Enterprise Marketer - Make Your Marketing Matter.
Make Your Marketing Matter.

Is fear holding you back for being honest about the effectiveness of your content?  If so, you are not alone.  In this episode, Andrea Ames and Bert Van Loon walk through the history of content in their fields and how re-engineering your focus and skillset can be the best path to your marketing success. 

Transcripts

- So I have to comment on your socks.

 

- Oh God.

 

- And your shoelaces.

 

- [Burt] Yeah.

 

- I think they're awesome. Orange, you're doing your thing for orange.

 

- Well thanks a lot. Being from the Netherlands, obviously Joe Pulizzi stole our national color, you know that. The big advantage is really, of course it's really easy to get orange stuff.

 

- Oh excellent.

 

- You know here in the states it might be more complicated. So where's your orange?

 

- Yeah, my orange nonexistent. I'm a very sallow person. Orange and I don't get along. So I'm gonna let you be the token, you know, nod to orange and Joe Pulizzi.

 

- Okay, so the two of us together it's all right.

 

- The two of us, well, you know, you have three things.

 

- [Burt] I can share this one with you.

 

- You have three things so I think we're good.

 

- [Burt] Okay we're good.

 

- Excellent.

 

- Well it's nice to meet you by the way.

 

- Yeah.

 

- This is really the first time we've had an opportunity to sit down and talk. We've never met before except the other night and on LinkedIn.

 

- And our digital personalities know each other already, you know?

 

- [Andrea] Our digital personalities.

 

- We're living in two lives.

 

- Our digital personalities precede us.

 

- Yeah, yeah. And actually they advised me to see you IRL as well, you know, to meet you here.

 

- Excellent.

 

- So tell me about your story. What's your content world?

 

- My story? Well my content world is really the product content, technical content. I've been in the content space for about 30 years, and I started as a technical writer.

 

- At the age of two?

 

- Uh, one and a half, yeah. I started out writing product documentation.

 

- Yeah.

 

- Mostly custom documentation, actually. And progressed from there through learning materials. And I got my Master's Degree and focused in on human factors, cognition, and was really, really interested in how people interpret and act on content in user interfaces. So electronic information delivery systems. So that's what my Master Degree's on. Got into virtual reality for a little while, you know, I think everybody needs to dabble in the virtual reality drug. And took technical content into more of a marketing space in the last five or six years that I was at IBM. So it's been a wild, varied ride, which is exactly how I like my life. Wild and varied.

 

- And over 30 years, content has been the base?

 

- [Andrea] The core.

 

- The core.

 

- [Andrea] The center.

 

- For you, 30 years, before it was called content marketing, before we said content, what did you call it?

 

- Information.

 

- Information, that's what we did, didn't we, yeah? Cause I've--

 

- We've had this weird evolution I think in the information industry. And I'm using information really broadly.

 

- [Burt] Yeah.

 

- 'Cause at first everyone talked about data.

 

- [Burt] Oh yeah.

 

- And I think about the time I got into content. We were starting to talk about information. And you see all these, you know those interesting evolution charts, right? Where you get the monkey and then the ape, and then.

 

- That's where I stop in general.

 

- Human, you stop at the ape. But you get to like the guy who's upright. And today, I'm not even sure what that is. Is it content, is it knowledge? Because they've had this kind of evolution of data, information, knowledge, maybe now it is content. Maybe it's interaction, maybe it's deep learning. I don't know. But I feel like I've followed, I came in right after data was like everything. And it became more information. So how are we getting data across to humans was much more important when I started my career.

 

- But it was so complicated in those days. I mean, we see the channels, the technologies, the two-clicks and we've got something up-and-running world that we're living in has changed so rapidly.

 

- It has. When I started, it wasn't very long, maybe 10 years into my career when I started teaching technical writing, technical communication.

 

- [Burt] Yeah, yeah.

 

- And so that was 20 years ago. And I pulled out a psychological concept called learned helplessness. There was actually being discussed in academia a bit at the time, and applied that to learning and using software to my students. And said, you know, your users are going to be trying things and failing over and over again. And the software and the content that they're viewing and reading and using is telling them they're stupid. And they start to believe it. And they get to a point where, oh I can't do that, it's, you know, I'm too dumb to learn how to do this. You know, DOS, really dating myself now.

 

- Oh God, yeah, yeah, exactly. Temporary sync check. I've seen the cursor, blink blink.

 

- Again, pre-birth, in the womb I was using DOS. And it's really interesting how finally, I mean I really feel like it's only been really recently, the last maybe five to 10 years, where we've really started to try to understand who--

 

- I hear you.

