Join us for this exciting, informative discussion as our experts share their stories, tips, and best practices for creating and executing content marketing strategies. Our experts will also share their experience bringing content innovation to new levels via “experimental content,” as well as creating innovative influencer campaigns.
This webinar will cover:
• Creating and executing content marketing strategies from startups to F500
• Content innovation: experimental content
• Measuring content performance
• Content marketing practices & principles
• Asserting thought leadership
There will be a 20-minute interactive Q&A at the end of the panel.
Art and Science of Content Marketing
Tom: Hi, everybody. This is Tom Riddle from Virtual Intelligence Briefing. Thank you for joining us today for another edition of the ViB “Success Series” webinars, the “Art & Science of Content Marketing.” Just a little bit about ViB at a very high level, we’re experts at B2B marketing services. We help our customers with awareness, lead generation, and market research.
The thing that really makes it go for our customers is a very simple saying from our founder, Sean Shea, “It’s hard to fail in business if your customers are happy.” We have a large, engaged community of over 2 million members, and we can help you, again, with awareness, insights, and quality leads.
Introduction of Today’s Panelists
With that, I’d like to introduce today’s panelists. Just a little bit about how we select panelists. We try to make sure, in addition to everybody being an expert on the topic, that there’s enough diversity in experience among the panelists to make sure there’s something for every single person that’s attending this webinar.
So, with that, our panelists are Katie DeMatteis, content marketing manager from Okta, Mark Brozek, senior product marketing manager from Zscaler, Charles Waltner, the head of content marketing from Illumio, and Sam Chapman, director of content and brand experiences from Aprimo.
What Does Content Marketing Mean to You?
So, with that, let’s get started. So, our first question, what does content marketing mean to you? Why should somebody get into content marketing?
Katie DeMatteis, Content Marketing Manager from Okta
Katie: Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think content is so many things, and the reason that I really love it is because it’s always changing. You know, content can be anything from a white paper to an ebook, to social media, to a video game, which I’m sure that we’ll talk about later.
As marketing evolves, so does the content that we have to create. So I feel like it’s, you have to stay very on top of the trends in marketing. You have to stay very on top of what people are interested in consuming. You have to know your audience. It’s very much you kind of have to be a jack of all trades, and really understand the breadth of marketing.
So, I think for me, that’s why content marketing is so interesting. It’s so multifaceted. There are so many things that you have to keep tabs on and know, and you’re kind of always learning as you go.
Mark Brozek, Senior Product Marketing Manager from Zscaler
Tom: Thank you for that. And Mark, how about you? What does content marketing mean to you, and why should somebody get involved with it?
Mark: Well, I guess, you know, content marketing, it’s sort of in the name. You know, the content, as opposed to product marketing, which is about the product. With content and content marketing, it’s about the content, so it’s about building an audience, and it’s usually used earlier in the funnel, and it’s about making sure that you’re offering something of value.
You know, today, it can be really hard to reach an audience, period, because we’re all so inundated with all the many things that are coming across our screens every day. So, creating something that hooks, and that resonates with them, and that can then educate them and sort of gets you a seat at the table to have further conversations that other parts of marketing generally handle.
Charles Waltner, Head of Content Marketing from Illumio
Tom: Great. Thanks for that, Mark. And Charles, how about you?
Charles: Yeah. I take it from my journalism background, and I really see content marketing as, you know, in a nutshell, as really bringing professional publishing capabilities to businesses. And so, that’s that gap, because businesses have always known how to market, but, over the years, the last, you know, 10, 15, 20 years even, they’ve learned how to be publishers. And it’s really a publishing and perish situation now, especially for SEO and, you know, just building awareness.
So, it’s really bringing that skillset of being a great publisher and being able to produce great content, and then marrying that with marketing, and getting that content out there to drive your business goals. It’s really about that skillset of being able to execute on publishing, that defines content marketing for me.
Sam Chapman, Director of Content and Brand Experiences from Aprimo
Tom: Thank you, Charles. And Sam, how about you? What does content marketing mean to you, and why should somebody get into it?
Samuel: Yeah, that’s easy to build off of. Those are all solid foundations of the trade. I think it’s, you know, also having come from the journalism world, it’s the publishing, also, the building of trust. So, I think there’s responsibility for content marketers to always consider the ethical aspects of what we do. And then, to the other points of, like, creative ways to pattern disrupt, how to get people out of the endless scroll, the kind of wilderness of unworthy content, if you will.
But I think more and more, as it evolves, you know, because I think everyone on this panel probably remembers early days when a content marketer was jack of all trades, but it was really somewhat undefined. And now, it’s more becoming a strategic part of the business. I’m still surprised at, you know, you look around, a lot of organizations still haven’t prioritized content as that strategic element. So, I think for those starting out, that’s an important aspect to consider, is the strategic aspect, rather than the tactical and the execution of it. So, building genuine, trustworthy content, you know.
What Goes Into Creating a Content Marketing Plan
Tom: Yeah, thanks for that. I love what you said about the ethics of it. That’s such a critical piece. So now, let’s get into a big question. It’s an expensive question. And Charles, let’s start with you. What goes into creating a content marketing plan?
Charles: What goes into creating a content marketing plan? I think there’s two parts. There’s, we’re sort of alluding to that. There’s the execution part of it, which is the plan or the infrastructure to build that content factory to actually be able to create that content. So, you need to have, you know, people, process, technology. That has to be in place. You have to have that great executional capability to get anything done.
I’ve had these questions before where people ask me about, “Hey, you know, what’s the innovative stuff that you need to do?” I think the innovation really can happen, again, on that publishing discipline, to be able to do things faster, better, at less cost. With that foundation, then you can start looking at defining your strategy, and really, once you have that factory, then you can point it in any direction you want. You know, do we wanna do more infographics? Do we wanna do video? Do we wanna do, you know, skyscraper thought leadership? With that factory, then you can do all those things.
