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Risk and Innovation in Content Marketing By @TheEbizWizard | @CloudExpo [#Cloud]

Don’t let the bean counters prevent you from taking risks with your content marketing. What’s the worst that could happen?

Balancing Risk and Innovation in Content Marketing

Quick quiz: why did I write this article you're reading right now? I'm not getting paid a cent for writing it. I'm not pitching any products. The answer: because I'm creating content marketing.

Content marketing must be intrinsically valuable to you, the audience. And yet, it's not traditional marketing in that I'm not selling anything - other than the article itself, and the fact that I'm the person who wrote it. Instead, I write articles like these to build trust - your trust in me that I can and will continue to write articles like this one.

Fair enough - but I normally write about agile digital transformation, writing that clearly constitutes content marketing. But in a pleasingly paradoxical way, this particular article is about itself as an example of such writing. It would be fair for you to ask, therefore, what does this article have to do with digital transformation?

Quite a bit, in fact. Content marketing is a central part of the digital transformation story.

Digital transformation isn't about the technology, and in reality it never was, even when we called it ebusiness or perhaps interactive marketing. It's about building relationships between people.

And today's primary mechanism for a company to build a relationship between its employees and its customers and prospects is via - you guessed it - content marketing.

Adding a Guru to the Discussion

I got the idea for today's Cortex from a recent Seth Godin interview on Contently by Joe Lazauskas. Godin is well-known as one of the top marketing thought leaders of our time.

In contrast, I've spent much of the last two decades writing about architecture. Nevertheless, he and I both find ourselves at the strange intersection between marketing and architecture we call digital transformation.

Our respective paths have crossed before. Godin and I worked together back in 1996 on a project at the intersection of interactive and content marketing called Twilight Castle. This JavaScript-based game proved perhaps too innovative for marketers at the time - a hard-won lesson on the risks inherent to the intersection of content marketing and innovation.

Innovation and its relationship to digital transformation are familiar topics in this newsletter. Content marketing, of course, is inherently innovative, since every article, every webinar, every podcast must be unique and novel. Furthermore, innovation in marketing just like all innovation requires disruption, and disruption requires risk.

Fundamentally, when conversations between individuals at large companies and their customers are genuine, their outcome is not predetermined, and therein lies the risk. The interactions may themselves be disruptive, and there's always the risk inherent in interactions that respond to external disruption.

As a result, building relationships between companies and customers requires trust - trust of the employees doing the communicating as well as trust in the customers that they will rise to the occasion and play their part in the conversation.

And yet, disruption (and hence, risk) are essential for innovation - any kind of innovation, even marketing innovation. And by marketing innovation I don't mean innovative marketing technology (although such innovation is important as well). I mean original, differentiated content, and new and different conversations.

Taking Risks with Content Marketing

One of Godin's most important points about content marketing is that it works best when it is genuine. Humans create the content, and the best content results when an individual is communicating something they care about. Taking risks with the content and going ahead and publishing it nevertheless is one way to show you care about that content.

An interesting example of such risk-taking appears in the last article I wrote for Forbes about hybris, SAP's foray into the digital world of customer engagement and commerce.

hybris paid the travel expenses for myself and a gaggle of other reporters and analysts to their recent customer conference in hopes we would write good things about them. In other words, this junket was a content marketing exercise on their part. They understood they had to take on the risk that we could write what we wanted, positive or negative.

For my part, I wrote the story that I did because I felt it was an important story for my audience, even though hybris didn't pay me to write it. I wrote the story that I cared about. You be the judge: did that make it a better story?

I also took a few risks with this article. Perhaps the riskiest part was where I quoted hybris's Senior Vice President of Marketing Products Solutions Marcus Rübsam, as saying "hybris is ‘open' which is the opposite of SAP."

It was certainly riskier for him to say such a thing than for me to quote him, but nevertheless, I predictably got a call from one of SAP's media wranglers in Germany - this past Saturday morning, no less - trying to get me to change the quote.

I had written down the quote verbatim along with Rübsam's name, so I felt I was on solid ground not changing it. So I did what any First Amendment-protected reporter would do and refused to swap it out for something safer.

But the real reason I didn't change it was because it was a great quote. It showed humanity. It showed a willingness to take a risk.

The fact that a hybris exec was willing to go on stage at their most important customer event of the year and humorously poke a stick at their parent company was great content marketing on their part. I wasn't about to let their risk-adverse bean counters shoot themselves in the foot.

