Content marketing has never been more important for businesses and brands, but the continual advances in channels and technology means that senior marketing figures have to be at their very best to keep making content that resonates with their target audiences.
We spoke to Margaret Franco at Dell EMC, Chris Murray at Williams and Simon Duggleby at RS Components about their companies’ approaches to content, what makes a great campaign – and what’s next for content marketing.
Senior Vice President, Marketing (Europe, Middle East and Africa), Dell EMC
Having joined Dell in 2005, Margaret is responsible for leading end-to-end marketing and demand generation activities across Europe, the Middle East and Africa for Dell EMC. She has extensive experience in marketing and product management in the technology industry.
Head of Marketing, Williams
Chris’s role at Williams means that he holds responsibility for partner management, communications, digital activity, brand, hospitality and events across all Williams Group companies, most notably the Formula 1 team, Williams Martini Racing.
Technical Marketing Manager, RS Components
As Technical Marketing Manager for the Electronics Division at RS Components, Simon is responsible for identifying industry trends in the electronics marketplace and ensuring that the RS product marketing strategy matches these customer application requirements.
Let's get started...
Margaret Franco: "When you think of content marketing as a whole category of marketing activation, back in 2005 - when I first worked here at Dell - it really didn’t exist. In the standard marketing deliverables, we’d do leave-behinds and various content pieces, but the whole notion of doing content marketing with the sole purpose of targeting and engaging an online audience wasn’t done back then."
Chris Murray: "When I joined Williams back in 2009 there was a lot of channel proliferation, and lots of new opportunities were arriving on an almost weekly basis.
At that time we were jumping on pretty much all of them, but if you looked at how we were using them there probably wasn’t an awful lot of thought going into what each channel was good at and who it was specifically speaking to."
Simon Duggleby: "I’ve been at RS Components since 2009, and one of the first projects I was involved in within technical marketing was our community portal Design Spark, because we realised our website was well geared to selling individual products but not particularly well geared to telling a story. Design Spark is our community of technical engineers where we can talk as technically as we like and speak about products and projects. We use it as our less corporate, more engaging customer content."
Franco: "I'd say it was probably five or six years ago that Dell specifically put a very concerted effort around content marketing. That’s where we began setting up destination sites for the purpose of engagement and having customers able to interact with the brand and share content. An example is Dell’s Tech Page One, which is a platform that we’ve also launched in Europe where we post long and short-form content, content from various luminaries and thought-leaders, and really drive traffic there to allow people to learn."
Murray: "We made a conscious decision at the back-end of 2013 to change the way we handled digital. We brought it all in-house, having previously had a digital manager who handled a number of things like social media and managing a digital agency who were helping us out with various activities. We decided we needed to take much better control of all that. If we were going to be having deeper and more relevant engagement with our fans, we needed to be doing that as Williams Martini Racing, not outsourcing it to anyone else."
Franco: "I think the one thing you have to get right, especially for a big company like Dell, is that you can’t immediately activate 140,000 employees and have them all starting to publish content on a thousand different things. You need a content strategy where you focus on the topics you’re going to push all your effort towards.
I wouldn’t call it resistance, but getting ourselves organised around a publishing platform that had topical areas we could then expand upon was a good project. I don’t think it took any longer to achieve our aims because Dell is a big company – it was really just the work we had to do to articulate the strategy, decide upon the key pillars and put that into operation."
Duggleby: "There were quite a few hurdles for RS Components. The first one was the infrastructure – where were we going to put this sort of content? And what were the KPIs – what does a successful piece of content look like? With content marketing there was this sense that it was difficult to measure and depending on what the content is the metrics can change wildly."
Murray: "Insight at every stage, in terms of who you’re actually targeting the content towards, what those people are looking for and what motivates them. We’re quite lucky in that a lot of our content is unique, but in terms of things ‘going viral’ that doesn’t seem to happen as much these days."
Franco: "It’s funny – one thing that makes me laugh about content marketing is that people always want to do a viral video. The reality is that there’s no such thing as creating a viral video – a video either becomes viral or it doesn’t. In the marketing planning, just thinking about using good topics that can relate to people is what you’re aiming for."
Duggleby: "Ultimately, great content marketing is simply content that adds value to the person consuming it. If we’re doing content, that person has to spend time with it and gain some insight and benefit from it. Lazy content marketing like clickbait always really frustrates me, because most of the time it doesn’t add any value."
