Perfectly Content — Episode 4
Adrie: Everyone in content knows the feeling of being less than happy with piece of content that they've just made. But that feeling, unfortunately, doesn't always stop there. You might even feel it at a critical career juncture enter perfectly content, the podcast. I'm your host, Adrie Smith, Content strategist at Foleon. In every episode, we'll be joined by a guest to explore a real life scenario where they tackle a content challenge and that nagging feeling of less than perfection. We'll hear about impactful content, stronger strategies, and more inspiring brands, so that we can all become a little more perfect — and more content.
Adrie: Welcome to another episode of Insert Content Here today. I'm joined by Jack Davies from Qualtrics, and I'm really excited to have on board today. And for those of you who don't know Qualtrics already, they're in a really exciting space, which I actually hadn't heard of before called experience management.
Adrie: We're going to be talking a lot about this new category. So I don't really want to get into it, but actually after first speaking to Jack, he said something that is quite interesting. So I'm really glad to have him on the show because he said “content actually can't do everything in B2B marketing.” And I don't know, I think to some extent I would always disagree with that, but I'd definitely love to debate it, of course.
Adrie: And in the end, just a big warm welcome to Jack. Excited to have you here. Would you be able to tell us a bit about what you do at Qualtrics?
Jack: So I am the Head of Global Content at Qualtrics — I lead a content team of four, and a small army of freelancers.
Jack: And we look after all the demand gen and SEO content for the company, working with our teams in APJ, North America and EMEA.
Adrie: So I'm curious, and it's a question that I very often ask here. But how did you actually get in to content to begin with?
Jack: Wow, how long we got? So it's an interesting journey from studying to be a genetic scientist all the way through to content marketing via a career in agricultural journalism.
Jack: I graduated my undergrad in applied biology, but I always loved writing and I didn't really see career for myself in the sciences as much as I found it interesting. I always do things I find interesting and I find science interesting, but I didn't see it as a career. And so I did a post-grad in journalism and as I was coming into journalism, I started working at a newspaper called the Farmer's Guardian, which is, as it suggested, it's a newspaper read by farmers. And online journalism was just kicking off and they were quite early into that.
Jack: And they were part of the publishing group that was quite heavily invested in digital and driving forward digital in publishing. And as a new journalist, I got very involved in the digital side of it — I got very into digital content from a journalism perspective. And then after a while I moved out into the agency world.
Jack: So I got started at an agency called Sticky Content, which is ancient in terms of digital agencies, since it was founded in 1997. And it was right there at the very start of the whole internet bubble. And they were one of the few agencies that actually defined content strategy and really grew doing that. And then from there, I moved to Sarchy and Sarchy, still in the content space, but brought in more a wider look at advertising and brand and content and how it all fits together.
Jack: And that was a great experience. And then I moved in-house to Qualtrics, where I am now. So it's been a journey.
Adrie: So I'm really also interested to know because I've met quite a few people recently who come from an agency background as well, just like you, what does it actually bring to your role currently? What does that experience add?
Jack: I think what agency background gives you is addressing specific business challenges with content, whether that's advertising or SEO, et cetera. Because a client is coming to the agency with the challenge to solve, right? We have this new product that we need to sell, we have a brand awareness problem that we need to solve.
Jack: And so you're using content to solve specific business challenges, as opposed to the journalism world, where it was I'm producing content to drive clicks and views and entertain people. It became much more about that business challenge. And you end up working with and much broader range of people, like, I didn't know what a brand planner was before that.
Jack: And now I think it's the most valuable role in an agency. When you're working closely with designers and you're working on video and with video producers and with a lot of talented people, I think it just gives you that broader picture of where content fits in. Because before that, everything I did was probably in the written word.
Jack: So to me, the written word was everything. Everything was about the written word, but that brought in all these other areas — social, video, etc.
Adrie: So multimedia campaigns are definitely a really big theme so far on Insert Content Here. We're talking about it all the time because it's become such a necessary component of every content marketing campaign. So it's not surprising that you got that really solid experience in an agency setting.
Jack: Yeah, it's a shame to say — I love writing, I am originally a writer and I love writing — but people don't read a ton now, especially in our world at the very top of the funnel. They’re not going to go and read like 900 words on something they've never heard of, but you're trying to entertain and educate the same time and written word is not always the way to do that.
Jack: I think there's so many other mediums, so many other ways people consume content that you have to take all angles of attack as it were.
Adrie: So it seems like your background really sets us up very well to talk about category creation. I mentioned it at the very beginning experience management, at least to me, I had not heard of it before.
Adrie: It's something that I'm definitely starting to know more and more about, not just because of contact with you, but it is an up-and-coming space. So, what is category creation and why is it hard? I know we already spoke about this, but I'd love to hear a little bit more about this particular challenge that you had.