Instead, I advised their PR wonk to encourage Rübsam to comment on the article. I assured her I'd approve the comment, and that I would respond to the comment if appropriate. As of the time I write this, Rübsam hasn't taken my advice, but hopefully he will - and hopefully interested members of our audience will chime in as well.

There couldn't be better content marketing than for a big company executive to appear human, and then carry on a conversation with interested members of the audience. It's not like SAP will sell any less software because one of their executives joked about it not being open.

In reality, the risks were minimal, dwarfed by the potential upside to be gained by being genuine and carrying on real conversations with current and potential customers.

The Intellyx Take: Balancing Optimization, Innovation, and Risk

Perhaps the most interesting part of the Godin interview from my perspective is where his thinking overlaps mine - given that we have refreshingly different perspectives.

In particular, the interviewer asks him how he would build a brand media property in today's environment. Godin's response is to separate the team physically by locating them in a different building, giving them the resources they need, and in particular, "give them really significant metrics-not about page views, but about mattering."

My research on supporting innovation from the perspective of the enterprise as a complex adaptive system confirms Godin's opinion. Emergence typically works through self-organization, and Godin lays out essential elements for supporting such self-organization.

His comment about page views vs. mattering, furthermore, indicates an important lesson for digital professionals as well as traditional marketers. In the world of marketing, more big data aren't necessarily better. An excessive focus on data analysis may lead to the exclusion of more important considerations that really matter.

I've hit upon this topic in my article on marketing creepiness, but the challenge Godin touches upon is more widespread. Fundamentally, big data analysis applied to marketing runs a serious risk of backfiring, not just because of creepiness, but also because of an increased focus on optimization instead of innovation.

If such analysis were able to help us with this sort of innovation, then marketers would have figured out the secret to virality by now. But they haven't - and I predict that they never will.

If someone used some newfangled marketing tool to distill precisely what would need to go into a YouTube video, say, in order to make it go viral, it might work a couple of times, but then it would stop working - as soon as it stopped being innovative.

In the final analysis, we return to the paradoxical balance among optimization, innovation, and risk. Traditional business thinking - whether it's applying big data analysis to marketing or SAP's clumsy attempt at damage control - may lead to optimization of business metrics in the short term, but inevitably leads to brittleness and lack of innovation over time.

Instead, the organizations that embrace disruption - and that realize the risks inherent in innovation pale in comparison to the risks of not innovating - will be the ones that achieve true business agility and its inherent long-term strategic advantages. Don't let the wonks and bean counters prevent you from taking risks with your content marketing. What's the worst that could happen?

Intellyx advises companies on their digital transformation initiatives and helps vendors communicate their agility stories. As of the time of writing, none of the organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx customers.

More Stories By Jason Bloomberg

Jason Bloomberg is a leading IT industry analyst, Forbes contributor, keynote speaker, and globally recognized expert on multiple disruptive trends in enterprise technology and digital transformation. He is ranked #5 on Onalytica’s list of top Digital Transformation influencers for 2018 and #15 on Jax’s list of top DevOps influencers for 2017, the only person to appear on both lists.

As founder and president of Agile Digital Transformation analyst firm Intellyx, he advises, writes, and speaks on a diverse set of topics, including digital transformation, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, devops, big data/analytics, cybersecurity, blockchain/bitcoin/cryptocurrency, no-code/low-code platforms and tools, organizational transformation, internet of things, enterprise architecture, SD-WAN/SDX, mainframes, hybrid IT, and legacy transformation, among other topics.

Mr. Bloomberg’s articles in Forbes are often viewed by more than 100,000 readers. During his career, he has published over 1,200 articles (over 200 for Forbes alone), spoken at over 400 conferences and webinars, and he has been quoted in the press and blogosphere over 2,000 times.

Mr. Bloomberg is the author or coauthor of four books: The Agile Architecture Revolution (Wiley, 2013), Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (Wiley, 2006), XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996). His next book, Agile Digital Transformation, is due within the next year.

At SOA-focused industry analyst firm ZapThink from 2001 to 2013, Mr. Bloomberg created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011.

Prior to ZapThink, Mr. Bloomberg built a diverse background in eBusiness technology management and industry analysis, including serving as a senior analyst in IDC’s eBusiness Advisory group, as well as holding eBusiness management positions at USWeb/CKS (later marchFIRST) and WaveBend Solutions (now Hitachi Consulting), and several software and web development positions.

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