As a CMO or brand manager, you try to keep current by reading tech and content marketing blogs, but there’s so much going on; you’re asking your agencies to help you stay informed; you go to conferences, but for every minute you spend learning, you feel that you need another hour. For every article you read you’re wondering “What are the four other articles that I’m missing?”
For Ann Rubin, IBM’s VP of branded content and global creative, it’s an exciting time.
“We’re in a complicated industry. It’s not consumer products—it’s technology that transforms entire businesses, industries and professions.”
When Rubin first started at IBM in 1997, after jumping from a career on the agency side, the majority of IBM’s ad dollars in the software group were placed in IT print magazines. “Those publications don’t exist anymore,” she says, “and the majority of what we do now is digital, across the board.”
IBM has shown a flair for digital experimentation, going beyond the paid-owned-earned media model and embracing experiential.
In 2013, with agency partner Ogilvy & Mather, they launched IBM Datagrams, real-time video animations on Instagram, which pulled match data from the US Open Tennis Tournament. The US Open also yielded a collaboration with former LCD Soundsystem founder James Murphy. His recently released Remixes Made with Tennis Data is a musical score of a computer algorithm that synthesized the players' moves via the IBM cloud.
“So we need to express a deep understanding on how to use the technology.”
IBM also produces “traditional” digital content, on a blog off their main website and a handful of microsites. But it’s the company’s Tumblr blog, IBMblr, where Rubin sounds most like a proud parent. When it launched two years ago, it represented a bit of a test balloon by IBM—and a rare B-to-B presence on the platform—to explore how to earn engagement around IBM thought leaders.
“We really focused on things that are about innovation, design, science and technology, as opposed to writing about our products and services,” she says. “For us, it’s really about understanding the platform and the audience. I know this isn’t brain surgery, but it’s something that we’ve learned and continue to hone over time, to get more learning on how people are engaging with different types of content on different platforms.”
“We’ve really focused on [content] that’s about innovation, design, science and technology.”
The idea behind IBMblr is to recast a network of IBM employees—its inventors, engineers, and product designers—from internal brand advocates to external thought leaders. Wired Magazine-like editorial topics include Predictions, Patents, Cognitive Cooking, and Vintage, among others, which are accompanied by animated GIFs whose design sensibility rivals that of any publisher.
A polished suite of videos and interactive elements allow for an immersive experience. From the Cognitive Cooking page, for example, users can link to a microsite, select their tastes, and receive a custom recipe courtesy of Watson, IBM’s artificial intelligent computer system and Jeopardy star. This inspired the Watson Food Truck at SXSW 2014.
“We really do understand the personas, and I make sure that whatever journey the client wants to go on, they’re able to get deeper content.”
“Things that get people to engage with the brand is what we’re looking to do,” says Rubin. “But we also look at the value and health of the brand, because a lot of the programs that we do in the space are about getting people to understand what our brand is about. We’re in a complicated industry. It’s not consumer products—it’s technology that transforms entire businesses, industries and professions, so we need to express a deep understanding on how to use the technology: cloud, analytics, mobile, social…whatever.”
A big part of Rubin’s mandate is to make sure users are empowered “to learn or think or understand differently,” while also being enabled to access deeper content. “It’s the goal of all businesses, right? So no matter what we do, any kind of experience, any kind of engagement, we always give people the opportunity to do more.”
“There’s lots of change happening and it’s all because of the ability to target and understand the customer, through mapping and measuring.”
To achieve this, many IBMblr posts, which serve as thought leadership as well as top of funnel content, link to landing pages on the IBM website for the next phase of the buyer journey.
“We really do understand the personas,” says Rubin, who says IBM has identified 55 buyer types. “And then we look at their journey and map the content. That’s one of the things I do—help the team do their content strategy mapping. I need to make sure that whatever journey the client wants to go on, they’re able to get deeper content, whether they come in through a broad program that I would do on a bigger scale around cloud technology or Watson or analytics, or they come in through demand gen.”
“Once you know what they want, you need to give them what they want.”
Currently, Rubin and her team are looking at ways to measure content more effectively. With multiple personas and different KPIs and metrics applied to each channel (they’re on all of them), and using an internal matrix that tracks reach, engagement or amplification, it’s an undertaking deserving of Enterprise status.
“There’s lots of change happening and it’s all because of the ability to target and understand the customer, through mapping and measuring,” says Rubin. “Once you know what they want, you need to give them what they want, and to do that you have to create a lot more content, and to create a lot more content you need new methods.”
New methods? We’d like to see what Watson has in mind.
Ann Rubin will be speaking at Content Chaos: Navigating the Path to Engagement, on March 24.