June 17, 2024 #ContentChat Recap: Understanding Content’s Role in Driving Business Results

A Content Chat header image featuring an array of flowers behind a text overlay that says today’s topic is understanding content’s role in driving business results, with host Erika Heald and guest Chloe Thompson.

“You’re not creating content just to support a particular campaign or a particular product launch. You’re creating content to extend the entire brand, the vision, and the strategy of the company. And when you start to get your mind thinking that way, you start to really question what you’re developing and why you’re developing it.”—Chloe Thompson

In this #ContentChat recap, Erika Heald is joined by Chloe Thompson, a content-driven marketing executive, to explore how content helps drive business results. They discuss how content marketing can support an organization’s business goals, ways to gain executive buy-in for a content strategy, and more. 

Watch the entire conversation on YouTube or read through the highlights below.

Q1: When is an organization best positioned to invest in content and content marketing? 

Organizations need to understand their ideal customer profile (ICP) and go to market strategy before they can create content. 

“Businesses need to think about when the right moment is to bring in content. But also, what does content mean to the business? So if they haven’t taken the time to define that, that can be an issue.“—Chloe Thompson

“Make sure you‘ve got some of the foundations of your overall go to market strategy set before you bring in a content layer on top of it. Do you feel confident in your product messaging? Do you feel confident in that sales pitch [and] who you’re selling to, who your ICP is, or who your buyer personas are? And then have some sense of the channels that you’re going to be looking at the most.“—Chloe Thompson

“In an ideal world, you’ve got your ICP, you’ve got your buyer personas, [and] you’ve got your entire messaging framework. The entire organization knows what you’re selling, why you’re selling it, and who you’re selling it to. That takes a long time to build. So even if you have some of those building blocks, that can help accelerate your content creation process and your content strategy.”—Chloe Thompson  

Every organization needs a content strategy, but many teams (especially startups) lack the internal resources to make a full-time content hire. A fractional chief content officer could be a valuable investment to help build and activate a content strategy. 

“You can bring in someone, whether that’s helping you create content—as in write the emails to get people to the things that we’re trying to promote—or more strategic content, we’ve churned out some SEO and optimized blogs, but now we need another layer of thought leadership, meaning an executive presence. You really need to figure out why you’re bringing in content first, before you even decide to bring someone in.”—Chloe Thompson

“A lot of times, people make the mistake of thinking that content and content marketing are the same thing. But, of course, there’s a lot of content created in your organization. And whoever is heading up content for your organization, they’re not just doing content marketing. They’re creating product content, they’re creating help content, customer service content, all sorts of content that is absolutely vital to delivering a good product and good customer service—but a lot of it is not content marketing.”—Erika Heald

Q2: How can content marketing support an organization’s business goals? 

Content can fulfill needs across an entire business. 

“The amount of times I’ve heard, ‘How many conversions do you think we’ll get off of this blog post?’ That’s not the way to think about content. When you think about content in a bubble or in a channel, try to break your thinking. As content leaders, your job is to try to educate the rest of the business that content actually lives across the entire business. It’s not just this one blog post [or] this one social post. It needs to link thematically to the campaigns that, potentially, your growth and your demand team are putting out there.”—Chloe Thompson

“Instead of thinking of content as just this one piece or this one post, how can you think of it more holistically so you can draw all of these different pieces of content within your entire content pillars? So then you can say ‘The ROI of this potential content pillar is X,’ rather than having to be so narrowly focused on what we think this blog post is going to bring in X amount of conversions.”—Chloe Thompson

Your content’s goal will depend on which stage of the buyer’s journey it supports. Understand what you want to accomplish so you can measure its success and set clear expectations with internal stakeholders. Our content planning form template includes the sections you should address.

