Editor’s Note: This post is based off of a presentation that Steve Wright, Vice President of Digital Enterprise and Business Analytics at IBM, recently gave at Content Connections, Acrolinx’s online, virtual conference. Held in November 2015, the event attracted more than 2,000 content professionals from around the world.
IBM has one of the largest global content marketing initiatives in the world. To give you a sense of just how big it is, consider that we’ve got thousands of products and solutions supported with content created and used by hundreds of thousands of employees. And with customers all over the globe, we create our content in nearly 100 different languages. Orchestrating a content marketing program at that scale is a massive challenge. Doing so in a way that ensures that we’re consistently speaking with one voice is even harder.
The key to managing all of this is having an effective content strategy. At IBM, our strategy consists of five parts:
Personalization is about getting as close to our customers and prospects as possible so that we’re able to deliver customized content that’s relevant to them in a dynamic way. In other words, we know that if you’re a database administrator in Vietnam or South Africa, you’re going to be looking for content that’s very different to a VP of Risk in London or New York. Our goal is to make sure that the experience we create for our end users is always tailored for their specific needs and experience.
Practically speaking, that means not only having a clear overview of all of the different content we have at our disposal — white papers, videos, technical content, event-based content, etc. — but also know knowing how that maps to specific end users. To do that, we need to learn as much as we can about our prospects and customers, including what they’re focused on, what they’re buying patterns are, and what search mechanisms they use. All of that information gets combined into personas that we then use to help personalize their experience.
At IBM we have about 130 different personas at any given time. They’re constantly evolving as we refine our understanding of our target audience.
For us, the key to creating really useful personas — ones that actually inform how we create our content — is to make sure that they are data driven. We have a variety of touch points with our customers through our sales and marketing activities, which we use to gather that data. I’m talking about everything from the language they speak and the geographic location that they’re in, to what their buying behaviors look like and where in the buying process they currently are.
Data is the key to making really rich personas and to knowing that you’re segmenting your target audience correctly. It’s also essential for giving our content creators guidance about how they should be writing to best engage a particular part of that audience.
Prospects and customers are always on a journey down the path to purchase. Our job is to make sure that we’ve got the right content at every step of that path to help propel them further along. To do so, we not only need to know who our customers are, but also what their individual journeys look like and how they go from recognizing they have a need to gathering information to making a purchasing decision.
Providing the right content at the right points in time is an ongoing process. At IBM, the way that we approach this is by mapping out individual buyer personas with their corresponding customer journeys. We then use a rules-based engine to deliver the appropriate content at what we believe are close to the best times as possible.
Next we come to process, which is critical for us as we’re constantly assembling content on the fly to meet the unique and often highly specific needs of our customers. To do this, we’ve created an approach that we call content as a service, whereby we pull content from various repositories across IBM, assemble it together to meet particular criteria, format it, and then deliver it to whoever needs it. It’s a sophisticated process, but one that has allowed us to gain tremendous operational efficiencies so that we can create content quickly and cost-effectively.
Last but not least is performance. Our overarching goal is to always deliver an optimized customer experience. To help ensure that happens, we embed KPIs into our activities and take care to track web activity and to try to glean insights from the metrics. This allows us to identify opportunities to improve so that we’re constantly optimizing our content and our sites. We’ve learned, for example, that the more we personalize our content the more engagement we get. In fact, with the right personalization, we’ve consistently been able to double our engagement, which in turn helps drive sales.
For us, it’s also been important to have a clear understanding of what success looks like, to ensure that we’re all looking at and talking in terms of the same metrics, and to have the ability to roll those metrics up into a dashboard that we can share with senior management. Our metrics are our bread and butter. They’re what we use on a regular basis to demonstrate the value we’re providing, so they’re truly essential.
So there you have it. Personalization, personas, path, process, and performance — the five Ps as we like to call them — are what form the basis of our content strategy at IBM. They’ve allowed us to run a highly successful content marketing program at massive scale, though I’m confident the same principles apply no matter what size your organization may be.