So, it’s really, set that up. And then the plan is really case-by-case. Depending on the business situation, the marketing goals, then you apply those appropriately, and that’s where you really partner with demand gen, product marketing, field sales, all those folks, to figure out what’s the priority.
And the planning really always boils down to that priority. You can do everything, but, of course, even with giant budgets, you still have to pick and choose. So, the planning’s really about prioritization. That’s the way I would look at it.
Having the Right People In Front of and Behind Your Content
Tom: Thanks for that, Charles. And Katie, how about you? What goes into creating a content marketing plan?
Katie: Yeah, I totally agree with everything that Charles said. I think that it’s so important to have the right people behind your content. You need to have the right writers, the right designers, you need to be able to loop in the right people from your product team.
But also I think something that’s super important is really, and I’m sure we’re gonna hit on this later, knowing your audience. You’ve gotta be able to understand what types of content your audience wants to see to be able to design a program that’s really going to resonate with them. For example, I work with developers. Developers don’t really want content that sounds super marketing-heavy. They wanna be talked to by other developers, so you have to make sure that you’re creating content that your audience wants to be consuming, otherwise, you could have “the greatest content marketing program ever” and it just won’t resonate.
Tom: Great. Thanks for that. Mark, how about you? What goes into creating a content marketing plan at, you know, Palo Alto or Zscaler or other places that you’ve worked?
Identifying Your Unique Perspective
Mark: I mean, everything that they both said. I think there’s always an auditing component of it. So first, you know, you need to think about once you sort of define who it is you’re looking to talk to, you know, what is your unique perspective? What is it that you can offer to people that’s gonna create value for them, that’s gonna help you build trust, to then, again, be able to have further conversations, get into the consideration phases, as other people are saying? And then you look at, well, what is it that we currently have? What is it that we need to create? And as Charles was saying, what’s the highest priority things that we can create?
I tend to like to think of, you know, what are the big pillar pieces that we can make that you can then atomize into a bunch of derivative pieces of content, so that you’re not, you know, trying to reinvent the wheel or create everything from scratch, but you have sort of some big things that you can plan around, and then everything else becomes sort of a bridge that either leads to or from that, to the other big things that you have in your plan.
Knowing Your Audience
Tom: That’s great. I liked what you said about atomize. I think that’s a really good way to look at it. And Sam, how about you? You know, your experiences at DataCore, Aprimo and other places, what has gone into creating a content marketing plan?
Samuel: Yeah, I mean, to Katie’s point, it really is knowing your audience. DataCore was super technical. Anything that smelled like marketing was, you know, tanked. And so, again, it’s back to that, like, truth in what you do, and the brand trust. I think, in addition to people, process, and the production of it, and buttoning that up, just not self-isolating.
Like, talking to sales, talking to your engineers, talking to as many…getting involved as many customer conversations as possible, sitting in, eavesdropping. That’s invaluable to everything else that my colleagues have just laid out. But right at the beginning, and this kind of flows into a broader conversation, is, when you’re sitting down to that plan, whatever that, like, the end game is, if it’s product adoption, brand awareness, just getting really clear on what your goals are, so you can measure your success.
How to Measure Effectiveness of Content
Tom: Thanks for that. And that’s a good lead-in to our next question, Sam. And I think this is a key one. When we talk to customers, this comes up all the time, which is how do you evaluate, or measure performance or effectiveness of content? Katie?
Katie: Sure. Yeah. I think that, you know, there are a couple of different things, and it also really depends where in the funnel the content falls. So, you know, if it’s an awareness piece, then we’re gonna wanna see just generally how many eyes we got onto it. We’re gonna wanna see, like, how long people spend looking at the content, that sort of thing.
But if we’re looking at more bottle of the funnel content, then, you know, you have to kind of have some way to measure sales conversions, to measure how many people move from that, like, last piece of content into talking with the sales rep. It’s really good if you can start at the top of the funnel and really see all the way through, and I know that there are definitely, we have some great tools for that, but, at the end of the day, when you’re working with a product, like, you really want to be able to see, you know, A, am I getting brand awareness? That’s the first piece. And those kinds of metrics, like, how many net new people learn about your brand or your product. Then B, how many people are actually gonna convert because of this content and then use the product? For me, those are kinda, like, the two biggest buckets for measuring the performance of content.
Tom: Thanks for that. You know, and it’s interesting because sometimes we find with customers they’re doing something new or experimental, it’s kind of hard to measure that, which is interesting. Mark, how about you? How do you go about, or your team goes about evaluating or measuring content performance or effectiveness?
Different Goals for Different Pieces of Content
Mark: I mean, I think Katie really nailed it. It’s different depending on your goal for each specific piece of content. You know, you create some things that are really to be found, that are SEO-specific, where, you know, you wanna rank for your key terms. And so, that’s something that you can measure, you know, more easily with Google Analytics.
Then you’ve got things that are really designed to start a conversation, and you’re not really sure how well it converts, so there’s a really long tail to that. And, you know, it might take a year, depending on what you’re selling and who you’re selling to, but we’re all in sort of B2B software sales, which are pretty highly considered purchases, and the sales cycles take a while. So it can be a long time before you truly know how well what you are creating is resonating with an audience that’s then converting to something down the line.
So, you rely a lot on the kind of upfront engagement metrics, and clicks and likes and shares, and that type of thing, to understand what is resonating with your audience, and you try to build on that as well as you can, and hopefully, down the line, when you do measure that, then your assumptions have kind of turned out to be true.
