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Ed Youngblood
Director of Content Strategy, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise

Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise's Ed Youngblood discusses how the organization's content strategy is evolving to keep pace with constant changes in media and consumer buying behavior.

How does content fit into your overall marketing and messaging strategies?

What marketing strategy today doesn't involve content? Like all companies, we are adapting to how our customers’ buying behavior is evolving; therefore, we are evolving as well. We’ve come a long way from where we were a decade ago, when marketing complex technical solutions relied heavily on personal interactions. Today, our target audiences are digitally dependent and attention deprived, particularly early in the discovery process. As a result, digital content is a critical part of our strategy.  

Our strategies and tactics have evolved not only to address this shift in buyer behavior, but also to keep pace with changing media and its influence on how buyers search, discover and consume information.

How have your investments in content changed over the past few years, and why?

I look at content investments in multiple ways. Perhaps the most obvious interpretation of this question is about the content itself—are we creating more content, investing in new kinds of content, translations and in alternative sources and forms? The answer would be yes to all of the above. 

The second common discussion is around tools and technologies, and we continue to make investments at this level, including a CMS, DAM (digital asset management), analytics, curation and marketing automation. These are all important tools for a digital content marketing program to succeed. Social media is getting more and more attention as well, although it is still difficult to measure in a meaningful way. I think everyone is struggling with that, but there is more focus on converting and executing a social element to our communications and marketing strategies.

The third area of investment is not as visible as the others, and it is the process. I’m a major advocate of “digital first, documents last,” which is a significant shift for organizations that have historically operated in the reverse. It’s important in several ways because the “digital first” mindset has a workflow aspect to it that not only streamlines content processes, but also increases the continuity and context of content across digital channels. So this is one very important investment—how we create content in an efficient and continuous way to leverage across the channels we want to target. 

Is your content marketing strategy a centralized function within your organization? How does this affect the experience for your customers?

When it comes to content strategy and execution, responsibility is centralized but is shared between business units and a central operational marketing group. We have a communications business unit focused on unified communications, collaboration and telephony, and we have a networking infrastructure unit with the mission of enabling efficient and scalable access and delivery of those services. On top of these units are cloud services and partner relationships. The business unit origins are distinct, and they tend to operate separately and drive their own programs. While they have their own strategies and objectives, they roll up into a global sales strategy with objectives that are set from the top.

Coordination occurs centrally at the operational marketing level, where there is a team dedicated to integrated marketing. They work closely with the business unit marketing leads to define program strategies and tactics. As programs are created and produced, they are executed centrally, but also distributed for local execution by regional marketing teams and our channel partners. 

To speak to the question of how the customer experience is affected is, in fact, complex because our business and go-to-market are complex. Also, we consider our partners to be customers, and I’m increasingly sensitive to the semantics of customers versus prospects because of the changes that digital has brought to the buying cycle. Our content marketing strategy must consider the unique needs of each audience and persona in each stage of the cycle, as well as create continuity in a way that is logical for the audience but still manageable for us.  

How are you measuring the performance of your various content marketing initiatives?

We're still looking mostly at traditional digital measures like clicks, open rates, click-through counts, downloads and site visits. We also measure inquiries and conversion to MQLs, of course. As we continue to connect the dots between inbound and outbound and try to wrap our arms around how we can better follow the buyer path, we are exploring more sophisticated and more incremental forms of measurement.

How do you ensure relevance and quality of the content that your organization develops, and what types of content are delivering the greatest value to your company?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Therefore, relevance and quality are defined by the audience segment, buy-cycle stage, content type, and ultimately, consumption. 

There are many measures to relevance and quality. Internally, it begins with how well central marketing is aligned and responding to the business units I mentioned, who bring customer and analyst interactions into the planning. Regionally, local marketing teams have needs that can vary from region to region. Externally, it can be measured by the questions and requests from customers and business partners—are they finding the content they are looking for? Are sales and customer support repeatedly fielding the same questions? If so, it is an indicator of an unfulfilled need from our audience. These should all be considered in combination with measures of engagement for digital channels.

In my opinion, the types of content delivering the greatest value are the awareness/branding content designed for the front end of the funnel, in addition to content such as webinars and interactive content that comes deeper in the buyer discovery process and allows us to engage and communicate our true value most effectively. Webinars and interactive content bring us closer to our true end users, which tend to be technical engineers, IT and CIO-level audiences. When we are able to engage our target audience at that level, we do a much better job of distinguishing what differentiates us and how our IT can impact OPEX and CAPEX in very positive ways, and we gain flexibility to adapt to what’s around the corner tomorrow.

What plans do you have in place to improve your content performance?

There's a lot of active planning right now around how marketing in general can better align strategies and processes, possibly even redefining the marketing organization to execute that. Though Alcatel-Lucent is an old organization that has been around for more than 100 years, the Enterprise business I belong to is actually a new organization because our Enterprise unit was recently sold. There are certain pain points involved because we're still separating tools and processes from Alcatel-Lucent corporate, but with this comes the opportunity and realization that we will be a leaner and more nimble organization. That will bode well for us in the future, and it’s an opportunity to improve how and why we do things and become more strategic about it.

 

Bio

Ed Youngblood has been involved with content throughout a career that began before the digital revolution. His point of entry was television broadcast promos for ABC Television, soon to be followed by design and direction of national television commercials for major (and minor) brands, where the only digital component was post-production. With 25 years of experience in B2B marketing (much of it focused on technology solutions), he has been with Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise for more than 15 years. During this period, he has guided web, digital marketing and now content strategies in support of the organization’s business objectives. 

“"Like all companies, we are adapting to how our customers’ buying behavior is evolving; therefore, we are evolving as well."”