November 16

Content Intel—episode 4: trends in content marketing

Content Intel welcomes Kim Davis, Editorial Director at MarTech, to talk about trends in content and where the marketing industry is headed as far as improving engagement and optimizing value exchange with prospects and customers.




Laura Dolan (00:00):

Hello listeners, and welcome back to Content Intel. Thank you for joining us once again. Today, we welcome Kim Davis. He's the Editorial Director at MarTech, and he's here to talk about trends and content. Kim, thank you so much for taking the time to be here today. How are you?

Kim Davis (00:16):

I'm good. It's a pleasure, Laura. I mean the terrible burden of having to talk about myself as well as martech trends, I think I can cope.

Laura Dolan (00:25):

Believe me, I'm sure a lot of people will find it fascinating. Yes, thank you so much again for being here. If you want to just talk a little bit about your background in journalism, how you got started in the industry, things like that.

Kim Davis (00:36):

Yeah. Well, there's kind of two answers to that. I literally got started in the industry when I was very young, a teenager straight out of high school, I became a music journalist. And I'm not going to tell you exactly when, but it was back in the days when music papers were big, inky printed things, which they are not anymore. Then I subsequently go to college. How I got into what I'm doing now is, I had done no B2B, I'd done new stuff, I'd done some academic stuff, but I saw a job ad for a cybersecurity writer. And I applied thinking, "I'm never going to get this," but I did. And I went from cybersecurity to enterprise software in general, and eventually focused down on marketing technology.

Laura Dolan (01:23):

Cybersecurity. That's interesting.

Kim Davis (01:26):

I had to learn that. I read three books on it before the interview and I really had to learn on the job.

Laura Dolan (01:32):

So you went in cold, you didn't have any prior experience or anything?

Kim Davis (01:36):


Laura Dolan (01:36):

You basically learned as you went, how was that?

Kim Davis (01:40):

It was fun. That's been my experience right through my career as a tech journalist, has been, there are so many very smart people in this space who are happy to sit down and explain to you what they're doing, and that's really how I've learned it.

Laura Dolan (01:54):

Yeah, that's great. It's nice getting exposed to different types of genres and different styles of writing out there. Do you think that had any effect on what you're doing now or kind of put you in the trajectory that you're on?

Kim Davis (02:07):

I think the different kinds of journalism I've done over the years have informed the way I cover technology and marketing technology. I do like to write stories where I'm kind of embedded, it's actually a first person narrative. And I think a lot of people writing the B2B space write in a very clinical detached way. I like to inject a bit of personality into it.

Laura Dolan (02:32):

What are some of your strategies? How do you kind of interject your voice and your tone? Do you have any tactics that you use or does it kind of just depends on the assignment?

Kim Davis (02:42):

I think it partly depends on the assignment, but I tend to see what I'm doing as telling an ongoing story across a whole series of articles, month after month, year after year. So when I'm talking about the latest developments, one of the big marketing tech vendors, I can refer back to what I've said before, to people I've spoken to before, I give the reader the sense that they're coming on a journey with me.

Laura Dolan (03:08):

That's cool. I love that. What are your favorite types of content to write about? Do you have any specific products or genres or anything that has stood out to you over the years?

Kim Davis (03:18):

Oh, that's difficult. There are so many interesting things out there. I've always enjoyed writing about artificial intelligence. I'm not a mathematician, I can't develop AI models, but I have a degree in philosophy, so some of the conceptual stuff behind AI, I find endearingly interesting. I also just like seeing vendors develop their offerings, their platforms over the years, and you see remarkable growth, you see amazing mergers and acquisitions and you just follow the story.

Laura Dolan (03:51):

Yeah, I'm sure you've seen a lot of, especially within the last few years, the advancements that we've seen in machine learning and AI, it's just been absolutely incredible. So that has to be really fun to write about.

Kim Davis (04:03):

Yeah, the speed of change. How long ago was it everyone was writing about big data? We now take big data for granted. I mean, we know that big data is not exciting anymore. It's getting insights from it that's important.

