October 4, 2013

Investing in Content Development

by Renegade

Leader_DPontrelliDelivering successful content is like having a conversation with a potential employer. If the jobseeker delivers a pitch that isn’t tailored to the needs of the organization, he will almost certainly be passed over for the next candidate. It’s no different for a company that is communicating with its customers. Cultivating a good content marketing strategy means moving beyond standard self-promotion and instead speaking to potential customers in an intentionally relevant way.

It turns out that Dominic Pontrelli, Sr. VP, Ricoh Americas Marketing and I are cut from the same cloth, in this view. In the following discussion, Dominic describes Ricoh’s content strategy, how Ricoh delivers highly tailored stories to its customers, and why investing in content development is, in fact, a very smart idea.

Drew: What role does content marketing play in your overall marketing mix?  Or asked differently, what role does the content you create play in the customer journey?
Content marketing is the compass in the customer’s journey to discovering a trusted provider of information.  Content is king.  We’ve always known that, but today it’s more important than ever for marketers to live by this phrase as the balance of power shifts from promotion to information.  Each and every communication with a customer, across all platforms, needs to be data-driven and customized to adhere to their pain points.  At Ricoh, we have a regular cadence with our customers via our customer touch strategies; it keeps our customer and non-customers aware of Ricoh offerings, services, and business-relevant thought leadership topics they may not be familiar with.   We are very sensitive to making sure we connect the messaging and content based upon what our audience is interested in.  Imagine if you worked at an online marketing firm and you received a direct mail piece from a company generally touting their latest product – and the next day received an email from the same company customized to you, with examples of the different solutions they’ve helped deliver that are relevant to you.  Regardless of how appealing the direct mail piece was, wouldn’t you turn away due to its irrelevance and lack of awareness?  I would.  And that’s exactly why consistent content marketing tactics need to be taken seriously.  With customers in such control, we can’t give them a reason to look in another direction.   At Ricoh, we leverage our vertical insights, predictive analytics and our customer successes to deliver highly tailored stories – not just marketing messages – that speak directly to the customer in the format that resonates most with them – print, email or social.

Drew: Are you increasing your investment in content?  If so, why?  Is there a competitive advantage to be gained with great content?
Most certainly.  Without relevant content, how will our customers trust that we know how to solve their issues?  They won’t and we know that.  As marketers, we must facilitate discussions that add value and build trust over time. This is why we’ve made changes within our marketing organization to ensure customer-driven content creation and management is at the forefront of everything we do.  We apply our “first touch” revenue methodology to how we build our customer prospect pipeline via our touch strategies.  Customers that we pull into a sales opportunity cycle via the influential content helps us identify the value of this content.  In addition, it truly assists us with identifying how influential marketing is at building our prospect pipeline.

The landscape is competitive and companies today must find new, creative ways to stay ahead of the curve. Take our vertical approach to solving business issues as an example.  We will fail if we communicate to a legal firm in the same way we do the federal government.  The pain points are different.  Our content must demonstrate that we know your unique needs, and we can fix your problems.  I’m proud to say that Ricoh is doing that today.

Drew: What kinds of content are you creating and are you finding some more effective than others? (If you can provide links to any of it that would be great)
To be honest, I’m finding that from a communications perspective, surveys are quite effective.  With them, we have the opportunity to entice both media AND customers.  Take our recent mobile workers survey for example- we saw media coverage ranging from Reuters to The Today Show and at the same time, traffic to our web site and social properties increased.

Content that involves numbers will always have power.  I think this is because each of us, at the basic level, is curious about opinions in aggregate – what the masses think.  And when we hear it, we then think about why we agree or disagree with the result.  Numbers spur conversations, and conversations related to mobile workers and helping businesses enable information mobility are conversations Ricoh wants to be a part of.  The additional opportunity is developing further content pieces out of the surveys.  White papers, e-books, viral video pieces, customer case studies all grow out of well developed surveys.  We find our customers and prospects find this type of content very compelling.

Drew: What metrics do you use to evaluate the effectiveness of your content and how to you rank them in terms of importance?
We take a look at various metrics that center around the channels we use to provide content to our audience.  For example, in the social area we measure spikes in engagement based upon the content we have shared that month. This allows us to gauge what our followers are interested in, and adjust our content mix to those interest levels.

As I mentioned earlier, we leverage a “first touch” revenue methodology to how we build our customer prospect pipeline via our touch strategies.  Many studies have shown around 57% of the purchase decision-making process is determined online before a customer ever reaches out to a company.  So by designing compelling content that draws followers to Ricoh, and identify these prospects as they come into the sales pipeline, this activity is directly related to marketing and the compelling content we create.   Then with the direct connection to our CRM systems we can associate those contacts with opportunities that then lead to revenue.

Drew: With content, is it as simple as “build it and they will come?”  Or do you need to “market the marketing” either via media (paid, earned and/or owned) to generate significant viewership?  And if so, can you talk about how you “market” your content?
In marketing, it’s never as simple as “build it and they will come.”  In order to be an effective marketer, I’ve learned you must always set objectives, measure those objectives, determine which ones were met and evaluate why some weren’t, update accordingly and repeat.  Lacking that level of self-analysis will hinder a marketing campaign – or prevent meaningful learning from taking place.

We deploy nurture tracks that are educational efforts that assist taking our customers down through the buying cycle.  Each track is dedicated to various vertical or business object targets.  The targeted content is all created to speak directly to the business demands of the target audience.  Leveraging our marketing automation with well managed content is essentially a great way to “market the marketing” as you refer to it.  Create it once and share it to the appropriate audience what we practice at Ricoh.  Let’s take the example of a whitepaper.  We can pull content from that to write a blog post, perhaps use it in a demand generation campaign, pull media snacks for tweets and so on.  Let the content live and so will the conversations.

Drew: Do you think you need a different approach when creating B2B content versus B2C?
At the end of the day, all marketing is reaching a person.  So, I believe that approaches themselves don’t necessarily need to vary, but perhaps considering which approach deserves more emphasis should be varied.  For example, video resonates with both business and consumer audiences, but direct mail’s impact on both can be debated.  A B2B campaign may lead with a direct mail piece with a QR code that drives to video, but a consumer one may lead with the video that brings the viewer to a registration page, followed by a direct mail piece.

Drew: What recommendations do you have for other CMOs when approaching a content marketing program?
As marketers, we have to change our perception of how content affects a communications channel.  What works for one area will not have the same results in another.  So, while content is king, I’d say that content in the right context is really king. It’s import to make sure you maximize your investment in content development and create elements based upon your communications channel.  Also, realize the limits of your knowledge of content marketing – that’s extremely important.  This is becoming a growing area of expertise, and you need people to specialize in this.  Finally, there are many content marketing experts out there such as the Content Marketing Institute who can help educate marketing organizations on best practices.  There’s a marketing shift under way and in order to capitalize on it, we must embrace it.