The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web

By Ahava Leibtag

Published: August 18, 2014

This is a sample chapter from Ahava Leibtag’s new book, The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web. 2014 Morgan Kaufmann.

Chapter 2: Making the Case for Content

The Digital Crown

Content drives the sales process. Even if your job title doesn’t include the word sales, you are still trying to achieve something. Content is responsible for getting you there. Think of it as the fuel in an engine. Now, consider what we’ve done in our society to ensure we have enough fuel to power our cars and homes. That’s how important content is to your business.

Not everyone understands this in your organization. But you do. That’s the first step. Now you have to convince the right people that to move the business in the right direction, they need to invest in content: Content production, distribution, and management. How do you do that?

We know information is the critical building block of any type of content. Using the right kind of content helps us to get our information into the right hands—our target audiences. If we want to do this well, we need to have budget dollars for content. Budget approval for content means appealing to the C-suite and convincing them to invest in this all-important fuel. In this chapter, we learn how to make the case for content within your organization and to your C-suite.

First, a story about why content is so important.

Who Is in the C-Suite?

The term C-suite refers to the top executives within your company:

  • Chief Executive Officer (CEO)
  • Chief Operating Officer (COO)
  • Chief Technology Officer (CTO)
  • Chief Financial Officer (CFO)
  • Chief Marketing Officer (CMO)
  • Chief Information Officer (CIO)

Figure 2.1—Misleading hotel Web page

Misleading hotel Web page

When people research vacations, they often look at different hotel Web sites to learn more about their amenities, rooms, and services. Last year, while planning a vacation, I went to a hotel’s Web site and made sure that the suite had a small kitchenette, because sometimes I like to make my own food instead of dining out for every meal. There were six types of rooms available and each one had its own Web page. On each of the six pages, a shaded box (see Figure 2.1) appeared on the page. The name of the room changed depending on which type of room it was: a one-bedroom suite, a two-bedroom suite, and so on.

After seeing the box on every single page, I assumed that every type of room had a fully equipped kitchen. But, when I arrived at the hotel, guess what? No kitchen. The Village Guestroom, I learned, was not one of the types of hotel rooms that had a kitchen. Those were only available in the top four tiers of rooms. I shared this misleading/incorrect information with both the hotel and the travel credit card company who had booked my stay. The travel credit card company agreed with me and asked the hotel to upgrade my room. Free.

Because someone in charge of the Web site did not understand the importance of content, my stay cost the resort about $400 in revenue. The descriptions about what amenities to expect in every room are confusing. If you multiply that amount across the resort, that one mistake in their content could be costing them thousands of dollars every year. Why? Because there is a lack of understanding about how important content is to the bottom line.

Understanding Business Objectives

“To sell the importance of content to the C-suite, you must understand how the C-suite thinks and what is important to them as leaders of the company.”

In Chapter 1, we talked about understanding business objectives and thinking like an executive. To sell the importance of content to the C-suite, you must understand how the C-suite thinks and what is important to them as leaders of the company. As a content professional, you must understand the business from the ground up and recognize the need to increase profit, be cost-efficient, and out-do the competition. You need to identify and share stories like the one above to demonstrate how important content is to the business.

In the workshops about content strategy that I teach, I often show the audience a picture of Jack Welch, who was the CEO of General Electric (GE) for more than 20 years. I talk about GE’s management strategy, which is world famous. At GE, they review every employee’s performance annually. If you perform in the bottom 10%, you are most likely let go. If you perform in the top 20% of the workforce, the executives at GE recognize you as a potential GE rock star (Knudson, 2012).

At that point, the management team tells the employee she has what it takes to rise to the ranks of management at GE. They make her an offer: “We will move you around the world, every two years, into many different positions. If you want to learn about refrigerator cooling, we’ll send you to China to learn about refrigerators. If you want to learn about accounting, we’ll send you to accounting. If you want to learn about digital strategy, we’ll move you to digital strategy.” The goal is to teach these potential future executives at GE the paramount lesson: How the company makes money.

Learning about how a company makes money is not just the job of the executives- in-training or the executives already sitting in the C-suite. It must also be the primary goal of a content professional. A content professional is responsible for two things:

  1. Marry content development to the business and communication goals of the organization
  2. Support the customers in accomplishing their tasks

Growing Leaders at GE

General Electric is world renowned as a company that knows how to grow leaders. Its focus on future leaders absorbing everything they can about the company is hailed as a brilliant strategy. The process starts with the traits they insist all leaders have:

  • Imagination
  • Clear Thinking
  • Inclusiveness
  • External Focus
  • Expertise

Harry Elsinga, Manager of Executive Development at GE, explains the importance of “external focus.” Elsinga says, “The external focus trait is simply: do you understand your markets, are you known in the industry and do you know your industry?” Elsinga is reinforcing the importance of Rule #1. Design for them, build for them, and sell to them.

As a content professional, you need to understand the organization’s business and communications objectives. (In some cases, those goals are murky. We will talk about that later.) Until you master those objectives, you cannot create great content.

Defining Business Objectives

“Your business objectives are what your company plans to do to grow.”

Your business objectives are what your company plans to do to grow. Most businesses plan for growth. To grow, executives may consider introducing different products or services, adding to the sales team, enlarging the marketing department, and looking to move into new industries or verticals.

If you are a content professional, your job is to comb through the business plan and identify precise goals for growth. Then you need to marry your content plan to those business objectives.

Meeting the Achievement Threshold

Everyone has an achievement threshold. Even if you work for a not-for-profit organization, and don’t necessarily have a profit-driven growth strategy, you still have plans and goals. Your job is to work toward expected achievements. This is the achievement threshold; to meet that threshold, your company must have a business strategy.

For example, you may work at a government agency collecting and analyzing data about the use of Social Security benefits such as food stamps in the United States. Lawmakers will use this data to analyze the value of these benefits. (Food stamps are stipends given to low-income households to buy food staples.) Your achievement threshold is providing lawmakers with up-to-date and current data. If your business strategy doesn’t help you meet that threshold—say your department’s data gathering programs are not up to par—the analyses will be poor and you will be reporting incorrect information on a very important program affecting millions of people.

To review:

  • Business objectives: The goals your organization has to grow or succeed in.
  • Achievement threshold: How you measure whether you have reached your business objectives. (In many industries, the achievement threshold is profit, but in other industries, it may be something else.)

Find out your organization’s business objectives, as well as the achievement threshold. Armed with these facts, you can create content that makes a difference.

Achievement Threshold = Profit Motivation

From now on, when we talk about your profit motivation, we’ll be talking about your achievement threshold. So if you do work for a government, association, NGO, or not-for-profit organization, know that I’m still thinking about you.

Understanding Your Sales and Business Cycles

“You must know how long it takes to close a sale when thinking about marrying your content objectives to your business goals.”

Sales people like to talk about sales cycles. A sales cycle is the length of time it takes to close a sale. For some businesses, this is 30 days. For others it can be 3–5 years. You must know how long it takes to close a sale when thinking about marrying your content objectives to your business goals.

