Content Curation vs. Thought Leadership: What’s the Difference?

I came across a Forbes post by Pawan Deshpande, CEO of Curata, published last month. 

In it he offers 4 interesting reasons why he sees content curation heading mainstream.  In a nutshell, Deshpande finds:

1) The explosion of content on the Internet from online and social publishers has created vast quantity at the cost of quality.  Buyers/searchers need help sorting the wheat from the chaff.

2) Curating content creates trust because you aren’t only talking about yourself.

3) Good, relevant content helps win the battle for first-page results on Google.

4) People rely on social media as a resource for the most timely and relevant information. (However, see #1 above.)

Of course, as recent MIT-grad turned chief executive of a start-up focused on content aggregation tools, he would like us to believe that 400 marketers can’t be wrong, and content curation is the next big thing in marketing.  Growing interest in destinations like Pinterest certainly support his view that finding, organizing and sharing online content is an important component of any content marketing strategy.

Many B2B marketers look at content curation as a way to develop a bounty of information that attracts potential buyers like flies. They justify the effort by saying “we curate content to help establish us as thought leaders in… <Fill in the blank.>”  The research Deshpande promotes reinforces this objective by explaining, “85 percent of the survey group said that establishing thought leadership was their main content curation objective.”

However, I found it more interesting that two people commented on the post — Craig Badings and Dr. Liz Alexander – and argued that, while collecting content may be a necessary step to establishing thought leadership, the activity becomes irrelevant if the curator does not apply some interesting or meaningful insight to the work.  A good librarian can point you to the right book, document, etc.  A great curator can tell you the story behind each item and why you should care about it.

This is an important lesson for B2B marketers to learn: content curation is not a substitute for an interesting or provocative point of view. If you need to grow content volume by sharing relevant information in demand generation and marketing programs, start by narrowing your target audience and focusing on the content that helps prospects and clients solve a particular, meaningful problem. 

How do you do this?  Here are some ideas: Get your internal experts — customer support, professional services, consultants, etc. — to share tips and secrets-to-success in a blog, video, or article.  Develop stories that help buyers learn something interesting about who your company is, and what you stand for, without “selling” to them. Bottomline: turning content curation into thought leadership requires focus and being thoughtful about what you choose to feature. It also requires you to engage your internal thought leaders — real or manufactured — in the conversation.

At Xerox, I am part of a group that plans to take our first steps in the direction of using content curation to forge a shared belief — with our customers, partners and industry authorities — that Xerox can be your trusted partner in the health care industry. We want to use this activity to help spread the word about the many things we do to help providers, hospitals, health insurers, employers and state/local governments deal with the rising cost of healthcare and the lack of accessibilty for many.  We will take cues from American Express OPEN Forum for small businesses, the GE Healthy Outlook Blog (part of GE’s Healthymagination program), and Nokia with Nokia Connects. I hope to share what we learn from our journey as we endeavor to expand awareness around Xerox’s role in the world of health and medicine.

Why Doesn’t Marketing Automation Impact the Business?

Photo courtesy of Full Circle CRM and iStock.

Earlier this month, Gartner published its Magic Quadrant for CRM Lead Management.  Naturally, Eloqua and Marketo commanded top spots in the upper right quadrant. But a cluster of really big companies look poised to close in on them from the lower left. So marketing automation – in particular lead management — looks pretty hot. Right?

I’m not so sure.  In this report, I was struck by the second sentence in Gartner’s opening summary, which said:

Impact on revenue generation is high and satisfaction with vendors is generally strong, but organizational alignment issues continue to reduce potential impact.”

Reduce potential impact.  Ouch.  Not good.

But which organizational alignment issues does Gartner mean?  Inside the vendors studied?  No, I think Gartner is referring to organizational issues between sales and marketing

Despite growth in market size, vendor offering sophistication, and customer interest, marketing automation has yet to reach that tipping point where marketing operations (who manages automation tools and directs campaign execution) stands on equal footing to brand, PR, product promotion, collateral development and sponsorships.  Even steadfast marketing automation practitioners still suffer from fundamental concerns about how well their systems pay off – especially when marketing metrics and sales numbers don’t line up. 

