This week Chris interviews the Chief Marketing Officer at Caf, Vanita Pandey. We’ll uncover the secrets to successful content campaigns, dissect the pitfalls of content that misses the mark, and explore the ever-evolving role of generative AI in content creation. 

Vanita shares her valuable perspective on the nuances of content strategy, offering a unique viewpoint on how to adapt and thrive in a content-driven world. From her thoughts on leveraging data-driven insights to create high-converting content to her take on the true impact of generative AI, Vanita challenges conventional wisdom and offers a fresh perspective on the future of content marketing.

So, whether you’re a content marketer looking for innovative strategies or simply curious about the ever-changing world of content creation, this episode is sure to provide you with valuable insights.

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Hello Vanita and welcome to the show. I’m so excited that you’re here!

Thank you Chris, great to be here!

The best part about season four of WordBirds is that it’s “Friends of the Bird,” it’s people that I’m personally friends with. I’m thrilled to have you here. I’ve known you for a while. I know that what we’re going to talk about is going to be super interesting. 

So let’s go ahead and start with a quick fire, set the stage for what we’re gonna talk about today. Three questions, quick answers. What’s your best and most successful content campaign?

We did one where we took concepts that people knew and created the periodic table of something, Maslow’s hierarchy of something. So that was very, very successful.

Cool. What is the worst content campaign you’ve ever done?

We did this really deep technical content, the “ultimate guides,” and they didn’t get as many downloads as I was expecting.

Of the two, which one taught you more?

I think the second one was definitely a lot of insights, right? We went in and dug in. It made us think through it like this: If there’s no download, is it because the subject line was bad, the description was bad, or the content itself was bad? But how would they know that the content is bad if they haven’t downloaded it? So there was like a lot of marketing, thought-provoking discussions that it led to. And we came out better across the board by analyzing that.

I think it’s interesting because I think a lot of B2B software companies and B2B software marketers think that technical content, based on the persona that you’re selling to, is going to resonate because we’re all out here trying to find the most technical content we can read. And when that content doesn’t hit home, it creates an interesting question as to why don’t they want to know more? This is an audience that cares, right?

What did you find when you set out to diagnose the issue with that?

I think it was. I was a purist before that, I didn’t like those clickbait-y titles. Now I’m all for them. Like the “top five things everyone is missing.” Like you would be missing out on something if you didn’t do that. So I think the title became a big aspect of why someone would click on your email. You really need to look at the metric. 

The other point is if technical content looks like a PDF — I think the world has changed. People want to consume content differently. And they may not have the time to read the technical stuff you’ve written. And so that became one of the lessons that we got: It has to be snackable, so to speak. And then there’s a place and time for deep technical stuff where they read about all that matters, but it just needs to be packaged in a certain way.

Just thinking about some of the things that we did in my last company that were very, very technical versus when we moved in a different direction. We were selling to, at the time, DevOps and mobile cloud testing. The idea was “don’t let bugs get you down.” And the whole campaign was built around bugs, like actual bugs. We would ship people boxes full of gummy bugs and plastic bugs. The technical documentation versus the bug box: The bug box did better. 

Making that change and figuring out what your content strategy is going to be from time to time is the continuum. There are core values that will stay the same, but there are things that'll evolve. Click To Tweet

That’s the type of thing that drives a campaign and it’s actionable. Nobody’s searching for your content because they want to know about your company. They’re searching for answers to questions. That snackable content that you talk about that solves the problem individually. Like “boom, I just learned something that I’m going to use tomorrow at work.” How we’re solving a problem is the most impactful content we can be delivering to a technical audience.

Yes and as you were describing, there’s certain pieces. The bug content was something that induced an action, whereas the detailed technical content is probably not as overt in what it does. The person who’s reading it’s someone who’s trying to consume information, it might not result in them taking a call. But like I said, it has its place and it adds value.

It’s necessary in the funnel especially. It’s helping move deals along. But, the things that capture the interest at the beginning are: “five big things that blah, blah.”

