By Mark Schaefer, Marketing Consultant
More than a year ago, Kevin Green left his job at a marketing agency to become executive director of Marketing, Digital Strategy & Innovation for Dell.
There are few companies that are more serious about serving customers through a diverse content portfolio than Dell is. But how does a company develop a comprehensive content strategy that serves millions of customers and thousands of enterprise-level partners? Green explains how he leads one of the most complex content-juggling acts in the business world.
Mark Schaefer: In an era when content is being commoditized, how do you continue to look to content as a competitive advantage for your global business?
Kevin Green: I think this will depend on a deeper reliance on data and technology. I think when we look at the changes in the platforms and evolving ways people use information, there’s more we can do. There are more ways to connect in this ecosystem of social networks — connect people to our own experiences.
The information density you have written about in your Content Shock piece is real. One result is that access gates are being put into place. It’s becoming a pay-to-play environment. Content strategy is more about the connection than the content now. The content is a given.
I don’t believe that we should be paying to build somebody else’s audience. Not only just in social, but even across traditional publishers. There’s a value in those relationships, and we need to focus on those connection points. That’s the only way to realize a long-term return on our content investment. I think we can do that and have an advantage.
Really, I think staying ahead in marketing today is about being adaptive in real time, but not real time in the sense of let’s capitalize on this Super Bowl power outage. I mean, real time in understanding trends. The technology in the space is undergoing a huge metamorphosis right now.
“I think a key strategy going forward is finding ways to nurture and acknowledge these great fans through our content strategy. Involve them, reward them and create something immersive.”
Schaefer: I imagine that in an enormous company there is this content dance that must go on. You are getting pulled from internal customers, but you also need to be pushing on the edges of these new ideas you mentioned. Is the pull or the push determining your content strategy? Do you primarily lead or respond?
Green: It’s really a balance of both, and I would add a third component that determines our strategy and that is economic optimization.
The assets of the content you create are significant and complex, especially in a global enterprise. How do we create new avenues and new opportunities for our content in many regions? How do we create or change perception and drive awareness in different cultures, different channels?
We also look at the economics in a very granular way, right down to each stage of the sales funnel and format types. We test calls to action and potentially underperforming tactics and replace them with something that’s a little bit innovative and better content investments.
That’s a big part of our content culture that gets me so excited — we never stop trying to beat what we did last time. There’s always an opportunity to improve, and evolve and innovate.
Schaefer: One of the things I admire about you is that you were one of the first people I worked with who understood the importance of social influence. How does that connect to your content strategy today?
Green: My view has been formed by having been in the space for over a decade and from being a successful blogger early on. I’ve always appreciated the tremendous level of effort that goes into creating content and the skills required to do that.
When it comes to influence, there has never been this one blueprint to follow. You could look at a Guy Kawasaki versus a Gary Vaynerchuk, and they’re completely different in their content creation capability, skills, and approach but both are widely visible and recognizable.
I focus first on the authentic nature of the content people are creating. I’ve always felt that people navigate toward content that they can relate to, that they can see themselves in.
The biggest problem we have here in marketing is that we put these messages out in the market that we think people want to hear. That outsider’s perspective from the influencers should be guiding us through their thought of leadership. We should be absorbing and consuming this stuff that influencers create versus using them as a testing bed.
That’s the approach that I’ve always taken. Don’t just give them a product to review. There’s a place for that, but there’s a level of influencer that truly can change perception, and make people think twice.
We look for people who can bring a unique and original voice to the table and get their content shared. Get people to engage with the content. Get those comments to drive conversation. What’s important for us when we think about influence is, “Can you ignite a conversation? Does the conversation drive traffic?”
Schaefer: I’ve been writing a lot about the priority for content ignition. Content really doesn’t deliver economic value unless it moves through an audience. Is Dell starting to think this way at all?
