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IDG's Chief Content Officer: Separate Content Marketing From Marketing

03/07/2015 09:32 am ET | Updated May 07, 2015

Since our first CXOTalk show launched in 2013 with Guy Kawasaki, I have interviewed 12 startup founders/CEOs, 15 Fortune 250 executives, 28 Chief Information Officers, 10 technology analysts including Group Vice Presidents from Gartner and IDC, seven venture capitalists, six bestselling authors, one Emmy award winner, one Brigadier General and one NBA team owner. After hosting our 100th episode last week, we can now add to that impressive guest roster, our first Chief Content Officer, John Gallant of IDG Communications.

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John Gallant, Chief Content Officer - IDG Media US

As Chief Content Officer for the largest technology publishing company in the world (IDG literally publishes in every continent), Gallant (Twitter: @JohnGallant1) works with editorial teams to set content strategy and figure out how to leverage social and mobile as he determines the overall content strategy that drives the business of IDG in the U.S. The print industry has been completely re-vamped by digital transformation. With just one print publication left today, CIO Magazine, IDG has reinvented itself and continues to serve their audience using a rich array of media such as web-based tools, social media, podcasts and events.

Content is so important, not just to marketing, but to all businesses looking to drive successful outcomes. More and more companies are realizing the importance of quality content and the role it plays in building that ongoing relationship with their customers, however when you look across the technology landscape, there are a lot of people covering a lot of similar technologies. IDG differentiates their brand by focusing on delivering high-value content targeted for specific audiences that is not being delivered by another brand in the market.

Gallant's message is clear, "Like everything else, the media has gotten to be less about mass and more about targeted, and it's all about targeting the message and targeting the people that you're trying to reach." He offers incredible advice in terms of content and marketing and how to sustain and grow relevancy.

7 ways to develop and sustain relevant content

1. Develop a content strategy - Corporations have trouble separating the content marketing from the marketing. Gallant says that there's a role for content in marketing, if you define marketing as establishing and building that relationship in finding those audiences. But he points out that the content itself can't be solely used for marketing. That content has to provide a value to the audience. Corporations need to invest time in content and the number one thing is having a content strategy which starts with defining who you are trying to reach.

"What you're trying to find is who is the reader and what am you doing for that reader. Once you understand those things then you start to look at the tactical issues of what are the best ways to deliver that - what comes through social, what comes through video, what comes through how to versus case studies versus Q&A verses white papers and things like that. But I think far too often, those initial questions of who are we trying to reach and what are we trying to do for them are just not answered." - John Gallant

Gallant sees this day in and day out because virtually every company in the market thinks they need to reach CIOs: "Whether they are making a $1.99 app or a $2 million ERP system, they still think they need to reach a CIO and they don't really understand the dynamics of who their buyer is and what they should be saying to that buyer."

2. Use stories that shake things up - In such a crowded and competitive content landscape, IDG differentiates itself by the quality of their journalists as well as by the quality of the content. Content marketers stand to learn a lot from traditional journalism and when it comes to creating content, Gallant says that the big question that has to be answered by journalists and marketers alike is, "Why are we covering this?" When deciding on where to invest your time when it comes to content, it needs to be something that provides value to your target audience.

IDG has a concept of stories that shake things up - the stories that they delivered that nobody else would deliver to that audience and Gallant says, "If you can't point to those types of stories, you're not differentiating the content and you're not delivering something that's going to build that engagement with the audience." IDC applies this filter to every single thing that they do, because with an infinite number of choices that can be made about what to cover, how to cover it and went to cover it, the most important decision always needs to be why are we covering it.

3. Be in it for the long-term - Gallant feels that one of the challenges with corporate content is that too many people think it is quick and easy and they are focused on short-term gains. He says that the brands at IDG have value because they have been building relationships and delivering value to their audience for years, so the audience has come to trust and rely on them. "That's not something you can do overnight and you can't do that with five pieces of content, or two webcasts or eight tweets," says Gallant, "these are things that are going to require a commitment to do well and corporations need to put aside the momentary gain for the long-term value of building that relationship."