Exactly. In my previous company, we did bot detection. I did want to write, “I like big bots and I cannot lie”. And that was shot down by the team. I think that would have done well.

It would have gotten interesting. The top blog article I’ve ever been involved with, and I would never say that I wrote it, May Steinberg wrote it, she was an intern at the time, was why enterprise mobile application development is like Angry Birds. It was phenomenal. It got like a million reads. It was the most viral thing that I’ve ever been near. And it was our intern. And she just wrote this fantastic article. But it was a thing in a moment in time and it was clickbait and people got it. It was amazing. I miss content like that. That would be great.

I think it’s about taking something that’s happening and then tying it to something that people care about. I don’t even know the article, but I’m gonna go back and read it. 

Absolutely. You see it in your emails and you’re like, “well, I’m not going to delete it. I probably won’t read it right now, but I’m not gonna delete it and I’ll come back to that.” And that’s where the magic starts to happen. 

From your most successful campaign, what’d you learn there?

So I think people, and this goes back to your Angry Birds comment too, want association, something that they know, or something that makes them feel smart. Because people are looking for association, they want to look for something that ratifies their belief in themselves, makes them feel good, and is educational. 

So we did a periodic table of digital identity. Now everybody who’s gone to school has struggled through, enjoyed, or has memories of the periodic table. But it’s actually something that’s so fundamental to being a student that when we did a periodic table of digital identity everybody technical was like “I really get it.” Or we did a Maslow’s Hierarchy on the building blocks of a fraud detection solution. 

What's the content that makes generative AI useful? It's not Wikipedia. It's not Reddit. It's not Twitter. That doesn't make it useful. That makes it dangerous. Click To Tweet

So again, bringing something that has context that people understand and then tying it back to something that they want to learn. I think it makes the consumption easy, right? So, at one point in time, we were thinking about doing something around Game of Thrones before the last two episodes really messed it up for us. But, creating the “house of houses” would have been a good way to do that. 

I think it’s just about finding relatable concepts and building content around it so it doesn’t sound boring, dreary, and old. It’s interesting and educational.

Well, especially when you’re creating content in just a constant cycle. There’s always going to be something new, there’s always a new demand, and you just fall into this cycle of creation. How do you, when you look at that from a content organization standpoint, come to terms with that idea of constant need? Where does that fall in your strategy?

The constant need to create materials and be relevant?

Demand and relevance and all of that.

I think that it’s about really understanding what it is that we want to tell. What are the messages? This is something that you taught me about the value drivers and building stuff around that, in one of our conversations. Figure out what the value drivers are that you want to communicate. How do you tie that to what your audience is looking for? And how do you constantly create materials that will help them do their job better? 

At the end of the day, I always say that we’re creating enablement content. You’re enabling your champion, your customer, your prospect to really be able to sell your product internally and make them be better at their job. What are the pieces of information that we can create that can help them get promoted, help them sound better, help them have a more educated conversation with their peers? So bringing those pieces together. 

I think there’s a lot of noise in the market. So, a good piece of content will stand the test of time. But I think there’s so much noise that there’s the need to balance volume with quantity. You need to keep pushing out content, but also make sure that you aren’t compromising in quality. And it’s not content that people just push out for the sake of pushing out.

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

I think now more than ever with the volume of content that’s dripping into the marketplace because of generative AI, it makes standing out even more challenging, right? Because for every one content piece that somebody actually sits down and writes with their pen or keyboard, there’s another 15 pieces of content that nobody wrote and it’s not great, but it’s usable. 

So how do you stand out with the best content, get that best content in front of people and make that content actionable and drive pipeline? Drive middle of the funnel progression, drive closing of deals when your audience is being flooded with content on a day-to-day basis?

I think that’s the piece, right? It’s so beautifully written, the generative AI, and then you dig in and realize that it has super objective laden sentences that we all hate and then it has data that you may or may not be able to validate. And I think that’s where content governance becomes really important. You can either use a tool or just do it yourself, because you want to be the trusted authority on what you’re saying, right? 

