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He’s also a speaker, podcast host, investor, and best-selling author. Recently, he “replaced himself” as CMO of his company, moving into the role of Chief Evangelist to spread the message of content experience.
We caught up with him to discuss the practice of visualization, how it helps the content experience, and how we can all improve our account based mindset for happier customers.
I can answer that in a couple of ways, but let’s start with this one aspect: content environment.
The space that I’ve found myself in over the last decade is content experience. Now, you think content is more about how you read it or how you listen to it, but the reality is the layout, or the environment as I often call it, is just as important as the content itself.
Here’s the analogy I’ve used for years: envision drinking a beer, whatever your choice might be, whether it’s a Heineken or whatnot. Now, that Heineken will taste good pretty much anywhere, but there’s a difference in how good it is in your dingy, dungy basement, versus the beach.
There’s something about the beach that takes it to the next level. There’s the exact same content inside the bottle. It’s the same beer, same ingredients, it can even be the same temperature, but it’s everything going on around you: it’s the view, it’s the breeze, it’s the sand at your feet. For whatever reason, the beer tastes better.
You can sub in a pina colada if you’d prefer, but the reality is, it’s very much the same in terms of marketing. We can create an amazing asset, but if you wrap it up in a way that’s not easy to consume, scroll through, find what you’re looking for next, it’s just not the same experience.
Within the idea of content experience, there are a lot of elements, and what we just talked about, content environment, is just one aspect. In a lot of ways it’s the easiest one to address, because we need to make sure the layout around our content is visually appealing.
That’s everything from the structure to page navigation to making sure our calls-to-action stand out in meaningful ways.
We’ve all seen experiences that are great in theory, but they fall short on a desktop or the mobile experience. So one of the ways we help our customers is to be able to easily format the layout so they can present it in a way that is compelling.
Like I said, there are other key ingredients. Environment is one of them.
The second one is structure.
Structure plays a role in visualization but in ways we don’t think about too often. The best analogy for structure is Netflix or Spotify. We jump into Netflix, and it’s personalized around what content will appeal to us.
Personalization is more than just my name showing up when I log in. “Hey Randy.”
It’s more that the shows that they show me versus what they show my kid, out of the thousands of assets that they have, out of all the television shows, documentaries, movies, are relevant to me and my interests.
So that element of structure, the ability to surface and lay out the right content, is equally important from a visualization perspective because otherwise you just get overwhelmed.
Envision logging into Netflix and it was just listed alphabetically. Right? All shows from A-Z. You’d just be super overwhelmed! You wouldn’t make it into the B’s without getting frustrated.
So that visualization element of having these queues for structure really helps you navigate.
The third part of content experience is what I call possible engagement. How are you compelled to engage?
A lot of that comes from the first two. Environment plays a role, structure plays a role, but how do we strategically go about creating engagement? How do we recommend that next piece of content?
Think again about Netflix. You’re done with that episode, and the next one is starting in 5, 4, 3… There’s that countdown that pulls you into the next asset before you can get your ass off the couch.
That’s Netflix’s trick. They’re thinking, how do we bring you to that next piece so that we don’t have to spend money to pull you back in for new content. They let the first thing you watch be the anchor from one to the next.
The same thing can work even outside of content. It can work to get you to talk to sales reps or get you to fill out a demo request form. Whatever it might be, getting you to take action is the arc that requires visualization.
You need to visualize, “How do we lay out this thing in a way so that you’re tempted to keep going?”
That’s a good way to look at it.
Customer experience is a term we use a ton, and our customers themselves are using it more and more, because this is key at every stage of the journey.
It’s no longer a “top of funnel” marketing concept, how do I pull you in? It’s “How do I bring you deeper in that funnel? How do I help you when you’re an existing customer? How do I get you to that next action so you want to continue to interact with us?”
Because the more you interact with our brand, the more trust you build, and the more we’ll become your go-to.
It helps us create that tempting next step.
I have an example from UviaUs. Jaycen sent me a “survival kit,” and that whole experience was all about the journey.