If you’re not familiar with the sales process, it is important that we review it here. For those of you who have this down cold, take a minute and read it again, so that we’re all on the same page. I’m including a sales cycle description so that we all understand how a sales cycle works. Then your content can be developed to accomplish the business objectives efficiently.

Sales and marketing professionals talk about a sales funnel (Figure 2.2). As Michael Hogenmiller, a media professional I work with has pointed out; the sales funnel should really be a sales loop, which we will refer to as a customer loop (Figure 2.3) (Leibtag, 2013). We always want to have contact with our customers so we can continue our relationships with them. Instead of talking about a sales funnel, we are going to talk about a customer loop.

Figure 2.2—The classic sales funnel.

The classic sales funnel.

Let’s define some terms that sales and marketing professionals use when they talk about creating, nurturing, and generating leads:

  • Leads: Leads are prospects that you potentially have the opportunity to do business with, or get donor dollars from, etc.
  • Lead generation: When we talk about generating leads, we’re talking about how we typically acquire prospective customers. Many Web sites use Request for Information, or RFI forms, to generate leads. They offer a piece of content in the hope a prospect will supply an email address to download the content he wants.
  • Lead nurturing: Once you have a lead’s contact information, you nurture that relationship. Think about the last time you bought a pair of shoes online. The company starts sending you emails, reminding you to shop on its site, and sending you coupon codes. They’re courting you, nurturing the relationship, hoping you’ll bite. In Business to Business, or B2B marketing, lead nurturing typically happens in the form of email newsletters, direct mail, and phone calls.
  • Buying stage: This is where you try to determine the stage at which your lead is in the buying process. For example, is he ready to buy? Just looking around? Not sure if he even wants to buy? When I did a project for a higher education institution, we developed two downloadable pieces of content: 12 Reasons to go back to school in 2012 and Are you ready to go back to school? Depending on which piece of content the lead chose to download, we learned something about where he was in the decision process. Knowing the buying stage helps with the next item—lead scoring.
  • Lead scoring: Sophisticated organizations use lead scoring to decide which leads to pursue and which leads will probably end with no business. By scoring leads via a series of metrics, you can determine which leads are qualified. Qualified leads have the budget and interest to do business with your organization.
  • Lead conversion: Conversion happens when the lead becomes a customer, meaning they buy! Then they might reenter the customer loop and become a new lead all over again, as they decide on their next purchase. However, their score may be higher now because they became “converted” to a paying customer. If, however, they don’t return for a long time to buy from you again, depending on your sales cycle, that lead’s score may fall.

The more you read about marketing, the more familiar you will become with the types of marketing funnels and loops that filter and qualify leads. Some are quite sophisticated, depending on the type of organization and its business objectives.

One of the goals of content is to continue this customer engagement cycle via the customer loop. By continuing to engage with customers on a regular basis through content, you can keep the conversation going. Let’s talk about the different types of media you can use to spark those conversations and interact with your target audiences.

Different Types of Media

“With the incredible deluge of data and information that businesses have now, we all have to keep up with the different forms of media….”

With the incredible deluge of data and information that businesses have now, we all have to keep up with the different forms of media, and how quickly things change and mutate. Let’s define the different types of media an organization can take advantage of to achieve its business objectives:

  • Paid media includes search engine marketing, advertising, and paid search (pay-per-click campaigns) that you can purchase from third-party organizations.
  • Owned media is all the media you develop and use for your organization, including the digital content that lives on your Web site and other digital properties, like social media channels.
  • Earned media is media generated by someone other than your own company: Journalists, media outlets, bloggers, and public relations vendors working to create buzz about your products or services.

When you‘re making the case for content, understanding the value of different forms of media will help you make better decisions about the types of conversations you want to have with your target audiences. There are also certain things you can do to control the conversation. Understanding the different forms of media will help you to do this. Let’s see why.

Paid media is a way to pay for attracting traffic and attention to your digital properties, so you can start new conversations with new prospects, and continue to nurture existing prospects. You are controlling the conversation when you use paid media by corralling your audiences toward your content.

Owned media is critical to establishing yourself as an important voice within your space. Creating your own content and engaging with your customers means you now have a direct line to them. You have a better chance of controlling the conversation if you use owned media because you are producing content that speaks in your brand’s personality.

Creating your own content, in most cases, is cheaper than trying to earn media. Most companies engage public relations firms to capture the attention of major media outlets. With the rise of social media and changing patterns of content consumption (people don’t necessarily watch the nightly news anymore), earned media may not be the best way for your organization to attract your target audiences.

Earned media can gain you lots of credibility—if the vibe is good and positive. However, as we all know, there are also the negative reviews, comments, and blogs that frighten the C-suite back into the decade of broadcast advertising and direct mail. It’s true that earned media can be extremely powerful. However, you must have plans in place for what to do in case it goes awry.

Analyzing the Current State of Affairs

“Analyze in great detail the current state of your content before you waltz into the C-suite to make your case for why content is the fuel that drives your organization’s growth.”

Now that we are all on the same page about business objectives, as well as how sales teams think, it’s important you analyze in great detail the current state of your content before you waltz into the C-suite to make your case for why content is the fuel that drives your organization’s growth.

These are some of the questions you should have the answers to before you talk to your decision makers:

  1. How much content do you currently have?
  2. Where is it?
    1. Does it live on your Web site or inside your social media channels?
    2. Does it live elsewhere on the Web?
    3. Do you have user-generated content (content that your customers create, like comments)?
  3. How does the current content perform? Does it attract leads?
  4. Do you have to use paid media to attract leads to your digital properties?
  5. Do earned media help you drive leads toward your digital properties? (Think of a review in a popular magazine about your product. Did that spike an increase in traffic to your Web site?)
  6. Do you have analytics in place to measure your content’s performance?
  7. What’s working? What’s not?

Gather as much information as you can about the overall state of your content. You may also want to pick one or two specific examples to back up your points.

Approaching the C-Suite

“At the start of your content process, you will need to convince your most difficult audience—the C-suite—that content is vital to the success of the company.”

We have talked about knowing your audiences in terms of creating content. At the start of your content process, you will need to convince your most difficult audience—the C-suite—that content is vital to the success of the company. You need to be well prepared to present an honest story to them. Remember, as with any audience, you need to understand where they are coming from before you walk in the door.

Executives and leaders make decisions based on certain criteria: data, business objectives, workforce issues, and what will generate decisive results. Investing company dollars in content is not necessarily one of those things that is an easy or clear sell. One of the approaches I advocate is to propose a pilot project. This way, your executive leadership feels they are making a small investment to see if you are right about the power of content. Once that pilot project is complete, you should have the data you need to convince them to invest in content full-force.

The following story illustrates how a pilot content project helped one of my clients to begin investing in content to fuel their sales cycle. The sales force had a challenge—they felt they were in the midst of what they considered a long sales cycle—six months. They wanted to find a way to shorten it. That was their business objective: Shorten the sales cycle.

When I asked them what they did to nurture leads, they looked at me with blank faces. “We call them every month to check in?” responded one of the sales people.

