Content Intel—episode 18: understanding why your content is a valuable asset
Laura Dolan (00:01):
Hello everyone, and welcome to another episode of Content Intel, brought to you by Optimizely. I am your host, Laura Dolan. And today we are joined by Chris Willis. He is Acrolinx's Chief Marketing Officer, and he will be discussing the importance of content governance and how it provides value to a range of audiences in tech, operations, leadership, and brand alignment. Welcome, Chris, how's it going?
Chris Willis (00:24):
It's going pretty well, Laura. Thanks for having me.
Laura Dolan (00:26):
Absolutely. Thanks so much for taking the time to be here today. What part of the world are you in? Where are you joining us from?
Chris Willis (00:32):
I live about 26 miles west of Boston.
Laura Dolan (00:35):
Okay, great. East coast. I'm in Columbus, Ohio. So it's nice to be in the same time zone as someone for once.
Chris Willis (00:41):
Laura Dolan (00:42):
Great. Well, please start by telling us a little bit about yourself. I see you've worked with some of the biggest tech names in the world, including Google, Facebook, and Twitter. How has your experience been and what capacity did you work for those companies in?
Chris Willis (00:53):
So I'm an interesting case. I've been in mobile technology, before Acrolinx, I've been in mobile for 20 and serving some of the biggest banks, insurance companies, investment houses, into a much broader, my time at Perfecto Mobile, a much broader set of enterprise customers. And then I got to Acrolinx and this small growing company. When I got here, it had 175 customers, representing 20 of the top 20 global technology companies.
Chris Willis (01:29):
Everybody that you can think of, many of the biggest manufacturers and now adding banks and pharmaceuticals and medical device manufacturing. And as it turns out, all these companies have one thing in common. And I guess all companies have one thing in common, which is that content drives them. It is the basis of everything they do, it is their touch point with their consumer. It is the touch point with their employees and every day they see it as a more important, more valuable asset.
Laura Dolan (02:04):
Nice. And what does Acrolinx do exactly? Can you go into a little bit more detail about that?
Chris Willis (02:09):
Sure. So we're AI powered software that improves the quality, the fitness, and the impact of that enterprise content. So if you think about what makes content fit for purpose, and I say fit rather than high quality, because quality is subjective. Quality is different for every organization. It also really just applies to correctness. It means that you've spelled things right, and your grammar is okay.
Chris Willis (02:36):
What we do is going beyond quality to identify how well your content is able to align with your audiences. So, yes, correctness, that's table stakes, but you get correctness as a part of Google Docs or Microsoft Word. Scanability, how easy is this to read? And that's a combination of things like clarity and consistency. Tone of voice, inclusivity in language, accessibility, terminology, words that we want to say and words that we don't want to say. And all of this is essentially the basis of the communication strategy that I have as an organization. It starts at the very top, with let's all spell the name of the company right.
Laura Dolan (03:17):
Chris Willis (03:18):
And rolls down from there. If you think about, let's all spell the name of the company right, that seems obvious at a company that has a single name and it's always going to be the same. But if you're American Express, are you American Express, are you Amex, are you AE, are you a subsidiary? How are you framing your communication? Are there rules to that? Are you American Express the first time you write it and then Amex after that? And how do you govern that across tens of thousands of people?
Chris Willis (03:51):
That's a concept of a guideline, that guideline now rolls out across all of my authoring environments, whether that sits back in technical documentation, product user interface, corporate communication, into my marketing materials, my training materials. That's a base rule that we all have to follow. And then from there, the guidelines that help communicate across those groups inside your organization.
Laura Dolan (04:22):
That's fantastic. So it creates that sense of consistency where it's almost like you only have to think about it. It just kind of helps you regulate all those different assets that go into your content.
Chris Willis (04:33):
Exactly. I mean, you're in marketing and how many times has somebody said, how are we doing with brand alignment, for instance? How do you know that? And I mean, I think the answer for a lot of people is, I'm going to pull a couple documents. I'm going to take a look and based on my eyeballs, I think we're doing okay. I would prefer to be able to automate that process. I'd like to be able to have a set of guidelines that represent my brand voice and then be able to run content against that and end up with a objective score that shows alignment. And that's what we do.
Chris Willis (05:12):
So we capture that brand right off your whiteboard. We make that actionable. We help writers create content along the lines of that brand language. Then we score that. So each piece of content ends up with what we call the Acrolinx score. And that's an objective scoring of how well aligned your content is with your guidelines. So that's why I don't say quality, because you could, I guess have a goal of creating very low quality content that resonates with your audience. So it's not about quality. It's about alignment.
Chris Willis (05:49):
You set those guidelines, you create content that adheres to those guidelines. You see a numeric score that shows that alignment. And now you can communicate with your CEO or with the board on a numeric basis. We are at a 90 alignment across our organization with our brand. And we're always going to be there because as people create new content, they're guided to write in that voice, with those words, using this level of clarity and consistency across everything they create.
