Episode 3: How to Navigate 2021 Marketing Challenges
Marissa Gbenro: Hello and welcome to the Win-Win podcast by Highspot. Join us as we dive into changing trends in the workplace and discuss how to navigate them successfully. I’m your host, Marissa Gbenro.
Today, we’ll discuss how COVID-19 and virtual work have changed the marketing landscape. I’ve invited my friend, Robert Rose from The Content Advisory, to help us explore these challenges and opportunities. Welcome, Robert, and thank you for joining us. Can you introduce yourself and your role to our audience?
Robert Rose: Oh, I certainly can Marissa. Well, first of all, thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be a guest on your show, which is really, really wonderfully fantastic.
My name is Robert Rose and I am currently – well, I have two roles, really: the chief strategy advisor for an organisation called the Content Marketing Institute, which is a media company where we evangelise the approach of content marketing through events and blogs and webinars and all those kinds of things, and then my role as a consultant, where I work with lots of brands all over the world, mostly by Zoom, and help them operationalise their content. I work with these brands to figure out the people, the process, and the technology of how content can be made into a functional strategy in their business.
In between all of that, I, as you know, host a podcast or two and I’ve written a couple of books and keep myself busy in this wonderfully locked-down world that we find ourselves in.
MG: Thank you so much, Robert. I have been a huge fan even before I was able to join your podcast. Thank you for letting me be a part of the amazing content that you’re creating at the Content Marketing Institute as well.
So, Robert, recently at Highspot we conducted a survey across different marketing functions and the goal was to uncover marketing challenges that have emerged as a result of the global pandemic and virtual work. Both, I think, bring similar but different challenges to marketers across the world and the results of the survey felt very relatable. Nothing truly surprised me because I am a content marketer and experienced the same things. But I thought it was really interesting that though they are similar challenges that we’ve seen forever with marketing, it seems these challenges have become even more heightened.
The three biggest challenges that we found through the survey were understanding how to better engage customers, uncovering what content is most effective, and understanding what content sellers find most valuable. Again, this has always been an issue for marketers – I think everyone has these goals that they’re trying to solve – but it seems that they have been exquisitely heightened by working virtually and not having sellers next door to you. Everyone is vying for the eyes of buyers that are also working virtually and every marketer only has virtual ways to now engage with those buyers. Robert, would you say that these are the biggest challenges that you’re seeing as well with the marketers and organisations that you work with?
RR: I think you said it well. These are not necessarily new challenges, but I think they have a new wrinkle added to them which is something that we’ve been calling “the de-commodification of physical space.” Sort of the overarching new wrinkle to those three challenges is the idea of how to engage customers and how to create content that has an impact. All of the things that we were challenged to do with content were always in a world where the digital experience or the content experience we were creating was an adjunct to the physical space. In other words, it was where you went and downloaded the conference presentation after you attended the conference, or it was where you went to get the experience after you had the salesperson visit you in your office, or it was the website that you did the research on before you invited people into your group. It was sort of sitting alongside it. Now the idea of the digital content experience is not just sitting next to – it’s a replacement. It has to actually act as a proxy of that physical, intimate relationship building that we could do in-person at a conference, at a client, wherever it is.
What I see when I see the same challenges that we’ve seen forever is that this wrinkle is really just extra emphasis on the need to get great with digital content and the digital experiences we’re creating because they’re just that much more efficient.
MG: I absolutely love that term “digital experience” because I think what also has become profoundly clear through the last year is that customer experience is more important now than ever before. It’s always been really important, really guiding your buyers, potential customers, or existing customers through a virtual experience that actually convinces them that you are the right vendor or partner.
I feel like marketers have become so much more important to the funnel for organisations because this is really the only way to get buyers in the door before sellers are able to wow them with the product and sales pitches. What is your take on how to elevate these virtual experiences for customers to ensure that marketers are really getting that foot in the door and able to help fill the funnel and convince these buyers to move forward?
RR: Certainly, all of that is true and I think the one thing we’re seeing companies do that are leading this charge is the same things that make up the wrinkles and the challenges that aren’t different. It’s the same answers, but they’re more accelerated now; in other words, the answers to the challenges are the same, which is to get better at it.
What I mean by that is – because that’s an unsatisfying answer for sure – what we’re seeing is the need to connect these digital experiences. What has happened as we’ve gotten more proficient with digital content and the creation of digital experiences is we’ve also become just as siloed. We’ve become siloed in marketing, sales, customer experience, and customer loyalty. All of those digital experiences that we create were kind of off on their own island. In many cases, and while that was okay, everybody sort of realised that’s a problem and we really should try and solve it.