Tom: That’s great. That’s great. And, you know, of course, there’s that holy grail of content-attributed revenue. And it sounds like what you’ve talked about will eventually get you there if you’re doing the right things. Charles, how about you? [inaudible 00:13:51] evaluate and measuring the performance?
Having the Right Tools
Charles: Yeah, I think everyone’s covering the obvious ones. I mean, you know, what I’ve seen in my career is that it definitely depends on what the tools are in there. And, of course, we’ve got Google Analytics and, you know, you can’t be too good at that. You can, you know, measure the basics, as well as set up goals for, you know, checking on how your CTAs are doing on lead through, but I think, you know, it just depends on, just certainly on awareness. It’s all about that organic traffic, like, so I usually run the blogs on corporate sites, and it’s really looking at those numbers in terms of, you know, how you’re building that audience that flows into the website. So that’s a really focus area. And again, that gets into SEO in terms of, you know, targeting certain areas, figuring out, you know, if you’re attracting the right people on the right keywords, but just growing that.
I think one thing we haven’t talked about too much is subscribers. So, again, I go back to the publishing model. Really, you know, the core piece, I think, on a content marketing program is that blog. That’s where you can continually be publishing fresh content at a high volume. And that’s that place where you can have that conversation. So, the real measure of that, the ultimate KPI for me, is can I build the subscriber base to that blog, newsletter, or company newsletter, whatever you’ve set up. And that opens up a whole other area where you can do measurement in terms of click-through rates, open rates for the newsletter. And the neat thing to think about there is it really provides a very controlled environment, and I think that’s, I guess the one thing I’d say about measurement is be a little careful about the numbers. That there’s a lot of dirty data out there. There’s, you know, a classic thing is you can see a blog post explode, but is it exploding because it’s really great content, or, you know, Jeff Bezos tweeted about it and it’s just sort of a random social event?
So, you have to be very careful about how you’re looking at your numbers. And again, I think that fundamental growth of subscribers is a great, great baseline to really see how you’re doing over time. And then also, you can use that to get cleaner numbers, I think, on engagements, in terms of what’s resonating with folks. So, those are a couple of thoughts.
Tom: Thanks for that, Charles. Sam, is there anything that you’d like to add to that about evaluating or measuring content performance or effectiveness?
Being an Effective Project Manager
Sam: Sure. I think I’d like, you know, everyone’s got the outward, the kind of retrospective nailed, content ROI or campaign ROI, if you will. But I think one thing, as, you know, in our profession, we have to also have to manage those and the means and ways of production of content. So everyone’s gotta be a rock-solid project manager. So, turning it back in, rather than the return on investment, it’s kind of like you have to know and have your finger on the pulse of what’s the return on effort that went into producing a piece of content. It could get as many impression, engagement numbers as you like, but what was the labor that went into that? And I think if you can develop a system for that, I’m assuming it’s largely manual at this point, but if you can develop a system for that kind of ROE, you can take what’s typically, you know, Charles, you were talking about building that factory, you can take your factory and turn it in from a kind of a digital asset repository into, like, what’s what I’d like to call, like, a library of smart decisions, smart content decisions, and you can start to disseminate those based on what you know works, from internal production times out to, you know, what’s actually resonating in the market. So I think you can marry the so-called ROE with the ROI, to get a fuller picture of what’s working, closer to real-time than a, you know, six months ROI.
Key Skills in Content Marketing
Tom: That’s interesting. I loved what you said about ROE. Most people do talk in terms of ROI, and, you know, the human capital in your organization is the most valuable piece, so making sure that’s efficient is great. So now, let’s talk about, you know, content marketing, of course, that we’ve touched upon, is a lot more than creating content. Let’s talk for a minute about how should content marketers work with the rest of the organization? What are some of the key skills, both hard skills, but also soft skills as well, and capabilities? Mark, would you like to take that?
Mark: Sure. I’ll say it depends a little bit on your model. I’ve worked for and with different companies that content marketing is responsible for different levels of incorporating product information, or the kind of distribution and demand gen strategy that gets built off of a piece of content sometimes, that’s all sort of part of it. And other times, you’re taking in requests and you’re creating the stuff, and other people are running with it.
But either way, I think the ability to communicate well and collaborate well with the other parts of the marketing ecosystem, and, as well as sales, and listening to customers in the industry and there’s a lot of that that goes into creating content that’s going to meet your goals and that’s going to resonate with the people that you’re trying to resonate with. Obviously, writing is a big piece of it.
There’s a program management component of everything. So, I’d say that those are some of the probably top skills that go into it. And I’m sure others have additional to add on.
Tom: Great. Mark, thanks for that. And Sam, how about you?
Being a Dynamic Marketer
Samuel: Yeah, I think, you know, that’s the ability to be a pretty dynamic marketer. But one thing that I’ve always found that’s unique is acting as kind of the bridge, you know, whether it’s products, R&D. It’s like, I like to think of it as a diplomat within the organization, someone who’s willing to talk to everybody, to reach out, provide transparency, and just keep keeping a finger on the pulse of what’s working and the overall sentiment. And also, you know, in certain respects, I’ve always been close to internal comms and culture-building as well, so I think that willingness to reach out across teams is very important for a content marketer.
Working With Your Team
Tom: Great. Thank you. Thanks for that. Katie, how about you?
Katie: Yeah. I think Mark and Sam both really hit the nail on the head there. Content marketing is just, it’s so cross-functional. I mean, you’re working with demand gen, you’re working with the events teams, you’re working with product marketers, you’re working with sales.