 

- Our customer is enough that we're not just writing software 'cause engineers are high on Mountain Dew and sittin' in their garage and don't have a date, right? I mean, you know, you've got these technical people who maybe had nothing better to do than create software. And they were really writing for themselves.

 

- [Burt] Yeah.

 

- And I think we've gone through that evolution, wouldn't you say? I think we spend a lot of time writing for ourselves, don't you?

 

- Well I think so, and I mean, in today's world it's not only easier to publish, but we also have that feedback, that almost immediate feedback. Whether people pick it up, whether you see your analytics, whether people react, they act on it. And I've seen a huge change. My background is in publishing, mainly B to B, and I've seen all those journalists, that their only check about quality was, their peers, your colleagues from the same magazine, or their boss.

 

- [Andrea] Right.

 

- You know?

 

- [Andrea] Right.

 

- And the change from print into digital was really hard for them. Like, you made them look at the page views.

 

- Right.

 

- And the title page. And it was like a reality check, and a lot of fear. Like, okay, I spend three hours writing a piece, and I've got like 25 views with a bounce rate of 90%, including five check box.

 

- [Andrea] And you were great.

 

- You know, it's exaggeration, but there's something like that. And affects, I think while innovating and moving forward, we almost have to, we hear those words like unwatching, unlearn, we really have to throw away experiences, habits.

 

- [Andrea] Yes.

 

- In producing content, distributing content. Developing content, designing content even at its early stage to make it work in today's content-shocked world.

 

- [Andrea] Right.

 

- And to we're at Content Marketing World here, Jill and Robert just launched their Killing Marketing, not killing content marketing. And I think they're absolutely right. We have to destroy something to create the space in our minds and in our processes to be able to re-build it up from zero. Have you read Philip Copper's book from 2003, I think it's Marketing A to Z or something like that?

 

- No.

 

- So published in 2003, so he probably started thinking about it around 2000. You know, Kotler, Godin, those kind of minds. And he has this phrase like the good news is marketing will be like, will be there forever. The bad news, it will not be like it was taught to you at university. You have to re-engineer it from A to Z. And you come from a technical background too. You know the word re-engineering.

 

- [Andrea] Oh yes.

 

- First, take it apart, see what doesn't work. Then you have the space to put in new parts and you can re-engineer a new machine that works in today's context.

 

- Well it's interesting that you say that and kind of refer to Killing Marketing, because while you're talking, I'm thinking, I've re-engineered myself. I went from a technical writer to an information architect, to an information strategist, to a content strategist, to a content experience strategist. And I look at your LinkedIn profile. You don't call yourself a publisher. You come from publishing, but you call yourself a strategist. So what's that evolution been like for you? Because it sounds like you've kind of been the phoenix rising from the ashes a few times as well.

 

- That's what my banker says.

 

- No, but I have a background in publishing, in the sales, marketing, product development, general management track. So not on the creative journalistic track, more conceptual, more sales. And in the early days of Internet, for me that was '95, '96, '97. In my background in publishing, I had the really the advantage of working already a lot with technical publishing.

 

- [Andrea] Okay.

 

- So product catalogs so I published the first CD-Roms, for example, in our country, in the Netherlands. So I had that affinity with digital already.

 

- But without the channel.

 

- [Andrea] Right.

 

- Without the Internet. And so in fact today, somebody showed me the Internet, not as we know today, but Hayes modems, etc., little movies that went like this, you know, one frame.

 

- I remember those.

 

- Per minute. It was like hallelujah without being profane. Now we really can move forward. And then I started my consultancy practice. We're 20 years later now. And I think it's really still hard for so many people to see the opportunities, the possibilities that we have. We're so stuck in tradition.

 

- Yes.

 

- In our heritage. And we're, seem to have a hard time to isolate the value elements of our--

 

- Right.

 

- Publishing communication heritage. And discard the garbage that is outdated, and start anew. Because it's incorporated in our business models, in our organizational structures, in our silos, in our habits, and we're all on the, many people are on the defense.

 

- [Andrea] Yes, yes

 

- So how do you run that change in in the organizations you work with?

 

- Right, right. I mean, it's a struggle. In fact, I just guest edited an issue of Intercom Magazine, which is the magazine of my main professional association, called Society for Technical Communication. And the special edition is about the business value of content. And of course it's aimed toward people creating technical content. But we talked about content strategy, content marketing. We talked about what a couple of my colleagues call Content 4.0, right, where's the future. We've got a case study that talks about the participation of technical content people in an end to end nurture stream, which is typically owned by marketing. And it was a really interesting intro to write, the kind-of welcome to the edition from the editor. I actually referred to Killing Marketing and also talked about technical communication really being on, I think, yet another, 'cause I've harped on many a cusp in my career, but yet another cusp of change. Where we need to be seeing ourselves as people who create something that's of value to our business and of value to our customer. And not just a cost center. Just, you know, we've really been a cost of doing business for--

 

- Exactly.