Content Works

Business objective: Shorten the sales cycle

Solution: Create a lead nurturing program with available resources (a list of 800 previous and potential customers)

Outcomes: Converted a prior customer to a customer for another product within three months

Conscientious about entering leads into their sales database, this company had accumulated more than 800 email addresses to nurture leads. I helped them design an email newsletter that went out twice a month to those leads, based on the company’s messaging architecture. (We’ll talk about messaging architecture in Chapter 7.) The company offered a suite of four products, so every two weeks we rotated through those four. This meant that each lead received four newsletters in two months that covered all of the organization’s products and services.

The strategy paid off. Instead of waiting passively for customers to contact them, the company had aggressively promoted products in a systematic way, gaining interest from at least some of the 800 leads they had gathered. After receiving the email newsletter, a previous customer that used this organization for one product called to ask about a different product. The customer didn’t know this company sold the other product—and ultimately the company made the sale.

In this case, the sales cycle for a completely different product was created and completed in one shot. It was a surprise, and a happy one. Hopefully, the “new” customer will go on to recommend the product to others.

If your job is to sell content within your organization, find a story like the one above to sell your case. Or, present the problem and describe how you think better content will help solve the challenge, like the wrong hotel room description at the beginning of this chapter. Explain that using content as an outreach channel builds relationships that lead to smoother deals and supports the communication and business goals of the organization. Start with something small so that no one feels that the risks are outlandish.

Understanding the C-Suite

“The members of the C-suite are the first stakeholders in your development of content. They are also your most important and challenging audience.”

The members of the C-suite are the first stakeholders in your development of content. They are also your most important and challenging audience. Knowing what motivates them, and what they care about, will help you present the best possible case for why they should invest in content. In the same way you carefully prepare your customer personas, work with your team to prepare the personas of your C-suite. Ask around your organization about different executives and the data that matter to them. Use that knowledge to drive the examples you choose to present.

Executives are goal oriented; they are interested in growing the business, making a profit, and cutting expenses. Illustrate to them how the content is critical to the revenue generation process. Convince them of its value. They each have their own goals to meet as part of the business’s overall strategic plan, so you need to show how you can support them with content. Explain that content is a conversation always taking place between the organization and its customers. If that conversation is poorly mapped, or doesn’t even exist, how can the company expect to do business?

What the C-Suite Cares About

The C-suite cares about:

  • Increasing profit
  • Increasing productivity
  • Reducing communication, travel, and other costs
  • Improving employee job satisfaction (Gogo, 2012)
  • Outdoing the competition (Harris, 2012)

Most important to the C-suite is making a profit. They are judged every year on how much money the company makes. So don’t forget about how much they focus on the bottom line. When you can demonstrate—as in the example of the lost revenue from the wrong description of the hotel room—how you can trace a direct line from revenue to content, you will probably see them show a lot of interest.

How to Explain Content to the C-Suite

When you need your C-suite to green light a budget to create a content project, make sure you first explain the relevancy of content in general. Below are some tips on explaining content marketing to the C-suite:

  1. Priorities, priorities: The first thing you need to think about is how to tie the impact of content marketing to business priorities. The C-suite doesn’t care about clicks and opens; they care about increasing revenue and decreasing costs. Build a business case for content within your organization, even if you have to tell a bad story.
  2. Customer personas: Why not create content that is persona-driven to convince your executive team? Find out specifically what they care about that content can address, and create a series of emails to convince them how you would reach one particular type of customer.
  3. Return on investment: See the sidebar “What ROI Is All About” on the next page.
  4. The competition: It won’t hurt to include examples of your competitor’s content to make your case. Has a competitor launched a new eBook? Ask your C-suite, “What if all the engagement from a new eBook could be ours?” If you can prove that your company has performed poorly against the competition in online content, you are making a very strong case.
  5. Sales impact: Get the VP of Sales on your side and have him/her go to bat for you. Work together to forecast what the revenue impact could be if salespeople were able to increase their close rate due to having more highly qualified leads (Harris, 2012).
  6. What do they do? Ask them to think about how THEY access content: According to a recent survey from SiriusDecisions, targeted digital content is the ideal entry point into the lives of busy executives. It stands to reason that if your C-suite depends on you selling prospects, they will give you the budget dollars you need to do that (Pisello, 2011).
  7. Talk the talk: Talk in their language (not “engaging” customers, but in terms of $$). Sixty percent of online marketers intend to increase their content marketing budgets. Therefore, if a company doesn’t aggressively enter this space, they risk falling behind competitors. While businesses that offer professional services top the content marketing adoption scale at 94%, even blue-collar industries such as manufacturing and processing (83% adoption) intend to get more involved. In other words, no company can afford to ignore content. The most effective content professionals spend more of their company’s advertising budget (up to 31%) on content marketing and have fewer objections from the C-suite. They also use a more diversified approach, using a bigger mix of articles, social media, YouTube, blogs, and other outlets (Pisello, 2011).
  8. Customers! Show them where the customers are. This is an excellent opportunity to share your research on personas. Convince them to spend time with their target audience. It will open their eyes to the meteor-like impact the right content can have on the sales cycles.

What ROI Is All About

When you’re talking to the C-suite, you must measure Return on Investment (ROI) in a way that makes sense to them. ROI is a finance metric, so you need to be able to track actual dollars coming in or dollars saved. If you cannot show actual money changing hands, then you are not measuring ROI.

However, you can demonstrate that proper content management improves the productivity and creativity of your staff. There’s return on time and there’s also return on investment. Both count to the C-suite (Pisello, 2011).

Return on Time Examples

  • Improved efficiency: Publishing content becomes easier and smoother with the introduction of a content strategy, which is a production cycle for your digital content. Systems create freedom, which means your team spends more time being productive.
  • Fewer mistakes: With good governance standards, it is less likely your team will have to “fix mistakes on the Web site,” leading to better productivity.
  • Sales tracking: The sales force is better able to engage leads that are primed to buy because they consistently engage with the content (open emails, comment on blogs, and so on).

Return on Investment Examples

  • Content drives sales: You can actually track the relationship between certain blog posts or eBooks and customers who entered your customer loop and converted.
  • Fewer missed sales: With better content, you miss fewer sales (think of the site that doesn’t tell you how high the coffee table is, or that doesn’t tell you how long it takes to ship).
  • Do more with less: With an effective content publishing system, you can accomplish more projects with the same employees (Smith & Leibtag, 2012).

How to Convince Each Member of the C-Suite About Content

“CEOs want buyers to choose their product or service over the competition, while simultaneously keeping budgets in line.”