Laura Dolan (06:18):
And how do you determine those guidelines? What's the process for that?
Chris Willis (06:22):
So every company is different. So the first thing we do is set out to either work with the person that owns the voice.
Laura Dolan (06:30):
Chris Willis (06:31):
So there is somebody in each organization that has defined the way the company wants to communicate. But in a case where they don't really know or they haven't done that work, we can take a great piece of content, something that they feel represents what they want and build rules out of that piece of content. I say that piece of content, it's great if it's a bunch of pieces of content and to pull the rules out of that, create a guidelines set that aligns with those pieces of content. So now we have something that represents good, and then we evolve from there.
Chris Willis (07:03):
The interesting thing about this is that in most cases, that overall content creation strategy is created by a person in an organization, somebody in a role like mine. And I guess I'm guessing, right? So when I did that at Acrolinx, I sat down with our CEO at the time and we defined our tone of voice, the clear levels under which we wanted to communicate based on the audience that we communicate with. And the fact that most of the people that we communicate with are involved in creative writing. So they're either technical documentation, they're marketing people, support writers.
Chris Willis (07:37):
So creating a voice that resonates with these people, but at the end of the day, we guessed. And so I create these guidelines and I build it into Acrolinx and now we create content that aligns with this. If we put it out in the world and it doesn't resonate, does that mean that our software is broken? And the answer is no. I mean, I think that was a loaded question.
Chris Willis (08:05):
Software is what it is because you told it what to do. And it means, you don't know your audience, maybe the way that you thought you did. And now the project becomes to align with your audience. So connecting to post production analytics to see how an Acrolinx 80 or 90 piece of content works in the real world. What is the goal of this content? If it's a blog article, is it converting? Is it keeping people on the page, the bounce rate and how do we impact that by making tweaks to our content creation strategy, to make it more aligned with our audience?
Chris Willis (08:40):
That's where this gets really interesting because it goes from this internal idea of what we are and how we want to communicate, to a more balanced audience aligned piece of content and content strategy. So I'm creating content that aligns with the experience that my audience is looking for.
Laura Dolan (08:57):
Yeah. That is so important. We actually did that very recently here at Optimizely because we had a bunch of companies come together through different acquisitions. So we had to go back to the drawing board with our branding strategy and figure out, okay, how could we stay consistent across the board? What is our tone of voice? Who was our audience? And that is so invaluable because you don't just want to produce content for the sake of producing content and just putting it out there. You actually want to create that audience, so you get conversions, so you create that value for them.
Chris Willis (09:27):
Exactly. And I mean, that's what we're seeing in the world. And for the last, I don't know, decade, we have been, marketers have been pushing this concept of the digital shift. It's coming, you got to be ready. And it was a fear tactic for big companies. If you don't switch over a lot of your business functions to the internet, someday, the world's going to change and you're not going to be ready. Not sure I ever thought that was going to happen, but it was a great message and it drove some action.
Laura Dolan (09:56):
Chris Willis (09:57):
And then March 10, 2020. Over. Happened. You missed it. Digital shift just happened. The only point of contact you have with your consumer is through your content.
Laura Dolan (10:08):
Chris Willis (10:09):
Nobody's going outside anymore. And so this concept of the importance of a digital touchpoint has always been a thing in the back of people's mind, but it became very front of mind in 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, that the things that I put down on paper are super important. Now we learned another thing during that time period, because we were saying things in the marketplace, like we can help save you money in your content creation.
Chris Willis (10:34):
And what we discovered is that people don't think that way. As an enterprise, businesses don't budget money to the creation of the content that they deliver, unless they're a huge business that only works with outside agencies. And that's not many businesses. Even the biggest companies create a lot of their own content in house. And so they don't think about the money that it costs and it's too bad because one of the largest assets inside a company is their body of content.
Chris Willis (11:08):
They've spent millions of dollars in man hours creating this asset. But because they don't see it as an asset, they don't think about it that way. And so they don't maintain it the way that they should. They don't optimize it the way that they should so that it continues to perform. So these two things together, my only touch point now is my content. And I'm not really sure I understand, or at least recognize the value of my content going forward, all came together to be this perfect storm of, ugh, we need to do something here.
Laura Dolan (11:43):
Yeah. A lot of companies had to pivot in a way they never thought they would have to before.
Chris Willis (11:48):
Yeah, no, absolutely. And this concept of like, how do I make this more engaging? How do I build this to be me and to represent the business we are? If you look at somebody like Apple, they do a great job across all of their channels from a communication standpoint. You know wherever you are, whether it's online or in the world, you know that you're dealing with Apple. And I think that's the aspiration for a lot of companies is that they create a communication paradigm that transcends the business out into the world that is just recognizable.
