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Why Strategy Should Always Come Before Content

Why Strategy Should Always Come Before Content

Rebecca Lieb, a well-known analyst, author, and advisor. She shares her thoughts on content marketing and strategy in this episode of the Salesforce Marketing Cloudcast.

From marketers to brand managers, bloggers to news outlets, content developers are publishing an incredible amount of content. And this content is being created in a host of different mediums, including video, images, social media, even old-fashioned print advertising.

But what does the convergence of all this media mean? How does it affect your company’s relationship with its customers or its service management experience? It all begins with strategy, says Rebecca Lieb, a well-known analyst, author, and advisor. She shares her thoughts on content marketing and strategy in this episode of the Salesforce Marketing Cloudcast.

(Full Podcast Transcript)

JB: Well, hello again, ladies and gentlemen. Joel Book here at Salesforce, welcoming you to another great episode of the Marketing Cloudcast. One of the favorite things that Heike Young and I have the opportunity to do here, as all of you know by now, is showcase many of the really bright minds and real visionaries in digital marketing. And today you guys are in for a real treat because we have a longtime of ours here at Salesforce. And to introduce you to her, I’m going to turn it over to my friend and colleague, Heike Young.

HY: Thank you, Joel. Folks, I’m Heike Young of Salesforce, and today’s guest is Rebecca Lieb. Rebecca is an analyst, author, and advisor. And she researches content marketing, content strategy, and digital marketing. Previously, she was analyst at Altimeter Group, and she launched and oversight Econsultancy’s U.S. operations. Rebecca was also VP and editor-in-chief of the ClickZ Network, so you probably saw some of her work there. And folks, if you’re in marketing and you read a decent number of research reports or data-heavy articles, I can pretty much guarantee that you have encountered Rebecca’s work. She also is the person who came up with one of my favorite content marketing analogies. It’s that Thanksgiving turkey analogy where you slice up a single big piece of content into many smaller pieces, just like you would a turkey or Tofurky, if you’re like me. I talk about this all the time, and I have Rebecca to thank for that. So, Rebecca, welcome to the Cloudcast.

RL: Thank you so much for the welcome. It’s delightful to be with both of you, Heike and Joel. And yes, sometimes, I fear that turkey epitaph is going to be what’s written on my tombstone [laughter].

Before Content Marketing, There’s Content Strategy

JB: Yes, it’s popular but it’s good. I like it. So, Rebecca, you’ve been doing this research for a long time on content marketing, converged media of all kinds. Do you still think that companies are lacking just the basics of content marketing when you out there in the world?

RL: What I see when I look out there in the world is an alarming number of companies that are committing content marketing without first grounding themselves in content strategy. And this is something that we see over and over when there are new marketing channels, new marketing tactics we saw when social media was born. We’ve got to have a Facebook presence, [we] rushed to establish something without really figuring out why are we doing this, what are we trying to achieve, how are we going to sustain it, what kind of resources do we need? According to my research, as well as the Content Marketing Institute and other sources, some 70 per cent of organizations don’t have a content strategy, even though pretty close to a 100 per cent of organizations are committing content these days. So my goal is to get everybody to be thinking about this strategically and to start thinking about how content fits into the paid, owned, and earned media universe. Because content isn’t just your blog. Content is everything in marketing. Without content, you just have blank squares and rectangles where those display ads should be and nothing on your social presence whatsoever.

JB: Why has this become such an obstacle, Rebecca, for so many brands? We’re a long way down the path in terms of content marketing. A previous guest here at the Marketing Cloudcast, someone that you know very well, Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute, has talked about, obviously—the point that you just made—content is everything, content is king. And we see so many examples. You only need to look at something like Amex OPEN Forum. That’s probably one of the real great content marketing successes of our generation. So with all of this tremendous background and examples of companies that are really leveraging content so well, why does it continue to be such an obstacle for companies? Why is there this gap?

RL: There are several reasons. First, we’re in a bit of an oxymoronic situation, in which content marketing became very popular in recent years because digital media have democratized content. My father and my grandfather were filmmakers back in the day when everybody hadn’t yet gone to NYU film school. Films were highly expensive to make, highly technically demanding, and only people who really understood filmmaking could make films. Now, everybody listening to these podcast has got a device probably in their pocket right now, in the form of a smartphone, that can create video. So I think there was this rush to content initially because it was so cheap and cheap means—we heard a lot about, “Oh, everybody should have a blog, and you can hire an out of work journalist to blog for you. They’re a dime a dozen.”—but content is getting more sophisticated and getting more demanding. It’s like that truism that we heard 20 years ago, “Get your smart nephew who’s 15 to build your website.” Those were the kids who knew how to do it then, but the game has changed, [it’s] really upped in the past few years.