Here are some tips for selling content to the C-level executives (Dale, 2012):

  • Chief Executive Officer: CEOs want buyers to choose their product or service over the competition, while simultaneously keeping budgets in line. You need to make the case to the CEO that customers learn about what your company offers by engaging with your content. If the customer finds the answers they need through the content, and comes to trust the brand, a sale is more likely. Explain how you can measure engagement with your content by analyzing sales, conversion, and overall awareness of your organization.
  • Chief Marketing Officer: Marketing is more measurable thanks to new technology. Because buyers can learn a lot about your company before they choose to contact you, the buyer expects to have a great deal of information. The CMO needs to understand what it takes to have and implement great content. You need to show the CMO the daily, weekly, and monthly tasks and overall workflow associated with running your content projects. Include time and budget estimates for planning content, assigning content to writers, editing articles and blog posts, publishing posts, promoting posts to social media sites, and repurposing content in other channels, such as email. CMOs also want to keep their internal customers happy (all the other members of the C-suite), so demonstrate a direct link between the departments and how information flows back and forth. Capture your CMOs attention by showing you understand her concerns for both internal stakeholders and external prospective customers.
  • Chief Financial Officer: Finance is concerned with how to grow the business while controlling expenses. Good content becomes more valuable year after year and can generate more leads at lower cost. A recent McKinsey study found that prices drop by 10% or more when buyers do online research, and do not see a meaningful difference between options. Help your CFO understand how strong content can help differentiate your product from the competition. By doing so, you can command higher prices for your goods and services. In turn, profits go up (Dale, 2012).
  • Chief Information Officer: It’s not hard to understand how the IT teams are often wary of new ideas about how to produce and regulate content—they know that most of the implementation and running of this will probably fall on them. Therefore, it is important to get the CIO on board early in the process, be prepared with details about hosting, data, and back-ups, and let her know what kind of support you will need over time (Dale, 2012).

How to Explain Content Strategy and Customer Engagement (for B2B and B2C)

Table 2.1 shows the stages of customer engagement. Use this to guide your executives about how content drives your achievement threshold by engaging customers. You can use the Customer Loop in Figure 2.3 to map the process visually.

Table 2.1—Stages of customer engagement

Customer Engagement

Stage

Goal

B2C

B2B

User Action

I

Get their attention (engaged contact with the brand)

Acquisition

Lead generation

  • Watch video
  • Download whitepaper
  • Sign up for email newsletter

II

Active consumption of content

Engagement

Lead nurturing

  • Read newsletter
  • Read and share Facebook post
  • Repin infographic

III

Identification of lead

 

Lead scoring

 

IV

Bought something; donated money; cited research

Conversion

Conversion

  • Generated revenue
  • Pushed the needle on the achievement threshold

V

Continue to consume content

Retention

Re-engagement

  • Provide product support
  • Provide service or consultation

VI

Brand audience

Buy more products or services

Buy more products or services

Share your name with their networks

Figure 2.3—The customer loop.

The customer loop.

Content Cheat Sheet to Convince the C-Suite

Here are some approaches you can use to help convince and prepare executives to sign off on content projects:

  • Set expectations: Clearly explain that establishing a content strategy (online publishing cycle) will take 6–9 months to show true results. However, you would like to try it as a small pilot content project so the company can examine if it will work.
  • Include them: Ask them if they would like to “write” one blog post a month. This will raise their visibility—and they do not have to do anything as your team will write it for them (if they so choose).
  • Keep them informed: Provide regular updates on a bi-monthly basis. This way they will have all the facts.
  • Publicly celebrate the wins: Make sure you tell them about the wins!

Overriding the Objections

Sometimes executives need to warm to the idea of using content to drive revenue. The concepts of traditional advertising are familiar, but they may not want to devote a huge portion of their budget to this new-ish enterprise of communicating with people through digital content. Table 2.2 shows a list of typical objections and possible responses.

Table 2.2—Typical objections and possible responses

Objection Your Response

It won’t work

Business is about creating relationships. We do this through a series of conversations. Content allows us to do this in a smooth and efficient manner.

We don’t have the time or resources

I’ve actually mapped each person’s time in the editorial department. These are the three people I’d like to select for this project. Looking at their time, I think we can redistribute their efforts, so that they can find time to devote to this project. Obviously, their core competencies will remain priorities.

How will it affect the bottom line?

Our goal is to drive revenue by using content and a systematic publishing system. Therefore we believe we can significantly drive revenue. What we’d like to suggest is that we begin with a small pilot project and see what results we gain before moving on to larger content projects.

How can you be sure we will say the right thing?

By creating customer personas and understanding the types of conversations our customers want to have with us, we will have the opportunity to talk to them directly.

What will legal say?

We’re going to use a content strategy—an efficient online publishing system that includes legal in the editorial process. We will consult with them about content that is potentially litigious.

Summary

Every business or organization has an achievement threshold. Make sure you understand what it is before moving forward with any content projects.

  • Understand your sales cycle, lead generation tactics, and your current state of content affairs. Perform research to find out what you might want to change before you approach your C-suite for executive buy-in.
  • Walk into the C-suite prepared to answer their questions.
  • Be prepared for objections.
  • Prepare your executives and stakeholders to understand that this effort takes time to be successful. Ask them to define what success looks like to them so you can set expectations.

Now that we’ve learned about making the business case for content, we’re going to talk about how to get the crucial buy-in you need from stakeholders—the people inside and outside your organization who understand the information you need to create great content. Rule #2 will teach you how to do just that.

References

Dale, F. (2012, November 8). “Selling content marketing to the C-suite.” Retrieved from Demand Gen Report.

Gogo, B. (2012, June 19). “Convince the C-Suite an enterprise social network makes sense.” Retrieved from tibbr.

Harris, J. (2012, May 25). “How to explain content marketing to the C-suite.” Retrieved from Content Marketing Institute.

Knudson, L. (2012). “Generating leaders GE style.” Retrieved from HRM Report.

Leibtag, A. (2013, January). Personal conversation with author.

Pisello, T. (2011, June 23). “Selling to Mahogany Row? Roll out the Web­carpet.” Retrieved from Content Marketing Institute.

Smith, R., and Leibtag, A. (2012). “6 secrets of social media superstars in healthcare.” Retrieved from ebook, published November 19, 2012.

Rule 2: Involve Stakeholders Early and Often

All of the stakeholders matter. ”

Last year, I worked with a company on three projects: a core messaging strategy, a new design for their Web site, and content. About six months into the project, just as we were getting ready to approve the final content, the person who originally hired me to consult—we’ll call him Jeremy—suggested we talk to a new set of stakeholders. This was a group I had never met or interviewed. Jeremy and his team had omitted them from our initial discussions, thinking they would get buy-in at the end of the process.

Sure enough, even though Jeremy thought that this particular group of stakeholders was not important enough to include in the initial go-round, they did have vital input. More important, they had political clout. Because they were unhappy with certain parts of the messaging strategy and content, we needed to go back to the drawing board to develop a different strategy and information architecture. This delayed the project by another six months and cost the company hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Lesson learned: All of the stakeholders matter.

Who Are Stakeholders?

“We need to include stakeholders in the process as often as possible because they affect and sometimes even control the outcome. Learning to manage stakeholders is an artful process, but one that will result in a better end content product.”

We’ve already explored two types of stakeholders: your audience and the C-suite. In this rule, we are going to:

  • Define internal and external stakeholders
  • Identify and prioritize stakeholders
  • Understand the importance of stakeholders to content
  • Learn how to talk to stakeholders
  • Achieve stakeholder buy-in
  • Set up a roadmap for stakeholders
  • Learn to assign stakeholder tasks

As we learned in the story of Jeremy, we need to include stakeholders in the process as often as possible because they affect and sometimes even control the outcome. Learning to manage stakeholders is an artful process, but one that will result in a better end content product.