It’s really difficult and it’s not okay anymore. It has to be the pressure to get those things connected. We often look at our website and the only insight that we have into improving it or personalising it or making it more relevant is the insight we get from the ad tech, basically whatever report that says how visitors were accumulated there. We don’t have data going back and forth between the experiences to help improve them and to connect them in a way that makes them more personal and more relevant and more useful for customers. The answer to that, or where we’re seeing it get elevated, is where you can actually start to connect things to your blog, the website, the e-commerce channel, the email channel, the text experience, all of those things that they know about each other. And they’re using the data in a smart, transparent, and intelligent way to deliver a better experience, instead of the siloed thing that we’ve been dealing with for so long.
MG: I love that answer so much, and it makes me pause to think about ways that we can better provide a cohesive experience from website to email marketing from demand gen to content. A few other challenges that we found in the surveys, as we said earlier: uncovering content that is most effective, better understanding what content resonates most with your sellers, as well as understanding what buyers are looking for. whether it’s topical, what topics are they most engaged with as well as what kind of content. Is it a webinar? Is it a podcast? Is it an infographic? Is it an ebook?
What are your best practices that you can offer or have seen work for some of the organisations and marketers that you work with to really better understand your content landscape as well as what topics and kinds of content are buyers engaging with now to really help move that needle?
RR: Yeah, it’s difficult. There’s no doubt about it. These new wrinkles certainly haven’t made it any easier. The one thing that we say that is helpful to think about when starting is that in many organisations and especially those that have separate field sales, field marketing, enterprise sales, enterprise marketing, demand generation, there are siloed teams working on various parts of the customer journey.
For a moment, don’t think about de-siloing the organisation. That’s typically above our pay grade. But what we can do is start thinking about how we decipher the customer’s experience, even if we start with one bridge. Just something as simple as, “Hey, if I subscribed to the blog, I shouldn’t have to put in my email address if I want to subscribe to the resource center on the same website.” Those kinds of simple, easy changes that I know are not so simple and not so easy because you need good technology in order to do all of those things. But really finding the small, easy wins where we can start to connect these experiences in a way that one, gives us a better singular view into the customer journey themselves, and two, starts to join the content journey for them so that they’re not frustrated, that decreases the friction on the things that they’re trying to do as they go through our various digital content and just start small and then do the next one. If you can start to decipher the journey, what happens is you start de-siloing the organisation as a result. Maybe that can be a helpful 2021 tip. Don’t think about trying to de-silo everybody. What you can do is start looking at the customer’s journey and start seeing how you can de-silo that, one step at a time.
MG: You got me thinking about some of the organisations and vendors that I follow very closely and you’re right; I downloaded an ebook and clicked a button that said yes, send me newsletters and blog posts and so on and so forth. That’s how I’ve become so consumed by these brands without even realising it. They swindled me the way that you’re recommending.
I completely agree that it’s all about – coming back to your point – keeping buyers within this virtual experience. It’s about making sure that they have a cohesive experience from start to finish with your brand, regardless of what activation you are putting forth at the time, whether it’s a blog post, a new ebook, podcast, or webinar, it becomes a lot easier to consume that content when you’ve made it easy for me and it’s not taking a lot of my time or energy. I’m going to be more prone to say yes and see what you have to say and mention it to a boss or a colleague as I move further down the funnel and say, “I actually listened to a podcast episode recently that talks about this exact thing.”
This topic has sparked another question for you. What are some predictions that you have that content, product, or field marketing may see change over the next year?
RR: I think it’s a related thing. I mean, there are lots of wonderful predictions and I think many of them you and previous guests will have spoken to the idea of the rise of audio as a format – not this podcast withstanding, right? But then there’s also video and multimedia and the delivery of that, the resurgence or renaissance, if you will, of email marketing. I think there are a lot of trends for 2021 that will continue and, certainly, we’re going to still see the more direct-to-consumer types of efforts both in B2B and B2C because of everything we just spent the last 20 minutes talking about.
But the one prediction that I will mention because I think it’s really important for digital marketers is to join up the skill sets needed for what we would commonly call “content” in the business. It used to be good enough for content marketers to be able to write well, create some good content, maybe do a little design, maybe have some brand journalism in their background, but now we’re seeing businesses say, “You know what, things like taxonomies, workflow, CMS, measurement, SEO, and content structure and all of those things are incredibly important too.” Where we’re seeing content marketers really succeed is when they start to add a bit to their T-shaped skills. So, in addition to being great storytellers, they should also be great content strategists as well. The ones that we’re seeing really succeed are those that can broaden out their skill sets to some of those more technical types of approaches.
