Content sits at the heart of many organizations' marketing, but are we in danger of just creating content for content's sake?
Randy Frisch, CMO of Uberflip, certainly thinks so, which is why he joined us on a recent episode of CMO Convo to outline his vision for content marketing: rather than just churning out content, we need to be developing curated experiences that mirror how people use and consume content on platforms like Netflix.
That's right: he wants us to create content that our audiences can binge.
Find out what that means in our write-up of Randy's episode below.
- Randy's background and approach to marketing
- Content experiences and binging
- Positioning your content so it's bingeable
- Creating content experiences
- Why build content experiences?
- The practicalities
- Content across your whole organization
- The content experience process
- Other resources
Randy's background and approach to marketing
CMOs are always inundated with the need for new ways to approach content. So, any kind of discussion about that is gonna be very interesting to our audience. But before we do get into that, Randy, maybe you could introduce yourself?
Happy to do so! It’s good to know that I'm in company with another true marketer and content writer like yourself. I don't often define myself by my job title; I define myself by the stuff that I love to do. For me, that's always been marketing.
When I was a kid, The Super Bowl was the big thing. The Super Bowl ads were the coolest kind of marketing out there. Somewhere along the path, I thought that B2B marketing was as sexy as Super Bowl marketing.
Nowadays, you actually see B2B companies advertising at Super Bowls, which is really how mainstream B2B marketing has gotten. What gets me ticking, it’s just the ability to execute marketing easily. That's the type of marketer I am. I'm not a coder. I'm not this hacky guy. But put me in front of a solution like PowerPoint, and I could make beautiful things happen, because they just made it easy for me. That's the type of marketing that I like to try and empower the team around me to accomplish.
It's taking the simple tools and doing exciting things. You’re not looking for a complex approach, you're looking for a well done, simple approach, right?
With any type of marketing, I think we look to come off as well as possible with our brand. But the best marketing these days is probably timely marketing. It's the ability to get something out in that moment, to really capture what's going on. One of the stories I've told before is about Oreo.
There was a power outage at the Super Bowl. Oreo did this campaign in the moment on Twitter. They told people to go dunk their Oreos in the dark and see what happened. It was a great fun moment. I think those are the types of things that we need to be able to do across the board. It’s not just on social media. With social media, it's maybe a little easier to be nimble and do something in the moment, but we need to think about running ads and adjusting campaigns in various ways to meet the buyer's expectations.
Content experiences and binging
One of those great ways of doing that, particularly in the B2B space, is with content.
Absolutely. I think content is your ability to show someone that you can actually solve their problem. Thinking about this idea of personalization, 10 years ago it was very much, “do you know my name,” right? 10 years ago, if you got an email from a big company in your inbox, and they knew your name, it was amazing!
Yeah, it was cool, at first!
Massive organizations actually know my name! Nowadays, when we get that same email, we think, “how did they get me on their list?” We know how Mail Merge works. We know what's going on. Even if we're not in marketing, we know how that happens at this point. Where it shifted in my mind is, can you actually solve my problem? That is true personalization.
Maybe the best example in our day-to-day lives is something like Netflix, right? You get an email from Netflix, and it'll say something like, “ Hey, we've got great movies for you tonight!” That gets you to pay attention at first. But what really gets you is that the body of the email will have the movies and TV shows that you're most likely to want to watch.
Netflix is gonna find that out! They do! We have to be able to say that we know you and we can deliver you the type of content that you may be looking for. That's what gets you to actually log into Netflix; it's not the fact that they knew your name. It's the fact that they can actually pair those things together.
Netflix is maybe an overdone example, but I just bought a Peloton treadmill in my basement. On the weekend I go down there, and they know all the workouts that I may want based on whoever worked out with what type of music I listened to. This idea is moving not just through our day-to-day lives, but it's now expected in our marketing. Whether we're a B2C marketer or a B2B marketer, we need to be able to emulate those experiences and meet customers in that same way.
Because those experiences with the product, they absorb you into it. It's like getting into a Netflix binge, getting the recommendations that come up next. Peloton will recommend new types of exercises based on your progress. It's all a way of keeping you using the product through how they present the content and features available to you.
Is that what we're talking about when we talk about content experiences, as opposed to content marketing?