Defining Stakeholders

“Stakeholders are all of the people who are involved in all parts of the content lifecycle and have vital information that makes your content robust, detailed, and engaging.”

Stakeholders are people who really care about the product or service and have a “stake” in the outcome. As Tomer Sharon, a usability expert, says, “Stakeholders are our clients, whether internal or external to our organization. These are people who need to believe in what we do so they will act …” (Sharon, 2012).

Stakeholders are the people who have vital information about everything in the organization that affects content management and production. They are the people who can provide vital information that you can turn into content; they are also the people who can describe current content workflow and challenges.

When managed properly, stakeholders will help you create the detailed, robust content your audience craves. They may be the people who set the strategy for the business overall, or they may be the data czars. In journalism lingo, stakeholders are the “sources.”

In other words, stakeholders give you the critical information you need to help you be successful with your content endeavors. So pay careful attention to them—they can make or break your content process.

In Chapter 2, we talked about the C-suite and ensuring that you have senior executive buy-in for content. Sometimes stakeholders are your C-suite, or a part of your C-suite. Other stakeholders may be elsewhere in the company’s hierarchy. For the sake of getting the information you need, a stakeholder does not necessarily have a high pay grade or power. In most cases, the closer a stakeholder is to the front line, the more they can tell you what you really need to know.

Content Is a Shared Asset

“When you look at the content lifecycle, what you see is a continuous system of planning, creating, delivering, and governing content.”

When you look at the content lifecycle, what you see is a continuous system of planning, creating, delivering, and governing content. As a content professional, you interface with other professionals with a large and varied set of skills, all of whom have a stake in the content because it supports the organization’s goals and objectives. Content is a shared asset within an organization.

As the person responsible for content within your organization, you “govern” or lead the effort. That doesn’t mean that you make all of the decisions or tell everyone what to do and how to do it. It means that you are the guide: You know what matters, how to build consensus, inspire ideas, and encourage information flow in order to create content that works. (Leibtag, 2011; Sharon, 2012).

Because content is a shared asset, it is important to talk to all stakeholders on a project before you begin planning. This helps you know you are on the right track. It also keeps your stakeholders confident because they feel involved. You also build relationships, which is invaluable later when they communicate to you about content that is old, stale, or in need of revision.

As we’ve discussed already, content is a piece of information distilled into a format that is easily recognizable for your audience. (We’re going to talk about content formats in Chapter 3.) Stakeholders possess information. That is the central reason to involve them in content development early and often.

Internal Versus External—Stakeholders Versus Your Audience

“The external stakeholders are the members of your intended audience(s)—your customers. Internal stakeholders are your clients: bosses, executives, content creators, and anyone who touches content during its lifecycle.”

The external stakeholders are the members of your intended audience(s)—your customers. Internal stakeholders are your clients: bosses, executives, content creators, and anyone who touches content during its lifecycle. In the case of internal stakeholders, you have their attention and interest, and you actually can interview them.

We have already talked about how to learn more about your external stakeholders, that is, your audience in Rule #1. In this rule, we’re going to focus on how to work with your internal stakeholders.

Internal Stakeholders

Very often, there’s a vast difference between content the audience wants to consume and the content your stakeholders want to create. I call this the internal versus external push-pull. The only way to win this argument is to have strong market research to back up your claims about what types of information and content your customers want.

Your clients may tell you to create content that you know from experience your audience will not read, consume, or share. That’s a sign that your stakeholders do not really know their audience and what types of information they crave. That is why Rule #1 about starting with your audience is so important. That is why it is the first step in creating meaningful, valuable content.

You will probably need to educate stakeholders about what types of information are truly important to external customers, and which content they are simply producing (or asking you to produce) to satisfy what they think is important to the audience.

When presented with research that shows what customers want to consume, many stakeholders are willing to listen. When stakeholders give me their observations about customers, I ask them, “How do you know that?” If they answer, “We just know,” you can introduce them to the data and research you have accumulated. If you are well prepared, your case against “we just know” thinking will be rock-solid.

As a content professional, you must challenge your organization to move away from a culture of assumption to a culture of data. Basing your decisions on things you know and can know is far better than guessing. In a famous scene from the movie Top Gun, Kelly McGillis, a flight instructor named Charlie, is analyzing a contentious interaction between two fighter jets, one flown by a Russian pilot and the other by Maverick, an American fighter pilot, played by Tom Cruise.

Charlie: The MIG has you in his gun site, what were you thinking at this point?

Maverick: You don’t have time to think up there. If you think, you’re dead.

Charlie: Well that’s a big gamble with a 30 million dollar plane, Lieutenant.

Convince your stakeholders to take their time to think, and more importantly, know what information your audience truly craves. Don’t gamble with content decisions.

Build Personas of Your Internal Stakeholders

“If you are going to get buy-in from stakeholders, you need to know whom they are and what they care about. Prepare to meet them by building personas of who they are.”

If you are going to get buy-in from stakeholders, you need to know whom they are and what they care about. Prepare to meet them by building personas of who they are. For example, you and your team might build a persona of an orthopedic surgeon. That persona might tell you that the stakeholder (the physician) is:

  • Extremely busy
  • Intelligent
  • Concerned about his or her patient’s expectations for surgery
  • Unconvinced of how a Web site matters for his or her practice

When I first interview this orthopedic surgeon, I’d show him what the competitors have on their Web sites and blogs in order prove that his potential patients need and want to know how long it takes to, for example, recover from joint surgery. In fact, one thing I always tell writers I train is to be on the lookout for the information the stakeholder doesn’t want to include in the content. This is usually because he or she thinks it will turn people off or make them hesitant to follow through on the call to action.

Hiding vital information is a bad idea for your audience—the more transparent you are with the facts, the more you will convince potential customers to do business with you.

By giving people information up front, and not making them hunt for it, you let them know that their interests are at the heart of your organization—not your own. This makes for a better relationship. The goal of content is to build better relationships through stronger conversations.

Prioritizing Stakeholders

“Your task is to identify the appropriate stakeholders and decide who is central to the project, and who may have secondary information that is important, but not vital”

Your task is to identify the appropriate stakeholders and decide who is central to the project, and who may have secondary information that is important, but not vital. As I demonstrated in the Jeremy story, when we don’t identify and prioritize stakeholders, we run into trouble.

Stakeholders will tell you what you need to know about your customer audience, types of content needed, what hinges on content performance, and so much more. Content is a shared asset within the organization—its main purpose is to drive business objectives. Therefore, the information you can glean from your stakeholders is vital to content success.

As we’ll learn in Rule #4, when you create and publish content, you need different, overlapping talents to create the best possible product. In the same vein, stakeholders should be a mix of different people within an organization: subject matter experts, executives, content creators, salespeople, and so on.

When I create content for a department within a hospital, my primary stakeholders are the physicians and staff who run the department. They have the deepest insider knowledge—it is my job to translate that information so I can create the best content for their defined target audiences.

However, there are other stakeholders as well—marketing managers, executives running the overall marketing strategy, and the hospital’s Web team. So, do I need to talk to each stakeholder? Do I even have time to do that? Will they make time for me?

