In the ever-evolving landscape of B2B marketing, we want to know: Is the primary goal of content marketing to generate leads and conversions, or does it encompass a more profound awareness mission? 

We dive into this topic with Flora Felisberto, Senior Director, Global Growth Marketing & Operations at OutSystems, someone who’s not afraid to challenge the status quo. Flora believes thought leadership should take center stage in the realm of content marketing. We explore one of Flora’ successful thought leadership campaigns that served as a conversation and lead catalyst and why great thought leadership content is an authentic path to revenue.

Flora also explores the concept of the “dark funnel,” a realm of marketing often shrouded in mystery. Discover how thought leadership is the key to unlocking its secrets, reaching your target audience, and ultimately driving success in the ever-competitive B2B SaaS industry. And also why just relying on gated content in demand generation campaigns leads to a poor quality pipeline.

Buckle up as we embark on a journey that challenges the very essence of a content marketing strategy, urging us to shift our focus from gated content lead generation to the impactful realm of thought leadership.

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Hi Flora, thank you for being on the show.

Hi Chris, thank you for having me.

This is exciting. Just so everybody knows, this season four I’m interviewing people I know. And I’ve known you for 11 years now. You started at, it wasn’t Pixis when you got there, it was Verivo. We had already rebranded, so that was the 2011 – 2012 timeframe. And then we both ended up leaving there, going places, and ended up back at Perfecto and spent a number of years at Perfecto Mobile, three or so years there. 

Then I got to Acrolinx and I thought that you came here with me. It took a bit to realize that it was in fact your twin sister. 

I sent her instead!

I thought it was you, but as it turned out it was Mariana, but here we are. I’m excited for this conversation. We haven’t talked in a bit and I’m looking forward to uncovering some wisdom from you today. Let’s jump right into the quick start. What’s the best and most successful content campaign that you’ve used or been a part of?

One of my best and most successful campaigns was one that we did a couple years ago called “Technical Debt: The Enemy of Innovators.” Different from anything I’d done before, full stack, out of the box thinking, so it was really cool.

And the worst?

The worst, it wasn’t anything disastrous by any means, but just something we learned a lot from, was this annual survey report that we do. We go out and survey 2,090 leaders in our space and focus on the “problem du jour,” if you will. And something interesting happened along the way because demand gen started to lead the process and we lost sight of the whole purpose of that content piece, which is thought leadership and PR. It was a little bit of a lesson in what happens when you’re so myopically focused on creating something to just put behind a form to get leads in your funnel.

Interesting angle. Out of the two, which one did you learn most from? It sounds probably like the bad one.

Well, so I know that’s typically what people say. But I’ll go against the grain here and actually say “Technical Debt: The Enemy of Innovators” is the one that I learned the most from because of a bunch of things. We hadn’t done it before, we were doing things for the very first time and had to learn, but we landed it and we landed it really well. And it had all the elements of thought leadership and what the annual report was actually supposed to do, this one had. So I would say that one.

So how do you know, and I know you know the answer to this question, but it’s a leading question: How do you know it was the best? What were you measuring with that campaign that showed you that?

I think one of the things that was so great about that campaign is that it had all the elements of great thought leadership. Where you’re not just talking about your product and why it’s so great, you’re really focusing on this larger issue in the market. 

In our case, for example, customers have years of legacy technology that they have to modernize or digitally transform — that’s what technical debt refers to — and putting the spotlight on something like that. I, in a way, liken it a little bit to what HubSpot has done with inbound. They weren’t really talking about their product, it wasn’t category creation. They didn’t even coin the term “inbound,” like we didn’t with “technical debt,” but we put a spotlight on it, tried to make it mainstream, and something that became part of people’s vocabulary that wasn’t in the past. 

