This week’s Content Marketing All-Star is Annalisa Camarillo, head of branded editorial and sponsored news at NetApp. Under Annalisa’s direction, NetApp has received awards and recognition for their sponsored column on Forbes. We caught up with Annalisa to talk about how she has been able to build an audience through content and drive marketing results for NetApp.
Your job title at NetApp didn’t even exist 5 years ago, so how did NetApp decide to start focusing on branded editorial content?
Marketers across all industries have one thing in common: we want to engage people. We want people to see the brand value. The problem is we don’t always use the best approach to gain the readers’ attentions.
At NetApp, we’ve learned that, to sustain our business, our brand has to be relevant to a few key people: the c-suite, strategic IT decision makers and the technical champions in IT. The champions of our brand were in IT but we weren’t connecting with the final decision makers. The challenge I was asked to solve two years ago was to make our brand relevant to the c-suite. From this work emerged an approach that we now call sponsored media. Simply put, sponsored media is the function of communicating with your audience in the environment they trust for information. That’s where this notion of “sponsored” communication comes from. This discipline follows a slightly different philosophy than traditional marketing approaches. We don’t expect the audience to come to us. We don’t use interruptive tactics to get attention. We meet the reader at their place and we use our expertise to enlighten the reader and earn their trust.
What was the size of your team when you started vs. today?
We started with a team of two and many people who collaborated with us and contributed to the overall success. We’ve grown to be a team of seven, including contractors. The team includes managing editors, executive brand journalists, writers and content marketing managers. These are new titles to marketing at NetApp. It will be interesting to see how the career paths take shape.
Based on where you started two years ago compared to where you are today, what’s the journey been like for NetApp?
We’re experiencing exciting times because marketing is evolving for the better. This notion that content is king has renewed meaning today. We’re learning that not all content is created equal, that it’s only great, engaging content that reigns supreme. True nirvana will be when we’re able to gain a greater return from content for the business and the reader. The way we make this happen is to always look for ways to optimize how we use content. We should always ask ourselves: what’s the story and how much can I do with it? In how many ways can we tell one story? How can I connect this story with hundreds of people? How can others leverage this story? The questions should NOT be about quantity; they should be about quality, leverage and greater return from fewer assets. The best thing a marketer can do is show the CEO that you saved money for the company by working smarter, not harder.
How do you determine which topics to highlight and which types of content to produce?
Each year we create an annual plan that reflects the company’s objectives for the year. We consider the target audiences, their behavior and what they care about. This year, we’re going to focus on things like cloud and enterprise business. When the plan is in place, we then coordinate efforts so our communication is cohesive. Content creation doesn’t start until the goals, objectives and strategy are crystal.
Are you looking for broad readership or is there a specific customer profile for each story?
One of our vendors told me “you shouldn’t create content for only one type of reader.“ Although we target specific people, my team aims to create utility in every piece of content we create. For example, if we’re creating an ebook, how can the ebook offer something to different audiences? Can we do a chapter for the CEO and another chapter for the CIO? That’s content with utility. When the asset can be used this way, the asset has greater value.
Your team has earned awards and recognition for your work with Forbes BrandVoice… aside from outside recognition, how does your team measure success?
The two most important metrics for us are improving brand health and creating sales opportunities. Our CEO is interested in how we’re moving the needle on brand favorability and business. If we don’t impact these metrics, there’s no point.
How do you work the NetApp brand into your editorial?
The simple answer is we don’t. We focus on the readers interests, not ours. We earn their trust first and then we invite them to learn about what we do and the value we can provide. The spirit of our brand, however, is in every story we tell and everything we do to engage people. The way we communicate with our audience is a reflection of our brand.
Are there different business goals for NetApp’s blog content versus its sponsored editorial on BrandVoice?
Not really. Content should always aim to add value for the reader. The objectives for NetApp blogs and editorial on BrandVoice are to create awareness, engage and create a repeat reader. The audiences are different and thus the angle for the story will be different, but the end game is the same.
How does social media fit into NetApp’s brand strategy?
Social media is an approach we want to utilize across everything we do. Social media is one of our best measures of engagement. We’ve seen readers who weren’t registered on Forbes create an account just so they could chime in on one of our stories and share it with their network of colleagues! The CEO of T-Mobile shared one of our articles and said “I was thinking this, but NetAppVoice said it for me” and then he did it again on a second story.
Besides social, what distribution channels have been most effective for NetApp to engage with readers?
We see a lot of sharing happening on StumbleUpon, but only with certain types of general interest topics, whereas IT topics will get more engagement on Twitter. The challenge is to get your audience so worked up they’ll want to join the conversation and contribute to it. When there’s an announcement from Google or Apple we’ll typically do a curated piece and collect perspectives from different journalists and then say to our audience, “here’s what others are saying. What do you think?”
What will NetApp’s branded editorial look like three years down the road?
My dream is that we’ll be so good at media integration and storytelling that we’ll think of ourselves as a brand publisher and we’ll act like a true media outlet, all for the purpose of informing the reader. I think the terms for marketing have changed and in three years, I believe content performance will become the best measure of marketing’s value and contribution.