As brand marketers embrace a shift from conventional forms of advertising toward more nuanced forms of digital content marketing, they are also learning that a new stack of technology comes along with it. One of the most basic parts of a tech stack for publishers is now becoming an integral one for brands: the content management system, or the CMS for short.
To help content marketers understand some of the issues and opportunities associated with the technology, Marketing Daily sat down with CMS expert Randy Apuzzo, CEO and co-founder of San Diego-based Zesty.io.
Marketing Daily: Let’s start off with something pretty basic. What is a content management system, and why is it important for the ways brands manage their content?
Randy Apuzzo: A content management system is a way to store digital information you want to provide to your customers. That information could take many forms. Often in the case of brands, it could be marketing information. A CMS is a way to store that information and make it accessible on the Internet or from within a piece of software. A simple way to think about it would be like using Microsoft Word. It’s just a way to organize information using a piece of software. Now imagine you could deploy that information onto the Internet or to a mobile device or to some other software. A CMS gives you control over -- and the ability to distribute -- digital content.
MD: So at its heart, a CMS is technology that enables brands to organize and display information. What is the most important thing brand content managers should understand about how technology can enable them to do that, or how it can get in the way of them doing that?
Apuzzo: Accessibility is probably the most important thing to consider with a CMS. That means being able to easily access your content and therefore manage it on your end, and then once that content is ready to be published to the world, making it accessible to the people you want to see it, whether it is over a Web browser, a mobile device or even things like TVs or out-of-home media.
MD: What should marketers understand about using that technology? How can it help brands manage their content better, and how can it make things worse?
Apuzzo: It’s all about agility. It’s about being able to leverage the content you want, when you want to. Whether it is video, or video and text, or text and image, or even data from outside resources like a CRM platform. Whatever the tactics are that the brand wants to use, the CMS needs to enable the brand to control and manage their data in that way. And if it’s not able to, you end up with siloed content or cookie-cutter content, which is what a lot of the Internet looks like now. You want to give yourself the best opportunity to maximize the value of your content, and that means being able to manage and display the kind of content you want and make it really easy to access.
MD: Your cookie-cutter example is a good way of describing a lot of brand content. According to Nielsen, the average consumer is now exposed to about 5,000 brand impressions a day -- everything from conventional ads to branded and native content. That’s a lot of content, but more importantly, it’s coming from a lot of different brands that are all competing for the consumer’s attention. How can a brand content manager use technology to get a competitive advantage, recognizing that they’re actually competing in a world of 5,000 brand impressions daily?
Apuzzo: I think relevance should be the key. Once the content is organized and available for deployment, you need to use analytics to track the relevance it has for your customers. Where are you sending the content? How are your customers asking for it, and do you understand what the different levels of success are for each channel you are using? You should be able to see how each channel is performing immediately.
MD: What competitive advantage can CMS technology give a brand to compete in a world of virtually infinite noise? How do you use the technology and the analytics to stay relevant?
Apuzzo: A CMS can’t effectively help you find a market, but it can help you organize your content to do that. A lot of people will write a paragraph of copy and send it off to six different places. And then when they want to update that copy, they have to go to six different places to update it. A good CMS will enable you to update it once and allow all your channels to be updated simultaneously. It will give you more control, but it will also cut down on the amount of time and labor of the “location management,” so to speak, and free you up to focus on the marketing efforts and the story you want to tell with the content, using the data to understand how and where it’s performing.
MD: So the first and most important job of a CMS is to help the brand organize its content so that it can have a more cohesive message?
Apuzzo: Yes, but also to be able to get that message out to their audience. It has to be front- and back-end.
MD: One of the things about technology is it is creating much more of an always-on communication process. How is the real-time nature of the communications marketplace changing the way brands need to structure and manage their content, and the data related to it?
Apuzzo: There are a couple of things to consider that will give you more dynamic content. When you’re using your phone to connect with a website, you’re connecting to a computer that offers you information. If that information is up to date to the second, you’re going to have a better opportunity to see the information that is most relevant. So having a tool that allows you to provide the most up-to-date information is vital. That tool should be updating information not just to a website but to mobile applications or wherever else your information is accessed, making it that much more relevant. Think about something like a billboard. Instead of sending your content to the operator of a digital billboard, it should pull the content directly from your content management system so you can update that message on that billboard -- the imagery, a video, whatever -- on-the-fly, to the second. That’s how you deliver relevant content and test immediately whether you’re reaching the market you’re trying to reach. As things become more connected, it will enable marketers to iterate, change, test, learn and adapt much faster.
