Content strategy varies from industry to industry and differs depending on the unique goals, team structure, and audience they serve. In our recent MTM 411 event, Natalie Lambert, Global Director of Storytelling at Google Cloud, and Kari Homan, VP of Content Marketing and Social Media at Zendesk, shared their perspectives on content strategy.
They discuss how they utilize data, creative storytelling, team collaboration, and metrics to deliver content that brings internal and external value to their brand.
Q: What is the difference between content and content strategy?
Kari Homan: I consider content strategy the step before content creation. Content strategy requires you to look at who your audience is, their pain points, and what’s happening in the market. While some content teams have research structured within the team, we work closely with our product marketing, partner and insights team, which informs engaging content creation that is relevant to the audience we are trying to reach. The connection between creation and strategy are mission critical, and there has to be an analysis of its performance; this triad will lead to the best results.
Natalie Lambert: Content production and strategy should be part of the same conversation. I have found that my best content creators are those who also focus on metrics, have learned what types of content to create for specific audiences, and know which channels resonate best with each. Their expertise makes them great team members, be it the campaigns, product marketing, communication teams, or whoever is trying to tell a story. By combining the worlds of creation and strategy, I believe you can deliver the best set of materials and messages to your audiences.
Q: What does “storytelling” mean, and why is it useful in marketing?
Kari Homan: Utilizing storytelling in the context of marketing is a vivid way to connect industry trends, news cycle moments, customer experiences, and stories with our products and solutions. The “speeds and feeds” are not exciting or interesting, but a real-world examples can drive the intersection of our internal purpose with external value through a compelling story arc. Then, ideally, your brand serves as the heroine within the story.
Natalie Lambert: Storytelling is the art of bringing together the mission, key messages, and leading value propositions of a company and its products into a narrative that you can use consistently internally and externally. Narratives that excite, educate, and inspire audiences into action are the output of storytelling. Storytelling allows you to share a wide range of information regarding your product or service in a meaningful way tailored to the audience.
Q: How do you form successful marketing stories?
Kari Homan: Building strategic content pillars have helped form the stories we tell as a brand. We examine our product’s elements and stories and, most importantly, what’s valuable to customers, partners, and other stakeholders. However, before anything else, we look at broad trends in the industry and customer needs and then we evaluate how our products, services, solutions, and stories align with our findings.
e.g.) At Zendesk, we do comprehensive alignment with our organizations at a global and regional level, such as product marketing management, communications, and the campaigns team, where we gather the priorities we have in the market and structure them into a strategic framework.
Natalie Lambert: The best stories I have seen focus on the customer problem, not product features. They marry the problem with the strengths and differentiators of a solution. Why? Because customers are not searching for product features – they are searching for ways to solve a specific challenge.
e.g.) At Google Cloud, we want to help customers become the best tech companies in their industry. To help them, we focus on the five key challenges customers want to address when embarking on their digital transformation. Our stories (and associated content) ideally educate customers on ways to solve these challenges.
Q: Share a story you previously used in your content strategy and why did it work?
Natalie Lambert: At the start of the pandemic, companies were unsure of the future and were asking what they needed to do to survive. We created a catalog of content that focused on the business problem – in this case, operational efficiency – to help organizations think through all of the areas to consider, where to cut costs and what investments could support their long-term strategy. We talked with sales about the top customer questions, analysts about the concerns of their customers, and more. These valuable insights helped us write a flagship piece that took readers through their options. We created follow-up materials that shared how Google Cloud could help. This strategy worked because the first piece focused on the customer problem without being sales-heavy. For those who benefitted, there were follow-up materials about how they could do this with Google Cloud.
Q: What should marketers be cautious of when forming content strategy?
Kari Homan: We have learned that solely sharing a product story without the context of the customer pain points or industry trends that it solves, has traditionally led to lower engagement than those stories that are created in a storytelling framework.
Q: How do you measure success and know when content is effective?
Natalie Lambert: There are currently more things available to be measured than ever before; however, I advise picking a few things to measure to determine if it drives the right behavior. At Google Cloud, we look at the number of page views and engagement rate (on the blog), referrals to our website and blog from our social accounts, organic search landing on our content, SALs for gated content, etc. We use these measurements to determine what types of content our audiences want to read and where we may need to take our content. No measurement is perfect, but pick something to make informed decisions and hone in on the metrics that are best at telling you the health of your business.
Kari Homan: At Zendesk, content marketing and social metrics sit at the top of our measurement funnel. We look at Overall Sentiment, the Share of Voice, Awareness, and Traffic; then we look at Engagement. Engagement is critical in understanding what content is resonating and the subsequent actions people take.
There is a fascinating shift happening for all content marketers where previously, we would lean into Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) and debate whether or not to gate content. However, MQLs are not always qualified and ready for the next step. From a sales perspective, there’s likely much nurturing required.
Zendesk is shifting from MQL as a primary metric to a Marketing Qualified Acquisition (MQA) model. Thus, measuring Engagement becomes critical as a content marketer and social media strategist. We think about Engagement primarily from the prospect view, but there’s an equally important strategy from a retention perspective.
Q: How to determine whether to amplify organic vs. paid content?
Natalie Lambert: For non-campaign content, such as blogs or certain thought leadership pieces, we have found success in distributing through our organic channels first – specifically, owned and employee social channels. Based on performance on those channels, we opt to boost that content to new audiences; however, if there’s a large-scale initiative the company is rallying behind, we will amplify it from the start.
Kari Homan: A balanced approach with organic and paid content is a powerful combination. Since “paid amplification” requires additional funding, I also look for broader ways to amplify, such as through owned channels. There is an excellent opportunity to feed our rich content via employee advocacy, social media, email programs, sales, communications, and sales channels.
The 411 virtual events are hosted by Jennie Stark, the Senior Director of the MTM Program at 24 Seven. They are designed for Marketing Managers to bring value, direction, and inspiration to their teams from insightful conversations with top marketing leaders. Each event contains insights on different disciplines, such as what brands are focused on, leading teams, measuring success, and more.
Natalie Lambert, Global Director Storytelling, Google Cloud: Natalie Lambert is on the Google Cloud marketing leadership team responsible for messaging, customer intelligence, social media, and content strategy. Previously, she was the Chief Marketing Officer at enterprise startups, Instart, and Sapho. Before that, she was at Citrix, where she held multiple product marketing leadership positions. Natalie spent seven years at Forrester Research, where she was the leading expert on end-user computing.
Kari Homan, VP Content Marketing & Social Media, Zendesk: Kari Homan has led marketing organizations, such as HP, Travel and Leisure, T Mobile, and Intuit, where she has connected content to customers at scale. She is an expert at driving brand awareness and thought leadership, delivering acquisition and retention campaigns, activating influencers and partners, igniting digital capabilities, defining industry-leading social media strategy and engagement, and exceeding performance marketing and revenue goals. In her work at Zendesk, her team manages the global planning and publishing elements across the organization, focusing on brands, thought leadership, and data journalism.
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