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Content Marketing

Marketing Trailblazers: Marketing Needs More Storytellers, Not Growth Hackers

Every day here at LookBookHQ, we learn about the smart, innovative ways our clients are running marketing, and these stories are too good not to share! Marketing Trailblazers is a series dedicated to showcasing these successful marketers, and sharing their hard won tips, tricks, and wisdom.

If you asked a roomful of demand generation marketers to describe themselves, you might hear about a lot of “growth hackers” and “hustlers”. But there’s at least one demand gen pro out there who thinks of himself as more of a marketing storyteller.

As part of the Demand Generation team at Oath, a Verizon company., Owais Farooqui knows that one-time clicks and form fills won’t get him the results he needs to keep Oath’s B2B sales team happy. Instead, he’s committed to using the best marketing technology to craft a compelling narrative for his company’s potential customers at every stage of their self-guided buying journey. For Owais, it’s not one content asset, campaign, or channel at a time – it’s all of them, together, in a logical sequence that packages the most relevant content for each individual prospect as they move through the funnel.

Keep reading to learn more about Owais’ unique approach to B2B marketing.

Describe yourself as a marketer in one sentence.

I’m committed to understanding my audience and telling great stories with content so they can engage with these stories on all the different channels they visit.

What do you like to do for fun outside of work?

I like to work out, read, and learn about exercise and nutrition. I’m also a huge fan of biographies and business books that tell the story of a company. Right now I’m reading Shoe Dog, which is a memoir by Phil Knight, the creator of Nike.

Do you have any hidden talents or funny quirks?

I used to do stand up comedy at the Laugh Factory and Comedy Store in Hollywood. I loved it but eventually stopped doing it because I didn’t have the time to dedicate to writing and practicing.

Oath is a staggeringly large company – which division do you work in?

I’m in the B2B marketing group, on the Demand Generation team. When most people think of Oath, they think of our consumer-facing web properties, such as the Oath Homepage, finance, sports, and all that good stuff. But we also have a large B2B business that’s focused on monetizing through digital ads with display, search, native, mobile, video etc. That’s where my team works our magic!

Who’s your primary target audience and how are you marketing to them today?

We specifically target brand advertisers at companies in multiple verticals, including finance and CPG, just to name a few. We then bucket each of these into company size (small, medium and large) so that we can market to them accordingly.

My team’s job is to capture leads and nurture them through the funnel with content that tells targeted, meaningful stories until they’re ready to pass over to sales.

What’s your team’s number one focus?

Our chief aim is to pass over leads that are legitimately ready to buy so that our sales team can close them faster and easier. We’re always analyzing the quality of those leads and ensuring they’re nurtured properly so they don’t end up getting stuck in the funnel.

In terms of success, it’s two things: Conversion rates (which tie back to lead volume) and average contract value – we’re always striving to drive these numbers up.

I don’t want just one of these; I want both. That’s how I can tell that our content, channels, and nurture messaging are all working.

What gets you excited about B2B marketing in 2017?

I want to tell better stories and cater the experience more for the specific person. And the best way to do this is through technology. I’m really interested in the ways tech is helping us become more intelligent, strategic marketers.

I’ll give you an example:

As I’ve said, I think that storytelling is crucial to effective marketing, so it’s important for marketers to think about creating better content experiences. To do this well, you need to consider what content assets people are engaging with most so you can tell what’s working and what isn’t. Right now I think video (specifically mobile video) is driving a lot of engagement. But is a view really “engagement”? Is a click?

I want to know more. I want to know what that engagement looks like. For example, how long did they watch the video or read the eBook? What parts of the eBook did they read and what did they skip? What exactly happened after the click? This is the kind of stuff that will teach me whether I’m telling the right stories to effectively nurture leads so they’re sales ready.

On the surface, words like “engagement” and “storytelling” might feel a little light and fluffy to marketers who consider themselves hardcore “growth hackers” and “hustlers”. What’s your response to that?

Everyone says they are growth hacking these days. It’s just a big buzzword. They’re missing the point. Growth hacking is not just about building an audience or growing a subscriber base. It’s also about keeping them engaged, which is the most important thing you can do as a marketer.

Anyone can pour tons of leads into the top of the ‘funnel’ (a word that I hate, by the way, because the idea that marketers can control how customers buy our products is nonsense). But if we can’t keep them engaged, then we’re not building anything. The way to keep people engaged is through exceptional storytelling.

Great storytelling requires going through the hard work of understanding your audience and being creative in order to keep people coming back. People want to be entertained, taken on a journey, and see themselves in your stories. That’s how they get hooked. You can’t “hack” that.

It’s not about pushing your content on people. It’s about people pulling themselves through your content because they want to, because it’s engaging. They’ll pull themselves along your company’s journey if you provide them with a great experience.

How can you tell what’s a good content experience for your potential customers, and what’s not?

Use both quantitative and qualitative data.

Qualitative data
Do surveys. Get feedback. Talk to your customers, sales reps, customer success team. Ask them:
● Were they engaged?
● What kept them engaged?
● What wasn’t engaging for them?

Quantitative data
Look at your engagement metrics. Not just initial intent metrics, like clicks and form fills, either. You need to go beyond that.

● Who consumed multiple pieces of content in a session?
● Which content assets did they visit?
● How long did they spend on each piece of content?

Once you know this, you can treat people differently depending on the actions they took. For example, for people who consumed multiple pieces of content in a single session (we call them “bingers”), we deliver them through an accelerated content experience or sometimes even send them to sales right away.

Do you think that demand gen marketers in 2017 need to be more artist or more scientist?

Artist. You can look at data and optimize around all sorts of metrics. It’s important to do that, but only after you first understand your audience and develop a creative and engaging story. If your marketing is selfish and doesn’t engage your audience or meet their needs, what’s the point of looking at those metrics? They’re never going to get where you need them to be.

For marketers who are still measuring success by clicks and form fills, what’s the first step they should take toward storytelling and measuring engagement?

Unfortunately, what a lot of marketers do is think about the end result they want (e.g., revenue, subscribers, etc.) and then work backwards to develop the story to get there. When you do it this way, you end up sharing an incoherent story and focusing on the wrong metrics. Clicks and form fills are overrated. They show initial intent, but the B2B buying process is long. What happens after those initial indicators? You need to better understand your audience and think creatively about the stories that will help them achieve their goals.

Want to learn more about how you can take your content marketing efforts to new, innovative levels? Connect with Owais on LinkedIn.

Updated June 2018: Verizon acquired AOL in 2015 and Yahoo!’s operating business in June 2017, merging into Oath, AOL and Yahoo!. This article has been updated to reflect these changes.