 

- Forever.

 

- Yeah.

 

- Fee burners vs. fee earners.

 

- Exactly. And I think that is a mindset that our, the folks in my community often adopt. I don't know if you've ever seen the character Tina the Technical Writer in the Scott Adams cartoons?

 

- [Burt] Yeah.

 

- Oh my, yeah, you wanna go look. Everyone go look that up. I think that it's a very sadly accurate stereotype of the technical writing industry. And I think that, exactly what you were talking about, right? We get mired in the things that have always worked, or at least the things that are comfortable. We've worn a really deep groove in our brain around, we're technical writers, we talk to engineers, we tell people how the product works. Or how to use the product. And I don't know any customer who wants to know how to use the product. Really they wanna know how is this product gonna add value to my business? How is it gonna help me accomplish something and meet a business challenge, and get me more customers, or drive revenue, or get customer loyalty, or get insights about my business so that I can do a better job. I can meet my customers' needs better. And I think that that's a mindset that is starting to really pick up some momentum. We're maybe almost at a tipping point in my peeps, with my peeps. But I think that it's very easy to get complacent. Especially if you're at the top of your game in one of these cycles. It's very easy to get complacent and think about but I've done it this way for the last five years, or 10 years, and I'm like super good at it. Why on earth would I wanna change? Why would I wanna reinvent myself? So I actually talk a lot in my community about how to stay strategic, how to stay relevant, how to figure out what the next thing is. Even if you're wrong, how to stay agile. Think of it as a racquetball game, right? You've gotta stay on the balls of your feet. You never know which way the ball's gonna come from and you need to be able to move quickly. So I hope that my industry and content in general, content professionals in general, pick up more on that flexibility. Getting more comfortable with ambiguity. I think the technical writers in particular also have some issues with ambiguity. They like it to be done, created. They like to be able to tell you how it works, take some screenshots, don't change it. That is a really, that's like a heart attack inspiring world to live in if you are now working for a cloud-based product. Subscription-based cloud products that are changing like every six hours or something. I mean, I don't know what the actual stat is.

 

- It's continuous delivery.

 

- But it's continuous delivery, it's continuous change.

 

- [Burt] Exactly.

 

- So I think there are forces, industry forces, that are forcing people to move in that direction. But boy, wouldn't it be nice if people had that mindset so they're ahead of being forced. It's always uncomfortable to be forced to change. Instead, embracing a little change, viewing some of those challenges as opportunities, as you were saying, and moving yourself in that direction, propelling yourself in that direction. Being in front of the bus or driving it as opposed to getting hit by it right?

 

- Being in front of the, yes.

 

- Well, leading the bus or driving the bus, right?

 

- Just to be very clear where I need to stand.

 

- Very clear, yes. Actually, I suggest you get inside, behind the wheel. If you're in front of the bus and it hits you, that would be bad.

 

- Yeah.

 

- But you definitely don't want to be, you can only be behind the curve for so long now until you become completely irrelevant. And then you're laid off, or you don't have any more clients, depending on what kind of business you're in. And that's sad because I don't think it has to be that way. I think anybody with some foresight, a little bit of passion, being open to learn, being at a conference like Content Marketing World, listening to interviews like this, or podcasts, or just really being teachable, staying teachable. I think anybody can really master that art of staying on top of things.

 

- I believe it's a complete business and organizational reset of minds.

 

- [Andrea] Yes, yes.

 

- A cultural reset.

 

- Because we've been trained, especially our generation, in, when I came from university, we talked about five-year plans. And we looked each other seriously in the eyes talking about behind a comma detail, a number, five years from now.

 

- [Andrea] Yes. And that gave us a kind of fake security.

 

- [Andrea] Yes.

 

- A feeling of security that didn't exist. But we moved so slow compared to today's business.

 

- [Andrea] Right. So we have to readopt. It's almost like music. You have classical music where the partition is written. And you have interpretation, there can be differences. And you have jazz, where you're free styling, and one night can be completely off.

 

- Right, right.

 

- And I think we really move into jazz music business culture--

 

- Yes.

 

- While we also have to accept that now and then you start that solo and you're just wrong. But it happens.

 

- Well and that's where--

 

- It's a way you learn.

 

- Right and that's where rapid experimentation comes in, right? Fail early, fail often, and fail in little tiny, less risky ways, right?

