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Demand Gen Perspectives: ServiceNow’s Wendy Perilli on Creating Relevant Content

By Steve Middleton – VP, Demand Generation at Tendo Communications.

In its annual survey on the state of content marketing, the Content Marketing Institute asks B2B marketers about their top challenges. Consistently, survey respondents report that finding quality content is a top challenge (for the 2016 survey, the survey reports “engaging” content as the top challenge faced by 60% of B2B marketers).

Tendo Communications set out to ask respected marketing leaders with deep experience in demand generation to talk about what makes quality or engaging content. What are the attributes, how do you create it, and why is it so important?

wendy-perilliThis third and final post in the series features Wendy Perilli, Senior Director of Global Integrated Marketing Programs at ServiceNow, a provider of service management solutions. (Previous posts cover creating content that delights customers and the importance of measuring content performance.)

What makes quality demand generation content?

Quality content is about relevance. The problem is when the content is all about what you want to say and not what the recipient cares about.

Marketing teams are often in the mode of: “Hurry up and get something out.” Or the product team is asked what messages and content would resonate with the audience, resulting mostly in product-centric, self-promotional hype. Figuring out what that your audience cares about takes a lot of work, but it’s essential.

How do you evaluate content quality? What attributes are most important?

It really depends on what the objective is, and that should be crystal clear before content is created. Not every piece of content is intended to generate leads.

For example, there’s thought leadership content that should put you in a unique position in the market. Or there’s educational content that isn’t gated, but is intended to deliver value to the prospect. Educational content is great, as it creates a trusting relationship with prospects and communicates that you’re delivering value without being commercial.

When we look at gated content, the key is to ensure we have pieces that align to each stage of the buying cycle and deliver value to the reader.

Can you give us any examples of quality content that’s been successful?

Most recently we did some comparisons between ebook and white paper performance. We’re finding that ebooks are performing better than white papers. Even though the content is relatively the same, our assumption is that ebooks are less intimidating, so people engage with them more.

We’ve also created some basic how-to guides to help people understand best practices in the industry. We find that those pieces always perform well.

Additionally, given the lack of attention span from most people today due to our overstimulated lives, short and simple pieces seem to perform well, like infographics, top 10 lists, and interactive assessments. We’re always testing content types and other variables based on what our audience prefers to consume.

Should performance metrics be part of what marketing considers as they develop content plans?

They definitely should. In most cases, marketing thinks about the end goal, such as, “We need to drive a thousand leads.” But we also need to think about the content and how it aligns to the buyer’s journey to deliver those leads.

For example, we’ll use a great industry paper from an analyst in content syndication because we know new prospects would be interested in a high-value piece of content like that. That enables us to drive new contacts into the database.

On the other hand, we might use a customer case study in nurture communications, as that is normally a later stage in the buying cycle. Aligning the content to the buyer’s journey and the vehicles that they would be engaging with at each stage is critical.

What do you see as mistakes or missteps that people should avoid when they’re creating quality content for demand gen?

I think the number one mistake is that people create content that’s a commercial for their business or product, and your audience doesn’t care about your commercial. They care about how you can help them. That’s my biggest pet peeve.

The other thing I’ve advocated for is the idea of being intentional with your content. Look at what you’re trying to do, who you’re trying to have a conversation with, and what stage of the buying cycle they’re in.

The other mistake is trying to talk to every audience across every buying cycle in a single asset. If people engage with a piece of content, this enables passive listening. It allows us to know where they are in the buying cycle based on what content was interesting to them. The content provides a mechanism for how and what we should be talking about with them in a relevant way.

What about more intangible qualities, like originality or the ability to inspire? Are those important in B2B content?

Originality does help break through the noise. If you’re just saying the same thing everyone else is, what’s the point of consuming your content? A unique value proposition is key to the person reading it. Again, it’s about being relevant to what their pain or aspiration is.

I’ve started to advocate that good content has an economic, functional, and emotional aspect. I think at most high-tech companies the content focuses on the economic and the functional—but has zero emotional impact.

The challenge with having emotional context in your content is that you need to know who you’re talking to. You need to know that persona. Most companies don’t take the time to do that work.

If you ask about personas, you’ll sometimes hear, “Here’s a list of the titles we go after.” But a title is not a persona. You might have some anecdotal data about what their pain points are, but to create content that connects emotionally, you really need to know who those people are.

To hear more from Wendy Perilli, follow her on Twitter or connect with her on LinkedIn.

By Steve Middleton – VP, Demand Generation at Tendo Communications

Tendo Communications is a B2B content marketing agency in San Francisco. Tendo Communications has been helping companies develop quality content for a range of demand generation programs. To see examples and learn more, click here.