MG: In order to be successful with the changes that have occurred over the last year, and we’re still waiting to see how much more things will continue to change, you have to wear many hats and you have to have different sets of skills and talents in order to think outside of the box. You can’t just be a content strategist without putting together what you see this buyer’s journey looking like, or a campaign looking like. I think that, as a content marketer myself, that has been an area that I’ve been forced to grow in over the last year. No more is it just about words, but when I meet up with our design team or our digital team, what is the experience that I want our buyers to have? What does it look like? What is it going to feel like? What kind of emotions are we hoping to tug at to get them to be interested in the things that we’re saying, the story we’re trying to tell? I think that’s hard to do when you’re so siloed in one function of the business, it’s hard for you to come outside of yourself to say “Hey, even though I’m a content marketer, this is how I see it weaving into a campaign for product marketing, customer marketing, or demand gen. Here are ways that we can thread the needle through multiple different functions to make sure that the audience, our buyers, our prospects, existing customers, are getting the best experience possible because it’s not just one way of viewing this interaction and experience.”
One other question I did have for you – similar to the previous one about predictions for the year – are there trends that you have taken note of that you think are a good idea to watch for or jump on board? Are there any insider insights to share from what you’ve seen working with different organisations and marketers?
RR: Well, we just spoke about two, which were the idea of audio and video for sure. We’ve all seen the rise of Clubhouse and some of the acquisitions that Twitter has made in the audio space. We can see podcasts certainly as a new trend with companies like Amazon and Spotify making acquisitions very, very quickly in this space. So, as a content marketer, as a marketer, it really just perks up my ears to start to think about things like audio. How do I start to really take advantage of the audio and video that goes along with it?
My thinking these days has really been around this idea of linear experiences. So, both audio and video – even though you edit them in a non-linear way, they become linear experiences for your consumer. It’s not the kind of thing that people just sort of skip around and browse through, right? Either you’re in or you’re not, right? You’re either listening or you’re not, or you’re watching or you’re not. It’s a huge challenge for us to get really good at this, where we look at great television, movies, radio, and podcasts and go, “Wow. They really know how to create a strong set of narratives there in that linear experience.”
I think that’s where we have the most growth and, quite frankly, a huge opportunity this year with so many people being stuck in front of their screens. Well, we can give them something to look at. We just really need to push ourselves and push the medium and push our creativity.
So, for me, it’s all about audio and video this year and how do we as brands and marketers get really good at it.
MG: I absolutely love that and completely agree that audio and video is the kind of content that I’m consuming and the kind of content that I want to create for other people. I appreciate the recommendation. Is there a recommendation that you have for how to think about that strategy and how to start to deploy that within your organisation?
RR: You know – and here’s the funny thing – this will go right back to where we started the show, which is experiences that sit in parallel to the ones you’ve already created. We talked about this as a challenge that we have, and this is really where we can start to expand our brains when it comes to how do we develop content. Just simple things. If you’ve got a blog, one of the things that I’m working on is making all my blog posts available as an audio stream. If you would prefer to listen to it rather than read it, there’s that opportunity. If you’re taking a walk or whatever, and you want to have a five-minute listen instead of a five-minute read, that’s one thing. Webinars, the idea of online content delivered through video shows. Then, of course, there’s the classic launching a podcast, launching a videocast, getting your YouTube channel all set up. All of these things I think are going to play into one side of the spectrum, launching actual shows that we want people to subscribe to. All the way to literally just offering up different ways to consume the same content we’ve been creating. That interview with our CEO? Yes, it’s nice that we have it in a wonderful 1,200 word blog post, but let’s get the audio of that up or let’s get the video or both, where we can start offering ways to consume the content based on the ways that people really want to.
MG: I think that is such a great recommendation because sometimes I will have time and energy to listen to something, but if it’s a video, it feels for some reason more consuming for me to watch a video, even though I can avert my eyes and continue to listen. It’s the idea that it’s in video format that makes me feel like I don’t have the time for it. You say that, “Oh, it’s an audio file,” or, “It’s a podcast,” and somehow I have time for that.
I really appreciate the idea of taking a blog post and putting it into an audio format or taking a video and decoupling it and putting it into audio and video. So, whatever your preference is, giving your audience multiple ways that they can consume the same exact thing.
RR: From what I’ve heard from colleagues who have done it, they say it has increased engagement a lot, they are getting much more increased engagement on the content that they had created. A lot of that, I think, is because it’s that linear experience. So you think about a blog post and you go read it and, let’s be honest, we stretch that term “read” a lot. We read it, but really we read the headlines and maybe we read one of the little blocks of text in there and got the main message of it and went, “OK, I’m done.”
But if it’s a linear experience, like audio, you’re going to listen to it. And to your point, you might listen to it while you’re multitasking or doing other things, but you listened to the whole thing, right? You listen to all five minutes of it or eight minutes of it, or however long it is. So that increased engagement is something I’m hearing that is really valuable. It certainly makes for – going back to our original discussion – a better customer experience.
MG: I’m taking so many notes based on this conversation for things that I’m planning to walk away with and new ideas for our content strategy here at Highspot. So, Robert, thank you so much. This was just as informative and educational for me as I think anyone who may be listening to this, thank you for your time and for joining us on the Win-Win podcast. It’s always a pleasure.
RR: Absolutely. My pleasure, thank you so much for having me on the show. I really appreciate it.