“Most of the time, your blogs are going to be your top-of-funnel content. You’re not actually expecting someone to convert. And also, while we’re on that, what does a conversion mean? Is a conversion requesting a demo? Is it downloading something? Is it engaging with something further? Is it subscribing to your blog? All of those pieces need to be defined before you try to get to that ROI of content conversation.”—Chloe Thompson

“Whenever I onboard a new client, I create a hybrid creative brief and content submission form that captures up at the top: Who are we talking to? What is the objective of this piece? Why are we creating it? What is it supposed to do? How does it relate to the content we already have? [We] get all that stuff out there and agreed upon well before we start writing anything. Because if you don’t do that, you end up in those situations where [the client] says, ‘I thought you were gonna get so many conversions from this blog post.’”—Erika Heald

Repurpose content to extend its value in new channels or formats and address specific buyer needs. 

“Someone outside of the content world may see it as just one singular blog post. But there is content creation, content marketing, and content strategy. And one of those pieces of the content strategy is understanding how that one singular blog post is going to be fueling an ebook or white paper for the next quarter, or it’s going to be the foreword to the proprietary report that you’re going to be putting out in the six months.”—Chloe Thompson

“Content has to have a purpose. As content leaders, you need to understand how to articulate and communicate why you’re creating the things that you’re creating. I don’t believe in creating something just for a one-trick pony. It’s got to be repurposed, and it’s got to have some value throughout the longevity of your strategy.”—Chloe Thompson

Q3: Where can the content team live within an organization? How does its placement change the day-to-day workflow and focus? 

Chloe thinks that content teams are most effective if they report to someone who has a seat at the executive leadership table.  

“I’ve been lucky enough to report into our chief marketing officer or whoever was the highest of the high, had a seat at the leadership table. I think the closer that content can get to the ELT, the better. That’s not always the case, though. And in that case, you just need to always be putting on your education hat.”—Chloe Thompson

“I think the further you get away from the ELT, the more explanation you’re going to have to do. However, I don’t think it is a complete red flag for you to not report into the highest of the high. Sometimes that’s just not how [the] team structure makes sense. Overall, it’s just your job to make people understand that content is not just a support function. It needs to be a strategic imperative that keeps the business moving forward. And that’s my priority is working for an organization that understands that and that I can lead that conversation no matter where I sit in the business.”—Chloe Thompson

Erika has previously served as head of content and comms, which helped her enforce a consistent brand identity and content strategy. 

“When I was in-house, I usually ended up being the head of content and comms. My background is in magazine journalism, so it’s all about telling those really rich stories. For me, having the comms team, having social report to me, having whoever’s doing PR and media relations reporting to me, that was all about making sure that all of our content had that unity of the brand voice [and] that everything the executives were going out there and talking about lined up to our content pillars and our content strategy.”—Erika Heald

Social media content often falls outside the content team’s purview, creating a disjointed brand identity. Assess the goals of your social media channels and content to find the best person for that team to report to. 

“I’ve been in some organizations where every social channel had a different owner, including Twitter being owned by a PR team that didn’t report to the same people as the marketing team. So then they would never share any of our content on their channels, they just wanted to share media wins.”—Erika Heald

“Social was actually a little bit of a hot potato at the last organization that I worked at… And I said, ‘What is the goal of our social channel?’ If the goal of our social channel is to drive demand, events, [and] PR, then that should probably sit under the demand and the growth team. If you want to have more of a content journalist spin on it, if you want more commentary, if you want more of our content being thought out or content curation, then that should probably live under content. If you want it to be more an extension of our entire business, if we’re going through some growth, a really big hiring phase, for example, maybe that needs to sit under brand.”—Chloe Thompson

“Social is one of those things that really does get forgotten a lot. But it’s so important to figure out the goals of each of these particular business units.”—Chloe Thompson

Form an editorial group that will discuss your social media and content strategy to ensure their department’s goals are addressed in the strategy.

“And that’s why you need some sort of an editorial group that meets regularly about social because you can’t let it just be a silo being run by one department or one person that gets to do whatever it wants. Because it’s not serving you very well, and you’re not going to meet your business goals overall if you have a channel that somehow is a black hole.”—Erika Heald

Q4: How can content marketers gain executive buy-in for their content strategy? 

The content team’s goals should ladder up to the overarching business goals.