Yeah, absolutely. Content marketing, in theory, should have hit everything that we're just talking about. If you go back 10 years ago, when inbound marketing was abuzz and The Content Marketing Institute was coming out with this term, their proper definition should hit on not just creating content, but leveraging it to build the relationships that we're talking about with buyers.
Content marketing, first of all, is very much owned by content creators. Those content creators have a very different role than the ones who are going to distribute content, or tailor the campaigns that are going out through email and ads. They're creators. They write great blogs, they create great videos. They author amazing ebooks and full storybooks. That is the role very often that we associate with a content marketer.
As a result, we've very much defined content marketing as content creation, for better or worse. At this point, my view is to let content marketing be defined as creation. Let's put just as much emphasis on actually using the content that's created.
Right now the stats that are out there show that 70% or more of the content we create never gets used after it's posted on our blog. That's scary and that's not what the content marketer wants. We need someone who's actually going to be thinking about how we create this engagement. This is where we get into very specific things that we need to think about in terms of content experience. For me, those things relate to the environment, the structure, and the way that we actually compel someone to engage with that content.
Positioning your content so it's bingeable
So from what you're saying, it's sort of a mix between content distribution and site architecture when it comes to building great content? It's about where you’re putting the content as available for people to see it? And how people get through your site to absorb the different types of content?
That's a great way to think about it. Let's compare this, as an example, to the team that's going to own your home website, right? When you go to that domain and you go to that homepage, there's a team behind the scenes.
There's often another team that's been optimizing, that's thinking about the site architecture of what page leads to another. The same thing has to happen with our thought leadership. What we want to ultimately accomplish is to get someone to flow through as much content on one visit, no different than coming to your website and getting them to go from one page to the next without a high bounce rate.
The problem that we usually see is as follows: we'll say we’re going to run a campaign. We're going to do some sort of SEM campaign. We’re going to send out an email to the list that we’ve got, and we’re going to direct them to this really great piece of content.
If we succeed with that, we celebrate. It's not that we shouldn't celebrate that first success, but the mindset has to be, what do you want that buyer to do now? Most of us think that our next action will come the next time we spend money on another campaign.
Maybe my next step is sending a direct mail play, maybe my next step is sending some sort of retargeted ad. But we do this in a way where we assume that we have to continue to get them to that next content asset. As you know, if you know the term customer acquisition costs, really what we're doing, every time we go back to the well to spend, we're jacking up our customer acquisition costs. As marketers, we can't justify this with fancy terms like ‘multi touch attribution,’ right? It's great, it kind of saves our jobs. But the reality is, we will need to use other channels.
It's very similar to the analogy that you gave. It’s that bingeing experience of watching Netflix. They don't have to pull me back in because they show that next episode in five seconds, right? That's what we got to find a way to do with our content.
But to do that, we really have to make sure that we're suggesting something that is a natural progression. The risk that a lot of us end up doing is that we just show the next ebook because they read an ebook, or the next video because they watched a video. We should be basing the next lined up content on what they’ve just engaged with.
You need to think about how it fits into all the other types of content you've got going on. So, you have a hub, and then you have a certain category, and then you have all these different spokes of contact and branching paths. Is that your way of thinking about it?
Absolutely. Look at 90% of websites, and go to their blog, or their resource centre, whatever you might call it, and realize that there you're often seeing headings like videos, ebooks, blogs, right?
That's because that's how we create ‘content back to content’ marketing. Content marketers are often superheroes in ebook writing or video creation. Then, we publish it in those brackets. We have to shift to thinking about the right content for the right buyer at the right time. Now, so far, we're talking very much about what we say on a website, like a resource center.
But now the expectations are starting to get down to the idea of more of an account-based marketing approach. Here we see more one-to-one or one-to-few segmentation of our audiences.
it's not enough to send an email with someone’s name on it. It's not enough to deliver an ad on a platform like Demand Base. If someone actually clicks on that ad, how do we drop them on a page that's personalized to the point that we can present them 10 pieces of content that may be interesting to that buyer? Not just 10,000 pieces of content that we've created over the last 10 years.
Again, that sounds wild, but imagine logging into Netflix and just seeing all of the TV shows by the date that they were published. We'd never find anything, right? Even if we had a search, we'd never find what we're looking for. We need to do a better job of curating the right content for our buyers.
Creating content experiences
Is it up to us to try and create these content experiences on our own intuition, or is it a data-driven approach? How can someone get started with building these kinds of curated experiences?