And I think one of the biggest things is kind of being that person to arm all of those different branches with what they need to do their job in the best way possible. Making sure that there’s a cohesive brand voice, making sure that the tone is in line with what it’s supposed to be in sale emails, that sort of thing. Like, you really kind of act as the glue that’s holding all of these different pieces of an organization together, by creating really good content and also by being able to communicate with these people and share that content with them, and really teach them how to use it in the way that’s gonna be the most effective for whatever programs you’re running.
Tom: Thank you for that, Katie. And Charles, how about you? What do you see as some of the key skills, both, you know, the hard skills and the soft skills, in terms of working with the rest of the organization? And you’ve got kind of a unique approach experience because you’ve, you know, worked as a content marketer in the trenches, but also top-down, you know, building from scratch a large content marketing organization.
Supporting Your Organization
Charles: Yeah. I mean, just building out everything that everyone has already said. I mean, it’s, I mean, probably one of the most enjoyable parts of my job is being that hub or that diplomat, and just what everyone talked about. As a content marketer, you need to support the whole organization. And the thing that’s really hit me hard over the past couple of years is just how much my colleagues depend on me. And so, that’s that, you’re this hub at the center, providing this rocket fuel to drive marketing organizations, and so there’s a real responsibility.
The way I like to think about that soft skill is paired leadership. So, we’re definitely there to serve, we’re definitely there to lead, but it’s really pairing with our different peers across the organization and focusing on that collaboration and that equal collaboration. That it’s not like, “Hey, where’s our stuff?” But it’s like, together, we’ll create great content and we’ll bring our skillsets as publishing skillsets, marrying it with their expertise and subject matter knowledge, and together, we’ll build great content. So I think the soft skill there is really that collaboration spirit you need to bring, and really make it, you know, move away from being an order-taker to partnering, and really focus on that partnering aspect of it.
Samuel: One hundred percent on that. Well said.
Creating Content that Engages and Resonates
Tom: Okay. Thank you for that. And so, here’s another great question. And this came up in a recent webinar that we did, “The Art and Science of Empathetic Marketing.” This came up actually quite a bit. So, let me start with you, Katie. How do you approach creating content that engages and resonates?
Katie: Yeah, absolutely. I’m gonna sound like a broken record, but it really is about knowing your audience and knowing how they like to consume content. For me, working with developers, which is what I’m primarily focused on right now, they want to be active while they’re engaging with content. If I made a 20-page white paper, the odds that they would read it, pretty slim. If I make a 20-page tutorial about how to integrate something into one of their apps, they’re gonna be able to be active, they’re gonna be able to be following along, and it could be 40 pages and they’d probably still read it.
So, I think it’s just so important to understand what people are interested in, what ways they like to consume things. That goes kinda back to looking at the analytics, like looking at how past pieces of content have performed. Sometimes you think that this ebook’s gonna do really great and it turns out that your audience really would rather watch a video, and you just kind of have to look at those takeaways and then adapt as you go, in order to really serve up the right content to the right audience.
Tom: Thank you for that, Katie. I liked what you had to say. So, Mark, let’s ask you here. What approach would you use to create content that engages and resonates?
Mark: Well, so, one thing is, and probably the biggest friction point for content marketers, is you have to create something that’s product-agnostic when you’re first trying to form a connection with somebody. And you always are going to get pressure from other parts of marketing, or maybe even just be tempted yourself, to jump into how your company can solve the problem, how your product capabilities are acquired, or maybe even limit the conversation to what it is that you can deliver. And you really have to kind of step outside of that and think about what is it that I can offer to this person that’s gonna help them do their job better, and what is the full body of knowledge that we can offer to them, and really be customer-centric on that, or, you know, whoever your audience is that you’re trying to talk to there, as opposed to product-centric? And that can be a really hard thing for a marketer to do.
Beyond that, it’s really what Katie said. It’s knowing who it is you’re talking to, and knowing what it is that they are thinking about, what their challenges are, and what form factors they like to engage with. And if you can sort of figure out, either from talking to your sales team, or going to some of the top sites that they go for information, you know, I’m in cybersecurity, so we look at sites like Dark Reading and CSO Online, or, you know, just whatever Twitter feeds, and you figure out what is it that people are talking about, what are the form factors that seem like they’re doing well, that are getting people’s attention, and what is something that we could create that would be cool, that might pique their interest?
Tom: Thank you for that, Mark. Sam, how about you? How do you go about creating content that connects?
News You Can Use
Samuel: Yeah, I think, you know, it’s, funny enough, if you can score a role where you’re marketing to yourself, you know, go after that. There’s no better way to understand the audience than that. And, you know, fortunately enough, being in the MarTech space, I have the opportunity to speak with product strategists and R&D on building things that I might like. But I know not everyone has that opportunity. But still, you know, my colleagues have said it, I like to call it “news you can use.” So, just, and this goes beyond, you know, me being an ICP for MarTech, but anything that I can digest quickly and put to use in my day-to-day, I’m gonna engage with that and I’m gonna appreciate that. Even if it’s maybe asking for, the call to action is something kind minimal impact, or if there’s none, that “news you can use” angle is something that I bite on every time. And then, Mark also mentioned distribution. The distribution strategy is super important. Find where they already are, and engage them. You know, the days are numbered or over for those who wanna come to your website and read a bunch of content.
Clear, Concise and Compelling
Tom: Great. Thanks for that. And Charles, how about you?
Charles: I think there’s a common theme coming out of this. But I maybe, just, layer on a little bit there with, first of all, the fundamental issues, whether you’re working at the top of the funnel or all the way at the bottom, I think I always called it the three Cs, which it needs to be clear, concise, and compelling. So, even if you’re talking about the product and selling hard, or it’s the website, you know, a lot of the problems having people go to a website, they read, and it’s like, they still don’t know what the product does, they don’t know what the company does, or it’s not as clear as it could be.
