Marketing Best Practices

Interview with Content Rockstar and Author Debbie Williams

Jon Gelberg By Jon Gelberg October 22, 2013

Part of our job at Ceros is to tune in and listen to what thought leaders have to say about emerging trends in content marketing. We are publishing a series of blog posts that address topics that we feel our community will find relevant. Each post will feature an expert who specializes in a certain subfield within content marketing.

To kick it off, we interviewed Debbie Williams, who co authored “Brands in Glass Houses” and serves as Chief Content Officer for Sprout Content.

You’ve mentioned that B2B marketers should approach content like they are delivering to consumers. Could you please elaborate on this?

We don’t believe there’s such a divide between B2B and B2C and that we’re all doing business “P2P” person-to-person. It’s about creating helpful, valuable information that will educate your audience and give you an opportunity to show your industry expertise. Whether you’re selling spa services to people or Logistics Software to Event Managers, you’re dealing person-to-person.

Too many “B2B” companies get stuck in “business speak” and communicate coldly to the people they are trying to do business with. Their websites are filled with meaningless jargon, buzzwords and over-used phrases that really say nothing about how their products/services can make that person’s life/job easier.

What are some surprising parallels that you have seen between your work creating content for beauty brands in NYC and Sprout?

I worked mostly at CPG agencies or in-house in the creative/marketing departments at big beauty companies which I loved; but there are certainly challenges when working with global brands vs. smaller entrepreneurial companies.  At SPROUT Content, we work with mostly B2B companies and usually work directly with the company owners/founders at some level.  There are so many fewer layers to go through to get ideas or projects approved and we can be more creative and spontaneous that way.  It’s very rewarding to feel like you’re a part of your clients’ companies too and get to know the people who work there.  When working on big brands, you’re usually just working one piece of a very big pie. We are honored to be able to impact the growth of companies and see real results from the work that we do.

There must be a brand out there that is so boring, it doesn’t have a story. Right?

Not true!  We think every single business out there in any industry has an interesting story to tell.. they’re likely just not telling it. My business partner Dechay Watts and I recently wrote a book that touches a lot on this topic, called Brands in Glass Houses.  In fact I’ll share with you a little excerpt from the book that talks about this very topic!

“Think your business isn’t that exciting? Paper converting likely doesn’t sound thrilling either. But, here’s an example of how our client Oren International, a paper converting company, transformed itself from boring and technical into an interesting and creative brand that makes a major statement in their industry and any B2B business can learn from.Oren had a very outdated website, which did not communicate its full scope of services, or more importantly, what its employees are passionate about. It gave an overview of the company’s basic products and services but didn’t even touch on the custom creative projects its team loved and wanted to do more of.The content was really dry and offered plain factual information and industry terms. The Services page was basically a list of numbers, weights, and measurements for the types of paper Oren converts. The content didn’t tell the story of a fun, creative group with an amazing paper facility that services major clients — including restaurants, pharmaceutical companies, and advertising agencies — worldwide.Once we got to know the real story behind its operations, we founds gems of information to bring out the team’s personality and enhance its custom services through more fitting words and visuals. We learned about amazing branded paper solutions that Oren provides to restaurants, marketing companies, and even construction sites. We also saw the passion their people bring to the usage of paper. Oren is not your standard paper converter, but you would not have guessed that from the story (or lack thereof) this company was telling.”

Oren’s new content explains how the company partners with others to bring their visions to life and conveys their enthusiasm for the possibilities of paper. It has a voice and perspective and effectively communicates what the company can do for clients — from developing innovative alternatives, to making them “greener,” to collaborating with project engineers to execute ideas.

Within three months of the new site launch, Oren saw a 69 percent conversion rate for its e-book targeted at restaurants, and an 86 percent conversion rate for its e-book about the environment. Neither of these content pieces includes lists of measurements, weights, and numbers, but both show Oren’s expertise and commitment to quality through interesting storytelling.

Does a company need to offer a product that employees can experience first hand in order to foster employee brand evangelism?

You don’t need to work at a consumer products company to experience first hand how great a product or service is and become passionate about it.  First, it’s about the company culture you create as a company. No matter your industry or product offered, if your employees don’t want to be there, that will shine through in every aspect of your business. The wise marketing authority Seth Godin said it best, “The indispensable employee brings humanity and connection and art to her organization. She is the key player, the one who’s difficult to live without, the person you can build something around.”

You can have all of the external brand evangelists in the world, but if your own employees won’t sing your praises, you have bigger problems to worry about.

Employee evangelists are the ones who come face-to-face with customers and vendors and often serve as your front line of communication. From the receptionist to the CEO, everyone has the opportunity to make an impression and share your story. A company’s employees are some of its primary storytellers and ambassadors. So much of the love that people have for brands comes from the people who represent it, who sell it and live and breathe it every day; so brand evangelism must ooze from the inside out.

What else can readers expect to learn from your book Brands in Glass Houses?

At the core of the book we want business, of all types and sizes, to understand that being authentic and transparent s crucial. For the first time in history, the truth sells.  We want businesses to rethink their entire marketing approach and understand that being truly transparent helps earn consumers’ trust, creates stronger relationships and positions you as an industry thought leader.

In the book we share examples of how companies big and small are lifting the curtains of secrecy and showing their human side by telling an authentic, transparent story. It shows how fun, memorable, engaging content reveals who they are at the core, establishes credibility and wins customers.

In between these case studies, we offer actionable steps on how to develop your authentic brand story, share it with others and create a connection through different content tools (social media, blogs, website, brand advocacy etc.). The book shows you how being honest and open, while sometimes scary, is the only way to do business today.

Learn more about Brands in Glass Houses online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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