If they want to learn more, let them keep learning more. But if they're ready to talk to someone, you better make it really easy for them to have that pathway to do that. Click To Tweet

Then, not only do you have a product that can solve that, but you also have a whole playbook. And HubSpot at the time with blogs and how you actually do inbound, had a whole playbook around it. So we had all the right elements from PR and thought leadership. How do you land a survey and really think about headlines? It’s about the headlines and the newsworthiness aspect of it. Is this something that’s going to generate thought, be thought provoking, and even get our competitors, which we did, to come on our LinkedIn and comment on our post. But it had all the demand gen elements to it as well. So that’s why, if you look at it from that full stack perspective, it did so well and is a great template on how to do this.

How’s your organization structured so that that works? Because you’ve got content marketing, you’ve probably got product marketing involved in that, you’ve got PR involved in that, you’re involved in that as a demand leader. That’s everybody in marketing coming together to create this single initiative that’s going to capture leads, awareness, and public interest. That’s a big endeavor.

It is, and it’s actually a really great question because we’re dealing with this in a different perspective and this realization that you have to have over and over again of: Not everybody is going to be a part of everything, every step of the way. And sometimes you need to be a little bit bold and take that leadership and bring in people slowly within the process. 

So, the way that idea came up is that our CMO at the time had this really awesome idea, as CMOs often do, and came to us and tried to get us to execute it. But he came to us and he said, “you know the national debt clock in New York City that adds up the US national debt, what if we did something similar but for technical debt?” And we get this huge billboard up in Times Square and it adds up all the technical debt costs that organizations incur. 

On a blue background there's a quote from Flora Felisberto in white that takes up the majority of the image. The bottom of the image has a headshot image of Flora and the WordBirds Podcast logo.

In the beginning, you have to think about what’s the research behind this? So that’s when I got product marketing involved, first and foremost, the person on our team who deals with analyst relations. He knows everything that’s happening in the market and who has research for what. He actually already knew that there was a research firm that had done the methodology and had done the math actually, and they found out that technical debt was costing companies $6,000 per second. What that refers to is all of the ways and all of the times that companies have to implement a solution, they cut corners, they band-aid it, and they don’t write code the way that they’re supposed to because they have to deliver an application really fast. 

Even though technical debt is more of this IT term, marketing ops, marketers will relate to this because we deal with the tech stack and we know exactly what technical debt is referring to. Fixing those issues comes at a cost and it’s the debt that you owe and that somebody’s going to have to pay in the future. It’s something really significant in IT and that our audience needs to deal with. So that was the first part of it. I think we knew very early on that this was going to be primarily an awareness campaign, but at the time I was leading both awareness and demand generation and that’s how it started. 

Bringing in product marketing with that research and then bringing in at the same time, demand gen and PR. So one of the things that we did was an amazing survey that we went out and surveyed IT leaders in our space to understand how they were dealing with technical debt and what it meant to them. We found out that there was actually an MIT professor who wrote a whole book on technical debt that was just coming out. Things worked out really perfectly from a timeline perspective, I’m well aware. But we took advantage of all of those things.

Needless to say, we did a webinar with that professor and gave the books away for free for all attendees. Then you start getting the content and the creative team in. You have to design ads, you have to write blog posts, and then communications come in. What are the headlines? What articles do we want to put out there? What reporters do we want to pitch this to? I think you need to have really strong program management and project management in the situation and figure out when you’re going to bring people in at each phase. 

I think that the game has changed, it's elevated. Gone are the days that you're just putting a lot of leads at the top of the funnel and anyone that downloads anything. We're in a time right now in B2B SaaS, where you have to be really smart with your… Click To Tweet

But I’ll say too though one of the reasons I think why it was such a highlight is because I was the person who had to figure out how to get this huge billboard on top of a building at Times Square. And it wasn’t just any billboard. It had to be programmable because we started with a certain dollar amount, millions of dollars, I can’t remember, that had to go up by $6,000 every second. So it had to be programmable and it had beautiful design around it as well. So figuring out who could provide us that was a big portion of this too. So hopefully that gives you insight into all the different pieces and how it all came together.