It compelled me to take the next step. First I had to get the code to open it up, and then I opened up the box, and then I could view content, which led me to a personalized page online… All of which led to us working together.
We need to be thinking about marketing in a very different way. I’ll share with you a framework that I use a lot when thinking about marketing.
Let’s look at guiding a customer journey. The first step is to identify the buyers you’re going after. Identify through data, right? We spend a lot of money there, to know who we want to target.
The next step is to use channels to attract buyers. To get in front of buyers, to grab their attention. That can be sending an email, a direct mail box, whatever the case may be.
Once we’ve attracted them, the last step is, how do we keep them engaged? We have to move from thinking, “Okay, I’ve grabbed their attention with the email or the direct mail box or whatever it is, I’ll hit them again next week.”
We need to think, “No, I’ve got them! Let’s keep them there. Let’s get them to go from one piece to the next.”
That sounds easy, but so many marketers have trained themselves to think more in the sense of a cadence or sequence over time.
I think a lot of that training came from marketing automation emails. I send an email in week one, I send another email in week two, and then week three, because I don’t want to overwhelm you.
But the big shift that we’re seeing is that over 50% of buyers today want to do research independently at their own pace, on their own time. I think a lot of that stems from their ability to jump on Netflix and watch what they want, or listen to what they want on Spotify, or do the workout they want on Peloton.
We’re in control in our personal lives. We want that same degree of control over the journey in our B2B lives.
Maybe what we’re really highlighting here is that as much as we need to optimize the content, sometimes we might have the right content, but we have to optimize the experience.
We need to think about the sequencing of our content. We may have an amazing piece of content that’s not getting consumed, and we might be leading with it too early. Perhaps before they’re ready for that amazing ebook you wrote, they need a video that’s going to pull them in.
The challenge here is, if we just lay out a page of all of our videos, and they’re looking for report-based content, they may leave that page very quickly. If we can create a page with a selection of different formats, organized around topic or approach, then they can select what’s right for them.
You visually give them that choice of what they really need versus overwhelming them with too many choices in more traditional structures.
This is a term, “content experience,” we coined seven or eight years ago.
We coined it because we saw confusion in content marketing. Content marketing became defined as the process of creating content, and we wanted it to be more about how it was being used, but that wasn’t happening.
So that’s where the term came from.
I view evangelism as a way to highlight the successes and trials of our customers and even people who aren’t using our software, but are embracing content experience.
That, to me, is the best way we can learn. Seeing different stories, how people are doing this.
Just a week or two ago I was at a conference for the first time in a while. I was fortunate to moderate a panel with two amazing ABM marketers, who have done some amazing strategy with a focus on content experience, and I would argue that they can get up and teach more to an audience about content experience than I can at this stage.
They’ve been more hands-on and had to work cross-functionally in the organization while weaving it into an account-based marketing approach. They’re doing things that when I started this company I never envisioned.
It’s marketers like that who push the limits, and then there will be the next marketers, in the generation beyond the ones I talked with on the panel, who will do the next cool thing with our platform and with content experience as a whole.
Yes, the word I’ve been using a lot is bridging.
The idea is bridging the people who have the solutions with people who are looking for them, or even in some cases bringing together two different groups who are using us successfully in different ways who can learn from each other and become better.
When we started Uberflip, one of the primary focuses of content experience was email marketing and inbound strategy. How do we create a better experience on our website for people who are looking for us and finding us through SEO?
That’s still important today! But the use cases that we’re talking about in account based marketing, in sales engagement, in demand generation as a whole, those kind of followed behind.
We said first, “Okay, great, we have this great content, now how do we use it at different stages?” so we never envisioned that our company would be just as applicable for account based marketing as it is for inbound.
In fact, now more people use us for an ABM approach than for an inbound marketing approach. That’s just the evolution of our community of users just talking to each other and being visionaries for that next step.
That’s my goal, to be the bridge.
That’s a good question. I’ll be realistic here. I think it takes a lot of time.