That's a great question. Let's go to the unsexy part of the answer, and then we'll get to the fun part. The unsexy part is that we first have to make sure that we centralize and organize our content.
The problem is, most people kind of skip over this, and they just try and find the content on the fly. Imagine starting at a company today and many people are jumping around in their roles and the content is all over the place. Imagine jumping in and trying to find all the content that's relevant to your buyers, let alone your buyers trying to find it.
We need to bring content into a central place where we know what we actually have. Then we need to organize it. The organizing is where we tag and audit it. We go through a process to make sure that we have the right labels on content.
Now, we should organize that content by the way that our audience looks for it, and also by the way our internal stakeholders look for it. My team takes our content and puts tags on it based on the Salesforce opportunity stage.
Because we want our team to be able to say we've got someone sitting at 60% off stage, what's great content for this type of buyer in this vertical? We'll put tags based on the verticals that we sell to, so that they can find relevant content that they can put in front of that buyer. Once we've done this centralization, then we have a choice.
So, this is where we get to the fun stuff. We can either be very manual and very thoughtful about the content that we want to put in front of someone, or we can start to leverage AI.
AI functionality can allow us to match those tags against things like intent. So, suppose you're using a platform like DemandBase, you can actually say, what is this account trending on from a search perspective? What content do I have that matches and actually delivers contextual content in the moment? There are two different extremes there. I would argue that, for people who are trying to do one-to-one ABM, you want a team being very thoughtful going through the content that's been tagged and audited.
But a lot of us are getting into ABM that's more built into our general approach to demand generation. And with that, we're going to leverage AI and actually be able to do this at true scale.
Why build content experiences?
These are the practicalities of how CMOs and how companies go about building these types of experiences. But why should they build those experiences? Why would buyers be interested in these kinds of experiences? What kind of benefits do they get from these? Is there data to back that up? If you need to go to your CEO and say, “we need to build this content experience”, what data can back this up?
Yeah, it's a great question. So far I've given you a bunch of great analogies that come from our consumer world. Those are fun, and they're easy to relate to with your CEO. But we actually went out at Uberflip and we spoke to some analysts this past year, and we actually worked closely on a commission report with Forrester, specifically on content experience.
They went out to over 300 VP marketing level managers inside of organizations in North America. They asked a number of questions to understand where they are in terms of this prioritization. Now, the first thing that was really interesting was that Datapoint said that 63% of buyers will actually disregard content if it's not relevant to their needs.
I mean, that makes a lot of sense. if you put something in front of me that I don't like, I don’t have to engage. Google's just a step away. I'm just gonna step up and do a different search or go to the second result on that search.
The other part that was interesting was understanding why this was the case. There's this framework that I've used for a long time that a lot of marketers use as well. It's this idea of guiding someone through this buyer journey that we're trying to take them on. And I think about it as three very natural steps. The first thing is to identify our buyers. The second one is to actually attract our buyers. The third one is to engage our buyers.
Now, the first two there, identify and attract, that's very much about identifying the accounts that should buy from us. What channels am I going to use to go out and grab their attention? The last part is very much about where we’re going to send them. According to Forrester, when it came to the first step, almost 75% of marketers felt like they'd nailed identifying buyers. And that makes sense.
There's a lot of great techs that helps us, from our CRM, to our marketing automation platform, to intent platforms, etc. With the second step, almost 64% of marketers felt like they could use the right channels to attract people. Now, no one's ever said which channel’s the best and we're always trying to optimize that.
Here's the scary one, only 11% of marketers felt like they could engage buyers once they'd got their attention. Think about it as follows. Each of these buckets, in my mind, is an area that a CMO is spending money on. We spend a tonne of money on data to ultimately identify our buyers. We spend a tonne of money on channels to go and grab someone's attention. And then the last step is that we ultimately try to keep them around. Why is it that we can’t do that?
Well, in many cases, we don't put as much money into that budget. But that's also because many marketers through this study identified that they don't have control over that. They're at the mercy of a web development team, the CMS operators, who aren't traditionally thought of to be part of the modern-day marketing group. As a result, we're very much always looking either to an agency or some sort of web development team in our organization, which slows down our ability.
So, back to your question, what should you be telling the CEO? I think the argument of where we need to evolve our marketing spend is not just to spend on understanding who your buyers are, how to grab their attention, but really, how do I keep it? That's the part that marketers really need to work on going into 2022.