Laura Dolan (04:16):

Isn't that a shame? Something that was once a complete novelty now it's like, eh, okay. It's there.

Kim Davis (04:22):

Yeah. And that'll continue to happen, believe me.

Laura Dolan (04:24):

I know. So what trends have you noticed in content? Let's say over the last five years, where do you think the industry is headed?

Kim Davis (04:33):

Well, I've been thinking about that and one of the trends has been towards gated content, whether it be technology suppliers or publications covering technology, that temptation to throw a gate across almost everything and get people to give up their first-party information before they get access to content, I think that has been a trend. But I think we may see the pendulum swing the other way as consumers or readers say, "I can get this content or content as good elsewhere. I'm tired of filling in forms," and that's a real dilemma for the industry, as it becomes more dependent on first-party data in order to serve relevant content. I'm not sure how that's going to play out.

Laura Dolan (05:22):

Yeah, it really is. When you put that kind of thought leadership out there and you're hoping to capture leads, you're hoping to move them through the funnel, and yet, and myself personally, if I try to download something and they ask for my information, my first instinct is to bounce. And so I'm sure a lot of readers out there have the same reactions. So do you think there's a better solution to that?

Kim Davis (05:48):

One thing I hear suggest all the time is a better value exchange, giving people more for their personal information. I think restricting the amount of information you're asking for, especially first go around, is important. But I see the dilemma. You want to know who these people are. But on the other hand, I also see a lot of surveys saying that B2B buyers especially just want an easy route through the research and discovery stage. They don't want to give up their information, they don't want to be contacted by sales reps, they just want to get to a decision by themselves or with the help of their peers and then deal with whoever they're buying from.

Laura Dolan (06:31):

Right. They just want to absorb and process that information and they don't want any ulterior motives on the way to getting that information. So yeah, I think there is definitely a value exchange issue there. It's like, what are you giving me for exchange for my information? So yeah, it's definitely a dilemma.

Kim Davis (06:53):

It is. Especially, there's so much good free content out there.

Laura Dolan (06:56):

There really is. Yeah, absolutely. Gated content typically yields long-form content, the way of ebooks, white papers and maybe some extended blog series. Do you still see a future for long-form content or do you think there's just a better way for people to absorb information now?

Kim Davis (07:16):

I'm going to give you a nuanced answer to that, if I may. Yes, I think there is a future for long-form content, but also, I think the future is long-form content, which lends itself to being chopped up into bite-sized pieces.

Laura Dolan (07:33):

Okay. So kind of like a series.

Kim Davis (07:34):

Yeah. Or for example, if you have a video webinar, can you chunk that up and create very short attention span videos from it? Something we've been working on at MarTech is creating texts, which are the length of an ebook or a white paper, but then taking chunks out of it and using those as standalone posts on the website. So I think long-form is here, especially for B2B when, as I was just saying, that the B2B buyers want to absorb a lot of information by themselves. But yeah, those people, maybe people at the top of the funnel, you just want to catch their attention, level that long-form content into attention-catching small pieces.

Laura Dolan (08:20):

Yeah, I like that. That's something I've done over the years with blogs, create a blog series, trying to keep them on the site, try to get them to convert in different areas of the site. Basically putting them down a rabbit hole, if you will, and making them stay and kind of keeping their interest. Have you seen it work or do you think it's kind of more of an experimentation-type tactic?

Kim Davis (08:42):

Yeah, I think it's still in the early days. Certainly the idea of video webinars being used to generate short videos, this is something I'm hearing about over the last year or so, so I think early days yet and we'll see how it goes. But I can't see B2B buyers going entirely over to the kind of little snack-sized bits of content. They can't get enough information out of that.

Laura Dolan (09:12):

Right. Yeah, I guess it does depend on which part of the industry that you're targeting. So you would say like maybe B2C, that'd be more conducive for that audience, but for B2B, the long form is kind of still the way to go?