Franco: "I find that in a content strategy, starting with a big Hero piece – normally a large piece of research – tends to produce some of the best content marketing. So, if you think about it like a good destination that you can scale globally, a great piece of Hero content driven by insight and research, and then augmenting that with great local examples, that’s what my experience has been of some of the most effective content marketing. There’s this value equation – people are willing to engage with your content and marketing if you can provide something back to them. Thinking about what you’re giving your users is a good way of factoring that into what you’re creating."
Duggleby: "A reasonable amount. Our big themes come from the team and I, and it’s our responsibility to feed those ideas into the digital marketing team. We pull it all together and it needs a lot of teamwork and bouncing ideas around. We have our own specific ideation process to help facilitate those discussions when we’re doing campaigns, just to get those spin-off ideas and nuggets that you just can’t get if you’re just sitting there trying to think of things on your own."
Franco: "With Dell we have a global campaign planning process, and that starts with a small team who are really focusing on what the conversations and topics are that will most effectively be able to promote our products and services. That global team will get input from all the regions, and then they’ll take those three or four conversations and start to build out 360-degree campaigns. That means addressing a customer very early in the buying cycle, in the middle of the cycle when they might be comparing two different products and then at the end of the cycle.
The customer journey is used to help create and plot all the content that’s needed for that conversation, and the global team will start the whole bones of the process. When the different regions pick it up, they’ll then create content to make those messages resonate locally – celebrating it with an example from a local customer, or a piece of insight obtained locally that will expand the campaign."
Murray: "We have quite a collective model of working with all the experts we have across different fields, but also recognising that while you might be an expert in a particular field, you might not always have the best idea for it. My job is not to be the best at everything, but to put a group of people together to produce more than the sum of its parts."
Murray: "The Hackett pitstop video we did in 2015 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hyCBJvVwIcw) probably got the broadest reach of any piece of content we’ve done since we’ve been Williams Martini Racing – that currently has nearly 750,000 views on YouTube. That came from a really good creative session where people got together and left their egos at the door. It came from insight in what people were interested in viewing, and then it was very cleverly seeded and supported to get to the level of cut-through we needed. It’s very glib to say that great content makes great content marketing, but it has to be relevant for the audience and well distributed. And like any creative product, it has to be interesting and innovative."
Franco: "I’d say it’s probably Dell’s Digital Transformation Index, which was a survey of 4,000 business leaders across 16 countries. It goes back to that thing we were just discussing about what makes great content marketing – and one of them is research-based facts that provide insight to users. The DTI is a research project that looks at where customers are in the digital transformation and how competitive their businesses are. We’ve had a lot of engagement from that."
Murray: "We also got a lot out of our James Bond collaboration in 2015, where we helped build some Jaguar C-X75s for Spectre, and we also worked with athlete Karen Darke to build an aerodynamic, lightweight hand cycle. Ultimately, we’re looking at every part of the Williams business to understand the stories that we can tell which support the corporate objective and keep fans engaged with us."
Duggleby: "There are two tiers of content that we do: those that have a broad reach that ticks a lot of people’s boxes and those that are hyper-technical and reach a smaller number, so it’s two types of content for two different audiences. But there are loads of brands out there doing amazing things. I was looking at a 360-degree VR experience that the magazine publisher Conde Nast had done in conjunction with Samsung and Lexus called ‘Invisible’, and it was brilliant. I showed it to my four-year-old niece who thought it was incredible. Her generation is going to grow up expecting that."
It’s interesting you mention Conde Nast, a magazine publisher famous for fashion titles – that’s probably about as far away as you could get from RS Components isn’t it, Simon? Do you all feel that as a CMO it’s a vital part of your role to cast the net far and wide for ideas that you can adapt to your market?
Duggleby: "Absolutely. Every day I’ll be looking at our new products, but at the same time be reading about what other industry giants are doing with their marketing and thinking about how I can join that together for our plans. Benchmarking within your own industry is obviously important, but there are a lot of industries out there and a lot of things to be learnt. It’s really important to cast the net far and wide."
Franco: "When you’re a marketing professional you’re always looking for great ideas and great best-practice sharing, so we do quite a bit of speaking to third parties, looking at content ourselves, what other brands are doing and what’s working and not working. You always have to factor that in."
Murray: "It’s also important to remember that there’s no golden ticket in content marketing. It’s all about testing and learning, and you always have to be willing to try something different."
Duggleby: "I think that if you don’t listen to your customers properly and don’t use the tools that you’ve got at your fingertips properly, it’s very possible to do a campaign that doesn’t perform very well. But that would probably be entirely of someone’s own making, because all these tools and assets are here to learn from."