A Tactical Outlook

JB: I think it really has upped in the last few years, and the question to you is what role has social media played in—two things, Rebecca—social media and blogging, in terms of really leading to this proliferation and, I think, a much better way for brands to be able to get content published. I look at outlets like LinkedIn, for example, obviously, having well established itself as a place where business-to-business firms, like Salesforce, regularly publish content that creates much more awareness for the solutions that we provide. Blogging has become incredibly powerful. You’ve literally had a front row seat to watch the evolution of content, both from a publishing and a distribution standpoint. When you look back on it and now also look forward, where do you feel brands really need to get better focused in terms of really using content much more strategically and tactically?

RL: It’s funny, Joel, I actually chaired the first conference ever on blogging as a marketing tool, back in about 2002 I think it was, so yeah you’re right. I’ve got a front row seat, almost longer than I care to admit. But I think what’s going on, in addition to this—content has been democratized, it’s cheaper to produce—is at the same time, and this is a topic that I’ve done research on, there’s this demand for near real-time content. Just as the news cycle is 24/7, so too do brands feel under the gun to continually produce content, to continually be in dialogue with customers, whether it’s on Skype, on Facebook, or on other social channels, and also to continually see these channels with new types of content. And brands aren’t publishers, yet they’re being asked to think like publishers.

RL: In addition, very, very, very few brands have actual content divisions. I’ve done research on how enterprises are organizing for content. Some of my peers say that the solution to this is to hire a chief content officer. They’ll take care of the whole workflow problem and your cares will be a thing of the past, which would be true [in] organizations in a position to engage new seat-level executives. In the world that I and most people live in, that’s a very, very difficult hire to make. So when I see this call for content coming up in organizations, we need a strategy, we need process, we need personnel. It’s first and foremost from exactly what you said, the social media department, because this group is under pressure to create the most content at the most frequent cadence.

RL: Secondarily, it comes from PR communications, because they, too, are under the gun to keep producing content. Content production in social channels and in owned media channels isn’t this luxurious eight-week campaign flight where every single movement and nuance of the campaign has planned out. It can be very often a little bit seat-of-the-pants even with careful planning. So this really does require new skill sets, new technologies, new technology integrations, and new vendor and agency relationships.

Experience Matters

HY: Rebecca, I hear what you’re saying and totally agree, and I think a lot of times when people talk about content production, they think of writing and they think, “Oh, I have to be a great writer. I have to write these bylines or ebooks or white papers if I’m in B2B written blog posts,” for example. But there’s a lot of content out there that takes place beyond the screen, and increasingly, we’re seeing more of this experiential-type content whether it is something in VR, whether it’s something location-based. Talk to us about some of your research, some of your findings around some of these more connected experiences that are still—really, it’s a form of content.

RL: You’re so correct, Heike. I actually did research it about three years ago and asked very senior marketing executives at very major companies like American Express and Nestle and GM, “What content channels are you going to be using in three to five years time, and what are you going to be abandoning?” And they almost unanimously said anything involving the written word was going down and anything involving video or audio-video, audio-visual imagery was on the ascent. And the reason for that is very clear, we’re in an increasingly mobile world, and I always like to say nobody wants to read War and Peace on their iPhone or on Facebook. Every time they redesign their site, they redesign around the visual, they redesign around emphasizing images over words.

HY: And now you have a social network like Snapchat that is entirely video-based, hardly any text at all.

RL: And Periscope and Instagram and Tumblr, the list goes on and on and on. So we are becoming a society in which a picture is worth literally a thousand words. But I’m also seeing—and this is the topic of the research that I’m working on now, I hope to have it published before the end of the summer—a more connected world is happening. So content is generated not just through these images but through interactions that we’re having with things. I’m calling this and I would love to hear your listeners’ reaction to this new appellation because all we need is a new industry term, but I have to call this something. I’m looking at what I like to call connected campaigns and connected content.