In an ideal world, you should talk to each and every stakeholder. In reality, this is not always possible. Realistically, a large hospital’s VP of Marketing will not have time to sit down and talk about the Web content of one of the hospital’s dozens of departments.

So, where to start? Your main source, the person who recruited you for this project, or who requested you internally, is your starting point. In the Jeremy story, Jeremy was the main client, as he was the one who brought me in as an external consultant.

What can your main client tell you?

  • The basic sketch of the project: This is probably the most important part of those initial conversations.
  • Some important details: Your main client will also fill in some important details, but remember, they are her observations. When content is a shared asset within an organization, it is important not to derive conclusions based on one person’s opinion. Act like a journalist and gather others’ opinions before you make decisions based on that information.
  • Who the stakeholders are: Determining the identity of these stakeholders usually comes from an in-depth conversation with the main client, listening, and asking tons of questions. You should ask for an org chart—either for the entire organization or for the department you are working with directly. The org chart should give you a sense of how they internally organize their people, leading to a sharper understanding of whom you should contact. Ask the main client to make introductions, so when you contact stakeholders, they recognize your name and the role you play. I’ve learned that I won’t always talk to the senior players (depending on the type of project), but my main client can give me a lot of that information—as long as I know to ask for it.
  • Prioritizing stakeholders: The central objective you have when identifying and prioritizing stakeholders is to ensure that any individual with a decision-making or supervisory role is involved in the group you engage. Your job is to connect the dots, to listen carefully and jump, like a frog, from one lily pad to the next. Using this approach, I always feel that I am getting as much information as I can from the people to whom I have easy access.
  • Additional internal or external resources: Your main client will also provide additional resources to help you, as long as you can identify why you need them and how they will help the project. Don’t be afraid to ask to talk to more people. Just run it by the main client to ensure you don’t step on any toes or ignite some political wildfires without realizing it.

By listening carefully and fitting the puzzle pieces together, you will create the fullest picture you can of what is happening on the ground as it relates to the content you must shape.

What You Need from Stakeholders

“Stakeholders are critical for creating a successful digital strategy roadmap for content.”

Stakeholders are critical for creating a successful digital strategy roadmap for content. By following the rules in this book, you will create content that will drive sales or propel you toward your achievement threshold. Identifying and interviewing stakeholders and negotiating for their buy-in is the only road to creating and publishing better content. There are two parts to interviewing stakeholders:

  1. Gather information that comprises the building blocks of your content
  2. Understand their part in the content lifecycle

Stakeholders as Information Sources

Stakeholders possess valuable information about their area of expertise within the organization. Therefore, you need to position yourself as a researcher and investigative journalist to find out everything they know. Doctors can give prospective patients information about new technologies or techniques for treatment not available elsewhere. Government employees can explain what people receiving social security claims can do if their payments stop coming. Engineers can explain how to troubleshoot when something goes wrong with their products. The list is endless and the information infinite.

Understand Stakeholders as Part of the Publishing Lifecycle

Corey Vilhauer, a content strategist, explains:

“Content strategy and UX (user experience) are dedicated to enriching the experience and understanding of the people who will come in contact with our Web properties, but those Web properties are run by professionals who are deeply affected by the changes and shifts we put in place.

Our job is to help make useful, usable Web things. Our job is also to ensure that the passion is passed along to the next in line—that we provide some level of empathy and empowerment for the people who will work the content long after we’re gone” (Vilhauer, 2012).

Your job is to ensure that content management efforts continue longer after the initial development of content. You also need to see yourself as a champion for your stakeholders; you help them achieve success with their content. And, as Vilhauer so aptly puts it, you need to empower them to feel ownership of the process, so they feel compelled to continue to engage with content throughout its lifecycle.

So, how do you capture the information you need to create great content? And, how do you talk to stakeholders to understand their unique place in relation to the production and management of content within the organization?

Your Job Is to Gather the Facts

“When you ask stakeholders for their input, you need to let them know you are really listening. Be sure to listen for the information they want to give, not the information you think you need.

You do not want to come to interviews with preconceived notions. When you ask stakeholders for their input, you need to let them know you are really listening. Be sure to listen for the information they want to give, not the information you think you need. That means listening carefully, not interrupting, asking tons of questions, and absorbing all of the information. When you introduce bias into this process, you will erode results.

You job at this point is to gather the facts. As Sharon says, “Don’t think too much. You are in information-gathering mode. Think army intelligence. You don’t plan your moves now. You don’t think about the data in front of you. All you do now is collect and gather. Later on, you’ll think about it. If you think too much, you don’t listen.”

Melissa Rach, a well-known content strategist, uses a slightly different approach:

“During the first conversation I have with a client, I go over vocabulary. I ask the client things like: What does ‘content’ mean to you? What does ‘strategy’ mean? I share my definitions, too. Then, we work together to define what key terms mean for the purpose of this engagement” (Vilhauer).

Villhauer points out, “I’m also there to listen. To listen to workflow issues that have become so common at the company that they’re ignored. To listen for cues as to who is going to spearhead this project. To listen for politics, for under-the-breath backbiting, to the people who are clearly afraid they’re going to feel the brunt of the added workload. And they’ll say this out loud because I am non-threatening and because I’m listening” (Vilhauer).

Anytime you meet with a new stakeholder you should have a set of questions you are prepared to ask. Having said that, don’t be afraid to depart from your script. Most important is to ask detailed questions and read between the lines.

Here is a great stakeholder story: My client, an orthopedic surgeon, wanted to tell patients how long after a joint replacement surgery they had to wait until they could resume having sex. He explained, “They are too shy to ask. I’m a doctor! I know people have sex. But, they can really damage their new joints if they have sex too soon after surgery. So I’d rather put it on the Web site. I’d rather they know than risk that they won’t listen when I tell them at the pre-surgical evaluation or that they’ll be too shy to ask. Also, their wives read those Web sites and will tell them.”

He chuckled as he said it, but I took the point to heart. Here’s a stakeholder who truly knows and understands his audience. Creating that type of content will go a long way for both him and his patients.

Preparation for Interviewing Stakeholders:

  1. See yourself as an investigative journalist: Your job is to build a narrative of what’s going on now.
  2. Define vocabularies: So you understand and set expectations.
  3. Prepare a script: Ask as many questions as it takes to get a full picture of the current state of content management and creation. Avoid asking questions that may put stakeholders into a defensive posture. For example, I once spoke to the editor of a print magazine and asked her how long she thought it would take before her magazine became 100% digital. As you may imagine, the rest of the interview didn’t go too well.