Jack: I'd say challenge, but it's just been a lot of fun at Qualtrics. The last five years or so has been creating the category of experience. So Qualtrics has evolved from a company that initially sold research software to academics into a company that did customer experience software and employee experience software and research software, into this new category of experience management, which is essentially all the experiences that people have, whether it is as an employee or as a customer. They're all interconnected, the way you experience the company as a customer, or you experience something like customer service impacts your view of a brand. So there’s all these experiences people have in their day-to-day lives that impact the success of a company.
Jack: And I think Qualtrics was really the first company to say that's all connected. That's one piece of software across the organization. So we came up with this category of experience management in 2017, and the challenge for content is then how do we tell our story? How do we create demand for of category that wasn't there before?
Jack: How do you create demand for something people didn't know they needed? So typically obviously you would have gone in on things like what are people looking for? What are they searching for? And create SEO content around that, but no one’s searching for something they didn't know existed. And so that's the challenge.
Jack: And it's also something that you don't get to do very much in your career, or there's very few people who get to work in a marketing team creating a category. It’s incredibly exciting and it's challenging, but it's fun at the same time. And part of the way that we've done that is to blend — It's almost blending the two. If you work in customer service for example, you still want the software to be able to listen to your customers and raise a ticket in order to follow up with them. So there's still that search demand in SEO. There’s still that audience out there who wants content on how to improve customer service and things like that.
Jack: So our, the way we've approached it is we're still creating that kind of content, but we're linking it and telling stories about how that then links to the rest of the organization. What's the employee side of that? How does a company provide an experience, but its employees that allow them to provide that kind of customer service when you get in touch with a company? What's their process for taking all that data that you get from customers when they’re phoning up? And then using that to draw out brand insights and taking action in your marketing teams. So it's where you want started with this kind of single point of need.
Jack: We're creating content that's saying, yeah, here's what you need and how you need to do it. And here's all the advice that we've got. But it starts to branch out into these different areas. So you start to create content pathways that take people through in some places where they probably didn't know they needed to look.
Jack: And it's a long process. No one overnight is suddenly going to go, ah, cracked it. That's exactly what we've been doing all along. But by using and telling stories, I think we've been able to show people how it all comes together.
Adrie: So this may seem like a bit of a basic question, but how do you know if you've actually successfully created a new category? How do you know when you've been successful?
Jack: I think once it starts being recognized by others. We start to see companies talking about experienced management as a thing that they're doing.
Jack: And I think that's when you've been successful at creating the category, and the challenge then is growing it. So you can create it and you can convince 13, 000companies or however many that it's a thing that they need. But how do you expand that? How do you grow that? How do you make it something that every business knows that it needs or relies on? Creating the category is the starting point, and at some point you have to then grow it and expand it and mature it.
Adrie: So it's definitely a multi-step process.
Jack: Yeah. I'd say it's never finished. I think if, even if you spoke to some of the most mature categories in the world, they'd say they're not finished because you're always keeping up with what's changing in the world.
Jack: How does experience management fit into that? How does it support companies in this new world? And every company in the world is answering this question and so the category constantly evolves. I think that's where it's starting, because it constantly evolves and you’re reacting to things and applying it in new ways.
Adrie: So this seems like it's definitely bigger than a project. It's really a company-wide initiative that needs to actually happen in order to create a category. So can you explain to us, or at least give us some of the context around how this actually dropped onto your plate? What's the role of content here?
Jack: Once the company leadership has set that direction that this is a category that we’re launching, there was a lot of work to be done — from product leadership, marketing leadership, et cetera, to go and define that category and what it was. And I think at that point, the whole organization has to get by. Otherwise, they could send a briefing to the content team to go write stuff about this experience management category, and it would never fly. Sales teams can go and talk to customers about how it applies to them, and engineering teams can build a product that supports what you're saying and what you're trying to sell into the market. I think that is the big challenge is it's the whole company.
Jack: It's a company wide thing. And once Qualtrics made the move into that, it's that content plays a supporting role. It’s definitely not the be all and end all — it played a very tiny role in a much, much bigger picture.
Adrie: So just looking at content, I know you said it's small, but at least in my opinion, it's small, but mighty. How did that look for you when you were actually getting started with a strategy for creating a new category from a content perspective? What does that look like for you?
Jack: It's a lot of trial and error. I don't think there's a playbook, because every category is different. And we have our targets — we know content needs to drive engagement, it needs to — we're in B2B, so it needs to drive some key metrics like pipeline and things like that. So we needed to keep doing that. You still need to be winning in SEO for those key things that people are looking for, which are definitely not the category in the early stages.
Jack: And so the old engine’s running and doing those things that have always been working, but then we started to layer on things like more storytelling. And we tell the stories of brands in our content that are living experience management. Cause I think sometimes if you show people what lies behind successful companies or well-known things that they see and you start to explain it how that works, how it's all put together in the backend, I think people understand it more of what it is. Rather than if we're just banging in the drum and shouting from every possible angle, “Hey, you need experience management!” without showing people what it is.