It does. I feel like that’s not the first time that you needed to find a way to buy public signage. I feel like maybe you had to do that in a different position as well. Maybe for instance, a large sign truck?

A large sign truck! Maybe you wanna tell your listeners about that?

They know. Actually, I want to hear you just give a 20 word description of the bug campaign. Because I think people will appreciate the dichotomy of me describing it and now you saying it.

It was one of those examples where somebody had a great idea. I think it may have been Randall, who at the time was our creative director, he’s probably one of the most creative people I’ll ever work with. Our product at the time was a mobile application testing product. And of course, we were helping our customers fix a lot of their bugs. 

Somebody somewhere had this genius idea where the slogan was, “Don’t let bugs get you down.” And we went to San Francisco and we rented all of these VW bugs to put in front of traffic with a big truck. That part you’re going to have to remind me of with the signage. We wreaked havoc in the traffic and we got this amazing footage that was the highlight of that — the video that came out of that campaign. It was such an awesome guerrilla marketing campaign, so creative and fun to execute on, much in the same way that this tech debt campaign was.

See, I think it’s interesting that your perception from where you sat was that it was awesome. Because what you got as a byproduct of the actual initiative was super positive. And you built an ABM campaign around that content. When we drove around Levi’s and created the parade around their office building and packaged that and you sent it to Levi’s, for where you were sitting in that company was super positive. 

I used that for my “what was your worst content campaign?” Because A, I was super uncomfortable the whole time. I didn’t want to be in meetings, I didn’t want to talk about it. I thought it sounded crazy, but I didn’t want to stop it because you all know your cost per lead, and if you can do this at your cost per lead, by all means, don’t let me be the one that stops you. And I still feel that way about things. 

But the actual like sign truck and the call to action and the driving around San Francisco had zero benefits to us as a company. We didn’t get any clicks. We didn’t know how many people actually saw it. You were able to take the failed campaign, package it, and turn it into a downstream impact, that’s the mark of turning something terrible into something good. Because what we did in and of itself was watch somebody with a neck tattoo crash their drone into the side of an office building. That’s what I saw when I was there!

Luckily for me, I didn’t!

I drove one of the Volkswagen’s! I got there and they’re like, “here are the keys.” I’m like, “Oh no. All right.” That was an interesting campaign to be involved in. But then I go back to being in the office and seeing you all filling cardboard boxes with gummy worms.

That was amazing. And that’s what happens to you — you have one creative idea that you build on top of and you get to something else and you have to find ways to do that. When we did billboards, it was the first time that we were doing that. So we had billboards in eight metropolitan areas and people had this feeling that I was going to be able to go into Google Analytics and see a spike in traffic on the website in those metropolitan areas. And no, that didn’t happen. That’s just a part of the campaign. 

Only 3% of our target market is actually in market for our solution. And we know that. There's enough data out there to back that up. So what are you doing in the meantime, in terms of creating relevant conversations so that when they’re ready for… Click To Tweet

You have to find different ways to land it as well. You don’t just land with that one piece of content. There’s multiple different aspects of it. It’s the stories, the articles. You have to find a way to land demand gen. And for us, it was the survey report. It was the webinar that we did with a customer who actually had a great point of view on technical debt and what it meant to him and his organization and finding an author that had written about it and that we could do something with. So, having those multiple aspects of it and not just letting it die and using that creative idea as a stepping stone to something else.

Were you able to see the lubrication of the funnel, of the pipeline, because of the awareness that it created? Because what I think, and I think some of it’s able to be proved and some of it you just have to feel, is that awareness spend is hard to track. There aren’t analytic dashboards for people seeing something in nature. So where I go back to is I should be able to see the downstream effects and it’s easier to get a first meeting because somebody saw the billboard and is like, at the bare minimum, I recognize the name of your company. 

You’ll open doors! It should be easier. 