Great Relationships Begin with Great Conversations

We cannot underestimate the value of conversations in creating content. Here are some guidelines for engaging in useful and productive conversations:

  • The art of conversation begins with the art of listening. You may have opinions and thoughts when you talk to stakeholders, but you need to ignore them and get the stakeholder to talk. This may sound simple, but as we all know simple is not necessarily easy. Think of it like this—if I don’t listen, I can’t create good content.
  • Learn to listen between the lines. Also not easy. When a stakeholder says, “Well, that’s what I think about the situation,” your next question should be, “So what do you think other people think?” Sometimes, actually quite often, it is what goes unsaid that is so important.
  • Make eye contact. The stakeholder will know you are listening and you care when you stop taking notes and look them in the eye. Making eye contact should motivate them to keep talking.
  • Don’t fill the empty space. When the stakeholder stops talking for a second, let him or her have time to think. Don’t jump in with your next question or comment.
  • Put yourself in the stakeholder’s shoes. Always important in any stakeholder interaction—ask yourself what you would want if you were this person.
  • Determine success for that person. I find when I ask, “What will success look like to you at the end of this project?” I can uncover unrealistic expectations. So, for example, when a stakeholder says, “At the end of this project, I want our organization to be number one on Google for all of our main keywords,” I know I need to do some serious educating about search engine optimization.

Interviewing skills take time to develop. Be patient and remember you will get better with practice.

Uncovering Group Dynamics

Part of what you want to understand when you interview stakeholders about content is how they work together. Another excellent piece of advice from Sharon regarding talking to stakeholders is to uncover group dynamics:

“Encourage a conversation. When there are several stakeholders present, it’s a golden opportunity for co-discovery. When you ask a question, try facilitating a conversation between stakeholders. It will help you understand the many aspects and layers behind answers. It might also uncover hidden political forces and tensions you were not aware of that might affect the future of the study and its impact.”

Those hidden political forces and tensions are critical to any content project, as we will see in the next section.

Ownership: Setting Up a Roadmap for Stakeholders

In order to ensure stakeholders feel they own the content, you need to create a roadmap for them—a plan for how you are going to take them from where they are now to where they want to be. Then you will all feel confident (Figure R2.1).

Figure R2.1—Setting up a roadmap requires mapping your current position and then understanding what you need to do to get where you want to go.

Setting up a roadmap requires mapping your current position and then understanding what you need to do to get where you want to go.

Make sure it is a roadmap ordinary people can follow. Try not to show them one of those fancy project plans with graphs and bars and dates and timelines. Just make it simple, on a spreadsheet or in a Word table—clearly describing each step. You might even consider using a shared document system. Every line should have a due date, the responsible member, and the goal.

Often a calendar works well in these situations, with simple dates and deliverables listed. People appreciate simplicity: Their lives are already complicated by overflowing streams of information. Make sure that they understand the process. If you expect anything from them, make that very clear on the roadmap you give them—double underline their part, highlight it, send them reminder emails—whatever it takes.

Questions You Might Ask

“You must describe where the organization is now in relation to content creation before describing how you’re going to change it.”

The questions about information you need to glean from your stakeholders will depend on the facts you need to gather to help shape the actual content.

The following questions are about the content lifecycle: how the organization plans, creates, publishes, and manages content. Designed to uncover the content lifecycle workflow and current processes, their answers will help you build that roadmap.

Roadmap Step #1: Where Are We Now?

You must describe where the organization is now in relation to content creation before describing how you’re going to change it.

  • What are the data and analytics that describe where we are? How is content currently performing?
  • What are the business objectives surrounding this project? Why are we currently not meeting them? What business case do we have that makes us think content will help us? Where are our pain points, i.e., our real or perceived problems?
  • Do all stakeholders and content creators within the organization understand the overall business strategy?
  • Who are the stakeholders? Who are the content creators? Who gives input to the content creators?

Roadmap Step #2—Where Are We Going?

Make it clear that this process has direction.

  • What is the business case for creating content?
  • Does this content align with our brand?
  • How do we want our customers to feel about us?
  • Is our messaging and branding strategy well mapped? If not, who is in charge of that process?
  • How does our audience interface with our content? Which devices do they use?
  • Which content types are most popular?
  • What is the average cost of producing said content type?

Roadmap Step #3—How Will We Get There?

This step puts everyone on the same page regarding the process.

  • Do we have the right talent filling the proper roles within the organization to create the content we need?
  • Do we have the budget to produce the content we need?
  • Do we have the right technology and platform to create the content?
  • With whom can we partner to help us get there faster or better?

Follow-Through: Keeping the Stakeholders Involved

“Once your roadmap is set, and the process of content creation begins, don’t forget your original stakeholders. Make it a priority to keep them in the loop, sharing milestones, and asking them for input along the way.”

Once your roadmap is set, and the process of content creation begins, don’t forget your original stakeholders. Make it a priority to keep them in the loop, sharing milestones, and asking them for input along the way.

It’s time consuming, I know, but I have used this approach, and I’m convinced of its tremendous value. Stakeholders have a deep investment in content, feel great about being asked for their opinions, and will provide viewpoints you very well may have ignored or brushed aside.

It’s not just worth the time—it’s essential. Your worst nightmare would be to complete the project and present it as a fait accompli, only to have the stakeholders ask why you didn’t tell them how it was going and then demand changes.

Let’s remember Jeremy—he and his group didn’t put the time into identifying crucial stakeholders, and they paid the price.

Stakeholder Tasks for Content Editing and Development

There is one other important part of identifying stakeholders and including them in the content process. At some point, they will need to take an active part in content editing and development. As Karen McGrane, a Web and usability expert, points out, your stakeholders will need to make conscious decisions about content, including:

  • Keep as is
  • Revise
  • Delete
  • Create new content (McGrane, 2012)

So, at some point, let your stakeholders know that they will have to do something with the content. You may want to consider creating a two-page document about:

  • Readability online
  • How people use mobile devices
  • How people use social media to find and share content

This is a leave-behind document they can use when thinking about which actions they should take with their content.

Summary

When creating content, it is vital to include the project’s stakeholders in the process. Get input from people for whom the content is important, and who have the necessary information you need to build great content.

Rule #2 includes the following actions:

  • Find out who the stakeholders are
  • Find out what is important to them
  • Bring them into the process during the early stages
  • Create a roadmap so that they can see where the process is taking them
  • Keep them in the loop during the process
  • Assign them certain tasks

Most importantly—have great conversations with them all along the way—this will lead to great relationships with them and by extension, great content.

Now you are going to meet Paige, who followed both of our first two rules to create content for her organization that produced results.

References

Leibtag, A. (2011, March 14) Getting started with analytics: How to get buy-in from your team. Retrieved from Content Marketing Institute.

McGrane, K. (2012). Content strategy for mobile. New York: A Book Apart.

Sharon, T. (2012, November 30). “Listen to your stakeholders: Sowing seeds for future research.” Retrieved from UX Magazine.

Vilhauer, C. (2012, October 11). “Empathy and content strategy: On teaching, listening and affecting change.” Retrieved from Eating Elephant.

Case Study: XONEX

Case Study: XONEX (Holden, 2012)

“XONEX, a B2B corporate relocation company, found major success with content when their old sales approach of lunches and courting stopped working as well.”

Imagine a richly appointed restaurant with blood-red carpeting, mahogany dining tables, steak knives that could slice through fabric, and wine glasses designed for celebration. In an industry where deals are handshakes made over a three-martini lunch and sales pitch, how does content become king? When traditional sales methods stop working, what does a company that wants to win need to do?