So again, the piece is to really understand what it is that your audience needs, right? “Five slides that every CSO needs in their board deck.” That’s very provocative, but is it educational? Is it going to help them do their stuff better? And if you can leverage generative AI to help with your content strategy, that’s great. I think making generative AI the content strategy isn’t going to work as a long-term strategy.

No. I think everybody was very concerned in the first couple of weeks that, “oh my God, we’re all going to get sent home.” It doesn’t appear that we’re there yet.

One of the things that I did last week that I thought was really cool was I taught ChatGPT about a set of value props. And then I asked, looking at our ICP and our personas, what are the challenges that keep this persona up at night when it comes to content creation. 

If you can leverage generative AI to help with your content strategy, that's great. I think making generative AI the content strategy isn’t going to work as a long-term strategy. Click To Tweet

It gave me a bunch of things, and those things were interesting. I don’t think it was super subjective. They were things that seemed fairly objective and usable. It also didn’t look like there was room for it to have a bunch of hallucinations. I didn’t ask it for data, I just asked it for some thoughts. And then I said, based on the things that I taught you, how do we help with these challenges? 

It was able to parse through all the information that I taught it and give me talking points for each of these challenges that it identified. That’s a really interesting way to create cadence emails for your BDR team. That’s an interesting way to build some sales enablement to have better conversations. But it needs, at the beginning of that, people to create the content that’s going to become the derivatives. 

So, I need to teach it and tell it all this information. It doesn’t know how I’m positioning what I’m talking about and what I would provide as fuel to overlay on top of the challenges. And even if it did think it knew, I don’t want it to guess. Because to your point, it’s just guessing. I want it to know from me. And that’s where this all comes together with what’s the content that makes generative AI useful? It’s not Wikipedia. It’s not Reddit. It’s not Twitter. That doesn’t make it useful. That makes it dangerous.

That’s really interesting. My relationship with generative AI is like that of an employee that has a lot of talent, but needs to be told exactly what needs to be done. So you can’t rely on it to do stuff. You have to constantly be putting ideas in there. So there’s that piece that’s out there. 

I do believe that over time, if it’s not already happening, just as companies have emails that come out and say, “this looks spammy,” “this looks computer generated,” right? If that happens, how do you trust the data? So I think going into that drug side, generative AI is like addiction to the phone and all of that stuff, but you just need to have some checks and balances and make sure that you’re not completely relying on that. 

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It’s a great tool. LinkedIn is filled with, “how can marketers leverage generative AI?” One of the things we’re doing is we have a webinar series that’s about humans versus AI. So we’re taking a topic and we’re researching on ChatGPT, and saying, “okay, KYC, these are the five things ChatGPT says we should do on KYC” and then I’m having experts agree and disagree. And you see that there’s some disagreement, right? Human intuition is really key here.

Oh, absolutely. I hope so. Unless I can just own all the robots and rent them out, maybe that’s a thing. But for right now, I definitely see a pathway for humans to continue to be a big part of this process because computers don’t know.

Computers don’t know and you can’t rely on computers to know. That’s what it comes down to.

So looking at my notes, in your preinterview, you talked about something called “the Continuum of Content Strategy.” That’s a very interesting little nugget of words. What’s “the Continuum of Content Strategy?”

When you’re a startup and a B2B startup, there’s a journey and growth that you go through as a marketing team, right? And your content strategy evolves and should evolve at every stage. 

So when you’re early on, you just want the right content and you want to get as much content together as you can. Maybe you want to build your website. Maybe you want to build SEO-like content. Maybe you want to just get your name out there and your content strategy in one piece. There’s no right or wrong answer. Maybe you don’t have enough people and you rely more on the generative AI, so to speak. 

It's so beautifully written, the generative AI, and then you dig in and realize that it has super objective laden sentences that we all hate and then it has data that you may or may not be able to validate. And I think that's where content governance… Click To Tweet

Then over time, you get to a place where you’re now segmenting. You have products. You’re trying to go after a different customer base. You have these value drivers and your content strategy evolves. And then you get to the next stage where now you’ve really well known in the marketplace and people are coming. You’re the platform of choice for people to binge on content. Then you need to have a different set of content. You may get more collaborative. You may produce more data driven content. 