Green: Yes, some of that is happening here already. My organization pulled together a content playbook, and it’s designed to talk about the evolution of formats and assets, and how to think about creation differently based on the changing consumption habits of our audience.
Instead of creating a hundred different pieces of content, we’re thinking about how we can create just one thing and then turn it into a hundred different things. The call to action around all of those distributable, bite-sized little content pieces drive back to this more rich robust content element that you’ve already set the hook.
We’re looking at developing content models. We’re doing a lot of testing across our customer journey to say, “Look, when your first touch is a video and your second touch is an infographic and your third touch is a blog post, you’re tracking people all the way through that consumption process.”
We’re trying to find what is the right mix of specific formats, topics, lengths to say, “You want to drive awareness. This model is proven to be effective and to drive these types of results. Go create these assets, but know that these assets have to be specific attributes.”
I love the idea of content ignition because my team is really focused on how do you move content after that first touch. We think about that top of funnel activity. That’s where we feel that influencers play a huge role. The influencers have an innate skill because a great way to move content is to get people to think, get them to respond, get them to engage.
Schaefer: A lot of people seemed to connect to that idea that many people are telling us in their own way that they love us and believe in us, but the metrics don’t pick it up.
Green: It’s very interesting and this is going back to the part about what metrics really matter. If you’re finding these individuals, they’re emerging from this gray area and you are embracing them as they emerge — it seems like that is an important thing to track. This is why I’m not a big fan of these influencer lists or automation tools. In fact I can’t stand any of them. I’ve had people come to me and they say, “But we can identify who your key influencers are,” and I will consistently say there are too many moving parts, it’s way too fluid. These people in the gray social media you talk about — they may be the most influential of all if they are quiet advocates.
And the people who you think are your most staunch advocates can turn quickly.
“The assets of the content you create are significant and complex, especially in a global enterprise. How do we create new avenues and new opportunities for our content in many regions?”
Schaefer: Agree. Those quiet advocates may be the bedrock of your business. I think our metrics need to focus on those folks more. The implications for analytics are getting into those small data, not the big data, and teasing that out, and say, “Wait a minute. There’s something special going on here.”
Green: If I want to scale a content effort across an enterprise, I can get scale from even the smallest inputs. Building a relationship with the passionate fans creates limitless opportunities for me, to expose their stories. That’s really what it comes down to.
I think a key strategy going forward is finding ways to nurture andacknowledge these great fans through our content strategy. Involve them, reward them and create something immersive. I was sitting in on a Twitter chat about our products, and it occurred to me that most of the people on the chat weren’t looking for a mention. They were looking for us to notice them as true fans.
That is actually an old-school idea. My father, back in the ’70s, was featured in a print ad for a company because they wanted a real customer in the ad. He saved that print ad for 30 years. People just want to be recognized. That can turn them into huge fans.
Schaefer: That’s a great story.
Green: It really is a good story. I think there are deep socioeconomic implications, psychological connections between our fans, our content and creating advocacy. There is probably a psychological profile you could develop for people most likely to share your content. If you dig deep into what people share, there are probably consistent themes.
Schaefer: That connects to your influencer comments too. How do we align with their themes and what they like to share? How do you create content that makes them look cool? Relevant? Informed? That’s what will deliver that ignition.
Green: Very true. And you have to deliver it in a format that is not going to be outdated in a week.
What my team is really focused on is, not the bright, shining new object, but presenting things in a way that is captivating and immersive.
What we are trying to do is, and I don’t like the term “tools” because tools sounds too utility-based, but we want to create an immersive experience that allows people to experience and engage and share with us, and there are things that we’ll give back to you.
We need to get past the “Click. Consume” and lead to “Click. Consume. Click. Share. Click. Consume. Click. Share.” How do you create that environment? That’s what we are really trying to expand on.
This post was written as part of the Dell Insight Partners program, which provides news and analysis about the evolving world of tech. Dell sponsored this article, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent Dell’s positions or strategies.