The Power Players series highlights industry professionals who are expanding the boundaries of content operations, marketing and martech strategy, and digital asset management. Interviews have been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Success, success, success. Pam Didner, B2B tech marketing consultant, speaker, and author, knows that marketing success is contextual, that every business situation requires unique solutions. But no matter the context, teams need processes and technology in place to make content production happen.
Didner argues that, between agile tools and content operations solutions, companies across industries need to invest in marketing technology that will help them meet the marketing challenges of today, tomorrow, and on into the future.
In this interview, get Pam Didner’s point of view on why teams need content operations to succeed, period, and what her power play is.
Ed Breault, CMO at Aprimo: Pam, welcome to Power Players. It’s been a while since we were hanging out in Cleveland, Ohio, at Content Marketing World. Since then, things have been virtual. But the name Pam Didner shows up all over the digital space. You, Pam, don’t need to be in a physical place or on a stage or anything. You’re a thought leader in content marketing and content strategy, you’re an author. If there’s a file out there on the Internet with your name on it, you know, I’m clicking.
Pam Didner, Marketing Consultant: You’re so kind and I’m literally just stalking people, trust me.
ED: So, Pam, tell me a little bit about what’s going on in your world lately.
PAM:  was actually a very interesting year, of course, for every one, every one of us, and not just at the personal level, but also at the professional level. And I don’t have to say anything about how much we are scrambling, trying to work from home, trying to set up our [home] office. That was very interesting for me as well.
I get my business through speaking in conferences, which is more in-person communication. And then after that, of course, Covid—that kind of changed that model a little bit. And I did quite a bit of webinars during Covid, and I also amped up my email marketing efforts and to just try to compensate in terms of, you know, how to do content marketing during Covid. And interesting enough, during Covid, the first several months, like everybody else, I was freaking out and not getting a lot of things in the pipeline.
And then things started picking up literally in Q3 and Q4. I ended up having the best year ever. Seriously, you know, that’s ironic. Yeah, but everything is good. Everything’s good. You know, we were very, very lucky. We were very careful and nobody got sick in our family, knock on wood.
ED: And here we are. Here we are. And you said something that I think many of us saw, which is we were preparing for the worst. But what we got out of it was almost the best, some higher, highest performing years in terms of business, because it’s almost like the situation where the whole physical world, the world of in-person, immediately went away. We all jumped to digital. And what was that? What powers that is content and a content strategy. And yeah, there have been some B2B SaaS companies, other content and marketing leaders I’ve talked to that made big mistakes in terms of not leaning into it or they were overly, you know, Doomsday-planning, conservative. So they missed out. And so the opposite problem happened, which is they couldn’t keep up with all the business they had, because it’s a really hot space right now. I mean, we saw that personally.
Aprimo’s customers have seen that as well. And it’s if you can make that pivot, if you were the ones who are able to sort of jump on that big wave of digital and content, then you did really well.
PAM: Yeah, but at the same time Ed, I can totally understand why some enterprises or companies didn’t make that move. And I think there are a couple of reasons. Number one is probably resources and budget and to make that shift, it does require some effort. I think the second thing is also the leverage of the martech, which is a marketing technology. And in order to jump on that, you know, the bandwagon, you really need to actually have a process in place.
For example, you need to actually have the data management system, right, to actually manage your content. And you also need to have processes that are in place to actually be able to produce more content. That ability to scale is very critical.
And I think many companies, you know, basically at the peace time, if you will, that they do not make a lot of investments or even transformation to set that up. And if you don’t have that as the back end integration, the process readily in place or somehow in place, and then this, you know, pandemic hits, it’s very hard to make that pivot. Does that make sense?
ED: Absolutely. Yeah it’s the foundational layers you get on data. Do I have all the data I need?
PAM: I 100 percent agree. Yep. Or even assets. Are all the assets in one place that’s readily available for the team to use, to modify and to make changes? So I think a lot of companies, including myself, from time to time, will scramble.
There’s a lot of assets, but they are not putting the right place in the right order or organizing the right way for all the content marketers or even the salespeople to take advantage of.