I hear many marketing execs ask the following questions, which – to my mind – are symptomatic of deeper problems in the automation world perpetuated by the chronic tension between marketing activity and sales results:

  • Which campaigns actually had the most impact on deals? Which drove the most sales activity and follow up that, in turn, drove more deals?
  • How can I demonstrate Marketing’s contribution and influence on revenue? And show the executive team that money spent in Marketing is more effective at moving the top line than hiring more salespeople?
  • How can we generate more pipeline/opportunity from each campaign?  Where should I invest to do this?
  • Why don’t my reports match what Sales has in its pipeline or forecasts? Why am I always defending Marketing metrics as a result?
  • What really happened to all those leads I generated last year? What percentage went into the pipeline?  Became deals? Are still active? Require more nurturing to re-engage? Why can’t we track sales activity on a per contact basis, instead of opportunity or lead?

These questions, and others like them, speak to the continuing inability to prove and improve Marketing’s contribution to the business.  To use this technology to really get to the facts and levers that move the business — and to stand on equal footing with Sales.

Because of my longstanding interest in demand management - and the people, process and technology issues that arise when marketers undertake automation efforts – I was intrigued when a friend told me about a new business she had started to help answer these questions. As a former CMO in large and small companies, she felt these pains acutely and believes marketing execs need something more to help them understand what’s happening with campaigns, make sure marketing data adds up, drive more revenue, and plan with confidence.

I was also very honored when she asked me to join her company’s advisory board to help her shape its future.  I worked with CEO Bonnie Crater at a company called Stratify (now part of Iron Mountain) in 2000 and 2001, and am pleased to become one of her firm’s advisors.

In future blog posts, I plan to share what I’m learning about marketing automation by working with Bonnie and her company. And shed some light on the best practices that answer the questions that will move automation and operations from the marketing back office into the forefront of the business.

What Can Marketers Learn from an Innovation Powerhouse?

Courtesy of ITSMA and PARC, A Xerox Company

Xerox PARC.

The name is synonymous with “innovation”.  Since it’s founding in 1970, this research center has pumped out a wealth of ground-breaking inventions: laser printing, Ethernet, the graphical user interface (GUI), object-oriented computing, and so much more. Spun-off in 2002, PARC (as it’s known today) is squarely in the business of developing new breakthroughs in technology for commercial and government partners including Xerox.

What can a research think-tank like PARC teach B2B marketers?  Quite a bit.

Last week I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the ITSMA Marketing Leadership Forum in Napa. While CEO Dave Munn and company put together another spectacular agenda (you can review the tweet stream at #ITSMAmlf12), that they asked Lawrence Lee, PARC senior director of strategy, to talk about how to become and stay innovative was an insightful move.

Sure, I happen to enjoy office space at PARC and to hold a warm spot in my heart for this Silicon Valley institution. But let’s walk past my little biases for a minute. Lawrence’s talk was particularly relevant to B2B marketers because good CMO’s spend a lot of time collecting and sharing customer insight. By studying customer behavior and pain points, good marketers uncover non-obvious opportunities to solve problems and create new business – like researchers at PARC do.

To achieve this, Lawrence explains, it’s important to create a learning mindset in marketing where taking calculated risks is part of the culture. PARC manages research projects like a good VC or stock broker manages a portfolio of investments.  Top marketers today must also manage a portfolio of activity aimed at increasing consideration and deal opportunities.  Fundamentally, both activities are pretty similar.

Courtesy of Lawrence Lee, PARC, June 2012

In the digital age, the marketing portfolio has become quite broad. Many marketers struggle to find the right combination of program tactics that move the needle on demand creation and sales enablement.  It’s never one particular approach – like creating a Facebook page, buying the right email list, or running a world-class event or Web seminar – that brings in the prospects.  Instead, marketers make the biggest impact when they take a consistent, investment-oriented approach to engaging customer and use different elements of the marketing mix to target buyers at different stages of the purchase cycle.

Using the figure shown here, Lawrence shows how PARC categorizes projects in four distinct risk/reward profiles. This helps PARC balance its need to make new breakthroughs against the requirement to drive new business.  Marketers should take a similar approach to deciding which marketing programs to pursue and which to abandon.  The matrix of risk/reward criteria for marketing may look slightly different, but each quadrant should include activity dedicated to:

  • Core – engaging with current customers to keep them well-informed, engaged with your company, and advocating for you.
  • Next-Gen – looking for new opportunities to cross-sell or upsell current customers and continue to add value to your relationship.
  • Scouting – building awareness, consideration, and trial with net-new customers for your existing products and services.
  • Options – investigating new opportunities in break-out, brand new markets that complement where you are now.