MD: One of the big issues going on with brand content is that the lines are starting to blur -- from advertising to branded content to “native” content to whatever the industry calls it next. But the reality is that content is beginning to blur across disclosure channels, not just media channels. From a technical point-of-view, what are the challenges and opportunities for a brand to leverage a CMS to manage that better? How much should brand content managers be thinking about that delineation of content?
Apuzzo: Think about Instagram. There are these social media celebrities posting on Instagram with 2,000,000+ followers. Josh Ostrovsky's Instagram account is particularly popular right now. He’s goofy and funny and has a lot of followers. But now he’s getting into branded content and he’s sneaking brand advertising into his videos and his pictures.
If you’re a brand, how do you keep track of those impressions? If you’re leveraging a hundred of these kinds of social media celebrities to reach different markets, that becomes a technical challenge. But you can manage that through your CMS. A CMS is not just about publishing public content to your audience. You also store information in your CMS that targets the people you work with, so those social media celebrities that you’re working with can actually act on information that is relevant to them at the time. It could be information that isn’t visible to the public, but explains to them “this is the narrative we want.” Or you can update that narrative and control your story so you’re not just sending it to them as an email, but storing it in a place where they can access it automatically. That enables you to make sure everyone is on the same page about what the brand’s story actually is at the moment.
A good CMS will help you keep your narrative and messaging straight rather than just sending it off in emails and hoping they don’t get stuck in time.
MD: You’re an engineer and your job is to focus on the technical aspects of that process. But do you think much about how people are experiencing that “transmedia” narrative as it exists across all these different pieces?
Apuzzo: I think there’s an opportunity to use technology to capture the narrative. The best way to do that is to think of it as a waterfall of your content. If you went to a major brand and said, “I want to look at every piece of content you delivered chronologically in the past year,” they would think you’re crazy. But a robust CMS should enable them to do that. So imagine being able to create a waterfall of information that flows like a narrative and is managed in a way that is agile so you can adapt the narrative when you need to. The narrative starts in one place and you distribute it out and then you can review all the pieces and look at what has happened.
MD: It’s a fascinating metaphor, because a lot of people use the waterfall as a metaphor for thinking about programmatic media-buying. In a way, it’s the same idea. Different parts of your content resonate with different people at different times, and you can think about it as the flowing currents of a waterfall?
Apuzzo: Let’s say you have a couple of different pieces of content going out at the same time -- an Instagram post, a commercial and some sort of article. You have three different types of content going out at the same time: One in social media, one on the TV and most likely on YouTube, and one through a browser. But each one of those channels has a link to it on the Internet, and being able to collect those links, you can create a chronological waterfall and begin to track how your marketing campaigns are working, what they’re saying and how they’re performing.
You can build a story that way, by using a more effective CMS on the back end. I don’t think most brands are thinking that far ahead, but maybe they should start doing that, because it’s going to be a more effective story if it’s better organized. Think about what happens if you bring a new marketing executive onto your team and they can access the waterfall of everything you’ve done for the past year -- what you’ve tried, what was successful, and what was not. It’s a good way of bringing a narrator up to speed and it can really change the way they tell their story -- so to speak -- rather than trying to put pieces together when they’re disorganized and spread out all over the place.
MD: Lastly, is there a good example out there that you’ve seen of a brand that is using their CMS in a smart way? One that you admire and would suggest our readers think about from a technical point of view?
Apuzzo: I think Sony is a good example. They have a camera product line, the Alpha SLR, that they wanted to promote in a unique way. So they hired a good content guy who has worked to develop Google+ project to curate content for their Alpha SLR camera. They tried a unique approach. Instead of simply highlighting their product, they decided to highlight how their customers were using the product. And it allowed their customers to interact.
By using their CMS, they were able to filter and develop this content organizing it across all the social media channels where their customers were posting imagery using their own Sony cameras. Since the Alpha SLR takes great photographs, they were able to leverage social media to see those photographs. The CMS enabled them to identify those great photographs and then share them with other enthusiasts. It allowed their customers to share their photographs, but it also enabled Sony to showcase them on the Sony site. Even if it was just for a week, the value of that collateral had a snowballing effect.
It was an example of a brand using a CMS to connect with their customers and showcase their product at the same time with real-world usage examples. And enabling their customers to feel great about being part of it. It’s a great example of how a CMS can be used. It’s more than just marketing. It’s enabling a customer experience.