Are you familiar with the Gartner Hype Cycle? It’s a great visualization for how trends come to the market, and the interest that they get, the expectations that come with them.
There’s this concept of the “peak of expectations” and the “trough of disillusionment” that Gartner walks through. It’s a cool visualization to take a look at sometime.
If you look at that, content experience is still on the rise. Where we’re at now, we’re trying to contextualize how it helps a lot of the strategies that you’re already using.
Like I said, I’m realistic. I don’t think people come out of a session at a conference and say, “What’s your content experience strategy this quarter?” But they are talking about account based marketing.
That ABM mindset is not in all cases solved by a traditional “ABM platform.” Traditional sounds funny here, because they’re all so new.
The ABM platforms as we know them are fantastic in helping you identify and track. Those two steps we hit on earlier, identifying and tracking the buyer.
But a platform like UviaUs, or a platform like Uberflip, are equally ABM applicable. It’s not right to say, “Is UviaUs a better ABM platform?” No, it’s more so that all these different solutions are key to the process behind account based marketing.
I think that’s really where we’re at with content experience. Understanding that it is an important element, that we have a content experience whether we’re focusing on it or not.
Ultimately we need to make sure that our approach hits on these key strategies that we’ve talked about. For ABM, inbound, demand generation, sales engagement, customer engagement.
These strategies need to be our criteria when selecting software. Can a content experience platform help you with your ABM? Can a direct mail platform help you with your ABM?
I think it’s more of a slow realization. You have a platform already that says it’s The ABM Platform, so shouldn’t it solve all your problems? People thought it would be a magic wand.
The ABM platform is crucial, but that category may not apply to what you actually need to execute. You need to be looking at what solution can help with your strategy.
ABM to me is not a technology. ABM is a process. Between people, process, and technology, the tech should be the last thing you invest in.
Invest in people first. If you don’t have good people, you’re not going to get anywhere. The next is good processes. Good people will create good processes. They’ll likely try to do things without technology, to a point, and try to prove success on a smaller scale.
Once success is proven, you bring in technology. But you need people and process first. You will only succeed with tech if you have the right people and the right process first.
First off, I will be the first to admit that not every marketer considers the visualization piece their responsibility.
A lot of us will sit here and say, “Well that’s the content team or the design team. I just have to get out a campaign.” There’s no question, there will always be someone stronger at it on your team, but everyone needs to have this customer experience/visualization mindset.
To answer you, fortunately in my case I’ve always been obsessed with how we deliver things, how we package them, what that experience is. That’s part of it.
The other part of it is just chatting with our customers and influencers in our community and getting their perspective on this. That’s how I’ve learned it. At least 50%, probably closer to 80%, of what I know came from this.
I would encourage them to take a very simple approach.
Send your marketing to yourself. Determine if you’re compelled to open it up. Determine at what point you get frustrated, at what point you don’t know the logical next step to take.
It’s a good way to see how people are engaging. You have to be careful, because most of the time, you already know what you’re “supposed” to do, what action you want a customer to take, but if you can’t put that aside, sit beside one of your users and observe.
See how they’re navigating. There’s great technology out there to help with that, too. There’s companies like FullStory who help you see the path someone takes on your website.
There are ways to get feedback from your customers and see what’s compelling to them. If they’re not engaged, you have to think about how visually appealing the experience is.
We’re focusing on Visualization this month because that’s the topic of our current series on REACH. We spoke with an Olympic bobsledder who led the Jamaican team, overcoming their underdog status to make it to the world’s biggest competition.
I’ll give you two answers, a personal and professional one.
My role has changed recently, and I’m trying to make sure people see me as someone who is trying to help our community as much as our company. So I’m really taking a step back and taking a look at what I put out there, making sure it’s value-add regardless of whether someone is a customer today or not.
Personally, I decided to have some fun with my oldest kid, and we’re learning tennis together. I’m watching more tennis to make sure that I’m not embarrassed with the way I look out there, you know?
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Moderated by UviaUs, the ABM agency for aspirational B2B Growth and Enterprise Brands.