Determining what percentage of the marketing mix to dedicate to each area is an important consideration.  I recommend you put a healthy dose in Scouting, with Core and Next-Gen following. Never completely overlook Options, however, because new opportunity is often where true growth gets started.

It was fascinating to see SAP CMO Jonathan Becher’s presentation the following morning where he showed how SAP puts the innovation portfolio concept into practice.  Based on technology from an acquired company, Jonathan demonstrated SAP’s marketing dashboard that provides an online way to view, manage, and communicate activity health across marketing programs by region. This dashboard also helps to show the impact the tracked campaigns have on the pipeline.  Whether he intended to or not, Jonathan mixed together the PARC theory with SAP practice to really make the agenda hit home.

There were many other presentations — on balancing the demand generation equation, using simulation games to get to know your buyers better, creating stories, short messages and online demonstrations to embrace the customer perspective, and navigating the uncharted waters of marketing transformation — that were equally interesting and informative. Thanks to all the great speakers and attendees at the ITSMA Marketing Leadership Forum. Your participation made it one of the premier events for me this year.

Wow! I’m a Top 25 Digital Marketer Nominee Again

Thank you, BtoB Magazine!

Oh my goodness!  I’m so humbled and thankful.  For the second year in a row, BtoB Magazine has nominated me as one of their top 25 digital marketers.

All I can say this year is “Thank you!”  I appreciate the recognition far more than I can say in words.

During the past year, I have learned a lot about marketing to an industry through a major corporate sponsorship and advertising.  Check out prior posts about the Xerox TEDMED relationship and the new Xerox corporate video to learn how we are focusing more on key industries like Healthcare to tell a holistic story in the online world.

Join me in congratulating all the other deserving nominees, including my special friends Petra Neiger, Kevin Cox, and Belinda Hudmon.

What Major Account Sales Wants from Marketing

Leads: The Center of the Sales and Marketing Disconnect

You’ve heard this story hundreds of times.

You’ve probably lived through similar situations at some time in your marketing career. I’m talking about the ages-old argument between marketing and sales.  The conversation goes something like this:

  • Marketing wants to know “what did you do with those leads we generated from <fill in the blank event or activity>?”
  • To which Sales replies, “What leads?  Oh, those leads were terrible — send us better ones.”

Despite great advances in demand management and marketing automation – where marketers can use technology to target, engage, educate, and nurture prospects long before sales gets involved – the process of developing leads has yet to change fundamentally the natural tension between those who create market awareness and interest and those who turn that desire into deals.

This week I had the occasion to attend the Marketing Leadership Board Meeting, sponsored by the IDC CMO Advisory service.  The first item on the agenda was a “voice of the sales person” session that we could have continued all day.  Held jointly with the Sales Advisory service, this panel included front line sellers from top tech firms here in Silicon Valley. We’re talking enterprise sales — folks who manage one or two major accounts that create millions of dollars in revenue each year.  This friendly discussion was intended to give marketing counterparts some perspective and feedback on how to best impact sales’ productivity and effectiveness. What resulted was some very pointed commentary that set many of the marketing operations folks in the room back on their heels.

What does marketing do to really annoy those who manage major account relationships? Here’s my paraphrased synopsis of the key points made:

1) Sales builds key relationships and marketing messes them up. Every one of these sales people felt that it was Sales’ job to develop and maintain executive relationships at key accounts.  When marketing sends unsolicited communication — that is either off-topic, redundant, or too frequent — this interferes with their ability to keep the executive-level conversations moving forward. As a result, Sales is reluctant or unwilling to share contacts with marketing so they squirrel their most important information away on smartphones and personal databases.

2) Most marketing-generated leads are still poorly qualified. Even though they agreed that it can be helpful — from an awareness and credibility perspective — to communicate with contacts outside those involved in the current deal, these sales execs believe they hold deep insight into what makes buyers tick and that marketing should just butt out of these conversations. Generating net-new leads, and asking for timely follow up, simply takes too much time away from persuading their primary decision makers.

