but the key is that it's got to be a bit of all of that, to help us move rapidly, and with agility.
Then, lastly, we have this idea of content, channel, and experience management. How do we make those things look? What is the content itself? We have to focus on moving quickly, and operating cross-functionally so we have the right people writing the right content at the right time, and the interfaces to be able to collaborate across all of those things. Great collaboration workflows, great common interfaces and mobile interfaces, and all of the things that are being installed by today's technology vendors are helping a marketer move fast. It is both the cultural change that we have to make, being convinced that audiences are really an asset worth creating and a technology architecture that helps us facilitate that.
SS: Okay, that makes sense, and that's great advice, but for those of us who want to start today, how do we start?
RR: My colleague at DCG, Dr. Tim Walters, says this really well, "Look, too many organizations wonder how they can even get started. How do you even begin to think about this? It’s simple. Start with the things that you can control."
For many marketers, that's the web channel. Let's just do it. Let's start getting good at it. This is a process. This isn't some finish line that you'll get to. What we're really talking about here - audience development as a strategy - is not a project.
One of my good friends, Marcus Sheridan the Sales Lion, has a great podcast and is a great keynote speaker. He says you can implement content - and he doesn't say audience development, he says content and inbound because he's a real big inbound fan, but I'll put the words audience development in our mouth for a minute - he says you can put the audience development and content into your business as a project or as a culture. If you put it in as a project, it's destined to fail because projects ultimately come to an end. But, he says, if you put it in as a culture, it becomes who you are.
To me, that's such an elegant way of saying it, because that is what we're talking about here. We're not talking about a project. We're talking about changing who you are. I don’t say it in this white paper. I say it in another one, which is in a keynote that I'm usually giving, where I say in today's world, marketing doesn't change content's purpose. Content changes marketing's purpose. That's really what we're talking about, a fundamental shift in who we are as marketers and how we deliver value to consumers. That's the real change that we're talking about.
SS: That's great. Starting with the things we can control, like the web channel, allows you to begin that process that never ends.
RR: That’s exactly right.
Marketers today need to reach ever more savvy consumers through a growing number of channels, which is no easy feat. With the right mindset and smart tools, marketing teams can see even greater success.
To learn more, be sure to download Connecting Content Marketing Experiences - Three keys to a more connected and aligned technology and marketing agenda, the latest white paper from Rose and Schroeder.