Gallant's advice to corporate content providers is to think about the different types of content that are of value to the audience, and he says it's not just about new products. You could probably glean a wealth of information from your customer service folks about issues that customers are dealing with all the time and creating content around those issues is a huge value to your organization - it cements the current customer relationship and it opens the door to a new customer relationship because you're answering questions that probably a lot of buyers have.

4. Measure content effectiveness with digital KPIs - The beauty of digital content is that it improves the ability to use data and analytics to make connections between the content and the result of that content. Gallant says that in many ways their editors have become analytics folks, using a variety of tools to track social engagement with their content and to see how their stories are trending. They look at a wide variety of KPI's on a daily, weekly and hourly basis to make sure that the audiences are engaging and also to capture spikes of interest in particular topics and in particular stories. You can see from the analytics what people are consuming, even to the point where they dropped off on an article or where you lost them in an article.

"On the business side, people are connecting through social media and there are a slew of tools to track the behaviors of people online, and to track how one piece of content leads them to connect with another piece of content, whether that's an ad, lead generation materials, signing up for an event or newsletter. "I think the beauty of all this information is that it allows us to marry two things; the art and the science of media. In the past, media was primarily art and it was the editorial judgment about what we think the readers want to know and need to know. Today through social media, SEO oriented tools and online surveying, we can track consumption patterns and look at predictive behavior to really find out what people want to know as well as present them with ideas and opportunities that they might not have been aware of that are really valuable to them," says Gallant.

5. Pitch the right media - For marketers struggling with how to pitch the media with their content, Gallant says the opportunity and the challenge today is that media is differentiated, so you can find much narrower streams of information that are targeting the people that you really need to reach to. The opportunity is that you can find the people that you really need to reach, whether your marketing to them or trying to communicate through the media to them. The challenge is that you have to understand that landscape and you have to put the work into determining who those influencers are.

"Who are the key people that you absolutely have to reach? Today, it's not about reaching 1,000 journalists because you can easily reach that many or more, it's how do you reach the 10 journalists that really make a difference in this market. Where are they, and what are they doing, what are the hot button issues that they're following," says Gallant who advises marketers to do their homework first to figure out who the people are that are going to amplify the message, understand the message critically and be able to communicate with the right audiences about that message.

6. Build relationships with key influencers - It's important to realize that the relationship between a marketer and a publishing journalist is based on an exchange of value. "The marketer is looking for value and communicating a message to our target audiences. We're looking for value in bringing us something that the audience needs to know about and often that part of the value proposition isn't well thought through," says Gallant.

For marketers to work on building these relationships, it's as simple as saying, "Hey, I'd like to get to talk to you and find out what are your covering, what is your beat, what are the issues that are most important to you, what do you understand about my client or not understand about my client." To share a tip on something that's going on and that has nothing to do with your company is a great way to build a connection and relationship with somebody.

"We have seen people develop really strong relationships with the key communicators, either with a vendor company or with a PR or agency person, because of that building up the rapport and exchanging value over time," says Gallant.

7. Listen on social media - Social is a great tool to build up your network and get feedback from people on how your content resonated, but most organizations are guilty of doing much more talking than listening on social media. "We put a lot of content out in social media, we re-tweet our own content and use it as a loudspeaker for putting our content out to the right audiences, but we should be doing more listening," admits Gallant. He suggests finding the influencers and making sure that they understand the things that you've published that might be of interest to them and their audiences, and more importantly following them and making sure that you are understanding the things that are on their minds because listening can help shape your content and make it better.

You can watch the full interview with John Gallant here. Please join me and Michael Krigsman every Friday at 3PM EST as we host CXOTalk - connecting with thought leaders and innovative executives who are pushing the boundaries within their companies and their fields.