It was a rendezvous without precedent, Stephanie Losee tells me, and the envy of any Dilbert who works at a corporation where departments resemble bunkers, and where aligning silos requires the diplomatic skill of a State Department apparatchik.
“There were several of us across different Dell teams who just decided, in a grassroots manner, to collaborate.”
We’re high-stooling it tableside at Campbell Apartment, a posh mahogany lounge (no sneakers, no sportswear) above New York’s Grand Central Terminal. Losee, Dell’s managing editor for global communications, sips and savors her wine like the oenophile-cum-vintner-in-training—and San Franciscan—she is. Decompressing after having just wrapped a speaking engagement 100 yards away at the Min Summit at the Yale Club, she recounts the dawn of Dell’s editorial content marketing.
In the spring of 2012, she tells me, four Balkanized divisions of Dell organized a summit with a clear goal: If these divisions—global communications, digital marketing, brand and e-Dell—could pool their budgets, what would they create to give the company its own publishing channel to enhance brand awareness and massage the sales funnel?
“We embraced an editorial approach rather than a promotional one because the whole point is to serve user interests.”
“There were several of us across different teams who just decided, in a grassroots manner, to collaborate,” says Losee.
The result, Tech Page One, a digital publication launched in December of 2012 to report tech trends and offer insights to computer users and buyers, has positioned Dell as an innovator, and Losee as an evangelist, in the content marketing space—if not as a corporate champion of Geek Nation.
“Content marketing’s job is to connect the dots from the top to the middle, and from the middle to the bottom of the sales funnel.”
“We embraced an editorial approach rather than an advertorial one,” she says. “Dell is a very trusted brand, so people might not perceive us as being outrageously innovative, but they trust us so much they want to hear us talk about innovation. And to us, the whole point is to serve user interests.”
Besides serving user interests, another point of content marketing is to generate leads, which, in Losee’s view, might be too hasty an expectation.
“Can I tell you about how much the Tech Page One’s content results in lead generation? It absolutely does, but I don’t think we should ask that of content,” she says. “What I think we should be asking of content marketing is to do a good job of providing information to users who are seventy-percent down their decision-making path before they get in touch with a brand. And they’re seeing Dell either create or sponsor information that is vital to them, and this is forming opinions about Dell and leads them deeper into this sales funnel. So I think that content marketing’s job is to connect the dots from the top to the middle of the sales funnel, and from the middle to the bottom, where they are actually asking us for detailed information.”
“People might not perceive us as being outrageously innovative but they trust us so much they want to hear us talk about innovation.”
Serving user interests has defined Losee’s career, which began in the late ’80s as an editor at PC Magazine, and continued as a reporter/writer for Fortune. Candid, engaged and opinionated, Losee is well suited for her role as a brand-journalism advocate.
Meredith Levien, EVP of advertising at The New York Times, who joins us at the Campbell Apartment, agrees. “I think Stephanie Losee is a real thought leader in content marketing,” she says. “She really gets both sides of the business: she has the marketer’s mindset, but she also has the mindset of someone who’s been in real high value content production for a long time. And that’s what makes her so good at this.”
“We should be asking content marketing to do a good job of providing information to users who are seventy-percent down their decision-making path before they get in touch with a brand.”
Levien, prior to her appointment to The Times in July 2013, had been group publisher at Forbes Media, whose BrandVoice native advertising platform has produced a windfall that expects to account for thirty-percent of Forbes’ revenue this year. One of the first brands to sign on to the program was Dell, which, under Losee, used the native ad platform to experiment with brand journalism, which was one of the inspirations for Tech Page One.
And in early 2014, when The New York Times adopted native advertising, the first brand to jump at the opportunity was, you guessed it, Dell. The three-month campaign, featuring posts created by a New York Times “content studio,” drove mounds of traffic to Tech Page One (banner ads were included in the six-figure buy). Dell's paid posts remain on the Times’ site, presumably forever, discoverable through the Times' search function.
“Agencies aren’t going to get anywhere putting the most outrageous, innovative thing in front of somebody who doesn’t recognize that content marketing even works.”
The metrics around Dell’s New York Times program (provided by SimpleReach) must have been impressive, because they’ve inspired Losee to reach another level of zeal. “Having showcased content as a service we’re providing to our customers, who we know are hungry for it, I now want to give them much more multimedia content.”
Losee hopes to make deals with publishers who can “cook up fabulous multi-media” for her. “And I want them to be editorial projects—and that’s where I hit the wall, because publishers still want to keep this in the advertising arm.”
“To get access to the New York Times audience was a very big benefit to us.”
Yet she’s a realist, and knows that many brands are in the infancy of understanding how content can fit into their marketing goals. It’s fuel for her evangelism.
“I think agencies who are pitching have to recognize the same thing that I do: that many people [at brands] are not where Dell is,” she says. “You’re just not going to get anywhere putting the most outrageous, innovative thing in front of somebody who doesn’t recognize that content marketing even works.”
“We now have to take a breath, and we have to bring everyone else along with us.”
As we wrap up, Stephanie and Meredith peel off for an exec powwow, to no doubt discuss the future of native advertising, or to “cook up some fabulous multi-media.” And who knows? Maybe it’ll be treated as editorial, not advertising.
I suggest to Stephanie that she’s in a position, as the journalist-ambassador for one of the country’s largest companies, to change the content marketing playing field.
She smiles, and says, “I’ve only just started to try.”