One of the pieces of content that has done really well for me is a report based on the data that we see regardless of where you are. Which are, what are the key trends? For example men from Brazil are more likely to be victims of identity fraud than women. So all of these data points that you can create become content.

To me, there’s a continuum and as a marketer, we need to be aware of where you are in the journey as a B2B company and what’s the best strategy for your goals. The goals can also be different. A lot of companies just want their brand out there. A lot of companies are now trying to use content to do precise demand gen campaigns. You’re trying to get people to raise their hands, get a demo request. So again, that’s where I talk about the continuum and it’s going to evolve. It’s going to be different from month to month. 

But every quarter we look at our strategy and say, “listen, we’ve got to fill up the wardrobe with basic pieces of garments. We don’t have workout clothes, whatever.” You’re getting the wardrobe together. So we’re just plugging gaps. And then the next quarter, you’re like, “I really need to refine it. I need to hone in on my style.” Just making that change and figuring out what your content strategy is going to be from time to time is the continuum. There are core values that will stay the same, but there are things that’ll evolve.

Interesting. You said a lot there. There’s so much that I want to dig into. I think one of the things you talked about is the data pieces that you’re creating. And you talk specifically about facts in that data like men are more apt to be victims of identity crime than women in Brazil. To me that kind of content isn’t just awareness content. Like, “hey, we have interesting ideas, you should know us as a company, CAF is an interesting business.” It’s also middle of the funnel, deal-driver content. Because you can sit down with a prospect and say, “let’s talk about who you do business with, and let’s look at the realities of the risks that are associated with your audience.” And you can see deals move forward, grow, and see the average sale price go up over time as a result of that kind of content marketing. 

There's always going to be something new, there's always a new demand, and you just fall into this cycle of creation. Click To Tweet

It’s a thing that I don’t think a lot of content marketers think about because we spend so much time talking about the creation of this interesting, actionable content that’s going to drive awareness of the business, generate leads, get clicks, be turned into webinars and email content, it’s all super interesting. 

But, that piece of content is something that your seller can sit down with a prospect and say, “you sell to the highest risk audience that we track in our data.” Like this is what our product should look like inside your business. And all of a sudden you go from being the folks in the business that are creating stories and colors, to the part of the business that is specifically driving the growth of your revenue. That’s really interesting.

That’s spot on. What it also does is if you get a data driven report, you can do PR campaigns around it too. We were on TV in Brazil, talking about some of the data points because it becomes something to pitch. It also starts to establish the company as an authority because you have insights in the market, you have all of these customers. 

I always joke that if you torture data long enough, it will tell you whatever you want it to hear. There’s value in being able to analyze the data and tell the story that’s additive to the company or the strategy you wanna pursue that quarter, that year.

Yes, absolutely. And speaking of things that you always say, the last segment of the show, PSOTD, that’s “The Provocative Statement of the Day.” It’s a thing that you believe, that you don’t think everybody believes, that you think might be controversial, and that would start a conversation with folks in the street and maybe get people angry. What’s your PSOTD?

So one of the things that people have said is that generative AI is going to democratize and level the playing field when it comes to content creation. I completely disagree. I think it’s going to further the divide between a good content marketer and a not so good content marketer.

I like that. I think that’s 100 percent true because you can be that organization where you’re like: “I know how to save some money. Let’s send content home and we’re just going to use this neat whiz bang tool and we’re going to create content on our own.” Versus the company that doesn’t send content home that continues to create good engaging content that drives awareness, middle of the funnel, closes deals. That’s a real divide. 

I think it's just about finding relatable concepts and building content around it so it doesn't sound boring, dreary, and old. It’s interesting and educational. Click To Tweet

How many content creators will go in and tell ChatGPT to analyze the data and take the value proposition. I think the same tool is going to really differentiate the lazy content writers. 