ED: Yeah. It exposed all the fractured content world in some of these enterprises. You’ve got content on local drives. You got this content storage place. You’ve got content locked in a channel somewhere. Yeah. You really can’t—so it forced folks to do a content audit.
Where’s all my content? And then if you don’t have the data and if it’s not what you’re saying, which is that content is centralized. Yeah. You can’t scale that. You can’t scale.
PAM: You cannot move fast.
CALLOUT: “In order to jump on the martech bandwagon, you really need to actually have a process in place.”
ED: That’s a great one, and so there’s the data, the content and then the processes we’re on, which are also critical. Part of that process is the mindset of the process. Have you known that folks who have adopted more agile or faster, less linear or more tests and learn strategies along the way have been able to prosper?
PAM: Yeah, so it really depends on companies. Some companies, they kind of lean and try to actually create a process to be more agile. But there are some companies—given the size of the company and also the different roles and responsibilities, how things are divided—they were not able to move that fast. I think every single company I have talked to in the tech site and also manufacturing, they all made a lot of effort to move faster than they used to.
And that requires collaboration, especially in a big team. I know that Aprimo, you target your product for mid-market. And with that being said, given that the team size at certain organizations can be so big and then it will, actually, it can be detrimental to move faster.
And the one thing well, I have noticed is many organizations kind of activated what I call huddle meetings, a weekly meeting, especially during the first several months [of Covid]. Many organizations have the weekly huddle, right. And they have to talk about, all right, we have to kind of change your content, our website. We need to move something. We need to create this. We need to probably change our image. And now people are using, you know, wearing masks and how do we convey that?
Yet at the same time, the images are, you know, still beautiful. So there was a lot of that discussion. And I think for the people to move fast in having a process is very important. Another part of it is the communication is having that weekly huddle meeting, and it needs to be top down driven and driven by the management. You know, they don’t have to like rehauling the agenda. Somebody can put that together, but they need to be part of it to show their presence and the active engagement.
ED: Yeah, that’s great. That’s almost a holistic view of content. Now, there’s this idea. And when we are at Content Marketing World, we spend some time talking about the content lifecycle, this idea of content from ideation all the way into that experience world and then the feedback loop in everything you’re talking about. It’s a full cycle. It’s a full circle. Yeah. Whether that’s evergreen content even needs to go full cycle sometimes to get in. Right, so how have you seen that content lifecycle take on new meaning?
There’s stats from some good research that says that about 92% of orgs are in-housing their content production processes. Are you seeing that “Now I own the full 100% lifecycle of content” is being more challenging? How has the content lifecycle been speeding up or evolving as of late?
PAM: You know, you’ve got a couple of good points. And the content lifecycle obviously can be very complicated depending on several reasons. Number one is in-house versus outsourcing, which is what you pointed out. And the other one from my perspective, is different formats of content.
Right. Are you producing videos or are you producing blogs? Are you producing a podcast? Even just a matter of creative assets that print ads but the creative will stay the same in multiple different formats in terms of the content lifecycle.
What I have discovered is every company tends to manage that differently. Have you noticed that, Ed? When you talk to your clients, especially on the Enterprise companies, and you brought [up] a very good point in terms of the management of a content lifecycle can be determined on the touch point: who is actually managing it, and that can be agency versus the in-house, you know?
I don’t see much of a change in terms of in-house versus outsourced, and from my perspective, that has a lot to do with the organizational structure and also the budget. And some from my perspective, I always tell my client, if you want to move fast is actually better to outsource because the agency can be a whole lot more nimble, or get an independent contractor to actually try to create something for you because, under deadlines, they have to produce in order to get paid.
When you move things in-house, it tends to move a whole lot slower in terms of the decision making process, because there’s a lot of requests coming from multiple different internal stakeholders, say for creative departments for the content creators to actually that which is a need to prioritize. So what I have noticed is I don’t see that many of the people actually move it in-house. Maybe my set of customers I talk to is a little bit different than yours.
What I have noticed is still a combination of the in-house and also outsourced. But I have come to realize they seem to follow different content cycles, if you will, that if they outsource the production side of it or even ideation part of it, then that part of a content lifecycle tends to be taken over or managed by, say, the agency. And they just brought the idea back to the customers for them to review. But you are totally right. If they do it in-house, that continuous content development or content cycle becomes very critical.