So, clear is the number one thing. Can they understand it? And then two, can you save them time? Is it concise? Is the video packaged up the right way? Is that product brief, is that a one-sheeter rather than five pages? Can you do it in one sheet? So, save people time, get to the point, make it easy for them. Concision’s super huge. And then, you know, if you’re lucky, make it compelling, right? So, even if it’s product level or in the weeds, that it’s compelling in that, again, it’s talking to the audience need, as we’ve discussed.
And then, you know, on the broader thought leadership area, you know, the one thought I’d add to what everyone else said is I like to think about sort of, like, I do a lot of, you know, carpentry, remodeling, and it’s the difference between, you know, trying to talk about and sell a table saw versus giving people information about how to be great carpenters or craftsmen. So, that thought leadership, just like Mark said, it needs to be product agnostic. Don’t talk about the table saw, but talk about that whole ecosystem of skills you need in order to reach those business goals. That table saw’s going to be one of those tools that the product that you sell will be one of the elements to help your audience reach their goals, but you have to think about that holistically, and then how can you give them information they can use, to reach those goals, and then when they’re ready, they’ll use your tool to help them as part of that process. So, that’s one way I like to think about it.
Voice and Tone in Content Development
Tom: Thanks. And, you know, here’s a question that’s somewhat related, but anybody wants to take this, to the extent that we haven’t already touched it in this last question, how about the role of voice and tone in content development? Mark.
Mark: So, it depends. It depends on the type of content, it depends on your company to some extent. You know, blogs tend to be more casual. And, you know, people don’t want to read really dry stuff in any form factor, for the most part, so you wanna make it as interesting as you can. But you might have a totally different tone for a blog than you would for some kind of white paper or something, where you’re trying to come across as more serious. I’ve also seen, you know, startups can get away with being a little bit more edgy or funny than, you know, when you work for a big company that wants to be more serious and, you know, come across as more adult.
And it’s really different strategies for different things. But I will say, over the course of my career, I have seen a shift from things being really long and dry and technical to trying to be more engaging, because you know that your content is only going to be useful to people for as long as you can hold their attention. So, I think trying to be, to Charles’ third C, compelling, is important, whatever that means.
Tom: Thanks for that. Anybody else have anything to add about the role of voice and tone in content development? And Mark, I liked what you had to say, the differences between startups and large companies. It seems that sometimes in a larger company, you know, that’s, really, has kind of more mature understanding of brand that can be a little bit tougher, it seems, to, from a voice and tone perspective. Sam, any thoughts on that?
Establishing Brand Identity
Samuel: Yeah, I mean, the, establishing the brand identity, kind of out…it’s been said, you know, brand and demand voice and tone goes a long way in understanding who you are as a brand. So, but that also means that everybody in your organization’s taking cues from that. So, it’s the way, you know, your customer success team’s talking to customers, it’s the way sales is out pitching in-market. And just the kind of shared vocabulary that everyone has, in that voice and tone, of when we speak about our brand, this is how we say it. I think that’s really important to get the collaboration and the buy-in across the organization. So, wherever you are, wherever you’re found, whether it’s in a room or it’s a digital experience, it’s looking, feeling, and sounding the same way.
Tom: Great. Thanks for that. And Katie, here’s one for you, and this, I thought with this program that you’re gonna be talking about here in a moment, about content innovation, was really interesting and very far out of the box, so take as much time as you feel on that. So, the question to you is what about content innovation? What are some examples of innovative, or let’s say, experimental content?
Creating Content for Your Audience
Katie: Sure. Yeah, absolutely. I feel like this is a really good one for me. You know, as we’re working with the developer audience, who, as I mentioned before, they’re very against any kind of heavy marketing, they really wanna be talked to directly by another developer, by another person, we were trying to think of different ways that we could engage them in sort of forms of media that they’re already engaging with in other parts of their lives. And we did some surveys. And one of the key things we found, actually, is that there are a lot of developers who play video games. So, we decided to make a video game. And we created, it’s called Code Tycoon. It’s a Sim video game, that essentially, you play a developer that is trying to balance all these different metrics. You know, boss love, respect, cash flow to the company. It’s very humorous, and you start as junior developer, you work your way up to CTO. We teach some super basic auth principles throughout the game.
And it was so incredibly successful. It was actually our most successful piece of content for all of this past quarter. And what was really great about it was outside of, you know, just being able to engage with our target audience in a way that not a lot of other companies are doing, we were able to make tons of derivative content from it.
So, we did a live stream on our Twitch, with the developers, that tons of people tuned into. We made developer diaries on YouTube, talking about how we actually built out the game, how we integrated auth into the game, using Okta. And also, you know, wrote some tutorials about if you’re building a video game, here is how to most securely authenticate your users using Okta. We’ve also been working with a bunch of different higher-profiles streamers who have been streaming the game, talking about the game, and it’s just overall been so out of the box, so successful, so much fun for me personally, to work on, to see this thing that, you know, there’s not really a cookie-cutter way of all right, you’re gonna make a video game, like, here’s how you do it. Really just sort of running with it and seeing what we could do, seeing what we could make happen, and then having it just be so wildly successful has been really exciting for us.
Blogs Are a Living Lab
Tom: Thank you for that, Katie. And Charles, one of the things that you and I talked about in terms of content information is that the blog is a living lab. What did you mean by that?
Charles: Yeah, thanks for bringing that up, Tom. Yeah, you know, in my career, again, I’ve seen that, where you’re always publishing on the blog. You can just get stuff out there and it’s easy to experiment, and there’s low cost to it. You know, back to sort of Sam’s point is, like, you do need to keep an eye on the budget and where you’re spending your money, but you can quickly get, you know, just try different types of content for your audience. You know, maybe they want a little…and you can experiment maybe a little with voice and tone there, too, is, like, do they want a lighter tone? Do they prefer more consultative types of content? But you get that feedback from Google Analytics. You know, is it being engaged? And you look at that organic traffic. Is it getting picked up?