RL: In digital marketing, we’ve always talked about the right message to the right person at the right time. I’m seeing that equation blown out to really touch the Ws of journalism, and I’m a former journalist. So it’s not just who, but it’s when, where, why, and how. We’re seeing contextual messages coming off of beacons, sensors, the Internet of Things. You’re getting messages when you walk into a hotel like Marriott or the MGM Grand based on who you are, your past transaction history with the hotel, your loyalty number, whether you’re on a business or a personal trip, and you’re getting offers and messaging that are unique to you as an individual in the moment, at the time, and at the place that you’re in. So you might go to Las Vegas and get an offer for discount tickets to Cirque Du Soleil tonight, whereas I might be walking through the hotel, and based on my purchase history and my proximity to a different part of the property, an offer for a steak dinner. And maybe that’s because I’ve eaten steak dinners in the past, and they’ve got some inventory they need to unload. This cuts two ways. It benefits both brand and the consumer experience.

Owning Your Strategy

JB: I want to come back to a comment that you made earlier, Rebecca—again, I’m going back on content—and I’d like your take on this. For years, we’ve talked about paid, earned, owned media. I know you’ve written a lot, you have done a lot of research about convergence of media and about the changing dynamics of media. I used the Amex OPEN forum example, previously. I think when they—this is just my opinion—but I think when AMEX OPEN Forum was created as a way to really be able to serve small businesses, it was a major change. It was a major shift for American Express. They generated a ton, and continue to this day to generate a ton, of earned media through all of the content that is being published, not just by experts, like the Guy Kawasakis of the world and some of these other individuals that have content specific for small business, but they’ve also invited other small businesses to weigh in and publish their own content. I’d like your take about what you see happening as we continue to evolve in media, where smart brands are really going to do a much more effective and a savvier job of generating earned media.

RL: Earned media has become a component of almost every initiative in the paid and the owned, universe. So all of those different components of Amex OPEN can be broken down into marketing strategies. There was initially much more content by influencers, by the John Battelles and Guy Kawasakis of the world, that helped the brand very rapidly gain readership and subscribers and profile. They continue with a strategy of letting small businesses speak to one another. They’ve built communities, so it’s an influencer strategy and a community strategy. It’s an owned media strategy because Amex owns that publishing platform and controls the content that is on it. It’s also to an extent a paid media strategy. There’s advertising on OPEN Forum. All of that advertising is for American Express. And it’s an earned media strategy because it’s both PR for American Express, and they’re asking for likes, shares, tweets, and other forms of amplification. So that’s one very good example of converged media at a property that you might think of, at first glance, as only being owned media.

RL: But there are other forms of converged media. A couple years ago, I wrote the market definition report of native advertising, and one of the reasons I wanted to tackle that subject was everybody at the time was talking about native advertising, nobody had yet defined the term. And that does not help the industry or the marketplace at all. It means anything somebody trying [to] sell you something wants it to mean. And when I conducted a lot of stakeholder interviews, I arrived at a definition of native advertising in that it is a form of converged media. It’s content marketing creating compelling, informative, entertaining, useful content and publishing it in a paid format. So content marketing by definition doesn’t have a paid component, but if you combine it with advertising, you’ve got converged media and it does. I’m looking at all of these different ways that, to paraphrase Lewis Carroll, everybody’s changing lobsters and dancing as all of these different forms of media and of technology are coming together.

Managing the Customer’s Journey

JB: And that’s probably a good segue into my next question. I cannot do this interview with you without asking for your take on customer experience. Within the last one to two years, Rebecca, so much has been written about managing the customers’ journeys with your brand. From the time they first come to your website, they begin evaluating your product, they begin consuming content on your website, they use that content to make an informed decision as to whether that they’re going to buy or not buy, and then it continues on. Within the context of customer experience, I’d like your thoughts on this merging of the marketing, sales, and service phases of the customer relationship, because it’s in—when we’ve talked a lot about this here at Salesforce, we see this convergence happening in all of those functions because it all goes to customer experience, or as you and I very well know, the customer experience life cycle. And so I’d like your thoughts about where you see brands really needing to move to really deliver this experience and do it well, not just in the business or in the business-getting phase, the product purchase phase, but extending that through product usage and customer service.

RL: That’s a great question. And it’s pretty much the reason why I’ve embarked on this research on contextual campaigns and contextual content. This is where I see the industry going in the future. It is a very natural evolution of mobile experiences. But the customer experience is now paramount and has completely trumped advertising. I think outside of direct response, advertising is really, really diminishing in favor of a 360-degree of the consumer and being for them—during the consideration, all the way through to post-purchase behaviour and service and support. And that’s why I’m doing this research on how customers are interacting, and what brands are doing with connected devices to really enhance and create that experience.

