Content is a business strategy often associated with startups—particularly those in the SaaS space. Indeed, many startups have popularized the idea of content, which has helped it blossom into a multi-billion dollar industry. But to say startups are the only brands embracing a content revolution is simply incorrect.
Point and case: Software AG.
Software AG is a 51-year-old German company with over 5,000 employees in 50 different countries and roughly 10,000 enterprise customers. They offer their clients various software products that support enterprise architecture, such as an Internet of Things (IoT) platform, business intelligence tools, and API, integration and microservices management tools.
Last year, Software AG hired Paz Macdonald, who had previously served in marketing roles at MongoDB and IBM as CMO. Macdonald immediately saw the need for content that could grow Software AG’s brand awareness and promote its diverse array of products.
So, earlier this year, she hired Tony Sheehan as her Director of Content Marketing. Sheehan’s goal? Serve consumers in a brand new way.
“We know our products can provide a lot of value to consumers. Now our goal with content is to do the same,” says Sheehan, who lives in Boise, Idaho. “We operate in a crowded marketplace, but we believe there is quite a bit of differentiation between our products and our competitors. Content is a powerful way we can demonstrate that difference.”
Sheehan invited us to learn more about the work he’s doing to bring about a content revolution inside Software AG.
Creating a New Brand Perception
When it comes to software, there’s a tendency for consumers to think of relatively young companies like Salesforce and Google. But many software companies, including Software AG, were around long before CRMs and search engines were even a thing.
The challenge for these legacy organizations from a brand perspective is that, unlike the tech unicorns of the past 20 years, consumers don’t view them as innovative or cutting-edge.
“There’s two sides of the coin for established tech brands,” Sheehan explains. “On the one side, we have staying power and we know what we’re talking about. The other side is an incorrect perception that we’re stodgy and our products are slow to market. So how do we promote the former while shedding this false perception of our brand?”
The answer? Content.
Macdonald and Sheehan have been working hard to transform Software AG’s digital presence and create more of a story around the brand.
“We want our digital assets to drive demand, not just be a Wikipedia of info about our products,” says Sheehan. “Therefore, we need to be smarter about communicating the potential our products unlock and how they can benefit the customer. Content is the way we tell that story.”
In May, Software AG launched a new version of their website designed to promote content as a way to streamline demand generation. One click from the Software AG homepage you’ll find their massive content library, filled with a variety of blog posts, ebooks, white papers, analyst reports, product demos, and customer stories related to Software AG’s products and services.
Recent pieces of content include a report on how Software AG’s IoT platform helps automate building management in Australia, and a blog post penned by Software AG’s Chief Evangelist in the office of the CTO about how to create smarter social distancing applications. They also recently published the “Newbie’s Guide to IoT,” a primer for anyone who works directly or indirectly on IoT projects.
“We take a pretty broad definition of content at Software AG,” Sheehan says. “But all of it is designed to support the buyer's journey. Overall, what we’re doing, and what content is helping us with, is pivoting from an organization focused on taking care of existing customer relationships to an organization that creates new customer relationships.”
Nailing Down a Strategy
Software AG’s content funnel is something Sheehan spends a lot of time thinking about. He classifies most content Software AG produces in one of two buckets: education or sales enablement.
Education content typically lives at the top of the funnel. This may include content around what an IoT platform is and what it can do for your business. As you move down the funnel, Software AG will serve you with content about what you need to create an IoT platform. Finally, at the bottom of the funnel, Software AG will pitch you on why their solution is the best one for your business.
“In the past we tried to answer all customer questions in one fell swoop. We tried to pack it all into one content asset,” explains Sheehan. “Now we think more along the lines of what customers would need to know to get them interested in our product. And then once they’re interested, how do we create subsequent touchpoints that form a more cohesive story around our product and brand.”
Sheehan likens the content funnel to dating. The first date is simply about getting to know each other. Once you’ve gone on a few dates, then you can start to get into the details. You don’t want to lose them too soon by overloading them with information.
Another important aspect of the content funnel is format. Top of funnel content usually looks like blog posts and thought leadership that speaks to customer pain points. Sheehan often uses keyword research to identify top of funnel content topics, and creates each piece of top of funnel content with SEO best practices in mind.
“We use SEO as a guiding light. We want to create content around topics that people care about, and SEO enables us to do that,” says Sheehan. “For example, we’ve created ‘what is’ pages around a variety of basic terms that we know our audience cares about, as well as pages that target longform search terms that we can rank highly for.”
Once you move towards the middle of the funnel, Software AG will present you with gated assets like whitepapers and reports that require you to provide something of value to access, such as your name and email address. At the bottom of the funnel is when Software AG hits you with assets designed to generate qualified leads, such as product comparisons and customer stories.
“The goal of the content is what always drives the format,” says Sheehan. “We also think in general about how people like to consume different kinds of content. Some information is best represented in text, while other types of info resonates more in a video or audio format.”
Overall, Sheehan sees Software AG’s strategy as a continuous process of creating and testing hypotheses. If something doesn’t work, his team pivots. If it’s showing results, they double down on that strategy.
For Sheehan to understand if his strategy is working, he needs to collect data on the performance of each individual piece of content. This means assigning a goal to each piece of content, then picking the metrics that are indicative of reaching this goal.
At the top of the funnel, he looks for “soft” metrics, such as pageviews, social engagement, and backlinks. He believes these data points represent if the content is providing users with value. At the bottom of the funnel, the end goal is lead generation. Here, Sheehan looks for personal information provided by users as a tradeoff for the content his team is providing (i.e. providing your name and email address in order to have access to a downloadable asset).
“Essentially we look at what content does a good job of driving interest and what content does a good job of turning those people who show interest into leads,” says Sheehan. “Once they turn into leads, we’re looking at their value in terms of whether they actually convert. If content is good at generating leads but not converting them into customers, we know we need to change something.”
One of the focuses of the content team is figuring out how all the different data they collect connects. For instance, they look at how much a blog visit is worth to their business. If the number is above their benchmark, they know that they’re doing a good job driving interest at the top of the funnel.
“Tracking the data tells you whether your content funnel is working,” says Sheehan. “Doing so has helped us improve our brand perception and generate more demand.”
Looking Towards the Future
Software AG’s content revolution is still in its early stages. Sheehan calls it the “test and learn” phase, where his team tinkers with different formats and messaging to see what sticks.
“We’re trying to differentiate ourselves from a sea of competitors that all communicate in the same way,” Sheehan says.
With Macdonald at the helm, Sheehan says there is a lot of buy-in for content across the organization. In fact, most employees at Software AG see content creation as part of their job.
“One of our big goals for this year was to create a culture of content,” Sheehan says. “And I think that’s something that has really resonated. Most employees see content creation as at least 10% of their job, and my team is there to support them through that process.”
Sheehan’s team of five content experts, combined with thought leaders throughout the organization, are responsible for creating a majority of Software AG’s content—although his team sometimes collaborates with agency partners.
In terms of future plans, Sheehan believes that his team—and content creators in general—will need to keep upping their game in order to make an impact.
“You’re not going to be able to sneak in the back door with content anymore,” says Sheenan. “Brands will need to pivot to quality over quantity and focus more on content that tells an interesting story. That means you must be more authentic and vulnerable in the way you communicate. At Software AG we’re working to do just that, and we believe our audience will appreciate it.”