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Ellen Ferrara
Head of Marketing Communications, BT Global Services

BT Global Services provides IT and network services to global corporations and government organizations. While their marketing efforts are currently decentralized, the company has a new vice president in place who is placing a greater focus on content marketing. As a result, Head of Marketing Communications Ellen Ferrara would like to see the company get to a place where content is used as a conversation starter but also contributes to sales.

How have your investments in content changed the over the past couple of years, and how do you anticipate they will evolve moving forward?

Like many companies, we’ve cut marketing budgets steadily through the economic downturn. From a content perspective, the unfortunate part is that in those well-funded, pre-crisis days, we were ahead of the game. We pioneered a whole new approach to media partnerships because we saw that the heightened emphasis on content was coming, and we knew we needed to get to a place where our content was more objective because people don’t want to read sales content. So that's always been our philosophy for content development.

It probably helps that we came out of PR, the team that originally implemented that philosophy. We had a decent media partnership budget at that time, and we put together media partnerships that created content in tandem. It was good, interesting, journalistic content. That is the type of content we strive to develop, even with our budget cuts. You'll see example white papers on our website. One of my favourites: We used freelancers in four megacities around the world to do an objective piece, and then I ran BT commentary in a sidebar next to it. It helps to start conversations while taking a journalistic approach so we are educating and informing people.

Content is then delivered to the sales team to trigger more substantive conversations about what we can actually sell to people, and that approach is mirrored in events. Right now, our focus is on four trends that we have identified that are keeping our customers up at night. We've been going on those trends for about 14 months so it may be time to freshen them, but they were what we call instant globalization—not just the old fears of globalization, but the potential that can be achieved when everything is linked and everybody is talking to everyone else. We talk about the end of limitless resources, all of the energy issues and the people issues, as well as the power of the individual, so that's both the threat and the opportunity of this completely connected world where one person on a laptop can have a huge amount of power. And then finally, we talk about the unbalanced economy and what we're dealing with as a result of that. Based on those four trends, we've been writing white papers, talking to customers and running a series of events where we have conversations and presentations with guest speakers on those topics, and then we feed those updates into the content. I try to make the events be virtual circles, so I'm putting content into the events, but I'm also interviewing and collecting information at the events, which then freshens the content.

Can you talk a little bit about how you built out your four trends? Was that an internal exercise, or did you go outside to help build that?

It was an internal process as most everything we do is internal right now due to our budget situation. We talk to customers a lot and have an incredibly impressive customer base, so we did a bit of surveying. We have a very good insights team that regularly tracks customer issues. We also talked to lead sales guys and senior executives and had some customer meetings. For each senior customer engagement event we have, we start out with handheld voting devices and ask people to rank what they think about the issues, so that feedback gives us some background in terms of what we want to highlight.

What is your process for content development and distribution?

I definitely think there's a balance, and I don't think we should be completely centralized. I think many principles of content marketing are just the same old marketing principles with new headlines. However, there is no doubt that content is becoming increasingly important, and the old skills of reporting and copyrighting, paired with understanding your audience, are becoming more important. There are a lot of people in marketing who either don't have those skills or don't feel confident enough, and a lot of people are probably much better writers than they think they are. We have a writing program that we run globally that entails a little bit of face-to-face engagement and a lot of online and teleconference sessions to train people in what we call tone of voice. However, it is essentially a copywriting process as well, and we try to get people to think about how they communicate as they speak. In my dream best-practice world, there would be a solid balance—I want content creators, but I need more skill than I have in the field right now.

With all of the different channels and content formats available, how has your organization fared in terms of providing relevant, engaging content through all of these outlets?

Really, I think we're seeing the exact same fragmentation that we started to see 10 years ago in television. If you're anywhere close to my age, you remember being a child, and whether it was the final episode of M*A*S*H or Fonzie jumping the shark in Happy Days, there were only four options, and everybody was watching the same thing. Now, if you want to communicate to people, you have 20 different ways, and everybody has different preferences. Exactly the same thing is happening with us.

One thing I am working on is how to take the same kernel of content and be able to produce it in all of the various media formats. Right now, we're producing a lot of content for different formats, and they're not linked as much as they should be. I have a vision that, in a really efficient world, we would have an idea, and then we would be producing a packet of materials. So you might produce eight things, but they're all based on the same story, which makes it faster to create. We do that occasionally but not as much as I'd like.

How are you measuring the success of your content marketing efforts, and what plans do you have to improve this process in the future?

We are looking at what everybody does at the beginning—downloads, hits, members in LinkedIn groups, etc.—which gets us the numbers, but it doesn't get us anything deeper. Our research tells us that case studies are the most important content, but we occasionally do some interesting ad hoc content. For example, we experimented with a straight news story and put our case study on our homepage, and the click-throughs on case studies went up exponentially. That's what customers want—they want to see a peer deal with a problem and learn from it.

For anecdotal insights on the case study program, we have a help desk, and anybody on our sales force can call the help desk and ask for a case study on a specific product or service they are trying to sell. We now call the salespeople three months after every call to the help desk to ask how the pitch went, find out if they used the case study and if it was helpful, etc.

We're also starting to look at conversation streams, and one of the easily measurable goals that we have is to look at our blog posts and social interaction to see how many people comment underneath what we post. I would love to see us get to a point where content is created to meet very specific needs but still serves as a conversation starter or deal closer, and then figure out if the content achieves that specific goal. However, we are a long way from that.

How do you leverage content across a global organization?

It is challenging, but we have some advantages in that we are a far less political organization many others. My people in the field tend to be very hungry for content and are very happy to go with the corporate theme. We have a corporate culture that is fine with taking what comes from the center, and using it, but I know lots of other corporate cultures that just don't work that way. I also have a background in internal communications, and I find that to be beneficial because we put together a toolkit around of a lot of the materials we produce for the local marketing people to provide recommendations for when and how to use it. In a few cases where we've been particularly successful, we've sent out a white paper with suggested Twitter feeds or blogs that PR can use and even a suggested Q&A for sales to use. This approach has worked for us but requires having people in the field with the skills to localize content and the time to do it.

 

“We pioneered a whole new approach to media partnerships because we saw that the heightened emphasis on content was coming, and we knew we needed to get to a place where our content was more objective because people don’t want to read sales content.”