When it comes to content marketing, IBM isn’t afraid to think outside the computer box, and Ann Rubin, Vice President of Branded Content and Global Creative, is leading the charge. Whether it’s by way of compelling stories, a supercomputer on Jeopardy or a twitter-powered food truck, Rubin knows how to create branded content experiences that get people talking. Here, she discusses her approach to the industry and her thoughts on what the future of content marketing has in store for us.
You’ve seen quite a change in content marketing during your time at IBM. Can you talk about the types of branded content you’ve produced and the role that it has played over the years?
From a strategic perspective, content plays a very big role in our larger marketing strategy because it’s how people learn and understand our brand, our corporate character and what we have to offer. From a practical perspective, content moves through everything we do. We don’t sell consumer products; we sell technology that people use to transform their business. To do that you need a deep understanding of how to best use technology and it takes all kinds of content to get a deep understanding of that. I think the role of branded content has changed because the variety of content has increased. My role focuses on content discipline at IBM and our goal is to deliver to individuals, clients and prospects the right content at the right time on the right platform based on where they are in their journey with IBM. We have the ability to do that now with all the different content types and the technologies that allow us to understand what customers want at a given time.
As the types of content have changed over your 17 years at IBM, how has your team continued its level of success?
Everything we do is against the backdrop of our priorities. We stick to our strategy and then success follows. It takes collaboration across the whole team to ensure alignment across many touch points, but that’s what makes our content program successful. So whether it’s Watson on Jeopardy or the Watson food truck or Smarter Planet or IBM Voices on Forbes, or Made with IBM, all of these types of content are strategically aligned. From there, we figure out how to let people engage with it at whichever level that they want.
IBM has been creating branded content for longer than any other brand except for maybe Coca-Cola. In all that time, what’s the biggest game-changer you’ve seen?
Most of what’s happened in content marketing has been natural progression, but the real game-changer has been social media. The reality is, and always has been, that people don’t want to hear from brands alone. They want to hear from peers and from credible authorities. Social media has allowed that to happen very quickly and very easily. IBM had to evolve so that not only were we on social media, but we were responding and engaging in conversation. Before social media, you could call up an IBM rep, but if you really wanted to get to an expert opinion, it wasn’t easy to do. With social media we immediately launched campaigns that leveraged outside experts and our own IBMer experts, and allowed readers to engage with them.
Does IBM have an advantage over other companies when it comes to achieving a balance between the IBM brand and the content you are creating?
I think that’s an interesting question since we have been around for over 100 years, and while most people have heard of us, they probably don’t really know what we do. Everybody knows Coca-Cola and if you hear someone talk about ‘having a Coke’ you know immediately what it is and where to buy it. IBM is very different, and I think we can be engaging and be on brand at the same time. We’ve always stood for progress and we are impacting businesses, professions and industries through infrastructure systems that literally change the world. Everything we do, even at high level, needs to show people that IBM’s technology enables the benefits that our content is talking about.
How would you describe your target audience?
We have a range of targets from C-Suite to Developers, but we often describe our target as a “mindset” of forward thinkers. Its not one specific audience, but if I had to say, we describe our target audience as forward-thinking people who lead businesses and care about transforming industries, organizations, cities and professions. It’s people who are thinking about all the changes happening in the world today and how they can use technology to make a difference, to create value in new ways, to create new kinds of value for their company, for their team, for their organization, for their city, for their university, etc.
How do you measure the content you produce in terms of working towards business results?
We measure everything from traditional metrics like consideration preference and attitudes about IBM to all kinds of digital metrics. These metrics enable us to understand how people are engaging with the brand, and my team looks at the branding and content engagement metrics specifically. Every program that we run has success metrics based on that program’s objectives and, at the end of the day, we want to drive business results for IBM. Since what my team does is in the early stages of the client journey, ultimately it is about building relationships with clients so that they become long-term partners. The demand-gen teams have various metrics as well for the purchasing part of the funnel, and we are all connected around goals and results. It all depends on the distribution channel. What’s important for us and for our programs is using the right combination of channels and platforms to tell our story effectively. We get the best result when we have a fully integrated program, because some people want to consume content one way, and some people want to consume in another way.
How do you envision the future of branded content inside of IBM? Can you compare your future plans to the overall world of branded publishing that you see from other companies?
I think in a nutshell, the future of branded content for IBM is about increased personalization, increased knowledge about what customers want, and internally, to make really simple taste tools that make it easier for marketers at IBM to create content that’s more impactful based on metrics and best practices. I would say that everyone is in that same boat. I think IBM is lucky because we are creating the technology that will help us solve these problems. I feel like we have been very progressive in terms of our content and I’m excited for the next few years as the technology evolves.