“The biggest thing is to understand the business objectives yourself. The second that you try and treat content as siloed and as a channel and you put your goals and priorities ahead of the business’s, you’re already in trouble.”—Chloe Thompson

“One of my former bosses tried to teach it to me this way: You’ve got your business goals and your business strategy. And from that derives your product strategy. From that is your sales strategy, your marketing strategy, and then your content strategy. All of these things need to work together. Your content goals and your overall content strategy, you should be able to clearly define how this supports your overall business goals, how this supports your overall sales trajectory, how this helps with product marketing your solutions; whether it’s thought leadership on where your product may be going in the next five years, or talking about the evolution of technology and how your product has supported it, all the way down to showcasing your sales leaders as thought leaders in the business because they’re experts.”—Chloe Thompson

“The more your content can speak to the different business units and their different strategic goals and objectives, the easier it’ll be for them to understand ‘You’re doing all this to help us.’ Because yes, at the end of the day, we’re all in the same thing together. No one wants to see their business fail. We all want to see the numbers go up.”—Chloe Thompson

The content team (and all employees) should understand the organization’s mission, goals, and how it makes money so everyone can channel their efforts toward the most valuable opportunities and audiences.

“There are some companies, especially bigger, name brand companies, where the people who work in various groups don’t actually know how the company makes money. Or they may have the wrong idea about what it is that actually is driving revenue for the company. So one of the things I think is so important when you are heading up a content team is to make sure that you’re training or helping the people on your team meet the right folks internally that can really fill in those blanks for them.”—Erika Heald

“That’s one of the reasons I think it’s so important for content to sit as close to the ELT as possible. Because your ELT, hopefully, is going to be able to explain that to you in really easy-to-understand language that then you can carry on to the rest of your team.”—Chloe Thompson

“The other thing is understanding, again, what are the business goals? Are they really focused on high growth? Are net new customers the most important thing? Or are they really focused on customer retention? Your content strategy is going to be totally different if you’re trying to plug into all of these people that already know what you’re doing and maybe just need the upsell opportunity or need reasons to stay with you. Versus trying to get your name out in the market to people that don’t know you, don’t know what the hell you’re doing. They’re totally different. So even to understand that basic balance of where’s our money coming from, that can help you get started with what type of content you need to focus on.”—Chloe Thompson

Content is vital for fulfilling customer retention goals, too. 

“So frequently, you don’t see existing customers mentioned in content strategies as an audience. You see all the different personas that are for prospective customers, but you don’t see a plan being put out there around [existing customers]. And I’m always really sensitive to that because I’ve been tapped to do customer retention or customer marketing. To me, it’s like, ‘What do you mean you don’t have a customer marketing plan?’ What are you doing to make sure they’re feeling like they get the value and the love from you, and it’s not like you wooed them and dumped them.”—Erika Heald

Customer case studies and customer-led content are powerful for meeting prospective and current customer needs.

“One of the biggest wins you can do to satisfy both your prospects and your current customers is case studies. As many case studies as you can. Because that gets you talking to the customer, that gets you understanding their pain points, it gets you speaking their language. Which is so important from a prospect perspective, but also a retention perspective as well. If you do it right, you can weave a bunch of stories out of a 30-minute conversation with a customer. You can have the why they chose us, why we’re important, what we’re planning on helping them do. But then you can also speak to your current customers about why they’ve been a customer of yours for five-plus years. What has the evolution been throughout your company?”—Chloe Thompson

“People look at case studies as simply net new sales enablement. But I think there’s a massive opportunity in terms of retaining your customers. I saw our client success team, and all they wanted were more client stories. But it needed to be revisited in such a way that they were like, no, they know what we do, they need to understand why they need to stay with us.”—Chloe Thompson

Erika applauds Salesforce for its customer case studies and content. 

“I have to give kudos to Salesforce. They are a former client of mine, and they’re so good at that. I worked with them on all sorts of customers that really did elevate those existing customers with those really long-term relationships and share what they were working on and how the technology had transformed their jobs and their companies.”—Erika Heald

“It’s really powerful when you’re turning your customers into the heroes by letting them share their knowledge. It’s so much more impactful to have the value that you’re bringing to somebody coming from them, versus saying ‘Oh, we’re so great.’”—Erika Heald

Q5: What tips do you have for helping content marketers get other people in the organization excited about creating and sharing content? 

