The Tech Giant’s Guide to Effective Content Marketing
Tech companies are in somewhat of a unique position in the world of marketing. People expect them to be at the forefront of innovation and a source of high-quality news and information. At the same time, they must face the challenge of simplifying complex, technical information and making it interesting and engaging. And all of this must somehow be tied back into making sales.
These factors can make successful content marketing far from a simple task for many technology brands. Those that miss the mark risk falling behind their competitors and becoming irrelevant. But when they succeed, the results can be impressive. Technology companies (both startups and incumbents) make up about 50% of our clients. And the results they see include double-digit increases in traffic AND leads.
A LinkedIn report found that 78% of IT buyers need information and guidance to make decisions about their IT environment, and 67% are more likely to make a purchase from a vendor who educates them at each stage of the decision process. So educational, non-sales focused content is a vital part of your overall marketing strategy.
All the more so because in tech, the marketplace is crowded and the complexity of the sale only increases as more stakeholders get involved. Technology marketers, however, can leverage content marketing to simplify their message and connect to these decision-makers.
A study by MarketingSherpa surveyed 4,000 b2b technology business professionals to understand what types of content these buyers are looking for. The types of content most requested?
CASE STUDIES: 67% of buyers reported case studies at the top of their list for most desired content.
EDUCATIONAL CONTENT: 84% of buyers want content that educates them and expect vendors to provide it.
CONTENT CUSTOMIZED TO DIFFERENT BUYING STAGES: 60% of buyers look for different types of content depending on their needs at the time.
We surveyed the B2B technology landscape and interviewed content marketers from brands leading in these four areas. Here, we’ll discuss their strategies and see how they approach creating these types of content. By examining how leading tech brands used content marketing to carve out a position in today’s increasingly competitive world, you can gain insight to feed into your own marketing strategy.
- Technology brands face several challenges in creating effective content marketing, but they also benefit from opportunities unique to their industry.
- It’s common for large technology companies to be reluctant to change their marketing methods and content marketers may meet resistance. But the proof is in the figures – it works.
- Understanding your audience and transitioning to a customer-centric approach is essential for success.
In 2011, I was appointed by SAP as their first Vice President of Content Marketing. There are always challenges when filling a newly created role, especially when the focus is a business branch that didn’t really exist a few years ago.
This is the position I found myself in when I took on this role at SAP.
SAP’s CEO Bill McDermott had recognized that something was missing in the company’s marketing strategy. The SAP website was informative about their products but was missing the inspiring stories of innovation driven by SAP’s solutions.
I was appointed to fill this gap, but although the expectations were high, I started with no team and zero budget. Another problem was that some SAP marketers were resistant to the idea of content marketing and didn’t really understand how it would sell software.
When looking at SAP’s web analytics, I realized that no early-stage prospects were reaching the website with questions like “what is big data?” Instead, web traffic was made up of late-stage leads that had most likely already decided to buy a SAP product.
I realized the company was missing out on a huge opportunity here. But how to address this need for content without any budget?
After discovering most of the previous years’ advertising campaigns were hemorrhaging money and not converting, I struck a deal with the head of advertising: I would use half their landing page budget to create a content marketing platform that also served as a sales landing page.
The result was Digitalist – an online magazine that used the power of compelling content and storytelling to drive conversions.
By the end of the first year, our content marketing efforts had generated almost 1,000 leads, and converted into approximately $750,000 in revenue. This translated to a 7X ROI based on our first-year expenses of $100,000. In fact, this content initiative was the highest ROI of any program at SAP that year.
Digitalist continues to engage customers and drive sales for SAP to this day by publishing valuable content about the future of work, customer experience, and up-and-coming technologies.
Of course, we didn’t stop there.
In 2012, SAP began a marketing initiative that put content at the forefront with the SAP Business Innovation blog. The site’s goals were to create an affinity for SAP products, establish the brand as a thought leader by answering early-stage buyer questions and drive calls-to-action. To formulate the strategy, the team began with a content audit to see the difference in organic search traffic, between unbranded terms, like “big data” versus SAP branded terms that included product names like “HANA.”
The team found there were many more search queries across nearly every one of the categories for unbranded search terms. They then looked at how much traffic SAP received from these non-branded searches, and found that 99.9% of SAP’s traffic came from branded search terms. This meant almost all their traffic was from late-stage prospects already considering to purchase SAP and virtually none of their traffic was from early-stage prospects looking for potential solutions. This was especially a problem because SAP was vastly expanding its portfolio to include new solutions and were looking to grow awareness and penetrate those markets. The final step was to look at the existing catalog of content by buyer stage. They found that 94% of their content was middle-stage or late-stage content, which mirrored the type of traffic they were receiving. Based on this data, the team knew they needed to focus on reaching early-stage buyers, especially in these newer solution categories.
Today, Business Innovation “help’s executives develop a deeper understanding of the trends affecting the future of business through fact-based executive research, supplemented buy the latest thinking from expert bloggers”. The site’s over 11,000 blog posts are easy to navigate with categories including Future of Business, Technologies, Line of Business, Industries and SMB. Content is also customized for every buyer, no matter where they are in their journey.