That part about being reliant on external web developers interests me. Does that mean we need to bring that in-house? Does that mean we need to have these people on the content teams moving forward? That can be very expensive for startup teams. Is there a way to get around that kind of thing? Could you have dev teams that are in different countries, doing that kind of stuff in different time zones? How can you work closely with them to overcome those barriers to create these kinds of experiences?
Yeah, it's a great question. First off, I'm not sitting here saying web developers are no longer needed. There's absolutely a need for them. Even on my own team, we have our own dedicated web dev resource. It's built into our marketing team. I think we're starting to see those resources more built into the team, reporting either into a digital lead or a content lead, depending on the case inside of those organizations. That's one trend that we're seeing, for sure. The other thing though, is that there's new technology that's out in the market that's enabling modern-day marketers to be part of this solution. Uberflip, without a doubt. I mean, that was our mission. But we're not the only type of solution out there. I'll give you some other examples that we use in our own tech stack.
Now, when we want to build a landing page, we're using a great solution. Unbounce, for example. When my team wants to build templates or actual campaigns inside of our email automation platform, rather than having to code in HTML and all the design elements, we're using technology like Stencil. That's fantastic. Then, when we're thinking about this content experience, can you get all this done with other people and other resources and agencies? Absolutely.
And can it look fantastic? Absolutely. But it comes back to where we started the conversation. It’s all about speed to execute, right? Our customers expect their needs to be met in moments. And when something's changing their needs, they expect us to be able to change alongside them.
I think if we look back at the last two years, it's probably taught us the importance of the way in which we move at speed more than ever. When the pandemic hit, there were companies that completely had to change their GTM. I was interviewing a CMO of a company called Tripactions. They were in the travel industry, and overnight they realized that to get through this, to be there for their customers, they could no longer use the old talk track that they had.
They had to shift that talk track, and they had to re-audit and reimagine all the content. They were going to put it in front of buyers. It no longer made sense to deliver that same email the way they would have sent in February of 2020 versus April of 2020. They had to shift in moments, and the ability to do that really requires ensuring that we're not at the mercy of these agencies and web development teams. They can't move at the pace that our customers expect.
When it comes to adaptability, how adaptable are these content experiences? Is it easy to change content around? Is it easy to move things in, like certain tags, without breaking the chain, so to speak? If you need to be adaptable, having established patterns really seems to contradict that, doesn’t it?
It's a great question. Technologies have only evolved so far. How do you get things to happen in moments? The definition of moments is actually different depending on the stakeholder. Our marketing team, as much as they need to move quickly, they don't move anywhere as quickly as a sales rep. We need to find ways to ensure the right amount of decision-making is possible for a marketer, or for a salesperson when these things happen.
But ultimately, a marketer can probably build a stream of content for a buyer with Uberflip in about four to five minutes. If you look at a sales rep, they can do so in under a minute. That's partly because we've removed some of the decision criteria that we want to put in front of a sales rep, because we know that they're going to look to take quick action and really respond in a moment when an email comes in.
Content across your whole organization
The subject of sales reps kind of moves on to our next topic, which is other departments having input on these content experiences. How important is it to work with the sales team, or the customer success team or the product team, to develop these experiences? It can't just be the content team working in a vacuum. A piece of content can't exist in a vacuum, neither should the content team, surely?
I'll take you back to the framework that I talked about before this. Identify, attract and engage. I think in the old world of marketing, we very much associated all that with the top of the funnel. Now what we're hearing more and more is that we are responsible for the entire buyer journey. Not just the entire buyer journey, but the entire customer journey. What I mean by that is it's not just getting them to purchase, it's actually finding ways that we can ensure that they're using our solution or product or service, or even upselling that customer to become a bigger customer.
I think, in some ways, the pandemic has pushed a lot of companies to focus very much on retention, or focus on getting that growth from their existing install base. What is the role of content? It needs to flow across that entire buyer journey. Look at Uberflip again. Some of the things that we track are, what are the ways that someone uses our technology? If we go back about seven, eight years ago, nine out of 10 people were using us for inbound strategies.
Now, when we look at the cross section of different use cases, we've got five up at the top. The first is just general demand generation. The second is in mail. The third, and it’s rising more and more every day, is Account Based Marketing. The other two that have really popped up in the last three years are sales engagement and customer engagement. And those are relatively new.