Content marketers should explain how content helps specific teams or individuals achieve their goals to get them excited about content.

“There’s going to be different motivation for sales versus customer success. Those are kind of the slightly easier ones. It’s building up your authority, getting your name out there, getting your prospects and your clients to notice you. That’s kind of a what’s in it for me, simple use case.”—Chloe Thompson

“You need to think about the what’s in it for me before you even think about it from the company level. Try to get your different thought leaders involved in the process of creating content, rather than just giving them something that’s fully baked and saying, ‘We really want you to post this here, can you just do it?’ No one’s going to respond well to that. It goes back to the idea of creating content that aligns with your business and all of those different tiers of strategy. And most likely, those tiers of strategy are aligned to the person that you’re trying to get to share your content. So you need to thread the needle and connect those dots so that someone understands the value of them posting and of them sharing your content.”—Chloe Thompson

Work with subject matter experts to express their unique thoughts or ideas through content. Instead of putting their name on content you manufactured, bring them on the journey as true collaborators. 

“A lot of times, that will start with you introducing them to your content creation process from the get-go. I’m big on subject matter expert-led thought leadership. There are a lot of really smart people in your organization and outside of your organization. As a content leader, you’re not supposed to be the expert in everything. It’s your job to make it sound palatable for your reader and your user, and to make sure that it’s in a good format and aligns to what you want to do with your content strategy. But the thoughts, the stories, the tips, the tricks; those are going to come from the people in your organization.”—Chloe Thompson

“The more you can bring them on that journey by talking about ‘Here are the themes that we’re talking about as an organization. This is really linking to our business objective of ABCD. I know that you’re really involved on Project ABC. So let’s talk a little bit about how that contributes to our overall business strategy. And I’d love to get some of your thoughts for something we’re working on. Do you have 15 minutes?’ And then all of a sudden, they have ownership, they’ve got a stake, and the content that’s being produced, they’re going to be more willing to help you out.”—Chloe Thompson

“Make it easy for them. Put 15 minutes on their calendar. Record the conversation so that you’re capturing their thoughts. I think a lot of SMEs are scared of two things. One: That they’re going to sound stupid. And two: That you are going to misconstrue what they’re saying. I think you can alleviate that by telling them this is exactly how I’m planning on using your voice and your content. And this is how we’re going to do it. And guess what, you’re gonna have approval at every stage. I’m not going to publish anything that you haven’t seen. So alleviating that worry has definitely gone a long way with me.”—Chloe Thompson

Erika helps colleagues create content to fulfill their professional development goals. 

“I have a sneaky tactic that I used to use: ‘Hey, I bet that in your professional development plan for the year, you probably have something that writing a blog post for us could accomplish. Did you have a goal of getting out there and doing some evangelizing? Did you need to work on your communication skills?’ How can we position doing this blog post or being the SME for an ebook, how can we position it to take something off their plate that they have to do and make it be more fun?”—Erika Heald

Q6: How can content marketing support different departments in achieving their goals? 

Enable the analytics and tracking mechanisms to measure how content is driving tangible results in campaigns. 

“Make best friends with your marketing operations people. They hold the keys to the kingdom in helping you understand how to track revenue from specific content pieces. So, depending on what sort of CRM you’re using, like we used HubSpot at my last organization, I know a lot of others do as well. The combination between HubSpot and Salesforce can be really powerful in being able to create specific content campaigns outside of just what is demand oriented. Of course, you’re going to be working with your growth and your demand teams to find out how much did this particular campaign bring in. But what are the specific layers of content that you can then look at. For example, if they created an entire campaign that was based off of a proprietary report that your team created, then you should be able to take a lot of that credit saying that without this content, you wouldn’t have been able to fuel the campaign. Again, thinking of content not just as a channel and a one-off, but understanding how it fueled actual demand generation.”—Chloe Thompson

Measure the results of all content, not just blog posts, to understand the role each piece of content plays in the journey. Break down your results by paid and organic.