Yeah, I mean, opening doors, like the champion can take something to the economic buyer and say, “hey, did you see the billboard? This is that company.” Those are the things that you should be able to see. You’re not going to get a bump in web analytics, but you should see some kind of a subtle change in your funnel model as a result of people saying, “oh, them!” It’s like Cars 4 Kidz or Patriot software. I don’t even know what they do, but I know them. And if somebody called me from Patriot software, I’d be like, “oh, Patriot Yeah, I know it from the commercial.” And that just lubricates the whole process. That was a very subtle plug for Patriot software and Cars 4 Kidz.

100% and that was the idea. So at the time we had a CMO who was very brand and awareness focused and he used to have a line that made so much sense: “We’re the biggest software company nobody’s ever heard of.” We needed to change that and he came in to help us change that. You got people internally talking about it and more passionate about OutSystems and how we were seen in the market. And whether you agree or not, with technical debt and if we help solve technical debt, what the real definition of technical debt is, that’s the important thing. It gets people talking and it gets your company on the radar of your customers.

So a word that I’ve heard, and I’ve heard it primarily from people that are like you, is the dark funnel. And I feel like this ties into everything that we’re talking about. Tell me a little bit about this concept of a dark funnel and how are you capturing that?

So I’m a big proponent of tools that give us visibility into the dark funnel and the accounts that are in market for a solution. I think that the game has changed, it’s elevated. Gone are the days that you’re just putting a lot of leads at the top of the funnel and anyone that downloads anything. We’re in a time right now in B2B SaaS, where you have to be really smart with your dollars in where you spend and how you spend it. 

Content download is a bottom of the barrel type of a lead. Again, by itself, right? As part of a journey, that's a completely different story. Even serial downloaders have very low intent. And the goal really is to get people on that education journey… Click To Tweet

Obviously we all know it’s going to be easier to sell your solution to people who already know the problem well or are in the market for a solution. And that’s all great and fine. I think that at the end of the day, that’s the big goal. But what it does now, all of a sudden, is it gives me the ability to align my content and my campaigns, my email, and my email copy to the buying stages and the level of intent that a company might have. I can tailor the message directly there and know exactly what problems they’re trying to solve, what they’re looking for, and tailor it in that way. 

The game has become a lot more sophisticated now and we need the ability to focus our dollars in that way. We’re building this matrix right now. So we’re implementing the dark funnel, what I’m calling dark funnel operationalization. We’re using a platform to help us do this. They help us understand the buyer stage or the journey stage that an account is in, but also their level of intent. So I can use both those things to prioritize accounts and prioritize spend for those accounts, but not only the level of spend, but exactly what I’m telling them and when. So that becomes super important. It’s definitely something that’s going to be a part of the everyday for most organizations, most likely.

Interesting, interesting. So the last piece of this is the thing that I like to refer to as the PSOTD, the Provocative Statement of the Day. It’s a position that you hold, that maybe everybody doesn’t hold, that you think might start a fight with some people. What’s your provocative statement of the day?

My provocative statement of the day is that the primary role of content isn’t lead generation slash lead conversion it’s thought leadership. And I feel that this is a very blasphemous thing to say as a demand gen marketer, because we know content is one of the most cost-effective ways to fill the funnel. We just love to offer free downloads in exchange for that email! 

But I also think that once you realize that your primary goal is thought leadership, for the reasons that we talked about before and the full stack campaign, demand generation can’t be myopic and really think about a content setting it in market, putting it behind a form. What are the headlines? Why is this newsworthy? Why should people care? And I think that once you realize that it’s for thought leadership and creating conversations and engaging conversations, it breaks you free of the shackles of feeling the pressure to have to gate every single content piece. 

Because that’s another hot topic too that could easily be the provocative statement of the day, which is don’t gate anything else. That HubSpot model, if you will, is very 2010 and every template, every book was behind a form. People are not doing that anymore. People are giving away really great content for free. I think podcasts are one good way that we get to listen to our peers and get a very good understanding of what’s working and what isn’t. And none of that’s gated. 

