Influencer Series: Why Bad Content Is Brand Kryptonite
This is the first in a series of interviews with leading technology marketers—who also happen to be Tendo clients—where we ask them about the most pressing challenges they face when it comes to content, and how they’re overcoming these obstacles.
First up is Marie Hattar, the CMO of Ixia and a 20-year veteran of the security and networking industry. Before Ixia, Marie held positions as CMO of Check Point Software Technologies and VP, Enterprise Marketing at Cisco.
Do you think there’s a cost to having bad content?
Yes. Bad content erodes your brand image. If people read something from your company and find it irrelevant, they are less likely to read anything you produce in the future. Customers might forgive you one bad experience, but not two. They will tune you out, because so much other content is vying for their attention.
Another consideration is how long content lives these days. If you create something sub-standard, it’s out there. You may think you got rid of it, but there’s always a trace somewhere. A reporter may have talked about it, someone may have referenced it at an event or in other content.
It becomes key that you deliver something compelling, relevant, to the point, crisp, and brief. Those are all things that allow you to capture the attention of your audience.
In recent years, Google’s algorithm has become more sophisticated. It understands content quality and the authority and credibility of the content source. Has that affected your approach to content development?
Very much so. It has validated what I like to call “the earnest way.” You have to earn the ranking; earn people’s attention.
As recently as two years ago, many companies were trying to game the system in all sorts of ways to rank higher in search results. Keyword stuffing, you name it, anything to outsmart Google. And those types of tactics may have worked for a month or so, but Google is incredibly smart, always optimizing to eliminate shortcuts. These days you simply have to create good, relevant content. You still need to be smart about using the keywords people search for, yes, but the starting point is quality content that delivers what the audience is looking for.
Another way the increasing sophistication affects our approach to content is the use of images, videos, and graphics. People often search only for images and we can be that much more visible because of how well search engines now see and rank them.
You worked for Cisco for a long time and had the full heft of its marketing machine at your disposal. Now you’re at Ixia, which is much smaller but no less ambitious. What do you think tech marketers at mid-size companies can do to ensure they get maximum ROI on their content marketing dollars?
You have to be nimbler, more creative about sourcing your content. At Cisco, we had a large marketing department and access to a lot more writers. This enabled us to create larger volumes across wider ranges of topics.
In a smaller company, you don’t have that luxury. You have to maximize all the resources in the company. For example, we tap our engineers for technical content, which we then give a makeover, so it’s easier to understand for non-engineers. And of course with fewer resources, you have to become much more selective about where you invest your time. Each piece of content has to count.
With limited resources, how do you prioritize which strategic initiatives to create content for?
I’m guided by the decisions we make on the executive team. We know we have some must-win solutions and key areas we participate in. That tells me which campaigns to select and then I look to create content that will do one of two things:
One, elevate our thought leadership in a relevant way. Anybody can write about anything, but if they have nothing of value to contribute in that market, it just becomes an opinion piece. I’m always looking to marry up what Ixia can provide to the industry that’s different, with key market trends.
Second, I look for interesting and unique ways we can tell our story. To me, that’s the mark of excellent content: Communicating your story in a way that’s fresh and exciting, so you rise above the noise.
On that point, what are the biggest challenges when creating true thought leadership content?
A lot of it is the magic of the story. Who would have thought a thermostat in your home would be all that terribly interesting? Nest found a way to make it compelling. Who would have thought a connected wristwatch would garner as much attention as the Apple Watch? It’s not like we haven’t had smartwatches before. That is the art of the story.
Engineering-oriented companies tend to want to focus on the products. I recently read an article about how we size people up when we meet them, for example during job interviews. Do we judge them on competence or on trust? Turns out we gravitate toward people we perceive as trustworthy much more so than those whose first impression is competence. I think brands are similar. Your products may be very competent, but if the audience doesn’t trust your brand, you’re not going to be successful. So you have to tell a compelling brand story.
How do you track the effectiveness of your content and which metrics do you value most?
First, there’s engagement. We monitor what’s being downloaded, what’s being used, what are our most-viewed pages, how long people stay on those pages, what’s the performance of any of our gated assets in terms of downloads.
We also look at conversations triggered by our content, for example comments people leave, and how they engage with us on an ongoing basis, whether they turn around and tweet about it or write about it from a social media standpoint.
To me, the measure of success ultimately is whether content creates a conversation and how much engagement it gets us from our customers. The analogy is the classic one: If a tree falls in the woods and no one’s there to hear it, did it make a sound? You can create a masterpiece, but if it sits in a closet hidden away and nobody talks about it, it’s irrelevant. Marketing is about creating buzz and building a noise factor to your company, to your brand, to the exciting innovations you are bringing to the market.
Ixia works with buyer personas. How do you use them to make your demand-gen content more effective? Do you use any tools?
Right now, we’re doing this work manually, but once we launch our new site, we plan to assess various tools that can help us automate and align the process. Currently we create unique persona journeys and manually enter the information into our marketing automation platform. We look at all the different pieces of content we create, all the different events we want to encourage customers to go to, and we spend a lot of time and focus aligning our demand generation with what we think will be the optimal watering holes for that audience and what content will be of interest to them. The goal when we send something out is to get customers to continue the conversation with us.
We also leverage TechTarget’s Priority Engine. They track tech buyers who are actively researching products and solutions, and give us intelligence on that in real time. The data allows us to match the buyer with a persona and that determines how we nurture that lead and support that specific buying cycle.
It sounds like you’re doing everything you can at this point to personalize Ixia’s content, and to do it at scale.
That, to me, is the key. People get confused about the role of marketing and think a good marketer is a flashy keynote speaker, some sort of maestro who can captivate an audience. But that only works in what I call one-on-one marketing.
Being an amazing speaker who can nail a keynote is a wonderful gift, but it’s not scalable. I judge my marketing team and our marketing effectiveness on whether we create the tools and capabilities to scale our efforts on a global basis.
Look out for upcoming installments in this series, featuring B2B tech content marketing leaders from Cisco, HPE, and VMware.