3) Marketing helps most when it makes content look snappy and throws a great party. Executive events, sponsorships, polishing RFPs and oral presentations, and dinners at nice restaurants provide great opportunities for sales to meet with top-level clients and prospects face to face. Marketing can help put that best foot forward (as I did with the recent Xerox TEDMED sponsorship). Beyond that, Sales doesn’t see much value in the advertising, direct mail, online content, or social interaction that Marketing often leads.

So what’s a dedicated marketer to do?  Throw you arms up in frustration?  Resort to the “oh boys will be boys” attitude of marketing in the face of direct, major account sales?

No, I think if you can’t beat them, it’s time to join them.  But in a very specific way.  Marketing must work to reinforce its purpose as the revenue generation engine of the company.  In building demand ahead of the pipeline.  If major account sales doesn’t yet appreciate that Marketing can help to drive the business in this manner, then it’s time to:

1) Find the parts of the business that can benefit from qualified lead generation. OK, major accounts may not (yet) see the benefit of marketing communication directed at the parts of the account that don’t yet know about your company and its products and services.  So work with the new logo/business development folks.  Channel partners are always hungry for net-new lead opportunities.  Look for small teams offering specific solutions or addressing specific markets (like healthcare or higher education.)  Showing that marketing can have an impact is the primary goal.  And major accounts may not be the first place to start.

2) Put sales in control of the demand generation process — in their accounts.  Many refer to this as account-based marketing, but the guiding principle is the same – develop demand generation and customer communication programs that target a specific audience.  Whether industry or role focused, programs that progress a buyer through a specific set of educational or business problem resolution steps can help sales people attract the interest of new buyers by delivering interesting, relevant content instead of promotional messages.

3) Double down on marketing/business centric metrics. The best way to demonstrate that marketing can truly help sales develop new opportunities or progress current deals is to measure your impact on the pipeline and the business. Marketing dashboards, reports, and portals that reflect the same business issues that Sales cares about it the way to start.

Will marketing and sales ever see eye-to-eye with sales?  I see many smaller to mid-size companies achieve this goal today.  But large, enterprise firms — with a long history of sales-centric operations, direct account coverage models, and professional sales processes — will take a longer time to develop this appreciation.

Thanking TEDMED Delegates for an Inspiring Event

TEDMED and Xerox Thank Delegates for an Inspiring 2012 Event

How do you leave an impression with over 1700 attendees of TEDMED that is both surprising and personal? Between two and three weeks after the extraordinary event that was TEDMED 2012 concluded, participants received a large, sleek black envelop in the mail. In it came a simple quote, suitable for framing, that speaks to the spirit and inspiration that is at the center of all of  TEDMED.

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out.  It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being.  We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.”  — Albert Schweitzer

Cosponsored by TEDMED, Xerox sent this art object to delegates as a way to say “thank you” for being a part of this year’s event and for adding their voice to the thousands of discussions and debates that made TEDMED an immersive, engrossing, and utterly captivating experience.  The quote was wrapped in crisp, white linen which carried a small, personal message to each recipient.

Getting to this result was both gratifying and exhausting. The experience taught me a lot about what inspires me and how the path to inspiration is not always smooth and straight.   Here’s a quick synopsis — and a little “behind-the-scenes” look — at how Xerox, through its fantastic partnership with TEDMED and our creative agency, Pappas MacDonnell, iterated through this process:

1) February: TEDMED plans to hold a Sponsor Celebration Party on the last evening, Thursday, April 12th, at the National Building Museum. Total number of attendees may reach 1,500 and Xerox would like to present each guest with a small gift/favor as they depart the Gala that will leave a positive lasting impression of Xerox.

2) Criteria: Gift should provide a human touch and evoke an emotional reaction. Gift should not require elaborate assembly. It should be consumable or easily portable with a reasonable price point. It must require the recipient to interact with it.

3) The intended experience: Imagine 6 to 10 ambassadors lined up at the exit area hand out the gift, bid each guest a fond farewell, thank them for attending, and personally hand them a token of appreciation. The overall experience is genuine, warm, gracious. It’s an end to a wonderful evening; the gift is a reminder of the time spent together. (Note, while this sounds great, it did not happen as planned.)

4) First round: Agency selected a number of whimsical, packaged food items to meet the above criteria. As TEDMED’s gala plans evolved, we found that early gift selections competed with the extravagant desserts designed for the event. Late in March, we scrub the food gift item and go for something that combines art and experience. We also want an item that we can hand out at the end of the evening. We selected the Schweitzer quote – that also appeared in the TEDMED brochure — as the centerpiece of the experience.