EARLY-STAGE CONTENT: Quality, licensed content around broader, shareable topics that drives visibility and engagement: blog posts
MIDDLE-STAGE CONTENT: A combination of licensed and original content that hits on niche topics specific to SAP’s offering and solutions: white papers, case studies, video and infographics
LATE-STAGE CONTENT: Original content promoting SAP’s products and services: technology guides and case studies
CUSTOMER-STAGE CONTENT: Consistent cadence and mix of content as well as personalized recommendations: white papers, case studies, technology guides
The fresh strategy proved to be, and continues to be a success with leaps in traffic, engagement and publicity. Within a year of the new launch, the site received 3 million page views, averaged 5 minutes in time on site engagement, converted 1,800 prospects and received recognition from notable publications, including Fast Company, Content Marketing Institute and Digiday.
IBM is considered by many to be one of the world’s most successful brands in content marketing, and it has carried out hundreds of successful content campaigns aimed at markets ranging from individual consumers to global corporations.
IBM publishes and manages several different blogs targeted at different audiences.
THINK harnesses the power of storytelling to provide insights into disruptive technologies including the cloud, Internet of Things, and blockchain, and how they are changing our world for the better.
IT Infrastructure explores how new technologies and opportunities such as big data and analytics, hybrid cloud, and AI are changing IT infrastructure to provide insights and inspiration for IT leaders.
The Internet of Things blog focuses on IoT technologies and their use in buildings, asset management, aerospace, automotive, health, and other industries.
Watson covers case studies and stories about how companies have used Watson, IBM’s suite of AI tools and services for enterprises
IBM’s IT Services blog covers information about the business side of using technology such as talent acquisition, data protection, automation, and customer analytics.
IBM also has a very popular YouTube channel, which they use to publish high-quality video content that does a great job of explaining complex topics in a simple way.
The team at IBM are experts at understanding their audience and delivering targeted content platforms to educate, inspire, and communicate with current and potential future customers.
They also showcase the power of their own solutions, such as using Watson to power their own brand websites.
IBM has seen a huge payoff from all of these efforts. They’re not only recognized as world-class marketers by industry leaders, but their content has also driven millions of impressions to their website, engaged millions of customers on social media, and generated millions of dollars in revenue.
Networking conglomerate Cisco has embraced content marketing from the beginning and has been very open about its approach. In 2015 the brand announced plans to hire over 200 content marketers as part of their effort to refocus their marketing strategy around content.
But one of Cisco’s most famous content marketing successes dates way back to 2008, when they decided to run an experiment by launching their new router across their three main social media channels: Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, instead of following their standard product launch template.
The launch was a major success, in fact becoming one of the company’s top five launches ever. Not only that, but the campaign cost a fraction of their usual $100,000 product launch budget.
Cisco understood from an early stage that to see real success in marketing going forward they’d need to take the focus away from products and take a customer-centric approach. By segmenting their customers into audience personas and combining creative content with marketing technology, they were able to deliver highly personalized and valuable content.
Cisco is a great example of how B2B content marketing doesn’t have to be boring. By using the same features as easy-to-understand, engaging, and interesting B2C content, they’ve demonstrated that B2B content can be fun, innovative, and successful. A study of a single Cisco content campaign showed that they’d achieved 72% of their engagement goals in just a couple of months, driving 34,000 partner activations and 300 million social impressions.
Before RJ sold to Magento last year, content marketing helped fuel the company’s rise. Specifically, data storytelling. The analytics company developed several viral content hits by rolling up its sleeves and digging into data to tell a compelling story, creating pieces like the 2015 benchmark report on Ecommerce Growth.
As RJ’s former director of marketing, Janessa Lantz told Scribewise last year that the company spurned the addiction of feeding the content beast with frequent blog posts, focusing instead on creating and distributing high-quality pieces that would have an impact.
“We ask ourselves what the industry is dying to know about, or whether or not someone would pay $150 for this research or blog post,” Lantz said.
Curalate has been blowing up lately, raising $27.5 million a year ago to fuel the growth of its visual commerce platform. Brendan Lowry started the company’s content initiative a couple years ago, and Curalate recently brought on former journalist Jared Shelly to manage content marketing. Shelly says there are four main goals the company is trying to accomplish:
- Increasing brand awareness
- Bringing new leads into the sales funnel
- Establishing thought leadership
- Helping to attract talent
As with all successful content marketing initiatives, the focus is not on what Curalate sells, but rather on what its customers are looking for — information that helps them do their job.
“People seem to really enjoy UNFILTERED,” said Shelly. “[It’s] a series where we interview Instagram influencers and dynamic marketers like Eric Toda of Airbnb or Nina Alexander-Hurst from Baublebar.”
Speaking of Curalate, one of their investors is First Round Capital, coincidentally another content marketing superstar.