Chris Willis (12:24):
Huge aspiration, but that's what we're here to try and help companies with is, take 10,000 people, internal and external that are all creating this massive content that is the asset and aligning them around a set of guidelines that make that asset more valuable.
Laura Dolan (12:45):
Yeah. Apple was definitely the epitome of a disruptor in the tech industry. And so many companies are, like you said, aspiring to be just like them because they're so recognizable. And that's basically what every tech company should strive to be is that you see that product and you know it's Apple, you know it's Google, you know it's Microsoft. What do you think constitutes value when it comes to content? How could companies actually reach that level of familiarity?
Chris Willis (13:11):
Well, I mean, I think that it's understanding who you're communicating with at each stage of the experience. So continuing on the story that I was just telling, when I got here, I created that tone of voice for the business. And I think in terms of front office communication first, because that's where I live, that's what I do.
Chris Willis (13:31):
And so I created this voice that is designed to engage our front office audience, so our prospects, our customers. And it was light and informal. There was some funny to it, but it wasn't over the top. We want to be small, we don't want to be pompous and scientific. We don't want to sound "marketingy" and all of these things are things that marketing people say. Now, what do you do with that? How do you actually execute on that? And it's identifying what that means from an execution standpoint.
Chris Willis (14:11):
And there's things that our product does out of the box that helped to aid that. We can flag all the marketing language, so any buzz words get flagged and identified. And are you sure that you want to say that? We can increase clarity. We can try and drive just a consistency of usage across all of this content. We can add in from a tone of voice, this liveliness and humor. So we did that and we launched that and we created a lot of our content through that filter set.
Chris Willis (14:48):
And our front office audience, they liked it. It worked, the engagement levels were positive. So because I am a bit of a crazy megalomaniac, now I want everybody to do this. Who else is creating content here? Who else can use this filter? This is killing it. We're going to be great. Go. And so I grabbed the support team lead, said, "Here's a link. This is the new filter I want you to use when you're writing your support tickets."
Chris Willis (15:15):
Hey, you know who doesn't love my tone of voice? Support customers. They don't think that lively and engaging and slightly funny is good at all actually for their purposes. They're looking to get answers to their questions. And so we let our audience guide us. I thought I knew something. I was wrong. Our audience guided us back and helped us define the voice that we need in order to communicate with them.
Chris Willis (15:44):
And so there are hierarchal levels of this. There are rules that are inherited from the top, like spell the name of the company right. But then as you go down into your silos, you start to build individuals. So the way that you communicate in your product, within user interface strings might be different than the way that you communicate in your support tickets or your marketing content. But again, they need to relate, they all need to be aligned.
Chris Willis (16:11):
So listening, seeing the feedback, iterating over time helps you to get closer and closer to your audience and see that in terms of real business results. And all of this comes back to impact. You're looking for those real business results. It's not just doing it to do it and to be a better communicator. It's, what's the point of your content? So I talked about blogs earlier because it's just a great example that a lot of people understand. Why do you have a blog? Well, because my boss told me to. No, that's not why your company has a blog, but okay.
Chris Willis (16:48):
Okay. Well, is it, we want to be found for the interesting topics that we think represent us. I've got some conversion points in there. I'm trying to drive some lead creation. Okay, cool. So you're saying that your blog is to grow revenue. I am? Yes, you are. Let's just trace it out from there. If you are trying to convert, you're trying to generate leads, turned the pipeline, convert into eventually close deals.
Chris Willis (17:14):
How are you doing with that? Well, I have a goal this year to increase conversions by 10% across our blog. How's that going? We're just starting. I haven't seen any increase yet. Not really sure how this is going to go. Do you have any pages that are converting at that rate? Yeah, we have one. Cool. Could we look at that one page, identify what about it, besides just the base content, the topic, what about that content is resonating?
Chris Willis (17:47):
And then could we take the things that are resonating and roll that across a wider swath of existing content and test that to see if the conversion rates go up? Can content drive conversion rates, the way the content is created, drive conversion rates and result in increased revenue? And at our sales kickoff, I guess two months ago now, we had a very big travel company customer come and speak just to give us an idea of what they were experiencing with our product.
Chris Willis (18:18):
And the question was asked by one of the sales people, how are you measuring the success and/or challenges associated with the content that you're creating? And she didn't even skip a beat. I didn't tell her to say this. I'd never spoken to her before, revenue. We are measuring it in revenue.
Laura Dolan (18:35):
Chris Willis (18:35):
Our content, when it is working, is increasing revenue. There it is, and that's the whole end game. It's about looking at what the point of it is. So technical documentation, why are you building it? Because we have software. No, that's not why. You're building it for user adoption. You're using it for retention. Same thing with support tickets. Why are you doing that? To reduce calls to the call center, to increase customer satisfaction, all of this is measurable impact as a result of content creation. How can we increase that measurable impact by creating measurably better content? And that's where things get really exciting.
