One of the benefits of having a little extra time these days is the opportunity we all have to reflect. Many of my memories are simple things from much simpler times: gathering with family, watching my son play baseball and going to restaurants. But I’ve also been thinking quite a bit about something that stretches all the way back to 2008, when I decided to create an agency with a pure focus on high tech B2B content.
Back then, content wasn’t quite what it is today. It used to be an add-on to an organization’s core marketing programs. Now it’s the centerpiece. Content fuels lead generation, it facilitates engagement with key personas and it helps usher prospects through their journeys on the way to becoming buyers. Rumor has it, content has even been romantically linked with ROI.
To keep their marketing efforts breathing, high tech B2B companies need to crank out a steady stream of white papers, blog posts, infographics, emails, web pages, case studies and a bevy of other content. Not only that, they need to do it at a level of depth that allows their expertise and innovation to shine through. And all the while it needs to stay consistent with the brand voice and editorial guidelines that make each company unique. For many organizations, this creates some challenges. As it turns out, these are the same challenges that led me to start an agency that’s purely focused on high tech B2B content all those years ago.
#1 It’s Hard to Find Great Content Creators Who “Get” Tech
If I’m being honest here, the top reason I started this agency is because it allows me to do two things I love: geek out on technology and create interesting narratives. Back in college, I was the kid who dragged a backpack between Honors English and C++, and I really had trouble picking a favorite. Fast forward to today and I still get to exercise those very different parts of my brain as I think about the best way to position hyperconverged infrastructure on a client’s web page or work with a designer on the right visual for an all-flash storage infographic.
Along the way, what I’ve found is that there aren’t a lot of people who enjoy working in both worlds as much as I do. Some major in technology and minor in communication skills, while others do the opposite. But few walk the line. That’s created some challenges for high tech B2B companies that are growing ever more stylish and sophisticated in how they package and promote their stories. They need to be accurate and detailed about the complex technologies they offer, but not at the expense of compelling storytelling. And it’s tough for them to find content developers who understand communications and marketing as well as they do technology.
I started this agency to provide my clients with a resource that’s as comfortable with technology as it is the written word.
#2 Not Everyone Writes Right
I know what you’re thinking: there’s a lot more to content development than writing. Agreed, but here’s the thing: great content usually begins with the great copy. For an infographic, the stats we choose or the headlines we write can make or break the finished product. Behind most good case studies there’s a well framed story flow that’s written down and revised. Newsletters, solution briefs and emails are about as copy-centric as it gets. To me, great writing provides the soul for great content. But not everyone writes well.
Writing is one of those things anyone with a keyboard can do and many believe is an art. But having written professionally for well over two decades, I can safely say that there’s more science to it than most think. I’m not talking about the rules of grammar, which can be sacrificed for effect – or the process of writing, which is a deeply personal thing. I’m referring to the most important elements of a well written piece of marketing content: substance, structure and style. If a piece of writing isn’t working, it’s usually due to a flaw in one of these areas.
We’ll cover the three tenants of good writing in a future article, but for now just remember that I chose to build a content agency so I could spend some time getting the craft of writing down to a science.
#3 Creating Content at Scale Can Be a Real Pain
When marketing professionals decide to embrace content in a big way, their ambitious goals are sometimes met with deflating roadblocks. Marketing staff often have trouble fitting content development into their already busy days. SMEs fail to deliver the monthly blog posts for which they signed up. Contract writers submit work that varies wildly from one piece to the next. And managing it all just feels like an impossible mission.
One thing I’ve learned in working with clients with large-scale content needs is this: the process we use is just as important as the content we develop. From the time a new asset is initiated until it’s considered final, efficiency is critical. This means it flows through the stages of development effortlessly, especially when it’s touched by multiple sets of hands. It also means that its status is communicated clearly, and any issues are identified quickly and resolved immediately. Most importantly, it means that there’s a defined process for maintaining quality that doesn’t create a production bottleneck.
Developing content to meet the needs of the largest marketing programs requires a pretty significant commitment to process, so I’ve focused a lot of my time and energy building this agency into a content creation machine.
#4 More Content, More Inconsistency
Consistency is a huge deal in marketing, but it can quickly go out the window as content production ramps up. This is often the result of the “all hands on deck” approach that it usually takes to create lots of content these days. When it comes to high volume content development in the high tech B2B world, here’s what a typical day might look:
- A product marketing person is writing a white paper
- A marketing manager is developing copy for an e-mail
- A graphic design shop is working on an infographic
- A PR firm is creating blog posts and social media stories
- A digital marketing agency is building a landing page
- A contract writer is drafting a case study
With so many resources involved in content creation, it’s easy to see how managing consistency can quickly become a full-time job. While the marketing leader or Content Marketing Manager might be able to review and edit every piece to ensure it meets the company’s standards, brand voice and editorial guidelines, performing this important role can leave little room for other work.
That’s why we assign a seasoned Content Manager to every project. Our Content Managers help clients establish and enforce standards to bring consistency to even the largest content programs. Of course, that’s not all they do. They also provide a single point of contact for all of the content we create, ushering it through the development process and keeping clients updated along the way. They review every piece of content before it’s delivered. They serve as an extension of our clients’ marketing teams, and they’re often invited to participate in regular status meetings.
I started this agency to help fill one of the most important roles in today’s marketing department: keeping content consistent with a company’s standards, especially when things get busy.
#5 Even the Most Savvy Marketers Sometimes Need a Hand with Strategy
According to pretty much every study I’ve ever read, the most successful content marketing organizations these days are working from a documented strategy. They understand the programs they’ll be running, the types of content they need to develop and the topics they’ll be driving on a quarterly, half-year or annual basis. But thinking this far ahead, developing a long list of ideas and angles and mapping content to programs, buyer personas and journey stages can be cumbersome. That’s when important details can get missed.
Sometimes bringing in a third-party to help with strategy can provide a big boost – not because most marketing leaders aren’t up to the task, but because pulling a strategy out of thin air and considering all the angles can be really hard. A little help can go a long way in getting marketing leaders into a rhythm on strategy development and linking content with their critical needs.
I started this agency to lend a hand to high tech B2B companies as they build world-class content programs that are grounded in sound strategies.
At the End of the Day, It’s All About Passion
It turns out that there are quite a few reasons I formed an agency around content that’s 100% focused on the needs of high tech B2B clients. Some are all about the content itself, others are about staying as close to technology as possible and others are more about perfecting the process of content development. But the common thread running through them all is a whole lot simpler. With every piece of content comes a new opportunity for our clients to engage with the people that matter most to them. Whether it’s delivered via email, the web, a social media channel or a virtual event, content creates conversations and builds connections. That’s a pretty cool place to be. It’s what we’re passionate about, and – all these years later – it’s still at the core of everything we create.
As I look back on all the reasons I started this agency, I can’t help but look forward to all that’s to come. Here’s to better content and a better year ahead. Oh, and definitely baseball.