‘Content Marketing Is Hard… But It Can Save The World’ Says Carlos Abler In Exclusive Q&A

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B2B companies dedicate more than a quarter (28%) of their total marketing budget to content marketing programs, and 38% plan increase their content marketing budget, according to Datanyze. Carlos Abler, Leader of Content Marketing and Strategy at 3M, will explore new trends in content marketing at B2BMX 2019.

Ahead of his session, Abler caught up with Demand Gen Report to discuss the rise of subscribable content, the benefits of merging content marketing and social innovation and more.

Demand Gen Report: The theme of this year’s event is “seeing B2B marketing through a new lens.” What advice would you give marketers looking to change things up this year?

Carlos Abler: I recommend businesses double down on how they can convert campaign type activities into sustainable and subscribable information services. To some extent, this is just what content marketing strategists have been saying all along — moving from overemphasis on interruptive marketing and random acts of content towards value-added content experiences that are designed to help customers achieve goals related to, or even unrelated to, the products they sell, so as to develop a deeper relationship and create more touchpoints throughout the customer lifecycle. However, with trust at an all-time societal low, with abuses of data by businesses and increased regulations such as GDPR, there is added emphasis and nuance as to what this means. 

With regard to content, it means having to go beyond the question of ‘will they consume it?’ to ‘will they agree to want more?’  

To illustrate, it’s important to focus on the concept of subscription. When you subscribe to something, let’s say to a magazine like The Economist or to a video streaming service like Netflix, you have opted in to a high-frequency touch engagement model. You have opted into viewing advertising in the product. And, you will likely expect the service to tailor content to you based on your preferences and consumption patterns and will likely be mad if they don’t — even if you are aware enough of data politics and despise how data is being abused by businesses and political entities.

DGR: Are there any examples that you could share of how 3M has tried to change the lens in the way they look at marketing?  

Abler: A recent favorite of mine is the 3M State of Science Index. As you know from the focus of my talk for B2BMX 2019, I am very keen on merging social value approaches with value-added customer relationship strategies. I think the 3M State of Science Index is innovative in this regard.

3M’s brand platform is rooted in science, and the State of Science Index is an original research and content initiative focused on examining societal attitudes towards science, led by my esteemed colleague Robert Britain. We surveyed 14,000 people across 14 countries, and have been producing related thought leadership content, including a website that allows you to mine the data, podcasts, influencer support from astronaut Scott Kelly and plenty of involvement from Jayshree Seth, who was recently appointed as 3M’s Chief Science Advocate. I am very proud of the team and the organization for this effort. I think it’s a great example of purpose-driven brand marketing and is very authentic to who 3M is as an organization. 

DGR: Your session has a unique title, “Can Marketing Save The World?” What inspired that and what can attendees expect to address during the session?

Abler: In addition to my work at 3M, I am a juror and mentor with an organization called the World Summit on the Information Society, a UN organization that provides awards and support to digital content and applications that further the UN Sustainability Goals. It started way back in the early 2000s when laddering up to the UN Millennium Development Goals, which have been transposed into the Sustainability Goals.

Each year, I review dozens, sometimes over 100 content-driven projects from all over the world. And I can tell you that some of the best content marketing tactics I have seen aren’t actually created by businesses. But sometimes by a group of college students, an NGO, a start-up, etc. After over a decade of this analysis, my insights have become quite keen in this area. I will even go so far as to say that the integration of content marketing with social innovation is not only desirable, it’s inevitable. Business content marketing wanders sideways into social innovation sometimes. But it is just not enough. 

My dogma is that if businesses got better at merging content marketing and social innovation, we would take a huge bite out of the disappointing industry-wide performance outcomes. And even better, we will make the world a better place while we are doing it. Audience members will get a deep download on what this looks like. 

DGR: You’ve spent a lot of time building out the methodologies for content marketing at 3M. Can you describe some of that work and provide some context on why that is so important for success?

Abler: Content marketing is hard. There is no easy button. Anyone peddling simple is trying to BS an executive, or is talking about a very cool way to do a very narrow thing. Content is a game for serious people who want to deal with real business needs in response to challenging marketing imperatives. In order to get good at content marketing, you need tools for training, change management and activation. You need readiness checklists and assessments. You need maturity models; you need proof it’s worth it and you need a wall of mojo to fend off the nay-sayers, the dinosaurs, the unimaginative and the timid.

You also need to help people. You need to ‘productize’ content as a thing in your organization. You have to make it crystal clear that value-added content equals revenue, growth, retention, regulatory risk mitigation and so on. But even just getting the revenue point across is key.  

Finally, you need to invest in the community of practice. A lot of digital-driven transformation is bottom up and middle out, especially in complex organizations. For this, the community must be visible to itself. It must celebrate and support itself. Building communities on digitized platforms, as well as in-person events, is crucial for success and accelerated change. 

DGR: Outside of your session, what are you hoping to take away from B2BMX 2019?

Abler: I am very much looking forward to connecting with the B2BMX community. Last year was truly fantastic. Many of my very favorite fellow industry Jedi converge there, so it’s like Christmas dinner — a great time to sit around the table and see faces you love and have evolving relationships over time.

Everywhere I turned, I was meeting new fascinating people. I made a lot of great connections in your community and made new friends I hope to know my whole life, personally and professionally. B2BMX is a very high-quality scene. I absolutely can’t wait to join you. 

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