Adrie: So storytelling has been a huge trend for a really long time. And when we first spoke about this element in particular, I was really triggered because what you call storytelling I really think of as thought leadership. What's the difference here? Do you see the difference between a story that your team is telling versus traditional thought leadership?
Jack: Yeah, I think there was a difference — there's a crossover and a difference.
Jack: So I think storytelling is putting thought leadership into practice and into terms that people understand. There are very few people who can do thought leadership on things that people don't know about. It's very hard to come out as an expert and say, hey, the way you've been thinking about everything is all wrong.
Jack: You need to rethink it and do things this way. Whereas if you can show someone here's this brand and this thing that they did that you didn’t know about that you loved and you thought it was really cool. Here's how they got to that. People understand it more and it's a different way in it's less theoretical, less academic and much more practical.
Jack: And I think people connect with that lots more because it reflects the things they do in their day-to-day lives. I bought a pair of trainers from this company, so I know I've interacted with them in my life. Or, I subscribed to Netflix, so I know what the Netflix experience is like. So when you show me what lies behind that experience, that excites me and I get excited about it and I can see how that might apply to my company.
Jack: Whereas I think thought leadership feels more academic to me. I think that's where I would draw the line. It's going from that kind of academic side of content to the more entertainment. And there's a crossover, right? You can't have pure entertainment as a B2B company. We are not in the world to entertain people.
Jack: But at the same time, we're not a company produces academic writing. We're somewhere in the middle and I think you need a little bit of both and if you can blend them it’s even better.
Adrie: So looking at it from a practical perspective, I know you already touched on some of the elements of keeping the old content machine running. But you also have to start investing in your new category from a content perspective. So I'm curious to know how you actually make that division. So what's the balance here?
Jack: It's changed over time. So initially there was less storytelling than there was point of need content that we were producing.
Jack: But over time, as a concept to you end up having produced content for most of the search volume out there, it's you don't overnight wake up and go, oh wow. People are suddenly starting this whole new thing that no one's ever searched for before. So say for example, customer service improvements might be a key steps tab.
Jack: We'll have created content for that. So over time as you're winning all of those keywords and you're creating content for those key words, when there's already demand. That can tail off a little bit and then the storytelling can come in. And of course you can never let it go like SEO. So hugely valuable to us.
Jack: And there's, there are always new things to react to. Or we're constantly refreshing content with new points of view. We're applying new best practices, but you're not going after white space anymore. Your optimizing what's already there, which frees you up to go and do a bit more storytelling stuff. And at some point you merge the two.
Jack: So they meet somewhere in the middle of someone's. Because they had a search query around. The employee engagement or something like that. And when you're creating a piece of content to tell them about playing engagement, you're then starting to introduce these stories, whether it's, if some of the videos that our video team does with our customers, or whether it's using that content to drive them to an event where you can talk more about employee experience at the wider accent gas story, they start to merge.
Jack: Which is great, because then you're doing a little bit of both and you don't feel like you're in that old world anymore where it's like, Hey, has the old sheen, here's the new machine? It's just the machine.
Adrie: Yeah. I guess it all has to just come together. And I guess since it is a company wide initiative, it's bound to happen.
Adrie: All right. So category creation, I think you've already said that it's a continuous process. Where are you now in the process? Have you created it? Have you actually succeeded?
Jack: Well, we succeeded in creating it. There's always going to be work to do there. I think it's probably beyond my knowledge to say quite how far we are in where the cats who's crazy, but we know as a company there's a ton more to do.
Jack: And I think we always say we're just getting started and it's very true. There is so much more to go and do, and we'll continue to have to tell the story. But yeah, I wouldn't, I'd say I'll wear 20% or 30% better. I think we created the category in that it's our jobs to constantly grow that and sustain that and build it rather than ever really seeing an end point.
Jack: There's probably never really an end point to the category. You just keep growing it and you just keep telling stories, creating content and evolving over time. What our content will look like in five years time will be drastically different from what it looks like today because the market will change.
Jack: So the job is never done, which is quite good if you're in the content industry, that is quite a nice place to be
Adrie: sure. But it also seems like you're seeing progress in what you're doing. And I think that's also really important for somebody who works in content, because at least that's what I really like about content is that you can actually see what you've built. You can see the results that keep coming in sometimes slowly, but they still come in over time.
Jack: And I actually think that's why. I remember when content wasn’t really a thing. It was, it was more entertainment. A lot of it was entertainment and people, I love that website. Or that thing I just wrote. And it's like, we never really had visibility. I think it was only when one of our clients had came back to us. And you guys know how much of an improvement we're seeing from that content? Yeah. No, we never really thought about it before you, you write the checks, we produce you, the content you asked us to produce. And from there, it became a thing where more and more clients were results oriented.