So, you’re getting that constant feedback with all those different blog posts you’re putting out there, and that’s a great place to experiment. Just trying something else. It’s low-cost. There’s not a lot of risk there. And then in three months, you’ll start seeing some results and you’ll be able to, you know, get at least some idea of whether this is something that you should double down on. And you just keep iterating and keep going, and keep testing and keep measuring. And it’s a nice virtuous cycle with your blog.
Tom: Great. Thanks for that. Now, kind of a quick, like, lightning round question here. What types of content are trending up and trending down? Anybody have thoughts on that?
Charles: I think we all had different thoughts on that. So, again, I’m sort of a fundamentals guy. You know, but what I see is the real battle, at least, again, on organic, it’s all about skyscraper content. And it’s really a simple concept because you want your content to stand above anything else. So, if you’re going after, you know, for Illumio, you know, if you’re going after ransomware, right, how do you rank number one? Well, you’d need the best piece of content out there compared to anything else. And Google’s doing a great job of giving credit where credit’s due on that. So, that’s all about, you know, it’s more comprehensive, it’s more extensive, it’s more thorough, it’s more clear, concise, and compelling than anything else out there, but, at the end of the day, it’s really about how do you innovate in terms of creating that fundamental piece of content that everyone turns to to get answers. You know, it’s almost that Wikipedia model, but even taken up a notch, I would say. So, you know, that’s where I see the real…at least the work that needs to be done, and the innovations in how do you get there? So, that would be my thought.
Tom: Thanks for that. And, Sam, if we were to take this down to a really tactical level, we look at different formats of content, like an infographic, video, a white paper, interactive content, what do you see as trending up, being more of a go-to type of a format these days? Anything come to mind?
Samuel: I mean, video is always huge for me. The ability to… And what I would say distinguish between Hi-Fi and Lo-Fi. Like, low fidelity video versus something that’s gonna be, you know, dripping with design, and take a quarter to produce, if you can crack the code to getting video out the door quickly, to kind of operationalizing your team and your product evangelists out on social, what have you, getting video out there in that kind of Lo-Fi way, where it allows you to connect on a human level, but also to pattern disrupt some of what’s out there, that’s a great lead and a great kind of fishing lure to get them into those skyscraper pieces, to get them into just digesting some of your more core content pieces. So, I think video’s here to stay.
Tom: That’s great. I liked what you said about pattern disrupt. Is there anything you’d like to add to that? That’s an interesting concept.
Samuel: Yeah. You know, I mean, the most recent example is my CMO put something out, and it was a squiggly line that all, went all these different ways. And it said, you know, “an accurate representation of the buyer’s journey.” And that was it, and it blew up. And that was, you know, probably the most engagement piece that we’d put out in a while. So, it’s just some of that Lo-Fi lets you know there’s a human at the end of this kind of, like, corporate tunnel, tending things. And I think that’s super important.
Tom: That’s great. I love that. Anybody else have a thought before we move on on that? Is there any kind of content format right now that just, no longer working, or it doesn’t really have that utility or effectiveness? Any thoughts on that?
Katie: Yeah. I think I would be hesitant to say that anything is trending down, just because I think that it really depends on the use case. However, in terms of things that I’ve noticed that are definitely getting more traction, interactive and video are really picking up. And one thing that I’ve noticed about interactive content is that if you, you know, start something with a quiz, you can really then tailor up the content that you’re gonna be serving that person. You can really personalize. If you know that the person that you’re talking to is a CTO at a startup, you’re gonna wanna be serving them something different than if they’re a CTO at a massive company. And when you are able to ask those questions, able to sort of hone in on who the audience is through some kind of interactive, whatever it is, whether it’s a quiz or an infographic, then you can actually give your audience the content that is gonna be beneficial to them.
Mark: That’s a great tip. And I’d also say, you know, look at what is trending in the media generally, as you start to think about how to interact with your audience. A lot of times, the temptation is to look at what your company’s done in the past, but, you know, you look out and there’s lots of quick-cut videos and, you know, interactive things and visual stuff, and that’s what people…you have to draw them in. And I think, you know, some combination of, you know, what Sam is saying works. It’s something super easy to digest, or what Katie’s saying with, like, a really compelling interactive tool to kinda grab them, and with what Charles is saying, that then leads to a robust piece of content that really stands you up as an authority on the topic, and that creates value for them. I think you need to tie those things together. But you can look outside of what your company’s created in the past for inspiration on what might hook people.
Establishing Thought Leadership
Tom: Great. Thank you very much for that, Mark. Let’s move on to another topic. This was a big one for me, and it’s a big part of what we do as a company, which is helping our customers establish and assert their thought leadership. So, Sam, a question for you. What is thought leadership, and why is it so important? I know you have some pretty defined thoughts on that.
Big T and Little T
Samuel: Yeah. I think, you know, first of all, it can mean, you know, thought leadership has a, I would say, two tacks. One is what we call big T thought leadership and little t thought leadership. The big T is something that is truly thought leadership. It’s a defining moment in the market. It captures an area, either a trend or something that’s building. And the strategic aspect is you’re getting out in front and owning that market for it, if you will. It’s more of the strategic aspects of it, while the little t can be something within a defined area where you’re taking your product or your company differentiation, and adding the spin to it.