I think that once you realize that it's for thought leadership and creating conversations and engaging conversations, it breaks you free of the shackles of feeling the pressure to have to gate every single content piece. Click To Tweet

We also know that those leads by themselves, those content downloads are very low intent. They don’t provide a lot of high value. They’re not going to convert to ARR. What I’ve found time and again, in any company I’ve been in, the data shows you: Content download is a bottom of the barrel type of a lead. Again, by itself, right? As part of a journey, that’s a completely different story. Even serial downloaders have very low intent. And the goal really is to get people on that education journey that leads to that high intent hand raise. 

Ultimately, that’s what quality content is and gets people coming back for more or subscribing to your blog. Then getting into that free trial, that demo request, or contact us, which is high intent, which is what you want to get people to. I like to talk about demand creation, demand capture, and then demand conversion, where a lot of what we talked about is about demand creation. Why? Because only 3% of our target market is actually in market for our solution. And we know that. There’s enough data out there to back that up. So what are you doing in the meantime, in terms of creating relevant conversations so that when they’re ready for demand capture and go to a high-intent channel, they’re thinking of you and not the competition. So for me, that’s what it’s all about.

That’s an interesting and provocative stance because I’ve heard somebody say before, “I actually don’t care what the webinar is, it’s about the registrations for the webinar.” And I think that person’s been me a couple of times. What you’re saying is, and we know this, that the leads that come from, for instance, a webinar aren’t going to convert. 

We looked at that at Perfecto, we saw that there. Huge number of leads, not a high conversion rate. So they’re not going to score up to be an MQL. They’re not going to get handed to a BDR anyway. So the content, you’re saying, matters because if the content begets more engagement, that’s the goal. It’s not about the registration. If you don’t believe that the leads of a webinar are important, you don’t need to register people for a webinar. You could just do a LinkedIn live for all it matters. If your content’s good, it’s going to eventually create the leads that you were actually looking for in the first place. There’s no place like home. Wrong movie.

You’re right on. It’s very tempting to do what you just said because of instant gratification. You just want to start filling the top of the funnel quickly. That’s okay if you have to do it temporarily, but long term, that’s not what you need to do. That’s why revenue marketing is easier said than done because we all know what it’s meant to be and you’re doubling down on your ideal customer profile. You have a really good understanding of who they are, their pain points. 

But then when push comes to shove, we just create these webinars and these content pieces for the sake of conversion and not really understanding their pain points, what they care about, and what they’re trying to come to your website to see. That becomes a virtuous cycle when you do that because you’re creating really high quality content, you’re putting high quality content on your website, and your website becomes more findable. It’s a whole chain reaction.

My provocative statement of the day is that the primary role of content isn’t lead generation slash lead conversion it's thought leadership Click To Tweet

Then you need to create better conversion points on your website too, because you’re placing all these magnets out in the marketplace, and if you don’t have something to come back to, then you can’t realize the benefit of the things you’re doing. So we have a primary call to action on our website, and you’re making a case that we need to be much more customized with where people would convert based on the things that they’ve experienced and the journey that they’ve taken with us, I think.

Yes and that’s on the demand capture and demand conversion aspect of things. And that becomes, once people are on your website, obviously incredibly important. If they want to learn more, let them keep learning more. But if they’re ready to talk to someone, you better make it really easy for them to have that pathway to do that. It’s amazing though to see how many companies make it really hard. 

I think that there’s some companies using chatbots really effectively these days to do that and get that conversation going right away. We are by no means on the personalization side close to where we need to be. I think that’s also something that’s super challenging to do. But it’s where everything is headed. If you want to have the full motion that’s something that you need to be looking at and figuring out those conversion points as well.

Fantastic. Flora Felisberto, thank you so much for being on the show. This was amazing, and I’m pretty sure that people are going to take a lot away from this.

Thank you, Chris. It was great to be here.

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