The real cost – and value – of content

By • May 12th, 2014

Last week, we got the chance to sit down with Karen Walker, the forward-thinking Senior Vice President of Marketing at Cisco. Karen leads the global ‘Go To Market’ Organization, which manages the outbound marketing of Cisco’s portfolio.

Throughout our conversation, one point came up again and again: this is a decisive moment for marketers. Never before have so many invaluable tools and fortuitous shifts in technology and culture provided this much room for opportunity. Now, it’s time to see how far marketers can run with what they have now, and with with what’s coming next.

“You start to have a conversation and engage with your customer.”

At Cisco, Karen is pushing her department to take advantage of these opportunities: “My goal here at Cisco is for marketing to generate more revenue than we cost the company. Not only becoming a revenue center, but a profit center as well.”

The key to this shift? Content.

“We’ve really accelerated our focus in terms of how to create revenue and drive demand, around how we look at content production and curation. We make sure it’s compelling. You start to have a conversation and engage with your customer. I tell my team, you want to get to a point where the customer sees so much value in what your marketing provides that they want to pay for it and have it as a service.”

“That’s why I think all these stars are aligning.”

Content has been one of the most talked-about forms of marketing over the past year, but measuring content’s ROI is a different matter entirely. In fact, we’ve even heard that it’s impossible. However, Karen maintains that, with the diligent use of new technologies, finding out how much your content is costing you and its ROI is very possible.

“I do think that marketing is one of the last functions to be industrialized. In terms of upgrading it with the tools and technologies we need, there’s a significant move forward on this front as well over the last few years. That’s why I think all these stars are aligning.”

“We’ve actually gotten pretty disciplined in terms of knowing what the costs of content creation and curation look like, down to a granular level, so that when we build out a campaign we know how much it’s going to cost. We are also starting to forecast what we think the campaign will result in, in terms of revenue.”

So how does content translate into hard profit?

“The vendor is no longer in charge of the purchase journey”

“It’s two things, the quality of the content itself, and the quality of the conversation. You have to have the right things to say. If you’re having a great dinner party, what are the great conversations you want to have? Who do you include? How do you engage everyone and keep their attention? What fascinating stories do you tell? You build a conversation map, and when that’s overlaid on a purchase journey, you can actually help your customers make a really great decision.”

So content gets the conversation started, and the conversation ends with a new, loyal customer.

Yet even the perfect piece of content is worthless if it isn’t going through the right channels, and those channels are changing.

“The vendor is no longer in charge of the purchase journey, the customer totally is. We’re finding that’s a major shift.”

So what’s driving this? Why do consumers have more control over how and what they buy than ever before?

“If you think about your own life, you’re trying to do a lot more with less. Your time is crunched. There’s a blending of work and social time. Those boundaries are shifting. Companies need to use their content stand out and help educate their busy customers more than ever before, or they won’t make the sales they used to.”

The entire customer base is changing too, and so are their expectations.

“If you think about the next generation of buyers, they’re more and more likely to be digital natives. This is just the expectation. You don’t need a fifty page white paper. Give me the headline, give me what I need to know to make my decision.”

That’s why timely, useful content expertly managed through social media is so important.

“People still want to engage with humans.”

“We’re trying to really think about social engagement, and go to where the market is talking about us. When customers lean in, and they’re engaging around you, that’s a real gift.”

That is what marketers need to be shooting for.

A McKinsey study showed marketing-induced word-of-mouth generates more than twice the sales of advertising. If we do marketing well, our customers will be marketing for us.”

That doesn’t mean social media and content marketing are all there is. They’re part of a bigger picture.

“I don’t think [social media is] the panacea. People still want to engage with humans. We are the human race, and we want to build relationships and trust. I think that what we really need to think through is the ongoing relationship. How we can get it right for the customer the first time, rather than making it right later?”

Ultimately, marketing is about building that human connection. It’s the only thing that marketers have—that they will ever have, probably—that approaches a silver bullet.

“We still have to think about how we create and deliver the content. Not quite as far as it being entertaining, but it should be compelling. And why not entertaining? You’re dealing with human beings. If you can appeal to their emotions and sense of humor, it is all about how you build that.”

As more technologies, tools and techniques make their way to marketers’ fingertips, there are some things they still can’t afford to forget.

“It’s not just the content, it’s how it’s used to build a personal connection. When we transcend the transaction and create an experience, then we can build a relationship that leads to a loyal customer. ”

If you want to find out what else Karen is thinking, you can follow her on Twitter: @KarMWalker

If you’re interested in hearing more great advice on content straight from marketers’ mouths, check out the upcoming Incite Summit West on May 13th to 14th. To find out more about the event as a whole, head to

Published on May 12th, 2014


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