But it's this idea that we're going to use content at every stage. And it's not just about marketing. We need to partner with our sales and success reps to send content out. One of the things I sometimes joke about is when you get these emails on the same day from the marketing automation robot and from a sales rep. It's somewhat comical when you get that same message on the same day, and they just don't seem aligned in any sort of way.
They're changing campaigns, they're changing narratives. They're sending you the same content or different content that contradicts each other. That's because, in a lot of those cases, at those bottom of the funnel or customer advocacy stages, those individuals in the organization are searching for your own content.
It's almost comical, right? Watch a sales rep or a CS rep in your organization go and try and find content, and the most common place they go is Google. They will go to Google to find their own company's content, because they know what they're searching for.
And that's how we search. But that's not the way we want people to go find content, we want them to find content that is relevant right now. Google's telling us what's relevant over the last year, right? You want what's relevant on this day, in this moment, and what you want them going out with.
There's different ways that we can do this. The most basic? Make sure you’ve got a good spreadsheet, right? I mean, this isn't fancy technology advice here. This is like Google Sheets, Excel, or whatever your spreadsheet preferences are. But make sure it's accessible and shared and updated with the latest content that you want them to use.
You should have columns there that highlight different verticals that this might work for, etc. Ultimately, though, when you get to the point of wanting to enable at scale, that's where technology comes into play yet again. That's this idea of bringing in tech that can allow that person in the solution that they may be in to inject the right content.
That should work if they're using Gmail or Outlook, or something like SalesLoft. It’s the ability to actually find content based on what's approved. And this is the concept that we've been kind of building on throughout the whole conversation. To me, technology is the last thing we should rely on.
I think sometimes we assume that tech's gonna fix everything. The worst technology name for that was marketing automation, right? It suggested that it would just automate marketing for us. I always say the first thing you need is good people. Good people are ultimately the key to most successful businesses. Then you need a good process. Those people have to build up and implement processes. From there, once you’ve got great people in a great process, instead of going and getting more and more people, how do we actually bring technology in to allow scale on what's been developed? And that, to me, is how I think through all the investments that we make.
The content experience process
Maybe it makes sense to sum up the process? Let's go back to the start. What is the process that you take when it comes to developing content experiences and what should other CMOS be doing?
Yeah, absolutely. We already actually hit on a couple of those first steps. The centralizing and organizing of content, those first two steps are actually part of a framework that I've worked on for four or five years now.
I wrote a book. It's called F#ck Content Marketing, Focus on Content Experience, hence a lot of our conversation here today. We need to personalize. The key there is it's really hard to go and do that at scale.
When you haven't done that groundwork to understand what content you have, and to make sure it's organized accordingly, once we personalize those experiences, either through hand curation or AI, then we've got to distribute those, right? Now, just because we've got all these personalized experiences, doesn't mean people are going to go find it.
Yes, there's SEO. But in many cases, we need to drive people to content. That's where our spend on campaigns comes back and remains so important. Distribution is also crucial. And the last step: learning through generating results.
Generating results means not just getting the next lead or MQL, it’s learning about what content was most valuable at what stage. And through that, it allows us to go back to where we actually started this whole conversation, which is content marketing. It’s not part of this framework, but it allows you to go back there and think about what content you should actually create next based on what people are using. What's missing in that equation? What's stalling people up in their buyer journey?
Awesome. So, we've touched a bit on a few of the tools and resources that people can explore to maybe further their understanding of this process. Are there any others that you want to touch upon, any other good resources that people should check out?
Yeah, absolutely. A good question is, how do I get someone to actually invest in this? If I'm the content marketer, this may not be on me. I think what you need to do is you need to pull an organizational shift of mindset. And to do that, one thing you can go do, you can go get my book on Amazon. It's a great book, it's fun. And it really walks you through this shift in mindset of who owns the content experience.
The other thing that we hit on is that report. If you go to our Uberflip page, if you go to our hub where a lot of our content lives, there’s no question you'll be able to find this Forrester report on the engagement buyer gap that they talk about. I think that's another key one. And then just in general, go to Uberflip.com/relevance. You'll actually be able to take some fun quizzes that'll help you understand how relevant you are to your audience right now. I think a few of those things will get people on the right track. And definitely, in addition to that, they can always connect with me on LinkedIn, and you know, have some good chats.
Interested in talking content experiences? Head to the CMO Alliance community to join the conversation.