5) Conclusion: Logistical problems prevail and we decide to send the art/gift after TEDMED concludes.  We also decide to add the matte/frame and to make the item of sufficient size so that it doesn’t get overlooked in the mail room.  The result is what you see in the image above.  There were countless other steps required to design and approve the artwork, color selections, embossing, packaging materials, mailing lists,  and postage costs! 

The result, we hope, is a surprising and inspiring touch from Xerox that shows all TEDMED delegates how honored we were to join them this year, add our voice to the conversation about the future of health and medicine and show how we intend to engage in the dialogue going forward. Anecdotally, we heard positive responses from those who received the gift.  If you received one, post a comment here to tell me about it. Were you surprised?  Inspired?  Did you hang it on your wall?  Let me know.

A Solid Communication Platform? TEDMED Ad Shows How It Works

2012 Xerox Corporation – All rights reserved.

As the Xerox mistress of TEDMED last month, I learned a few lessons about how a strong communication platform can help create a distinctive brand voice that delivers a consistent brand message. The Xerox TEDMED 2012 program advertisement (shown here, since it only appeared in print during the conference) had one simple objective: convey our support, in a thoughtful sponsorship message, for the event and its purpose. 

While creating a “proud sponsor of” message may sound easy enough to accomplish, several other communication objectives come into play when deciding exactly how this ad should look and what it should say. The ad also illustrates what a solid communication platform can do to inform a campaign and why communication platforms are an important prerequisite to any marketing program.  A bit of background may be helpful before sharing what I learned from working with the Xerox team and our agency on this ad.

“Ready for Real Business” is what we call the Xerox master brand communication platform. It’s not a tagline, but a platform that tells customers what we do and what we provide – technology and services that help you manage your business functions better so you can focus on what you do best, your core business. It defines the rational or emotional territory that the brand intends to own over time. It forms the foundation for how we act, sound, and look in all internal and external communications. It frames how we do this in a consistent manner while providing the flexibility for each product and field marketing function to accomplish its goals.

While this simplifies the process a bit, to activate the platform you must answer three key questions:

  • What do customers do? What is truly core to their business?
  • How does Xerox help our customers do this?
  • How do our customers benefit as a result?

How well does the TEDMED 2012 ad accomplish this and meet the requirements of the communication platform? Pretty well, I think.  (Special thanks to Jason Bartlett here at Xerox, and the Roberts Communication team, for all their hard work that really hit the mark on this ad.) Here’s how I see it address each of the three key questions:

1) What’s core to the business of healthcare? — “Caring for people is the real business of health care.”
2) How do we help do this? — “…by working behind the scenes to free up resources and simplify the way people work.”
3) How do customers benefit? — “… ensure they have more freedom to deliver the level of care that everyone deserves.” (The last question/answer also supports the key TEDMED theme of exploring how to make the future of health and medicine happen today.)

Through the image and headline, the ad also creates a connection between a diverse audience of practitioners, medical students, entrepreneurs, public officials, educators, researchers, and administrators and Xerox, a company with a serious commitment to the healthcare industry. Rather than stethoscopes and scrubs, we picked an image that is medical but ambiguous — he could be a physician, researcher or other healthcare professional. However, he is someone intent on his activity and serious about what he is doing. Alignment between audience and message was really key here and hard to do when you bring other factors — like art selection with unlimited rights at a reasonable cost — into play. The headline is straightforward in its attempt to connect Xerox to the TEDMED audience by saying “Just like you, we’re here to make things better.”

The key lesson for me is about using language and imagery to evoke an emotional response, and how to do this while getting a message across that fits the parameters of a very specific communication platform — one intent on preserving the integrity of the Xerox brand. I have to confess, I’m an old product marketer. I’m all about the facts and getting straight to the point.  Isn’t that what B2B marketing is all about?

Who needs emotion to do that?

I think the ad demonstrates a beautiful answer to the question. It shows how you can deliver a message (Xerox is proud to sponsor TEDMED with a passionate commitment to the healthcare industry) in a simple, elegant manner that creates a warm, human bond with the reader. It’s a lot for one little ad to accomplish, and it think it does it quite nicely. I also think its a lesson more B2B marketers could learn: how to connect with prospects and buyers in a way that goes beyond jargon and hype to show how you really can help customers improve their business.


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