RL: I see the industry as having moved from—initially, we had an advertising stack. That was kind of your soup-to-nuts, DMP-type, create ads, optimize them, serve them, measure them, lather, rinse, and repeat. That has evolved into the marketing cloud, which involves content, it involves social media, it involves all these different messaging platforms. But where there’s demand now, in order to create these experiences, is for the marketing cloud to merge with enterprise software. That’s why we’re talking right now and, Joel, that’s why we’re talking with you as a Salesforce employee, whereas we had a previous relationship as ExactTarget when you held that mantle. CRM, which is Salesforce’s core competency, hadn’t been part of marketing through most of my life—the 80s, 90s, and early 2000s. But now CRM holds a huge part of this equation. If you’re going to contextually address customers with relevant information, you need that CRM component tied to marketing, tied to service, tied to experience in order to make the messaging relevant, and to create an exchange of value between the brand and the customer, because otherwise, it’s just creepy.

JB: Well, and we’re now seeing brands use that CRM data, Rebecca, to now—in combination with our Social Studio product, for example—to now be able to identify Rebecca Lieb as a known customer and then take her email address to Facebook, Facebook then identifies look-alikes, people that have the same profile as you do. And now, it gives me as a brand this ability to be able to deliver one ad to you as a known customer, and another ad to an individual that profiles to be a likely user of our product. That’s where we’re beginning to see so many of our customers now really starting to understand how to really monetize, how to really take better advantage of that CRM data that has been pumped into that system over time. We’re really at the dawn of a whole new era here. You’ve just really encapsulated it very well, where we talk about this whole different approach that we’re taking to not just driving demand for our product and earning a new customer, but now continuing that dialogue, continuing the relationship throughout the entire life cycle.

RL: Absolutely. It’s not just contextual marketing, because you know where that customer is, and why and what they’re doing. It’s contextual because you have that 360-degree view. It’s really matching up real-time in-the-moment marketing with this storehouse of historical data that you have on their journey, and how they got there, and what they did before they got there. So context cuts two ways. It’s in the moment and it’s everything that happened before the moment.

JB: We couldn’t agree more, Rebecca. I feel like we are only at the tip of the iceberg with what we could really learn from you on these topics. How can people listening learn more and see some of your research?

RL: Thanks very much for asking. I have a website, And all of the research that I’ve published is available on the website, no lead gen form, no nothing, self-service, help yourself, download anything, and get back to me please with questions and reactions because part of doing researches are these continued dialogues.

The Final Five

HY: I love it. So folks, before we head into our final five segment with Rebecca Lieb, I’ll take a quick moment to let you know that this episode of the Marketing Cloudcast is brought to you by a new Salesforce ebook. It is called the Salesforce for Marketers: Welcome to the Age of the Customer. This ebook covers all of the main announcements, customer stories, and much more from Connections 2016. It has new stories about how companies like Nestle fanatics and Weight Watchers are using creative and really targeted digital marketing campaigns to reach their customers. So get all the details on how they’re doing it and many, many more insights for you in that full ebook, and it’s called Salesforce for Marketers: Welcome to the Age of the Customer. You can check it out and get a copy for yourself at So, Rebecca, with that, we are ready to head into our rapid-fire final five segment here on the Marketing Cloudcast.

RL: The lightning round.

HY: It’s the lightning round. And this is the time that we spend to just get to know you a little bit better. So we’re going to start with this, who would you have to say is your biggest influence professionally?

RL: I’ve got to punt on that one because when I ran ClickZ and Econsultancy, I was running stables of up to 75 marketers who were contributors, and that was my grad school in digital marketing. And I was throwing events, which put me in touch with some of the greatest minds in digital marketing, so Pete Blackshaw, Wenda Harris Millard, Jeremiah Owyang, Brian Solis. I have been privileged in my career to play up to some of the brightest minds in the industry, and that proximity is one of the biggest treasures of my career, and cannot be limited to one person.

HY: You’ve named some real kingpins there, Rebecca, which is no surprise, given your stature in the industry. But those are great individuals, great mentors. Here’s question number two on our final five, and this may be a difficult one for you because you’ve had an opportunity, as I said earlier, you’ve had a front row seat to really this transformation of marketing and the continuing evolution. But if there’s one company that you would point to that you would say you have a brand crush on, because you really envy their marketing, and you just are inspired by what they’re doing, what would that brand be and why?