And internally, the enterprise within the enterprise, they need to find a way to manage that. And what I’ve come to realize on the content lifecycle, they tend to be different and that they tend to not have one consistent cycle. They follow, if you will, Ed. And it’s multiple different layers of a content cycle and depends on the format and also who is doing it.
ED: You’re hitting on all the content types. I love that. It’s almost like who is it? Ann Handley said content is anything the sun can shine a light on. So what isn’t content almost isn’t a question anymore. But it’s almost like all of these content formats, form factors, channels that need to go into.
I’ve heard this term like really surging in the market. And I’d like to get your perspective. And it goes by a couple of different names. The idea of modular content or I have heard micro content, micro contenting, I’ve heard atomic content. But it’s this idea of content for the creating content for the purposes of reusability. Improving personalization, making that more effective syndication, making that more able to do repeatedly and effectively. And then from there, localization, because there is a high percentage of content that can be reused but needs to be repurposed and localized.
So personalization, syndication and localization, those have been the three big, I’ll call it, use cases, value propositions for this idea of modular content. Have you heard this concept of modular content with your clients?
PAM: …When I have a conversation with my client at a strategic level, if you will, and we were thinking, you know, what is modular content? What is the definition of that? And let me give you a couple of examples. You know, the way I see modular content, just visually in my mind, is basically, I have this piece of content, that piece of content. They are kind of like different puzzles. And maybe I can take this piece and that piece and that piece, and I can combine them together and create another piece of content.
Right. So that’s one module for me. But then we take it down to the next level right now. OK, you know, you take content one, content two, content three, maybe you can create content four. But in reality, it is not that simple, because we might need just a paragraph on content one. And we need the images from content two then we probably need a quote from content three. And then what? And then even with that, it required the content marketers creativities and also ability to consolidate. And to put that together, to create a relevant content for that makes sense.
Absolutely. So. So all of the sudden then that’s taken that down to a next level. That’s assuming that’s the case. The next level is OK, how can I really break down the content? One which is being written in a blog post down to kind of like by paragraph.
So that’s easily been taken from. Do you see what I’m saying? Yeah. And then the content two, that we assume is an ebook. How do I really break down the pieces that I can take the creative elements from content two, and on content three again, that’s to say another PDF file. How do I actually break that down so I can take the quote, you know, and once you break that down to the third level, all of a sudden we kind of got stuck.
Well, like, how do we break that finished content? What does that Module of the finished content look like? So we can easily pick that up. And once we started having that conversation, we were like “Hmm. This is a whole lot more complex than we imagined in order to do Modular in a scalable and autonomous way.”
Yeah. And then we end up like, OK, this would require a lot of thought. That means we have to buy a new tool. That means we have to do a little research on what tools can actually support that.
And then at that point, my client is overwhelmed, so this is a little bit more difficult than I think. Why don’t we just go back and use our existing asset management library? Yeah, unfinished content. And then we have our content marketers manually just copy and paste and do that, you know, kind of like in a labor intensive way.
ED: Yeah. And that’s because let the technology take away that complexity for sure. That’s I mean, that’s.
PAM: But the problem is that many clients don’t even– don’t want to even go through that. Yeah. And they were like, oh, my God, this is a whole lot more complicated. I don’t know what kind of tools we have to use.
We probably have to source that tool, right? Pam, but we don’t really have time to do that. So why don’t we just go ahead and the pick and different pieces using our brain to determine what are the content we need to pick and agree and all the content to do what, you know, to to to do it manually. So I have not been able to crack that nut when I have that conversation with a couple of my clients, take it down to a level that has them think it through and say, hey, you know, modular accounting is important.
We probably should look into it and we should source a couple of the options and have a conversation with the vendors in terms of how we can do that. So what I try to do is try to educate them and help them to think that that is important.
They need to think that way. And in terms of the modular content moving forward, how to help them to repurpose and also reuse some of the content. And I always try to remind them of that. Can we talk about this specific initiative during annual planning?
Because it does require some thought. It requires some budget, requires some research, and is kind of like an initiative of its own. And is it possible that it can be discussed as a part of annual planning and then appealed to the management and take it from there?