But I think one of the, and we’ve talked about this, the, while thought leadership is probably the single most effective inbound marketing strategy out there, it’s easy to do it wrong. So, and we talked about the Edelman survey. And for everyone out there who hasn’t read this, I think it was something like 90% of B2B decision makers said thought leadership content directly affects purchase decision, but 15% said these bylined articles and other typical forms of it is usually done poorly. Or 15%, you know, like, actually is done well. So, and usually, that’s because of time. Thought leaders don’t have time to sit and think and draft these bylines, and work on strategy.
And then, again, we’ve all touched on this, we’ve all experienced this, it gets down into where that little t thought leadership might be a slippery slope to being transactional content, pushing your products, pushing your brand too much. And then the third, which stems from one and two, is you’ve got this responsibility, or this push to optimize for keywords, which, you know, just turns it into garbage. So, I think, you know, being cautious of that, and putting those cautions in front of your strategy, will help you kind of define what that is for your organization.
Tom: Great. Thank you for that. And Mark, you know, in your career at Forrester and at Palo Alto and Zscaler, thought leadership has been a big part of what you do. Give us a feel for a little bit about that experience, and what your learnings have been.
Creating Content that Resonate With Your Audience
Mark: Yeah. You know, at Forrester, we would have a lot of people that would come to us, sort of looking for ideas on how we can be thought leaders. And usually, our coaching would start with what Sam’s sort of describing as the little t thought leadership, which is sort of what is your product differentiation, and what is your philosophy? Why did you decide to build a product? What is the challenge that you saw that you’re solving? And really, I’d say focusing on that challenge that your audience has, and how it is that you would like for them to address it, what you think the right philosophy is for them to address it, and then how you can help guide them, again, sort of before getting into your product capabilities, but what can you truly offer that might help them take steps towards that? I think that taking that approach can lead to some really good ideas for creating and then making things that resonate with your audience.
Tom: Great. Thanks for that. And I know Charles, you’ve got some pretty well-defined thoughts on thought leadership. If you’d care to share some of those.
Charles: Well, again, I think it just tracks with what everyone else is saying. I mean, the way I would term it is thought leadership is expert guidance, and then I like to think about it that way because that also allows you to think about it in terms of both strategic and tactical expert guidance, so that can be a little confusing, because you think thought leadership, you know, on the strategic side, that’s where I really… And again, we’re talking about B2B companies, so this is a little different than just anything, but, you know, again, they’re trying to solve business problems. It’s serious, because they got money on the line. They’re trying to get stuff done. But the strategic side, I really looked at folks like, again, Forrester’s a good example, but, you know, Harvard Business Review, McKinsey, that’s the model I see on strategic thought leadership, is where’s your vision for, and the philosophy, I think, that was mentioned, that Mark mentioned is, you know, what’s the philosophy there in terms of how to approach the problem space?
But then, if you think about expert guidance, then you can also comfortably think about thought leadership as how-to information. I think that really hits the area that Katie lives in with the developers, is like, they probably aren’t, you know, philosophical or strategic side. Many are, may not playing there. They’re trying to figure out how to get stuff done. That goes back to my analogy of the, you know, table saw versus, you know, how to be a carpenter. So, if you can marry what your audience want, you know, is trying to figure out, with your expertise, that’s that Venn diagram, that little overlap space is your thought leadership of providing them strategic guidance, you know, based on your expertise, and then also that how-to, or tactical guidance, in terms of how to actually get some stuff done.
And that’s where you bring in your technical experts and build out those great ebooks on, you know, five steps to better app development, or five steps to better, you know, ransomware protection. And so, you can go up and down the strategic and tactical ladder there, but it’s all thought leadership at the end of the day.
Tom: Great. Thanks for that, Charles. And Katie, if you could take a minute or so, you and I had talked about influencer campaigns, which is kind of, I think, adjacent to thought leadership. Any thoughts on that?
Katie: Yeah, definitely. You know, I think very much in line what everyone just said, that if you don’t have some kind of credibility, then any of the other content that you produce is just sort of content. Like, you can have all the product content in the world, but if you aren’t positioning yourself as someone who knows what they’re talking about in the space, then why would anyone listen? And something that I think is super important, and this can go two ways, you can have internal influencers. For example, on our team, we have a developer who wrote the book on OAuth. People trust him to talk about OAuth, and he will put out blogs about OAuth and people will be like, “Oh, I know this person. I know their name. They’ve already pre-established their credibility, and I’m interested in hearing what else it is that they have to say.” Along with, you know, working with external influencers.
So, that’s something that we did a lot with Code Tycoon, was reaching out to streamers who already had pretty big followings in the developer community or the game developer community, and getting them to talk about the game and getting them to talk about Okta. And when you kind of approach it with that lens, by getting people that people trust to talk about you, or to, you know, have you on their podcast, or have you on their stream, it automatically elevates the rest of your content to be in a place where people coming in already have some sense of trust, and already have some semblance of a relationship with you and your company through these different channels. And I just think that that’s super important because if you’re just saying, “Look, we’re so great at solving for X,” without any sort of anything to back up that you actually know what you’re talking about in X, who cares?
Tom: Thank you for that, Katie. I wanted to remind the audience here that we are offering an extra $10 gift card for chatting your top three takeaways. We’ve got some amazing stuff here. And probably about 60% of the audience has participated in that. So, here’s your chance.
We’ve got six or seven minutes left to take a moment here. And I’m gonna lower the bar, actually. You could chat your top two takeaways and be eligible for that. So now, let’s kind of wind up here, which I’d like to ask each of you panelists, what are some of the key lessons you’ve learned along the way? And what advice would you give to somebody just starting out as a content marketer? Katie?