Kim Davis (09:25):

Well, think about TikTok. TikTok is making great moves with B2C audiences. I don't know if any B2B has tried TikTok yet. It's harder to imagine.

Laura Dolan (09:34):

Yeah, I'm not sure how that would dovetail into their content strategies. I actually just got on TikTok not too long ago, not to produce any content, but just to take in what's going on there just to see what's the big deal. Why is everybody making such a big deal out of this? So yeah, that's a great example.

Laura Dolan (09:52):

As far as the long-form content goes and splitting it up into shorter, more digestible pieces, do you think a better interactive approach should include more visual content in the way of videos or podcasts or things of that nature?

Kim Davis (10:06):

Yeah, I think that's unquestionably true. And in fact, I've seen data on this recently, which we wrote up on MarTech setting out the ways in which people respond with greater engagement with video and images than they do with text. And again, it's just case by case. If you're looking to purchase an expensive technology solution, you're going to want to read some text. But yeah, as a general thing, people are now expecting video content. Interactive content, that's interesting because that goes beyond that. And that gets into a whole other thing that people want to engage with brands and get a response and be able to have some kind of conversation, whether it's online or still by phones. So interaction, yeah, people want to hear back.

Laura Dolan (11:00):

As far as an omnichannel approach goes, do you think companies should branch out beyond videos or podcasts? Do you think there's anything else out there that companies can leverage?

Kim Davis (11:11):

Certain kinds of companies are doing great things with augmented reality. It lends itself especially to luxury brands and especially in the circumstances where people are still reluctant to be traveling around, looking at properties, visiting car dealerships and so on. So I think there is an opportunity there for brands, which have something with great visual appeal, where you can kind of walk around what you're thinking of buying from the comfort of your own home. So that's another thing. And of course we've seen a great explosion in virtual event content, that's something. And again, that's something which can be leveraged. You can have your virtual event, whether it be half a day, a day or a couple of days, but then that should give you an enormous well of content, which you can draw onto to push into other channels.

Laura Dolan (12:09):

Exactly. It's actually a great way to raise awareness for the following year and start campaigning to get people to register for any other virtual events you have, or just have as an SDR tool for your company, basically distribute it out there and raise awareness and get people interested in your brand and your products.

Kim Davis (12:30):

Yeah, it has a reach far beyond in-person events. It has that iterability aspect you're talking about, and it helps you turn what maybe used to be once a year in Las Vegas into all-year-round engagement.

Laura Dolan (12:47):

Yeah, it's incredible. And even before COVID, I've seen so many different types of AR out there. My favorite is when you could actually go furniture shopping and you could take the piece you're looking at and put it in your home. And I actually did that for fun a few months ago with a new desk I was buying for my office just to see how it looked. So that's really cool. Or getting to look at a house, do a virtual tour of a new home, and it's something that's so conducive when we're in the middle of a pandemic and you still want to stay safe and yet businesses can use this to still cater to their consumers and help them still shop and be aware of their products.

Kim Davis (13:29):

I wonder if we're seeing much of that in verticals like manufacturing, construction, where buyers were used to going to a trade show, and as they say, kicking the wheels. I wonder if there's much use of augmented reality there. I haven't come across it yet.

Laura Dolan (13:46):

That would be interesting to see how different industries like that leverage it. But I'm sure there is a place for it. You never know what they come up with. It just seems the more advanced technology gets, the more mind-blowing it gets.

Kim Davis (13:56):

Absolutely. Yeah.

Laura Dolan (13:58):

So do you have any words of wisdom for marketing firms that are currently assembling their content strategies for 2022? I know we just started Q4, so this is the time to think ahead and to a new beginning, so what advice do you have?

Kim Davis (14:13):

Well, we've already talked about leveraging content in various different ways to push it into different channels, so you're not thinking in terms of one piece of content for this one purpose. But the thing I'd add to that, people should be thinking very seriously about what we can broadly call empathy. The way in which you communicate with your customers. Because it's no longer ... We're all hurting. Everybody's hurting for a long time now, and it's no longer acceptable to in your private life, be concerned about the climate, about healthcare, about the pandemic, about racial injustice, and then go to work and forget about it and just try to sell customers products in the same old way. And there's immense amounts of data from the last couple of years, especially showing that consumers, and I believe this goes across B2B and B2C, are much more interested in hearing from companies who they believe share their values.

