Melissa Ashcraft is the director of global B2B marketing for Wacom. She’s spent her career arranging words, first as a novelist publishing two books with Random House, then as a freelance journalist, and a PR person representing, among other things, a circus. Though the circus thing was short-lived, spending a few days at 3AM navigating the dynamics of the AM news, Russian trapeze artists, a ring leader, and most importantly, elephants, taught her the importance of communication and managing expectations. Pro-tip: no matter how you spin it, the tigers just. won’t. do.
How do you describe what you do?
I aim to understand what customers need help with or are curious about, then I make content that answers those needs and questions while trying to convince them that the product I’m marketing is relevant to their lives. I’m one part concierge, one part fortune teller (complete with crystal ball), and one part aspiring-Tina Brown.
I recently read a book review for Nell Scovell’s book, Just the Funny Parts. She writes, “When I write, I feel like an optometrist, constantly flipping between lenses and asking: ‘Is this better? Is this?’ Slowly the world comes into focus.” This is a great description of the process of content marketing and the AB testing we do when a marketing program is live. We know our audience has a problem or a need, and we know we have a solution. But what is the best way to present that solution? We keep iterating until we’ve presented the solution in the most appealing way possible.
What is a belief regarding content marketing do you have that others in your field might not agree with?
Quality writing matters. There are content farms where you can get cheap, fast content. And most people think that because they took a writing class, they can write. But any reader can sense bad writing.
The writers I work with are all professional writers and usually come from a background in journalism. The writing is funny, smart and feels like something you’d read in a magazine. I pay my writers more than most publications do, and more than any content farm out there because a great writer is making something that taps deep into someone’s brain. Writing is an art and it should be acknowledged and celebrated.
From your perspective, what makes content “successful”?
Successful content adds value to a person’s day. Ideally successful content will trigger some part of the reader’s brain to say, “thanks, I needed that.” If content is not adding value, it’s just noise.
What is your advice for turning a creative idea into reality?
Start with the goal. What do you hope to happen as the result of this idea? Plan, then be meticulous in the steps you need to take. And stay focused on the goal. Don’t go chasing shiny. Sometimes people can bring new ideas that may be great but move the idea away from the goal. Ignore those ideas and constantly ask if you’re tracking to the goal.
What is one particular content-driven initiative or campaign you have been a part of that you are particularly proud of?
My most favorite program I’ve made at Wacom is Mindful Meetings. I partnered from the start on Mindful Meetings with Roboboogie, who helped me refine the vision. Mindful Meetings was originally called Laptops Down but, as John Gentle (the Founder of roboboogie) pointed out, and numerous people backed up, it was too aggressive. When I started the project with Roboboogie, I said, “We’re not changing the name. That’s non-negotiable.” But it just goes to show that when Roboboogie shares data and strategy, they’re convincing and, I suppose, right. (I still sometimes call it Laptops Down. Take that John.)
Meetings have the potential to be an important connection point in our working lives, but more often than not, they are a total waste of time, and worse, they are alienating because people don’t feel heard. We did a ton of research into meetings and found that technology is a culprit of this alienation – everyone was staring at a screen during meetings.
The literal goal of Mindful Meetings was to build the Bamboo brand’s email newsletter list. But in my heart, the goal was to change the culture of meetings globally and remove screens from the meeting environment.
The program itself had a lot of believers and supporters within Wacom and with those who were working on the program. Once my colleagues and agency partners stopped using laptops and phones in meetings, they noticed a huge improvement in what they got out of meetings and how they connected with colleagues. But we just couldn’t get the program really airborne and change the world, like I had dreamed we would. It’s okay. It still lives on.
How do you approach measuring the impact of content?
I’ll tell you what I don’t measure: impressions. No measuring impressions. Ever. The first thing I look for is engaged sessions – that’s sessions lasting longer than a minute. After that, I measure actions that map to a program’s goals. So if I’m looking for sales, I’ll measure clicks to Amazon, or add to cart. If I am running a program to increase a newsletter list (like Mindful Meetings was), then I’ll measure the amount of email addresses I get.
All content should be goal-oriented and the KPIs should map to the goals.
How do you harness learnings from previous campaigns to improve efforts moving forward?
The first time I partnered with Roboboogie on a measurable content marketing program, we didn’t have the customer journey right. I just couldn’t explain to others or to myself why we were linking to the places we did. And our results showed what my gut said. We had really high clicks on things like add to cart, or buy now, but the sales didn’t show a lift. We were sending people off to environments we didn’t control where the messaging was different, and the look was different. The next time I joined forces with Roboboogie, we had the data to back up my gut instinct: the journey wasn’t right. After that, we fixed the customer journey and saw sales double YoY during holiday time.
When I start a new program, I think about the things that bugged me about the last one. No program is perfect, and I do my best not to get stuck on the things that bugged me and the things that data showed to be not right, but sometimes things just bug me. I also try to pay attention to the good things too. We nailed the customer journey the second time, and that journey has informed several programs since then.
What content marketing trends are you currently most excited about?
I love multimedia content. I love all of the features the New York Times does with the video, writing, sound, pictures, maps etc. It’s old, but Snow Fall is a great example. I also loved Deliverance from 27,000 Feet. Fun fact: I’m terrified of snow and heights. I can’t ski, not because I don’t know how, but because I get paralyzed with fear. (I have this experience at karaoke too.) It’s odd that both of those articles are literally my worst fear. The only thing that would make those stories worse for me is if they had to sing George Michael’s “Faith” in front of a television screen. I digress! If I had a ton of money, I’d make those types of long form features. But I do not have all of the money, so I stay focused on shorter content that’s crisp and gets right to what the customer needs to improve their day.
Melissa – thanks for sharing your wisdom and passion for content strategy and the importance of paying attention to the little details in marketing! And a personal thank you for seeing us as more than just partners, but as friends that do cool shit together. You continually inspire us to think more creatively, to get out there to find fresh ideas, and to bring our best day-in, and-day-out. We are so grateful to work together!