 

- [Burt] Yeah.

 

- And then, when you do succeed, you've got all this background knowing that yes, this really is the right direction to go.

 

- I'm really impressed by how large corporate organizations are fighting this. Because I really think this is the age of the middle-sized/smaller enterprises.

 

- [Andrea] Yes.

 

- 'Cause larger enterprises, before they had, it was a missile game. You had money, you had power, and you could control communication and you could survive.

 

- [Andrea] Right, right.

 

- And in today's world, it's about agility, like you said. And corporate and agility are not on the same page in the dictionary, literally.

 

- [Andrea] Usually, yeah, yeah.

 

- I think they're really hard to combine. I mean, I respect enormously all those large companies trying to get it started culturally in their large organization while maintaining their basic organization because that's where they earn money.

 

- [Andrea] Right.

 

- But this transition is so hugely difficult. Have you experience within IBM, I think you--

 

- Yeah, in fact I think, you know, I suspect most of the people that I interact with on a daily basis, even outside of IBM, are coming from companies that are pretty large. If we define a medium-sized business as in the thousands, single digit thousands, a lot of the people I interact with are people like Google and Mastercard and Schneider Electric. I mean, these are my friends, the people that are in my

 

- [Burt] Yeah, sure. technical communication industry. And it is a very difficult clash of cultures, especially, I know at IBM they have a really very longstanding policy of constantly hiring from college. So it doesn't matter if we just had a resource action. It doesn't matter if we had a down year. It doesn't matter what the situation is. There is some percentage of people are going to come into the company through college hires. And there is a very different culture coming into these large companies through these college hires. And that agility and so on is coming in and really clashing with not just the other people. We hear a lot about it's a clash of generations.

 

- Of mindsets.

 

- Yeah, it's not even just the people, it's the overall--

 

- Yeah, true.

 

- Corporate culture, especially for those bigger companies that have been around for a while. So I think it's a really, I would never, I would not wanna be an executive in a large company right now, frankly. Because I think it's a very, very difficult position to be in. You're trying to create a culture where you're moving forward, you're growing, you're agile and so on. You've got a whole structure around you that in a lot of very unconscious ways is pressuring you to stay in your bubble.

 

- Move slowly.

 

- Move slowly. You've got people who want that security of moving slowly. I remember when I started at IBM we had some mainframe products that had two year product releases.

 

- [Burt] Yeah.

 

- I mean, it's unhead of now in any product that's come to market in the last five years. You're not gonna see a two-year product release. So you've got that culture in the people. And then you've got these new folks coming in, or even people like myself. I came into IBM as an experienced professional 15 years ago, or went into IBM since I'm not there anymore. And I had been in the field for 15 years. I'd been a consultant for eight years before I joined IBM. And so I was very much in the mindset of let's try some things, let's grow. This isn't working, let's change it up. And I think that that's, as an executive, I think you're kind of crushed from all sides trying to build a business within a larger business that's going to succeed when you've got, in IBM's case, right, 400 or 300 thousand people around you. Everybody has a slightly different agenda, a slightly different view of what that looks like. You've got some values and guiding principles and mission and so on, but you've got lots of interpretations of that. And so, it's a really, really difficult environment, I think. Are you seeing the same thing?

 

- Absolutely, yeah, completely recognizable. We talked about the past 30 years, we talked about the now, if we look just five years ahead, which, only a few years maybe, but I think a lot of things will change.

 

- [Andrea] Yes.

 

- I mean, you probably have heard Paul Roetzer with his Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute.

 

- [Andrea] Right.

 

- Predicting the future, which is difficult, as they say. Where are we five years from now? Will it be safe, fun, will there be chaos?

 

- Will it be safe and fun or will it be chaos? That's an interesting question. You know, speaking of the Netherlands, I was just in the Netherlands in May. I spoke at a very small boutique conference called Information Energy.

 

- Okay.

 

- And the big, the hot topic in all the tech comm conferences, even for maybe the past two or three years, has bene A.I., and bots and so on. How do we write for that? Because we've got a lot of products that are building that stuff in, how do we write for that? And there's been a little bit of a panic in tech comm. Are the bots gonna take over our jobs?

 

- Well a lot of technical content like sports can be only--

 

- Exactly. At Intelligent Content in March, there was, we heard from the Wall Street Journal, I think it was like the director or VP of the IT folks, and he was talking about how they were creating content that went out on the Wall Street Journal site, from statistics and data.

 

- [Burt] Right.