Laura Dolan (15:14):

That's incredible. Yes, that is great advice. You want to engage with a company that does have empathy, that's relatable, that isn't just selling a product, is actually just in touch with your needs and your pain points and just ready to meet those pain points. So yes, that's absolutely sage advice.

Kim Davis (15:34):

And one thing marketing organizations can think about in order to get there to be able to do that is to have a diversity of voices around the table.

Laura Dolan (15:41):

Absolutely. And as far as the diversity in voices and the types of content out there, what is the best way to execute that? And how would you express that kind of empathy?

Kim Davis (15:54):

That's a very big question.

Laura Dolan (15:55):

I know.

Kim Davis (15:57):

Thinking about how your message is going to come across. What tone of voice does it have? Are you just going for the sale or are you going for some kind of ongoing experience and engagement with the customer over the customer's lifetime? People aren't just looking for products, that's clear. They're not just looking for products. And again, this includes B2B. They're looking for an experience. They're looking for a seamless and positive purchase experience, after-sales experience. And then when they go on to look at more products from the same brand, they're looking for that whole experiential thing. And an important part of that is having the right tone of voice, recognizing that you need to be invested in values and not just thinking, "I got to make my numbers for this month."

Laura Dolan (16:52):

Right. You're offering them a frictionless experience, a path of least resistance and a memorable customer service experience as well. They want to remember you for being helpful, for just not having that ulterior motive, actually improving their lives. Basically you go from how were they before encountered your business to what are they going to be like afterwards? And it's all about that transition.

Kim Davis (17:19):

It's about solving problems for them, resolving challenges. And although we've got used to thinking of customer experience as including marketing, sales and customer success, I personally believe it starts with the supply chain. It starts with product, it runs all the way through, and crucially, it now includes public relations or communications, comms, whatever you call it. That's part of customer experience as well.

Laura Dolan (17:44):

Especially now more than ever with the supply chain suffering as much as it is from COVID. A year and a half later, we're still recovering, we're still struggling to keep things on the shelves, to keep up with inventory, to even if you don't have those supplies, how are you going to remedy the situation? What are you going to offer in its place to keep your customers engaged and to keep them satisfied?

Kim Davis (18:06):

Yeah, you have to manage your expectation, that's the important thing. But of course you can devise the most wonderful marketing campaign to delight and surprise your customers and they respond, and then you say, "Oh, well, we've run out."

Laura Dolan (18:20):

Exactly. What do you do then? Well, is there anything we haven't touched on, Kim, that you want to express about the MarTech industry or anything to wrap up the year? I mean, 2021 was not as bad as 2020, but we're still recovering, still struggling, as you mentioned. So.

Kim Davis (18:40):

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. From my perspective, covering this remarkable space, there was that transformation from 2019 where I think I went to 12 or 13 in-person events, the following year, there were none, this year I've been able to attend a couple. One of them was hosted by Optimizely. And part of me recognizes that virtual event content is going to continue to be important going forwards, but then part of me wants to actually meet some of these people face-to-face again.

Laura Dolan (19:13):

Absolutely. It's kind of a mixed bag, if you will, of emotions. It's like, it's great to have the convenience of a virtual event, but you miss that human interaction and you forget how much fun it is to be in a room with all your colleagues and have that common bond to just relax and have a good time. So hopefully things start getting back to normal as time goes on. And next year, our Optimizely event, Opticon, will actually be in person.

Kim Davis (19:42):

That'll be great. Something to look forward to.

Laura Dolan (19:44):

Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for your time today, Kim. It was such a pleasure having you on. Thank you all so much for tuning into Content Intel, I am Laura Dolan, and I will see you next time.