While content marketing may be the trend du jour, content isn’t just for marketing. Content is everywhere: It’s the article that helps sales secure a coveted meeting, the memo from HR that announces a new acquisition, the personalized deck from account managers that keeps clients up to speed.
But while content for other departments besides marketing can often be just as important, it almost never receives the same amount of attention. That deck from the account managers may be riddled with errors or stray from the company’s signature voice. These mistakes happen all the time, and they wind up wasting a lot of time and money.
Despite usually being associated with the marketing department, high-quality content is vital for every department across the enterprise. In fact, we would argue that in 2016, great content is not only a marketing strategy, but also a tool to enable the entire organization.
No one wants a hard sell straight out the gate. Content is an effective way to give authority to the sales team without overwhelming prospects. Let’s consider two scenarios.
Scenario A: Salesperson A cold-calls you after stalking your LinkedIn profile and determined you are a qualified lead. He talks to you about the weather for two minutes, references your alma mater, then tells you about his product or service that—he assures you—will enhance your business.
Scenario B: Salesperson B emails you after she saw you recently downloaded an e-book produced by her company. In the email, she sends you a link to an article that might be relevant to your needs, as well as a compelling case study about a company similar to yours. You haven’t had time to read the e-book, but the article seems informative and the case study piques your interest, so you agree to talk. You begin your conversation by discussing issues you read about in the content.
Which salesperson is more likely to seal your business? Probably the one who puts your needs first and establishes credibility through content.
If we continue this content-first hypothetical strategy, we see that content can be valuable in all stages of the sales cycle—awareness (the original e-book), evaluation (the article and case study), and acquisition.
A recent article by Docurated, a marketing and sales enablement platform, confirms the effectiveness of using content to close deals. After surveying 27 CEOs and sales executives, 74 percent (20 respondents) concluded that original content is essential to win over prospects. Of those 20 respondents who believed in the sales value of content, nine specified case studies as their specific weapon of choice.
According to Graham Onak, owner of digital marketing consulting firm GainTap, “A well-written case study is a window into how the company operates, how they prioritize their clients, and the value the company can deliver.”
Don MacLennan, co-founder and CEO of Bluenose Analytics, echoed that thought when speaking about the importance of content throughout the sales journey. “The modern enterprise buyer isn’t going to read one thing and sign. It’s going to be a continual journey,” he said. “Your thought leadership blogs or your LinkedIn posts may start the conversation, while case studies and white papers may soften the beach for your in-person demos.”
In 2015, General Mills decided to make a change. Instead of waiting for media outlets to pick up its product announcements, the food company created a blog, Taste, to tell its own stories and flip the PR process on its head.
“Our team looked at [the blog] as a way to keep customers and journalists up to speed on what’s going on across General Mills,” said Kevin Hunt, GM’s corporate social media manager.
The strategy was fruitful. One day after GM posted an article about the release of its new beer, HefeWheaties, the story was picked up by NPR, Fortune, and NBC News. As Hunt noted,“In many instances, Taste gives journalists a reason to pick up the phone and call us.”
At Contently, we’ve seen a similar impact from original content, which drives earned media through company research and thought leadership. This past summer, Contently released a study on how the public perceives native advertising. In addition to receiving high engagement rates among our readers, the piece was picked up by the likes of Digiday and Marketing Land—outlets regularly visited by our target audience.
In the digital age, PR has moved from a newswire megaphone to a direct way to for brands to communicate with their audience. As a result, companies across verticals are beginning to think of some audience-first content marketing as PR collateral. According to a recent MarketWired survey, 64 percent of PR and marketing professionals will increase their content marketing efforts in 2016. That figure makes sense, considering 91 percent of journalists use search engines to find and research stories.
When done right, content does more than just an alert for press to pick up a story—it creates a positive relationship between the brand, press, and public. As Ann Fabens-Lassen, Contently’s communications manager, wrote in an article on the topic: “Your content provides value to reporters, reporters provide value to readers, and readers provide value to your publication. It’s a virtuous cycle.”
Great content has the ability to impact both internal morale and external recruitment. As Gianni Giacomelli, CMO of Genpact, reminded us at our most recent Contently Summit: “Content has an incredibly strong grip on culture formation.”
Online shoe and apparel powerhouse Zappos has taken this ethos to heart with its #ZapposCulture videos on YouTube. For example, in “#WhoForgotThePizza,” Zappos CEOs surprise night-shift call center employees with a pizza party—only to reveal that no one ordered pizza. The video shows Zappos’ executives announcing the (faux) oversight and alerting the employees that they could go to an open bar across the street and still get paid through the end of their shift.