 

- Like from the elections and so on. And I think, it's a brave new world. And as you were saying, we need to take a step back. What is the value of what we do? What are the things machines can't do? And how do we leverage the value of what we do to make what machines do better, more human. And I think that's really where I left IBM. I went through a year of a little naval-gazing.

 

- Which is good.

 

- What do I wanna be when I grow up? Right, it's really good.

 

- But you don't do it when you're in the comfort of that corporate environment.

 

- Exactly, that's--

 

- The paycheck is there, mortgage is paid.

 

- Exactly, and I think our industry, content overall, marketing, I think business in general, could do with a silent meditation retreat weekend.

 

- [Burt] True.

 

- Right? Take a couple'a days off. Get a little zen. Think about what you wanna be when you grow up. Where do you want your future to be? What can you bring from your past that's useful? And what isn't useful to you anymore? What can you leave behind, simplify and go forward in a faster, more agile way.

 

- Absolutely. Those are the key words, faster, agile. We've got that event in the Netherlands. And last May we had Anne Anglio for example, it's like See the World but on a smaller scale.

 

- [Andrea] Right.

 

- And it's really about agility, moving forward, and staying on the move--

 

- [Andrea] Yes.

 

- Accepting your mistakes. I think to go faster in the future, the biggest priority is probably attacking definition. We talk about content strategy, content marketing, agility, value. And we fail often I think to take a second and say, okay, what exactly do you mean with value?

 

- [Andrea] What does that mean?

 

- Is that money, is it practical advantage for our audiences? Is it entertainment, which can be valuable as well, like we're doing?

 

- And we're hearing a lot about entertainment as a content marketing value in businesses that are not entertainment businesses.

 

- Absolutely.

 

- So I think value is a somewhat transitory. It's a chameleon-like word right now in the content marketing space.

 

- Yeah.

 

- I think and in the marketing space because there are a lot of definitions of it. And I think in some ways that's okay, and sort of has to be, right? In my view, value is defined by the person who receives it.

 

- [Burt] Absolutely.

 

- Right?

 

- There's one key question you have in that consumer space those wars about is it advertising or is it content? And I think it's not judged by the material, but by the reaction. Do people embrace it or do they reject it?

 

- [Andrea] Right.

 

- That's the only check whether what you communicate is right.

 

- [Andrea] Yes.

 

- If you have advertising that is so exciting that people want to work with it, embrace it, talk about it, then for me it is what we call content.

 

- [Andrea] Yes.

 

- It does what it has to do. If content is just another white paper, copy-pasted without any passion, without any differentiation, that could be advertising. But I'm sure it has no effect at all.

 

- [Andrea] Right.

 

- My hope for the future is really that we're focusing on, does it really work?

 

- Yes.

 

- That's the other thing--

 

- And what we call it almost doesn't matter at that point.

 

- Exactly, shall we invent a new word for content to wrap this up? What could that be?

 

- Hm, yeah.

 

- Three seconds, a new word for content.

 

- A new word for content.

 

- Four letters, starts with L and ends with of. It's love, isn't it?

 

- I like it.

 

- No it is.

 

- I like it. It is, it is, it's love.

 

- Love for your audience, for your product.

 

- Exactly.

 

- For--

 

- For your audience's success.

 

- For yourself.

 

- For yourself, yeah, in fact it's interesting that you say that because I spent a lot of time at IBM defining content for people. I would talk about content and I had a really good idea what it was, and I'd have executives and people I was talking to saying what are you talking about?

 

- Skip the rest, go to the emotional.

 

- It's not video, is it? It's just text, or whatever. And I think you have to, the form of it, the format of it, the presenta-- it's all of that.

 

- [Burt] Exactly.

 

- And it's really that emotive response that I have to it, that you have to it, that the person who's receiving it gets out of it. It's a, as you were talking, we hadn't quite gotten to love yet. I was thinking--

 

- You were waiting for that weren't you?

 

- It's the endorphins.

 

- It is.

 

- Right? It's the feeling I get when I see that content, when I experience that content. It's everything around that content. And the feeling I get about you who gave me that content, or who provided that content to me.

 

- Exactly, the brand, yeah.

 

- Yeah.

 

- So how did we end up from orange socks--

 

- To love?

 

- To love.

 

- It's a big world out there, Burt. Big world out there. And I'm personally, I'm a person who wants to experience all of it, from orange socks to love.

 

- Okay.

 

- I think that's kind of the A to Z of this conversation right there.

 

- To more love, more love.

 

- More love, maybe a little less orange socks.

 

- Okay there we go.

 

- But I do like them, I do like them.

 

- Thanks a lot Andrea, I loved it.

tagged with: Content Marketing, Strategy




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