In our second interview in a series with leading technology marketers, we talk to Jill Welch, the director of digital content strategy at VMware, about why it’s so important to put the customer first, and how data and customers are the driving force behind successful content creation. (Read our first interview here.)
Before joining the digital marketing team at VMware, Welch, a veteran of the technology industry for 20+ years, held positions at Cisco, Sun Microsystems, and InfoWorld.
You’ve led teams at large enterprise technology companies for a large part of your career. What tricks have you learned along the way to help you navigate the challenges inherent at large companies?
The jobs have always been difficult. Content is what customers have been engaged with throughout the buying decision journey, and there’s a self-service model now. Customers do their own research—that’s been a trend for many years. But you get to a big company and everyone is a content expert and a self-publisher, and everyone has an opinion. And yet content is always the last thing they think about, which impacts quality.
You will find people who understand content—people who are your advocates and have respect for the work you do. My team tries to demonstrate its value by involving our stakeholders, trying to change their culture, and getting them to care about what we care about. I always emphasize that content is the face of your company and it’s your reputation. Reputations are hard to build and easy to tear down.
The other thing I stress with my team is to build relationships with those stakeholders. Get to know them and understand their pain points. Get them to realize that we’re trying to help solve their problems, too. We have a distinct skill set and we can actually help drive their goals and objectives through our content strategy. But they’re not going to value our opinion until they know who we are and we’ve developed that mutual respect via the work we do.
How do you take advantage of all the data at your fingertips?
One of our bigger challenges is that when we work with stakeholders and business units, they are often focused inward on their products and what they want to do. It’s our job to get them to step back, refocus, and think about the customer. I’ve always been an advocate for the customer—for the content they need that is most relevant to them.
Data has always been our savior. Sometimes when we have to do something for political reasons, and our instincts say no, we can come back with data and maybe it’ll prove us wrong. We get surprised all the time when we look at data. Our customers change, demographics change, needs change. Anyone who is smart right now is testing, iterating, and measuring. That’s what makes us successful.
We constantly iterate what we deliver to our customers based on data. That’s the advantage of the web versus coming from a company like InfoWorld. It was a great magazine, but we didn’t know if people threw it away or if they passed it along until we had the online version—the beauty of the web is that you can’t argue with data.
What are the biggest changes you’re seeing in digital marketing at enterprise companies?
The focus on customer experience is huge. There’s also more onus on demand generation. There’s more pressure on digital marketing. We’re being asked to drive pipeline and we’re responsible for numbers in a way that we weren’t before. It’s now so measurable. You can’t create great content and not measure it—and you have to keep measuring and iterating. And if you can make a customer experience more targeted, there’s data that shows that they will share their personal information.
There’s also more respect for digital marketing because we can measure. We can show our impact and value in terms of business outcomes. Today’s tools and automation have really changed digital marketing and made it so exciting. You have to keep up because there’s so much going on and so much innovation. When I started at Sun 15 years ago, it was about page views and click-through rates. That’s not the case anymore.
We also know more about our customers—who they are and what they need. That makes our lives easier. We’re not “spraying and praying” like we once did. We’re creating targeted, relevant content at the right point in the journey. Ultimately, we are accelerating buying decisions by serving up the most impactful content at the right decision point.
Is VMware shifting away from content campaigns to “always-on” marketing?
We are focused on both, but our customers aren’t sitting around waiting for a campaign. It’s not the core trigger. The core trigger, as a customer, is the business objective. That’s what my team is focused on. What problem is the customer trying to solve, and do we have the right content at the right stage of the journey that we can serve up dynamically? That’s what we mean by always-on at VMware.
And when we talk about demand content that spans from awareness to post-purchase and loyalty, it’s not necessarily behind a gate; if I’m an IT guy and I’m trying to make a buying decision, you better have content front and center for me. Don’t make me log in. If I have to log in, it better be super high-value content that I can’t get anywhere else. If I can Google that information and find it, then you’ve failed.
How do you communicate the importance of content to folks who are less knowledgeable about content’s role in digital marketing? Has that changed over time as the role of content has evolved?
I don’t think it’s changed that much. Data helps us tell our story, but I still think we have an uphill battle.
Our launches are a good example, because content is the last thing that comes in. Our stakeholders don’t always put themselves in the shoes of the customer and ask important questions: How did this content perform last time? Should we do this again? Is this going to resonate with our customers? Our jobs will always require us to have a bit of the salesperson in us.
The trick is to find a stakeholder who shares some of your content values—someone who cares about it and is just as passionate. Get them to do pilots with you and tell their story with you. That helps make change. But we still need to build relationships and demonstrate our value with data.
You need smart, passionate people on your team—people who understand the customer, the product, and the stakeholder and what we’re all trying to solve for. We’re always trying to get people to care about what we care about.
Every company is a content publisher these days, and VMware competes for mindshare in lots of top-level themes (like virtualization). How do you create content that rises above the noise?
Understanding your customers and their pain points. How are you solving their problems and making them look like rock stars in their organization? The mistake a lot of companies make is that they focus the story on them versus the customer or prospect. It is hard for me to understand how brands can forget to focus on the customer.
It’s got to be a seamless experience. As a customer, I better not have to work too hard for this. The content better be at the right level. Don’t send me in a circle. If we know what content resonates at certain stages, we need to serve it up. We need to analyze our content, measure our mistakes, and stop doing things that don’t work. These things sound really simple, but they are not always part of the process.
How do you feel about the digital marketing world right now?
I think it’s an exciting and inspiring time for this kind of work if you’re someone who likes to learn. Digital marketing is just wonderful. And it’s great for people like me with short attention spans because there’s always something new to learn.