The uplifting and playful videos serve an important purpose for Zappos, acting as a PR and recruitment tool that demonstrates how the company respects the people who work there.
Other well-known brands are showing how content can deliver results for HR. In 2014, Wells Fargo acquired almost 20 percent of its 12,000 new hires from content posted on LinkedIn. Using 150 recruiters to post stories about culture, job openings, and opportunities for employees, the company reported saving up to 50 percent on recruitment costs compared to 2013.
Suffice it to say, content can function as a cost-efficient recruitment tool—one that’s way more creative than your typical job posting.
Last year, Lenovo, a computer technology company, created an internal social network, Social Champions, to give employees an outlet to share material with each other. In addition to uniting formerly fragmented departments, the network also served as a way to feed content to employees, who could then share exciting stories and corporate developments on their own social profiles. Lenovo’s experiment unified the company—and turned over 60,000 employees into social advocates.
“Content is absolutely at the heart of Social Champions,” said Roderick Strother, director of Lenovo’s Digital and Social Centre of Excellence. “It’s what fuels the engine we work to build, central to the whole initiative.”
Today, corporate comms teams are even better equipped to use content to manage the needs of their stakeholders while stewarding their organization, with technology that enables this facilitation. For example, companies like Dropbox and Slack have popped up to better service internal content sharing and collaboration.
This shift marks a transition aptly summarized by the content folks at Kapost: “Corporate communications could become the overseers of a content factory within their organization.” Rather than policing content distributed to the public, it’s time for corporate comms to use content to empower entire organizations.
Product marketing is, of course, a routine thing—many marketers already use content to help announce and sell their company’s products. But product teams can (and should) use content too.
Etsy’s blog, Code as Craft, positions the company as home to a strong engineering culture, which is something engineers look for when deciding where to work. Similarly, Basecamp’s Signal v. Noise—hosted on Medium—establishes the company as a home to leaders in design, business, and tech.
Thoughtbot, a designer and developer consultancy, takes content production one step further. It runs a blog, Giant Robots Smashing into Other Giant Robots, and publishes e-books about designing for the web, testing rails, and maintaining open source projects.
These publications work as strong recruitment tools for the product and engineering departments, yet the impact extends across the organization. When I asked Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, why it benefits product teams to publish, he focused on educational and monetary benefits for the organization at large.
“We’ve never hired a sales or marketing person,” he said. “Publishing helps us teach our target audience what we’re learning as we’re learning it, and that’s what accounts for all of our word-of-mouth business acquisition.”
Prior to the introduction of content as a customer service tool, Sony spent €7 per customer service phone call to help users troubleshoot problems with a specific TV set model. After an article on how to address this issue was posted to a public Sony forum, it was visited by over 42,000 visitors in the first two weeks of publication.
While it costs nothing for Sony to produce the post (it was written by a “super-user” volunteer), it presumably saved the organization a massive amount in customer service fees. Though we can not assume all 42,000 visitors would have called Sony for help, if even half of these users phoned the service, Sony saved what would have been up to €147,000 in call center costs.
In addition to providing a resource for troubleshooting, content can be a powerful resource related to company knowledge. Many account managers use high-quality research and engagement materials to enhance client relationships, inspire up-sells, and close renewals.
At Danish social media automation platform Falcon Social, account managers send monthly touchpoint emails with original content—think case studies and handbooks—as well as industry and product news. The emails also offer an educational element, with links to Falcon-run webinars and classes.
“We add value to the platform by acting as educational resources and industry experts,” said Jesse Paloger, Falcon Social’s U.S. account manager. “Creative touch points keep the client relationship warm and open the lines of communication. The end result is renewed business and major up-selling opportunities.”
Whether nurturing an existing relationship or pitching a VC for the first time, great content has the ability to help you raise (or offer) capital.
A pitch deck, executive summary, or any other piece of investor content should be both concise and engaging in order to hold attention long enough to tell a story. Angel investor Martin Zwilling recommends that the content “focus on the value of your business, rather than selling your product.”
Interestingly, that perspective now works both ways in the VC world. Why would VCs need to publish? As Jay Acunzo, VP of platform at NextView Ventures, previously explained on The Content Strategist, investors,like marketers, feel pressure to demonstrate expertise to appeal to potential clients.
Content was never really just for marketing. These departments have all used content in one way or another for years, but for whatever reason, we’ve assumed that content technology and high-quality original material could only be useful for marketing.
In 2016, we think it’s about time you free yourself and enable your entire organization.