Absolutely, write me a report on this topic and then publish it. The problem that I have with all of this is: The promise of generative AI is that you’re going to be able to create more content. Okay, I hear your value. I disagree because to your point, okay, let’s send all those people home and let’s just ask it to write a report on a topic, whatever that might be. 

So let’s say I want to write a thing on content governance. It’s going to be good for one, maybe two pieces of content that are going to be moderately effective, but only because it’s using what my content writers already wrote because I’m the only one that’s writing about it. So it’s using our content that’s out in the world and eventually it’s going to age out of that. 

The other problem with it is that I can make five, 10, 15 times as much content. Who’s left to copy edit all this? Or are you just going to trust this thing to put it out in the world? So you’re moving a problem, the writing, to a new problem, the editing of bulk content, content at scale.

Exactly and it’s going to be harder because they don’t have insight into what’s being written.

Right, so I’m looking at this and it looks plausible, it’s probably true. Should we run this? Sure, run it. And then you put it out in the world and it damages your brand because it’s completely wrong and somebody, not even trying to be a jerk, just reads it and is like, “oh, this isn’t right.” And now you’re the company that’s churning out misinformation into the market. 

It’s not that it’s not there, it’s that this sort of solution doesn’t work without oversight, without governance, without initial content. All of those things have to come together to make this a valuable tool. If you have source content that you’ve written that you trust, could you create derivatives? Five times the number of derivatives from your source content? Yes, you can. But it had to come from you. And you also still need to read it. Because it’s going to make all these spurious connections. I think this thing and this thing are on the same page. They must be the same. They’re not.

It’s sourcing data and it doesn’t know whether the data source is accurate or not. And I think this is where the concept of governance is going to expand beyond just “are we saying the right thing?’ But also “are we saying the right thing, the right way, is the source incorrect, is it copied from somewhere else?” The fact that it could be accurate, but if people were to find out that you didn’t even write it, there are tools that will tell you that it’s 100 percent AI generated. I think that’s a problem as well.

People want association, something that they know, or something that makes them feel smart. Because they're looking for association, they want to look for something that ratifies their belief in themselves, makes them feel good, and is educational. Click To Tweet

Oh, we’ve spent so much time and you’ve already talked about trying to write content specific to an audience. Like I’m trying to target this directly at the people that I care about selling to. Then you tell a computer to do that and then those people that you care about get that content and see that you don’t know shit about what they’re doing. How does that benefit, like the benefit of not writing it, sure. But the negative of creating content that not only doesn’t resonate, but turns off your target audience because of potential ignorance of the computer or whatever it could be. 

It’s not that it’s not there, it’s not that solution. That’s the difference. There’s a lot that it can do, but it can’t just be told to write content and leave it at that, that’s not the answer.

I thought I was very, very smart. I told ChatGPT to write a book for my five-year-old in the tone of a kid’s book that she likes. And so the first book, my kid was okay. The second, she doesn’t want to read it. A five-year-old has realized that it’s boring. Because it’s written well, right? But, it doesn’t have the ingenuity of a human who’s written the book for a five-year-old. It’s a chapter book, but I think this is one of the tests where things need to get better.

No, absolutely. It’s going to use the same framework. So it’s going to be the same. She’s going to recognize the same story that’s changed from a princess, to a prince, to a cat, but it’s the same story. 

Excellent. Vanita, I’m so glad that you were here today. This was so much fun. Thank you for being on the show.

Thank you so much for having me, Chris!

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Charlotte Baxter-Read

is a Communications and Content Manager at Acrolinx, bringing over three years of experience in content creation, strategic communications, and public relations. Additionally, Charlotte is the Executive Producer of the WordBirds podcast — sponsored by Acrolinx. She holds a Master’s degree from the John F. Kennedy Institute, at Freie Universität Berlin, and a Bachelor's degree from Royal Holloway, University of London. Charlotte, along with the Acrolinx Marketing Team, won a Silver Stevie Award at the 18th Annual International Business Awards® for Marketing Department of the Year. She's a passionate reader, communicator, and avid traveler in her free time.