First Round Capital
If you’re a tech entrepreneur, First Round Review is a must-read. It’s run by former Wall Street Journal reporter Camille Ricketts, with the goal of taking information out of the brains from tech biz experts and turning it into actionable insights for founders and aspiring founders. First Round has accumulated a massive audience through content marketing—more than 150,000 Twitter followers and 13,000 LinkedIn followers.
Tech should be a role model for the way diversity works. Right now, we have a problem. One solution: open salaries. https://t.co/Oe480dPxBb
— First Round (@firstround) March 2, 2017
In 1999, Salesforce was founded as a CRM company. Since then, the brand has grown into a tech giant, expanding its end-to-end SAAS offering over the past fifteen years. Since the beginning, however, sharing customer success has been at the forefront of its marketing strategy.
Salesforce’s Customer Success Stories page is the core hub for sharing these stories and case studies with prospects and customers. Readers are able to filter through the comprehensive collection by industry, product or business size to find the best match for their use case. The brand’s collection of case studies not only covers vast depth and breadth, but the content itself is also compelling and comprehensive. Each case study is complete with a detailed use case, screenshots of the customer’s customized Salesforce instance, a list of all Salesforce products the customer uses and a customer quote. Some case studies are also amplified with a high-quality video of the customer narrating his or her story.
While powering this extensive catalog is no easy task, the team has developed a “content engine” system that starts with a central focus. Content Marketing Manager, Amanda Nelson, explains:
“We start with an ebook. From there we publish the content by recycling and reusing it on multiple media.”
- We’ll read the eBook aloud and make it an audio book.
- We’ll interview the customer for a quote in the eBook and then put that up as a video.
- We’ll take the audio from the video and make a podcast.
- We’ll create a presentation from the eBook with highlights.
The content engine strategy is also powered by a team of dedicated marketers with various roles and responsibilities. The team covers everything from writing the content, to distributing and optimizing on social, to designing visuals that bring the content to life. As a result, the team has seen about a 300% year-over-year increase in eBook shares and downloads, and a 150% increase in blog post social shares.
Zuora is a cloud-based software company that provides everything needed to run a subscription-based business. Essentially, the brand is selling a business model and aiding the transition from selling a product outright to a subscription instead. To support this mission, Zuora founded an Academy, a central source filled with straightforward and actionable advice. The Academy includes informative content, ranging from foundational overviews to industry deep-dives, for a variety of roles including marketing, finance, technology and operations.
The Academy’s Content Marketing Manager, Gabe Weisert, explains:
“The goal is to teach people, and we definitely try to do that in the most entertaining, compelling way possible.”
With customer success managers and finance decision makers being Zuora’s main target audiences, the content focuses around pain points felt in those organizations, such as customer retention, fighting churn and billing, rather than Zuora’s product offerings.
To create the content, the team interviews a variety of resources, including Zuora customers and finance and marketing professionals. Weisert explains further:
“Everyone loves to talk, nobody likes to write. A lot of times we’ll hold 30 minute interviews, record the transcript and edit that down so we still get a sense of the person’s personality.”
Lead generation is also a main key performance indicator at the center of Zuora’s strategy. The team successfully approaches this by un-gating all copy, but gating the option to download PDF versions. With this strategy, anyone can easily access Zuora’s helpful content, but only the contact information for prospects with strong interest is captured.
Finally, while creating quality content is the backbone of the Academy’s strategy, the team has noticed common trends within its best-performing pieces. Weisert shares:
“Titles are super important. Odd numbers, how-to’s, talking about things that didn’t go well, mistakes to avoid, etc. These are all things that consistently perform for us.”
Founded in 2008, ShopKeep is a cloud-based mobile point of sale solution for small and medium-sized businesses. The company’s mission has always been to help local brick and mortar businesses succeed, and a big part of that means providing useful content.
In 2013, the company launched Counter Culture, a news and advice center dedicated to helping small businesses succeed. Formulating the content strategy took about two months, and the team went straight to the source to find out what their audience wanted. Paul Nugent, ShopKeep’s Director of Content explains:
“We interviewed merchants, did site visits and hosted phone calls with small business owners. We asked about their pain points and areas of concern.”
Content is organized by important topics universally relevant to small businesses, including inspiration, money, operations, planning and technology. ShopKeep also leverages the expertise of other small business owners as guest bloggers, using Counter Culture as a platform for knowledge exchange. Nugent adds:
“Small business owners don’t always want to hear what we have to say. They want to hear what other small business owners have to say and their point of view.”
In order to drive consistent engagement, Counter Culture’s distribution strategy includes a weekly digest to its subscribed readers. Staying true to keeping its readers as the focus, however, the digest doesn’t only include Counter Culture content. Instead, the weekly digest includes anything the team sees around the web that week that they feel is valuable for their audience, regardless of the source. The digest below, for example, includes articles from Huffington Post and Small Business Trends in addition to a Counter Culture article.
Overtime the strategy has evolved to include prioritizing SEO and including middle and bottom of the funnel content. For example, the team has begun to write more helpful content around point of sale topics, such as how to run employee shift reports in an effort help Counter Culture rank when a potential prospect is organically searching for that information.
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