XONEX, a B2B corporate relocation company, found major success with content when their old sales approach of lunches and courting stopped working as well. XONEX administers relocation services on a global level, but sales are focused nationally in the northeast, southeast, and southwest. They have an extremely long sales cycle of 3–5 years.

Breathing New Life into an Old Sales Approach

Paige Holden began working as Director of Communications at XONEX in 2010 and immediately identified some major marketing challenges. Holden explains, “There were no marketing goals; marketing wasn’t clearly defined. We were limited to doing some events around the country with trade association groups. We had a booth, but barely had a corporate brochure. We had ads in our trade association publication, called Mobility, but it was expensive, and we couldn’t track what type of return we were getting from buying that advertising space.”

Further, they lacked an effective email distribution plan. Anything XONEX sent out was incredibly sales-y and did not seem to satisfy the needs of the target audience.

Before she started implementing any solutions, Holden interviewed all of the key people within the organization: the CEO, CFO, head of operations, and some central sales people. She asked them to define the target audiences in their minds, as well as what they thought the company’s greatest assets were.

Doing Research to Get Answers

After those interviews, Holden was a woman with a mission—she needed to understand the content “holes” within the organization. After a month of research, which included digging online to understand XONEX’s brand equity, Holden examined the online competitors to gauge the industry conversation.

After investigating her top five competitors to see their digital marketing objectives, Holden breathed a sigh of relief. “One of the comforting things I found was that they weren’t much farther than we were—it was a great feeling to know we could still do something. I realized I was not playing catch up as much as I thought I would be.”

Holden knew she needed to begin with defining her target audience so she could determine how to better attract and track leads (Rule #1: Start with Your Audience). All of her research pointed to the following business objectives:

  1. Create awareness of the brand
  2. Generate leads
  3. Modernize the IT system and build a new relocation product—a cutting-edge mobile app that would revolutionize the industry

Organizing the Content around Business Objectives

“The first step in a successful digital strategy required that she define her customer personas.”

Holden knew that the first step in a successful digital strategy required that she define her customer personas. She continued on her quest to define her target audiences. By the end of 2010, she determined there were four:

  1. Human resources professionals, as they define relocation benefit packages
  2. Industry peers in relocation and housing
  3. Employees who are relocating (transferees)
  4. Procurement, as more companies tighten the purse strings

Her next step was to involve stakeholders early in the process and to keep them involved (Rule #2: Involve Stakeholders Early and Often).

Part of the surprise in the project was that the XONEX sales force disregarded transferees as a target group and could not prioritize between HR and procurement. Further, and perhaps more puzzling, the majority of the marketing investment went to support industry groups, as opposed to buyer events and publications.

After lengthy discussions of business objectives and several group brainstorming sessions, the sales force realized that they needed to reach HR professionals first and foremost, as they were still the lead buyers. They did not feel they needed to reach industry peers, because they felt that “the person(s) using the product are the ones we need to concentrate on.”

However, Holden decided to keep the transferees as a target audience within her persona development. She felt eventually her teams would realize that XONEX’s end users could have a great impact on the company’s reputation in the long run, especially in the digital, social world.

Once Holden understood her audience—her potential leads—she needed to find a way to attract them. From her understanding of business objectives, as well as her research about the media mix, content holes, and competitors, she knew content was the answer.

After Holden received executive buy-in to move ahead with content, as well as her sales force buy-in (the internal stakeholders) around February 2011, she started to put together a content marketing strategy, based on Joe Pulizzi’s system (Pulizzi, 2013). This includes:

  • Tweet daily
  • Blog weekly
  • Distribute a newsletter monthly
  • Create a whitepaper or eBook quarterly
  • Develop a bi-annual event program

Holden focused on creating a relevant blog and publishing it with five posts so it would immediately look robust. As soon as they launched in August 2011, the XONEX team received very strong feedback from industry peers. “Competitors’ ears perked up and they started asking ‘who is this XONEX—what are they doing?’”

As Holden explains, “No one wants to be sold anymore unless there’s a hook that’s really interesting. So we give our target audiences content they care about. For example, in March we release blogs and white papers about corporate tax issues, which are the pressing issues on their minds then. In May, we publish about relocation challenges, because it’s the beginning of the relocation busy season.”

What Worked?

Holden followed a system to create change, both at the marketing level and the organizational level. She:

  1. Understood and defined her business objectives
  2. Defined her sales cycle, as well as the lead generation process
  3. Thoroughly researched the marketplace, as well as her competitors
  4. Sought stakeholder involvement and executive buy-in
  5. Launched a smart content marketing program using a strategy that tied directly to her business objectives

Holden comments, “Your goal as a marketer is to gain the respect of the sales team by showing your efforts can produce changes. It took a year for them to really feel like we were making an impact, but we’re about to close a major piece of business we can tie directly back to our content marketing, including our white papers” (Holden, 2012).

Holden also acknowledges an early win in the process that helped convince internal stakeholders this was going to work. About four months into the content marketing program, the sales team was at a relocation event, and the keynote speaker used their blog as a shining example of a leading blog in the relocation industry. “That was a huge victory and an early win,” Holden remarks. (Remember, it’s important to share wins with the C-suite, so they understand where those budget dollars are going and, more importantly, that they are working!)

Continuing the Success

“I rely on my sales force to bring me back intelligence from the field—what are people talking about? What blog posts might resonate with our audiences?”

Holden continues to work with the sales team regularly to continue the success of the content marketing program. She commented: “For example, I’ve encouraged the sales team to specifically ask to sign people up for the blog in order to keep in touch with them. We also have an editorial calendar that we plan at quarterly sales meetings. I rely on my sales force to bring me back intelligence from the field—what are people talking about? What blog posts might resonate with our audiences? It was a huge challenge to get them thinking that way, but now they’re turning into journalists in front of my eyes.”

Now XONEX is working on a mobile app for the transferee group—that very same group her sales force rejected at the beginning. As Holden explains, “We’ve identified that target audience needs content, but delivered in a different way. When we reach that business objective, we will need a whole new content line for them.”

XONEX’s story demonstrates the critical aspects of digital strategy that we have addressed:

  • Define your customer personas
  • Tie content development to business objectives
  • Involve stakeholders early and often in your content development and management

What’s Next

Now that we understand why and how content drives the sales process as well as how to unearth the valuable information within an organization that shapes the content, we are going to discuss how to design your content so that it floats. How do you spark, conduct, and continue a conversation with your target audiences in this vast digital ocean?

In Part 2 of The Digital Crown, we will learn about constructing the conversation, preparing your content for multi-channel publishing, and engaging your audiences on different channels. We’ll also talk about why it’s so important to have a variety of talented individuals involved in creating and managing your digital content.

References

Holden, P. (October 31, 2012). Interview by Ahava Leibtag.

Pulizzi, J. (2013). Content-marketing strategy: how to engage influencers in your industry. Retrieved from Content Marketing Institute.

Discount for UXmatters Readers—Buy The Digital Crown: Winning at Content on the Web and other Morgan Kaufmann titles on the Morgan Kaufmann site, using the discount code PBTY14, and save 25% off the retail price.

Join the Discussion

Asterisks (*) indicate required information.