RL: I’m going to punt a little bit on this, but I’m going to very, very narrowly circumscribe it. I love to look at non-profits. I like to look at organizations with very constrained resources and very, very high degrees of creativity. In the United States, National Public Radio; in the UK, BBC; in the non-profit segment, [CADA]. They do amazing work on a shoestring, and are really, really innovative in part because they don’t have the narrow corporate constraints that so many enterprises do. So when I look for inspiration, I go to non-profits.

HY: Great examples. Rebecca, now let’s see, this question here—because you’re working for yourself, you’ve got your own company—maybe think of it as if you were advising another company. If you had 10 per cent more marketing budget this year, but you could only invest in one strategy or channel, what would that choice be and why?

RL: That’s easy. You answered that right at the outset, Heike. I would create more content because that content—like a Thanksgiving turkey—can be repurposed into so many different channels and media and tactics. It’s the best single investment.

HY: And question number four—you’re an author, a very respected one—but the question to you is this, and our listeners are constantly asking us to share really, really great books with them, but I’m going to put this question to you Rebecca. Is there one book that you would highly recommend our listeners read, and please don’t punt on this one, but if you have that one book in mind, what would it be and why?

RL: Right now, I’m very obsessed with the novels of Haruki Murakami, the Japanese author who’s been very widely translated into English. I don’t read a lot of business books even though I write them. For inspiration, I like to go to more fanciful and inspired places, and then come back to earth with new ideas. I would highly recommend Kafka on the Shore as a starting point.

HY: You are the very first one who’s mentioned that specific author. That’s wonderful—

RL: I love it.

HY: —and no surprise.

HY: No surprise given how creative you are and how your mind works. I think that’s no surprise at all. Love the suggestion, and I think we all spend so much time working, at least eight hours a day. And if you do have an hour or 30 minutes on a plane or before bed to read, why read a business book when you could read something else that might broaden your horizons a little bit? There are certainly some business books that are worthwhile.

RL: Recharging is what this is all about.

HY: Recharging and looking for ideas in new places, so thank you for that.

RL: Indeed.

HY: Rebecca, this is our last question for you today, and I’m excited to hear your answer. How would you sum up the state of marketing in one word?

RL: One word is convulsive.

HY: And why?

RL: And that’s not a negative, because I was also thinking of André Breton’s famous phrase, “Beauty must be convulsive or cease to be.” And I think that’s what we’ve got here, is a convulsively beautiful, rapidly evolving marketing scene that is so exciting, in my nerd-like way, to be a part of.

HY: Again, you run so deep, Rebecca. My goodness [laughter]. Convulsive, I did not see that coming, but I totally love it. I think that is just really, really great.

RL: I just couldn’t say disruptive, right? We’ve all heard—

HY: I love it.

RL: —that one before.

HY: I love it.

HY: No, I think convulsive is wonderful. I’m sure a lot of our listeners are now going to take that, and run with it. That’s just been great. Also—

RL: I’ll check my social media feed.

JB: Yes, please, please do that. Rebecca, it’s been such a treat for Heike and I to have you on the show today. We say this so often in this industry, this community of digital marketing. It ends up being a very, very small community, but there are a precious few individuals that have had the depth and breadth of experience that you’ve had really from the get-go. And thank you so much for joining us.

RL: Oh, it’s been my honour and very great pleasure. Thank you both very much.

JB: Well, you’re very, very welcome. Well, folks this has been another great episode again of the Marketing Cloudcast. And as Heike and I always promise, we try to bring you individuals that really have a very, very interesting perspective on where we’re at in the current version of digital marketing and where this industry is headed. And as you heard Rebecca say, we’re in a time of convulsive change. Could not agree more. But I will tell you, it is one of the most exciting times to be a marketer.

JB: So on behalf of all of us here at Salesforce, I want to thank you for listening, but I also want to remind you before we leave you today that if you have enjoyed listening, Heike and I would really appreciate it if you would go to iTunes and give us your rating. We take your ratings very seriously. We take your suggestions for future guest also very seriously. So please share those with us as well. And if for some reason you have not yet subscribed to the Marketing Cloudcast, do it today. It’s real easy. All you need do is go to, and you can also look for us on Google Play Music or Stitcher, as well as at iTunes. So real easy to never miss an episode of the Marketing Cloudcast. So again, I want to thank you for joining us again today, and we look forward to welcoming you in on a future episode of the Marketing Cloudcast real soon. All the best to you.

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