Laura Dolan (19:14):
So you did mention blogs. What, in your opinion, are the different types of content that provide the most value? Are there any other examples that you think of that marketers could leverage?
Chris Willis (19:23):
I mean, I think that everything in here, in your bucket of content is valuable, but the things that really, the money makers here are the things that we don't think about as much. I mean, digital is a huge opportunity to increase value because it's real time. So think landing pages, could you optimize your landing page language to get a better end result? Could you optimize your emails, communicating through email measurably better to get a better business result?
Chris Willis (19:58):
Obviously blogs, product pages, any place where there is an expected result with potential conversion, those are great places to impact change. Obviously long form content as well, creating an ebook, but doing it in my voice, using the words that we care about. That's very important, but it's not as instant as the short-medium form content of a landing page where bam, I just drove up conversions by 10%. That's exciting. And you can see that across things like your bounce rate, your time on page, the findability of that content, the conversion on that page, all right there in either your marketing automation tool or in Google Analytics. It's all available to see in real time as you create improvement.
Laura Dolan (20:50):
Do you think it adds value for companies to use their proprietary language in their content? For example, let's say companies have their own in-house acronyms or in-house jargon. Do you think that adds value to an ebook for example, if an outside audience downloads it or do you think that makes them feel a little more detached, like they can't relate to what the companies try to communicate?
Chris Willis (21:12):
Yeah. Almost the exact opposite of what you started with. One of the things that we try and do is flag those internal acronyms and words that don't mean anything. And I mean, I think that's a rule in marketing anyway. We tend to create a lot of our messaging in a vacuum, inside the office and it sounds great to us and then you say it to somebody in the outside world and it doesn't mean anything.
Laura Dolan (21:35):
Right. They're like, huh?
Chris Willis (21:37):
It just created the absolute best monkey apple hat. It means something to me. I don't understand why that doesn't evoke what I'm trying to get across. And now you're literally thinking about a monkey wearing an apple hat and that's not what I meant. It's a proprietary term that we use, to mean something completely different. So we're trying to find those things in the content and pull those out because they're not additive. And in fact, you're creating the opposite of engagement in your content.
Laura Dolan (22:05):
Right, kinda making people feel a little bit out of the loop and that's not how you want to treat your audience for sure.
Chris Willis (22:11):
Yeah. And I mean, if you think of the downstream impacts of that as well, a lot of us are translating our content. So how do you translate this proprietary language through any mechanism, really? It's going to be more challenging, so creating this clear, concise source language, source content, makes it easier to downstream convert content into additional languages. So pulling out buzz, pulling out superlatives, making content easier to understand to English as the first language, but also to be able to be translated is another whole cost savings associated with this.
Laura Dolan (22:56):
Absolutely. And also making the content relatable, especially in the tech industry. There's always that fine line that straddles, it's too technical or too simplistic. And I know a lot of like SaaS companies kind of struggle with that as well. It's like, how in the weeds do they get about their product?
Chris Willis (23:11):
Laura Dolan (23:14):
Well, awesome, Chris. Is there anything that we didn't cover that you'd like to speak on? You've been speaking on so many valuable things today. I just want to thank you so much for all that, but is there anything that you'd like to add before we wrap up?
Chris Willis (23:26):
Well, I mean, I think, we're talking about, I'm here working for a software company and so there's software that does this, but I think the important takeaway to your audience is that you don't need software to be more active about your content governance approach. You don't need to be Microsoft to do this. It's just about being in control of the way that you want to create your communications and then building some mechanism of governance into your program so that you are aligning your writers.
Chris Willis (24:00):
And there is, on my website at acrolinx.com, there's a book called the Content Governance Handbook that is relatively product agnostic. Yes, we wrote it. And at the end, there is a chapter on our product, but the book does walk through the mechanism of adding additional governance to your content strategy that makes any company better. And I highly suggest that if nothing else, if we go no further with anybody that's listening to this, take a read through that book and that will make you better at what you're doing from a content creation standpoint.
Laura Dolan (24:35):
Excellent. I'll make sure to put the link to that in the show notes so that they can find it in the blog. How could our audience find you, Chris?
Chris Willis (24:42):
Laura Dolan (24:49):
Perfect. Well, thanks so much, everyone go find Chris, expand your network on LinkedIn. And once again, Chris, thank you so much for your time today and thank you all so much for tuning into this episode of Content Intel. I'm Laura Dolan, and we will see you next time.
Laura Dolan (25:05):
Thank you for listening to this episode of Content Intel. If you'd like to check out more episodes or learn more about how we can take your business to the next level by using our content, commerce, or optimization tools, please visit our website at optimizely.com, or you can contact us directly using the link at the bottom of this podcast blog to hear more about how our products will help you unlock your digital potential.