“From an organic perspective, you can tag your content specifically so that you can look at the organic reach of your content versus the paid parts of it. When you look beyond the blog, I think that is something that a lot of people forget as well. What’s the overall SEO impact on your site? I want you to be looking at your product pages, I want you to be looking at all the different buckets on your website versus just the blog. Because when you start to say ‘just,’ you’re already limiting yourself. So how can you start to package and promote content so that it’s more of a holistic effort. And then, all of a sudden, you’re talking about how you’ve driven the needle and you’ve gotten to the top ranking for a specific product-related keyword. And then you can talk about what this brings in from a volume perspective, from a conversion perspective.”—Chloe Thompson

“Another thing we did was we tagged our specific resource landing pages with Salesforce campaigns. So, outside of our paid programs, we actually had organic campaigns that ran specifically from our resource center for those specific assets. So that was really helpful as well to see how organic in particular drove revenue.”—Chloe Thompson

Create UTMs for better tracking.

“I’ve been a huge proponent of UTMs forever, just because you can’t necessarily be sure how something is going to go into your analytics system and how it’s going to be able to be reported back out on. But if you put in those UTM, then you can be sure that social won’t just be grabbed by whomever wants it as being the source of the traffic or the source of the form fill. And honestly, it doesn’t take a lot of time. If you don’t have a tool that does it automatically, you can just use a Google Sheet or an Excel spreadsheet where you have those dropdowns. So that way, you have the consistency.”—Erika Heald

Sales enablement platforms can be especially powerful for understanding how content drives sales, however, these are a significant investment. 

“Later on in my tenure, we invested in a sales enablement platform that went a step further to show you not just what was on our website, but what SDRs were sending out or salespeople and eventually client success was sending out that was also driving revenue. So that was even more of a full picture. But that was a pretty big investment. And we’d gotten to a pretty big place with our content to be able to invest in that.”—Chloe Thompson

“It becomes a virtuous cycle. Because once you get to that point when you’re able to invest in a platform like that, then you’re able to go back to those teams and say, ‘Here’s how we supported you, and here’s what we want to do next year to support you. Will you support our request for more budget in this area?’ Or ‘Hey, we see that this thing we did as a trial worked out really well, we’d love to do more of it, but we don’t have the budget. Do you have any leftover budget?’”—Erika Heald

Regardless of your organization’s size, listen for customer anecdotes shared within your company. Speak with sales reps to learn about how you can help customers with content throughout their journey. 

“If you’re just starting out and you’re a content team of one, I think one of the most powerful things that I relied on were just anecdotes within the company. For example, we used Slack. I was on a ton of different channels. I called myself a champion lurker. I would always try to find sales teams, client success, product, etc., just them mentioning our content. You know, the sales managers and I would chat, and they would try to train their team on tagging my team in terms of ‘You found us through the website, you found us through this, you found us through this,’ so you could build up your anecdotal ROI.”—Chloe Thompson

“Can you talk to the sales reps? Can you listen to some calls? Can you connect those dots yourself? Sometimes you might not have the tools and tech to do it. I think that’s a luxury. And if you don’t have that, then really just listening to the people around you and understanding how they’re using content. And again, you should be creating content because it will help them do their job better, it’ll help your prospects understand you better, or it’ll help your customers understand you better. Those three things are really important, so how can you connect the dots within your own organization to create those ROI stories yourself?”—Chloe Thompson   

Q7: How do you drive alignment between content marketing and other organizational teams? What tools do you use or processes do you follow?

Organizations often lose track of their content and duplicate efforts.

“When I talk to people about their biggest pain points, it’s almost always the sales and marketing alignment, and the old refrain of sales has no idea what content we’ve created, and they literally ask us for things they already have because they can’t find it.”—Erika Heald

Find content evangelists who will leverage your content, encourage their colleagues to do the same, and help you identify new content opportunities. 