Murray: "If everything you do is empirical and down to data you’re going to make broadly good decisions, but there has to be a role for gut instinct and trying something new. If you don’t, you’re just going to look at the numbers and say, ‘That’s worked in the past – let’s do that again.’ Then it’ll work less, the returns will decrease and you’ll never innovate.
We want to use data and analysis to help guide our decision-making process, but keep some of that gut instinct and not to be afraid to say that we tried five things and while four of them smashed it, one didn’t. It’s about understanding why those four things worked and why that one didn’t."
Franco: "It’s worth remembering that even with all the data we have, no campaign is ever guaranteed to succeed. We do heavily measure and watch our campaigns and you know that if it’s not working you can adjust it, so I think it has more to do with reacting to what you’re learning from your measurements and then doing something about it."
Murray: "Ultimately for us it’s about better channel differentiation and better delineation between what we’re using channels for – for example, Twitter is generally for more immediate content whereas we’re going to be putting a lot of work into our Instagram feed this year to make sure we produce better content for all the forms that it allows.
There’s a danger in Formula 1 that things can get formulaic – you can’t base your content at every single race on going to the airport, being in the airport, getting on the plane, arriving at the destination, getting to the circuit, setting up the garage, getting the car ready and so on. We need to break out of that and find different things to do. You have to think of things that are still going to be relevant to the target market, whether it’s travel and lifestyle or food and drink – some of which can be partner-specific.
Facebook’s an interesting one, because it’s the one people seem to be talking about least at the moment but it’s still the elephant in the room. We tend to use it for content on which people can dwell more – maybe at the end of the day when they can spend five or 10 minutes on something that’s a little more in-depth. We’re going to look at Facebook Live and see what we can achieve there, and there are a lot of things we can do with cross-posting with our partners too. And we’ll continue with professionalising our content and moving away from smartphone images where possible – our Twitter feed uses a lot of professional images from the track and people react well to that."
Duggleby: "We learnt a similar thing about the quality of the photography on our blogs. Our perception was always that a photo taken on a desk was good enough, but the feedback we’ve had is that people expect a higher quality of image because they know it’s coming from a large, professional organisation with 6,000 employees. Off the back of those findings, we recently invested in some new photography equipment to make sure what we do is presented in the best light. That was only in early February, so it shows how the process is constantly being refined. We’re always looking at length and volume of posts, and I’m sure that everything we do will look even better by the end of the year.
Ultimately, we’re going to stick with the things we know work well, like content around new technology. Technology is only ever going to get faster and better, and electronics are at the heart of that. The next iPhone is only going to be limited by the electronics inside it. It’s important that we communicate this type of information to our customers, but everything will always be refined – it’s about iterating and constantly getting better."
Franco: "Our big initiative is to really get more local customer examples of how digital, IT and workforce transformation have done something successful for a company’s IT environment. We’ll be increasing the number of customer examples, demonstrating how customers are improving their businesses by implementing broad, end-to-end technology."
Duggleby: "There’s a big electronics show every two years in Munich called Electronica, and at the last one we had a load of those Google cardboard VR headsets for a piece that explained to people how our warehouse works. That did really well. I think VR will become more prolific, although there are barriers to entry in terms of having a headset – the number of people who’ve got an Oculus Rift is probably low, but as that technology becomes more commonplace I think we’ll see content marketing around virtual and augmented reality. It still feels pretty early for that."
Murray: "We dabbled in VR at the start of last season – I think we were one of the first Formula 1 teams to do that inside the garage and with the car. We put that out on Facebook 360, but the take-off of VR hasn’t quite matched the hype that was around at the back end of 2015. There’s no doubt that VR and AR are going to be a thing, but it’s just maybe not moving at the pace we thought it might do. It’s about using it to give people experiences that they might not otherwise get.
If you believe our research, WilliamF1 has got 57 million fans around the world. We get 30,000 people through our Formula 1 museum and conference centre every year. So, there’s an opportunity to open up access to the museum to a whole bunch of fans who’ll never get the chance to go there, and if you could do that through Virtual Reality we could provide a really rich, deep, qualitative experience for people."
Franco: "I think you’ll also see content marketing getting increasingly personalised, and as it does so, more relevant to the individual. If you just think about any content that’s created, to be more relevant it’ll have to be more personal and engaging, and the industry will probably use big data to be able to make that happen."
------- Watch out for the next in our series of round table interviews coming to you soon! -------
If you want to learn more about how to successfully implement content marketing into your brand's marketing strategy make sure your first stop is the Brand as Publisher eBook where you'll find everything you need.
Sign up for our monthly newsletter and follow us on social media for the latest news.