Think Outside the Box
Katie: Yeah. Don’t be afraid to go out of the box. Don’t be afraid to try new things. I think that one of the biggest mistakes you can make is sort of assume that the types of content are set in stone, and that, you know, you have to be creating X amount of white papers or X amount of ebooks or X amount of blogs. Just because it’s worked in the past doesn’t mean that it’s gonna continue to keep working. So, really, just listening, and adapting based on what trends you see, what kinds of things your audience is interested in. I think that that’s super important.
Tom: Thank you for that, Katie. And Mark, how about you? Is there some piece of advice that you would give to somebody just starting out, you know, based on your rich experiences?
Have a Plan
Mark: The first thing I’d say is just have a plan. Make a plan and stick to it. As a content marketer, you’re going to get requests from everywhere, and there’s never a shortage of content demands. And you need to be able to say no to things because you have a plan and you have priorities. And doing it that way will also allow you to do what is sort of my second piece of advice, which is to think about what your big pillar pieces are, or as Charles called them, your skyscraper content, which really set the foundation for what your message is and the area that you wanna be an authority in. And then that gives you the opportunity to create derivatives of that, and all those derivatives amplify that piece of pillar content, and you’re doing it in a way that’s not only creating less work for you because everything is already tied together and you’re just taking new pieces of it, but it really helps extend the reach of each of those things together. So, have a plan, and define your pillar pieces are my big pieces of advice.
Tom: That’s great advice. Thanks for that, Mark. And Charles, how about you? What are some of the key lessons you’ve learned? And what advice would you give somebody just starting out as a content marketer?
Get to the Basics
Charles: Yeah, I think, well, first of all, I’d definitely springboard off of what Mark said. I think the real challenge is there’s always limited time resources. There’s always unlimited demands, and that prioritization is really, like, the hardest nut to crack, and that’s probably the number one thing I’d work on with my team and the organization. I think a key thing I’d add to that is, you know, if you’re in a B2B company, that you really need to go up to, you know, the CMO level, or even at the CEO level, and get the basics on that prioritization. Those priorities should come down from the business, through the marketing leadership, and then instead of you having the argument with the stakeholder and saying, you know, “I don’t think we should do this,” and then having a, you know, personal argument back and forth about that, is you have an external reference that everyone’s agreed to, as, like, these are our priorities. So I’d double down on really keeping an eye on prioritization, because, at the end of the day, that’s the only way you’re going to be able to, you know, make decisions about what you focus on.
I think another key to that, I think Katie brought this up early on, is the team really matters. You know, whether you’re hiring freelancers or you have folks in-house, at the end of the day, they have to have those skillsets. I was just thinking about, you know, what kinda editors I need on the team. At the end of the day, I need an editor who’s really the best writer, because when push comes to shove, they have to make the edits and fix it the right way, making sure it’s the right voice and tone, the right brand messaging, and fix that…really be able to do that craftsmanship of getting the content from good to great, and really, at the end of the day, that relies on the skillset of the team member.
And then the final piece of food for thought there is I develop a principle, what I call the principle of the “reasonably intelligent friend.” And I find this really helps you just make good editorial decisions as you’re developing content, regardless of audience, regardless of, you know, situations, is just think about a reasonably intelligent friend of yours. You know, is this content that they could read? Is this content that they could understand? And also, the biggest thing about that is it helps you fight the insider thinking, fight vernacular, fight jargon. I think that’s 90% of our job a lot of times, is just battling jargon, you know, especially if we’re doing, you know, broad marketing content, is turn to that reasonably intelligent friend. You know, what would “The Wall Street Journal” do, right?
And again, that relies on that business journalism, these great business journalism magazines. You know, they do it the right way. And so, follow those principles of, you know, write it in plain language, write in open language, avoiding jargon, explaining things, slowing down a little bit, bring everybody along for the ride. That includes the business decision makers, as well as those technical people. I always reference “The Economist” magazine. No one thinks “The Economist” magazine is dumbed down, but they’re able to talk about any esoteric topic, and all of us can understand that, because they translate and open up the language for us on those topics. So, that would be my final food for thought there, is really think about the reasonably intelligent friend.
Tom: I like that. The reasonably intelligent. That’s fantastic. And Sam, how about you? What advice would you give somebody just starting out, and what are some of the key lessons you’ve learned?
Samuel: Yeah, I wrote that one down, Charles. That’s great. I would say, you know, the opportunity for those starting content marketing is pretty vast, and it’s only gonna become more important. So, I’d say pay attention. It might lead you to something…you know, you might become a product marketer, you might become more of a brand strategist. I mean, for me, over the course of all these years, it’s led me more towards, you know, brand and brand definition. But just paying attention, you do, you know, your first kind of a tour of duties in content well, and you’re gonna have a lot of paths open up for you.
So, paying attention to what excites you. Also, and it comes from the journalism world, and just as writers and creators, we are driven to new and different experiences. So, mine those experiences. Combine that with, you know, that close attention that you’re paying to the business around you. And then, you know, Charles mentioned it a bit as well, is that these skills that you develop, in many senses, the future execs of marketing are all gonna need these as a fundamental. And I think anyone looking, you know, further down their career, towards being a CMO or running an entire organization, you’re gonna have a foundation in content marketing in some respects. So, again, yeah, pay attention, and evolve, and it never hurts to have a mantra.
Tom: Great. Thanks for that. And I’d like to thank everybody, our panelists, and our audience today. I’ve learned a lot here today, and we’ve got some great comments from the audience. I guess the last thing I’d like to say on behalf of ViB is we help distribute our customers’ content, getting them to the right people, your exact right targets, and we’d love to help you with that. And we also help our customers make thought leadership content, with some very high-quality surveys that we do, which are third-party, vendor-neutral, end-user-based, which turns out to be it’s is the most trusted form of content. So, those are two areas that we can help you. Again, I’d like to thank everybody today. This has been great for me. I’ve learned a lot. And so, thanks again.