ED: Yeah. Yeah, you’re hitting on it, which is this idea of getting to a modular content strategy in theory. It sounds like there’s a lot of upside to it. But now content strategy in our world, right. We’re the technology enabler.
Now you have to bring in your do we have APIs that can support you in the delivery of the modular piece of content or. I’ve heard content chunks or chunking in. It gets all the way back to how the content piece is stored at its most lowest level.
Yeah. Useful reusable level with level metadata on it, and then the ability to syndicate that out effectively through technology. I think if we add that onto the equation, then we can move folks along, move them forward to go after some of these more emerging strategies.
PAM: Yeah. You know, at the end of the day, I think it comes back to the source format. And can we actually break down the source format in a way that can be easily accessible and to pick and choose what we want to use.
And unfortunately, I don’t think we are there yet. First of all, maybe we are. And but at least with the customers I have talked to, they loved, loved, loved ideas. And so far the implementation of it, it’s kind of intimidating them.
ED: Absolutely. That’s awesome. Pam, let’s shift gears a little bit. Let’s talk, let’s maybe move a little bit away from technology. Let’s talk about being human again. It’s been a lot of brands which have been leaning into tackling social issues.
Yeah. Whether that be equality, equity , justice out there. And I know you work with a lot of great brands and for some brands to think about that, they know what I’ll call it in their heart. They want to do it, but they need to.
Still, the brand management aspect is really important. How do you help folks who want to get into topics around social issues, move forward on that?
PAM: You know, so when I started in the marketing world, obviously I’m substantially older than you and the others, and there are three topics we don’t usually touch: race, politics and religion. Right. Because it is going to kind of raise another layer of complexity.
And do you really want brands to put themselves out there? So when I started as a marketer or in the marketing world, these are the three things we try to stay away from. And especially in a B to B world that we tend to focus on, you know, our products and also what can we do to serve our customer, our customers better? And, you know, just talking about the products and also how to serve the customer better and also address the pain point challenges. Yeah. A wide range of topics that you can talk about with that realm already.
And I do agree with you, especially in the past one year and maybe in the past four years, that there’s a lot of social inequality and the social issues that really start bubbling up. And some brands are very passionate.
And they well, they decided, you know, what sides they want to take the stand. And a lot of the brands are still treading that water and trying to find that balance. Does that make sense? Absolutely. That’s assuming that they have a wide array of customers and they can be both liberal and conservative.
Do you really want to take a view and upset the other or do you want to take a stand and just basically say, this is who I am? OK, I want to communicate that out. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong answer to that, to be honest with you.
And in general, for this kind of issue, unless it’s very super obvious. Right. I mean, you know, race, racism, you condemn racism, race, racism, even talk. And that would be really common. And you can take a stand on that. But there are some issues, I think a lot of brands I’m not sure they really want to be very out and talk about it. And it took a lot of time. It’s a discussion at the management level.
It’s not even the CMO discussion or is not even the marketer’s discussion. It’s the PR discussion also with the legal. Does that make sense? Because there are certain things if you talk about it, would I have any kind of a legal ramification?
Will you get sued? So at the Enterprise and mid companies, I think there are a lot of still internal complexities. And also management needs to weigh in to determine how they want to address their social issues or if they even want to address it. And there is one thing that everybody really focuses on that tends to address during Covid is safety. You know, how to keep my employees safe. How do I keep my customers safe? How do we provide a safe environment for everybody?
I think that is a common thing that people tend to talk about. But, you know, there are some sensitive issues I think are really dependent on the companies. And also it’s. Upper management’s call in reality. Yeah.
ED: That’s exactly right. Love that, Pam Didner, this is Aprimo power players, so super happy to have you on the show. Want to end with the secret of your power play. What is Pam Didner’s power play?
PAM: I don’t even know. You know, I magically power my ninja, you know, I don’t know. Well, what I tried to do is just whenever I take on any projects, I do what I can to make my clients look like a rock star.
ED: That’s awesome. Make my clients look like a rock star. You know, I’m going to try to do the same. Pam, thank you so much for coming on. And it’s wonderful to see you again.
PAM: Same here. Thank you for having me.