Jack: And that is now the factor, right? Everything is about the results. And so shipping, we shouldn't no, no one should ever be creating content for no ad. It shouldn't just be there for the sake of being that it needs to happen.
Adrie: All right. So just a little bit of reflection. Now, if you had to start all over again, if you had to go back to the beginning and start this experience management category from scratch, what would you change about what you did or would you put more effort into some things versus others?
Jack: Yeah, it's a difficult one to reflect when you're midway in the journey to actually say, Hey, we would do this differently or this differently, because it's evolved so quickly and things have changed so quickly. I think there's a ton of stuff we know we've got to go do now that we've learned lessons that we're, we'll go do next, but I would never probably look at it and say, Hey, that's what I would have changed.
Adrie: I guess that's the value of a project or initiative that you can actually constantly go back to and refine constantly.
Jack: Yeah. And that's the beauty of working in content and digital, particularly. I always say that when people are trying to affect something before it goes live, it's the absolute point of perfection, you know what, actually come up with optimization in three weeks time, we'll just go in and we'll change it.
Jack: We'll update it. It's still content. Things, evolve. Things can be changed. Nothing is ever perfect. Whereas they think there's a lot of people who are still and possibly because they have worked in content and they live in that world of once you press submit it's final. And that was scary when I worked because once you press submit, it was final and it got printed in the newspaper.
Jack: If there was a mistake, then you're in some trouble, not so much. Now I think you can go back and change things and update things and improve them as you go. So it's a nice, I wouldn't say safety net. It's a nice position to be in. You can always improve what you do.
Adrie: And I think that really makes you check your ego at the door, right? It's not really about you. It's actually more about the results that piece of content is actually going to bring in, however you're judging it.
Jack: Yeah. Some of the best companies in the world are producing cards. If you think about all the content you’re interacting with from different companies, fairly rarely, would you know who created that content.
Jack: You would know the company and that's fine. It's not, it's not an ego business. If you, if it's all about ego, go write a book, direct a film. That's where you can direct that energy. But I think in the space that we're in content marketing, it's about the performance and it's not necessarily about the individuals.
Adrie: All right. We're onto our last question of today. And we've heard a lot about category creation, which I think is very helpful to quite a few people who are listening, who are thinking about moving into a new category and how that's going to look for them. And I'm sure they'll reach out to you for more specific advice, but this has been a really good intro.
Adrie: But my last question for you today. And I think it's always good for people to leave with is a little bit of inspiration. So what piece of content or person idea thing really changed the way that you view content today?
Jack: Probably the person that's had most influence in terms of where my career has gone and what I've done. My first manager in agencies and the guy called Dan Brotzel. He set up sticky content them as an agency that essentially wrote websites for people in the early days of websites, they wrote websites for people and they spotted the opportunity to go into constant strategy and to become much more focused on how content improves business performance and things like that.
Jack: How it's impacting the metrics and he developed a web best practice. People would come on the, he did he's where best practice clustered like two hours and writing for the web. And from first doing that, to seeing how different digital content and the way you interacted with this content and consume digital content was to anything else, even as a consumer of this concept.
Jack: So I sounded like I'd never seen digital content. I went in and it blew my mind. It's like, Hey, I, and you engage with this content on a daily basis. May never thought about. The tips and tricks that go into simple things like breaking things into bulleted lists that draw the eye and things like that. And he was a master of that.
Jack: And honestly, if you took him to a client meeting, you would almost always been the business because they were paying for his brain, basically. And to this day you still see a lot of web writing best fighters. He had. Been pushing since the early two thousands. So he had a big impact on my grade cause he started to understand the nuances of the way you present content and the way you use content in order to get a result out of the reader, which I'd never really thought about before.
Jack: Everything was all about, Hey, how do I create an emotional base? How do I write the perfect drop in traits that make someone read the rest of this feature or write the perfect headline to make someone click through. He was a very analytical person that might have content works in the way you construct content to drive behavior.
Jack: Yeah, he'd probably be the most influential. And then from that, I think it's just all the individual projects you work on. The individual learnings you get from each one has a knock on effect into the next one, rather than any big kind of aha moment.
Adrie: Cool. Thank you so much for joining us. I'm really happy to have you today and yeah.
Adrie: Look forward to catching up soon.
Jack: Good chat.
Adrie: All right. Well, that's it for this week's episode of perfectly content. Thank you so much for listening. And if you liked this episode and want to stay tuned for more click subscribe, wherever you're listening and you'll receive updates on our very next episode.
Adrie: And finally one last thing, we have an editorial style newsletter that goes out once a week, called The Crave. We talk about all of the content that we've been craving this week and each week it's curated by a different content person from the team. You can check it out at foleon.com/the-crave.
Adrie: See you there.