I had the opportunity to attend my first Content Marketing World in Cleveland a few months back and I was really energized by the quality of the sessions, the closing keynote by the inimitable Tina Fey, and also just the sheer number of attendees. So many content marketers, all eager to share best practices and learnings—and, so many struggling with the same challenges.
A presentation from the folks over at Percolate on the “Content Bottleneck” really got me thinking of the content creation challenges in enterprise tech, in particular, and what we’ve learned over at Big Valley in terms of working around or pushing through those blockages.
Enterprise tech is a peculiar beast for the content marketer. The technology itself is typically complex—and in an attempt at simplifying their stories, many companies end up with milquetoast content that smells and tastes a lot like the next guy’s milquetoast content. Marketplaces are often crowded with competitors, partners and “coopetition” vying for limited attention spans in a world fixated on consumer tech, internet memes and James Corden’s latest Carpool Karaoke video.
So what’s an enterprise tech content marketer to do? Here are five things you might try to clear out the content creation bottlenecks.
Go beyond the product. We’re all here to help sell. We get it. But products aren’t stories. Just take a cue from the media world. For those who have been around more than a decade or so, you might recall entire magazines devoted to enterprise tech product news, complete with glamour shots of servers and spinning disks. Those don’t exist anymore. When the New York Times lost its enterprise tech reporter a few years ago, who do you think they replaced them with? No one. Why? Because their readers want something more.
Odds are, you have plenty of product content for prospects to consume when they are in the researching or buying motion, anyway. So focus your attention on different kinds of storytelling that can help, or entertain, your prospects and customers in different ways and create new kinds of affinity for your brand.
Unleash the journalists. Meaningful, substantive enterprise tech content is not typically a job for advertisers or copywriters. PR people without sufficient depth in enterprise tech will struggle as well. This is more a job for Carl Bernstein than it is for David Ogilvy. Yes, I’m biased, but it’s based on 30 years of seeing what works. At Big Valley, we have a network of highly-experienced enterprise tech journalists who bring two critical skillsets to the table—(1) subject matter expertise, so they don’t need every technology or nuance explained, and (2) journalistic interviewing skills, which are uniquely effective at finding story fodder.
Storytelling is your job, not the subject matter experts’ (sub-rule: templates are of limited value). For three decades, I’ve watched dozens of companies try to create the magical press release questionnaire or the ultimate creative brief template that will get your subject matter experts to hand you beautifully-crafted stories on a silver platter. Here’s the thing: it rarely works. If it helps you expedite the process a bit, go ahead and create your template and write your questions down, but back to the previous rule, the critical step is the interview, which should happen whether or not you bother with a questionnaire. Story crafting is your job. (Hey, they don’t ask you to write code, so quit asking them to be storytellers.)
Get as close to the customers as you can. Early in my career, I held several jobs in the sales organization at Sun Microsystems. I didn’t carry a bag, but I helped the folks who did, via PR, sales communications, demand gen and other roles. The greatest thing about working so closely with the field was we got really good information about what customers were saying, doing, and needing from the organization. Cultivating relationships with the field opens up a huge vein for content creation and keeps you from drinking too much of the corporate Kool-Aid.
Bring the outside in—and cultivate a point-of-view. It’s hardly unique to enterprise tech companies, but most clients and subject matter experts are so busy staying on top of their own organizations, they can’t possibly stay on top of what’s capturing mindshare out in the broader marketplace. Your content efforts should include regular opportunities to “bring the outside in,” so you can brainstorm and craft new stories and points-of-view on the topics of the day.
I’d love to hear from others about what you think of the above, and what you have learned works in the enterprise tech content world.