“I’m really big on pinpointing and then figuring out how to create more content evangelists. These are the people that are excited from the get go. They actually understand that content is going to help them do their job better. A lot of times, you’ll find these people more on the front lines, like your SDR team—I guarantee you will find some super eager, frontline team members that want to help you with your content.”—Chloe Thompson

“I try to make our content evangelists as public as possible. Especially if you’re talking about it from a sales perspective, they’re competitive as hell. So if you start saying, ‘Well, so and so is sharing and, by the way, this correlates to so and so getting more details and getting more calls,’ it creates that little FOMO and a little competition in the sales team. Whether they like to admit it or not—and sometimes they did admit it.” —Chloe Thompson

Enable teams or individuals in ways that work best for them. 

“Create the means for people to be able to share more efficiently. Sometimes people will want you to draft something for them, and they’ll just copy and paste it. But other times, people just want to be able to shift their thinking into how do I actually post on LinkedIn. So it might be helpful for you to draft some things for them to post, but it also might be helpful for you to hold a quarterly social evangelism or social advocacy workshop for them as well. So they can understand how to relate their day-to-day back to your content, and then share that on the platform.”—Chloe Thompson

Recognize and celebrate team members who share your content. 

“When I worked at Achievers, we 100% gave out awards to the people and gave kudos to every person who shared content. We would give out a gift card to somebody who was our champion for the week. And then at Anaplan, we had a social media email newsletter we sent out every other week. It had everything we were working on, and we would anoint somebody the champion. I’m somebody for whom a leaderboard; I want to be at the top of the leaderboard.”—Erika Heald

Q8: How can you find the right sales enablement platform?

Chloe shares her experience implementing a sales enablement platform starting at 44:46 in the recording. 

“It took us getting to a certain volume to be able to entertain [adopting a sales enablement platform]. When I left my company, we had about 1,050 long-form assets, like ebooks, white papers, reports, webinars, videos, and that sort of stuff. We had thousands upon thousands of blog posts, this didn’t even touch that. And we had probably around 300 or so case studies. So we had a lot.”—Chloe Thompson

“Before I made the case to invest in a sales enablement platform, we had just a Google Sheet. It was not anything that we invested money in, it was just like I need to wrap my head around what’s happening. So it evolved over time. Essentially, it was a sheet that you could filter that was based off of departments, so you had your sales tools, and you have your content marketing, and you have your case studies. There were probably about seven different tabs. And then everything within it you had filters [for] summaries, the landing pages, when it was last updated, etc.”—Chloe Thompson

“One was proving the pain point of maintaining that spreadsheet, because it was really difficult for people to filter it unless they had editing privileges. We regularly had PDF links that were pasted over with people’s hair appointments. We had people accidentally delete half of a spreadsheet because they were new to the business, and then they’d be too scared to tell us… We were really able to track how much time was wasted on my team.”—Chloe Thompson

“What I had to do was prove that we could connect the dots between how people were engaging with our content, what people were sending, and then basically saying if we can prove a best-in-class workflow stream for what kind of content people are engaging with and then we can replicate that across the business.”—Chloe Thompson

“It was an intense process. In the end, we went with Seismic. They are fantastic. They integrate with Salesforce. It was a lot of work to set it up and build the business case, but they were really helpful with that.”—Chloe Thompson

“The biggest thing was understanding before people even got to our website, before they downloaded something, before they engaged with a webinar, what were they doing from this pre-prospect level? Our SDRs were sending them content, we had trained the SDRs on how to use content [and] what content was best used, but we really needed the data to support that in aggregate. So that was what the sales enablement platform was going to be able to help us do.”—Chloe Thompson

“I brought on my content evangelists for the journey to prove that if we were going to invest in this, it would be used. We had our own Seismic champions meetings [with] a senior manager, a couple of our SDRs from each of the geographies, and a client success person. We would meet and say how can we make this better? What would you need? I wanted to make sure that if we were making a big investment that it was going to become the new language across the business. It took my CFO, CEO, all the leaders on the marketing team, [and] all the sales leaders. It was a huge, cross-functional project. But along every step of the way, it was: What’s in it for me? How’s it going to make your team’s job easier? How’s it going to prove the ROI of what we’re creating? How is it going to make us do more faster and better that will bring the company more money in the end? Those were the big things we had to look at.”—Chloe Thompson

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