PODCAST: Parker Ward on content and thought leadership

Thought Leadership Insights

Thought Leadership Insights, Episode 5

In the fifth episode of Thought Leadership Insights, we speak to Parker Ward, Global Head of Digital and Content at Capgemini, one of the world’s foremost providers of consulting, technology and outsourcing services.  In this inspiring and engaging interview, Parker talks about his role as maestro of all things digital and content-driven at the 200,000 strong firm. He explains why thought leadership today requires new levels of strategic oversight together with digital focus, planning and rigour. Parker discusses in detail key factors essential to build a successful campaign, including content planning, formats, audience mapping and social media. Parker highlights the importance of good internal governance and gives his views on the always challenging question of ROI.

Topics covered

  • 00:00 Introduction
  • 02:00 Thought leadership at Capgemini
  • 03:15 Using thought leadership to create separation in the marketplace
  • 04:30 The importance of critical analysis
  • 06:45 Listening to the clients
  • 07:45 How to find the relevant space
  • 09:40 Tailoring communications for an internal audience
  • 10:50 How social media fits into a campaign
  • 13:20 Utilising internal advocates
  • 14:00 Building trust
  • 15:40 Measuring ROI
  • 19:00 How to apply funnel marketing
  • 20:45 Company culture and formality in the B2B space
  • 24:00 Treating your audience as individuals
  • 25:20 Upcoming thought leadership trends

Listen to our other podcasts:

Episode 6: Rob Mitchell on successful thought leadership campaigns

Episode 4 | Episode 3 | Episode 2 | Episode 1

Click here to read our step-by-step guide to developing your thought leadership strategy

Podcast Transcript

Interviewer: Welcome to the FT Longitude Thought Leadership Insights podcast, Parker.

Parker: Thank you. Good to be with you.

Interviewer: Yes, I’m very much looking forward to talking to you about your role at Capgemini, talking to you and getting some insights on how you approach thought leadership, and maybe also some reflections on the changing environment for thought leadership today and some advice and tips about how to develop and promote a good campaign.

Parker: Sound like a plan.

Interviewer: Tell me a little bit about your role, Parker.

Parker: My current title is Global Head of Digital and Content, which is a pretty fancy way of saying that I manage the teams that run all of our websites and social media channels, as well as the content strategy piece for marketing. Figuring out what kind of content we should produce, how we get it made, and then how do we publish it in the right way.

Interviewer: Right. Thought leadership has morphed, grown into, proliferated into content marketing, proliferated in different media and different styles of content. But it seems to be that the professional services consultancy companies, once upon a time, were really the leaders in this field. It emerges from their approach to communicate with clients and so forth. So this is clearly something that’s at the heart of what you do.

Parker: Thought leadership’s a priority for us at the group. It’s something that I feel is a bit of an anachronism left over from those early days of business consulting. There is traditions, big POV, white paper, usually in a locked PDF format. I still see that, not only in my company, but across the industry. It’s a huge, huge piece of what everybody’s doing. Now we’re moving into an area where trying to unlock that process, maybe break it up into smaller pieces and then still try and approach our clients and partners and stakeholders and even our sales force with this great stuff that helps us with all of those relationships.

Interviewer: Yes, and once upon a time, these would have been a report, a written report that was published and…

Parker: Still is.

Interviewer: in some cases uniquely. Now the underlying content can be used in so many different ways and the reports, to the extent they still are in PDF. Nonetheless, they’re often part of an underlying programme and these insights are parcelled and delivered in different media in different formats.

Parker: Yeah that’s exactly right. Especially in a service business like this, we’re all just trying to convince everybody that we’re professionally smarter than the other guy.

Interviewer: Yes.

Parker: Thought leadership is absolutely crucial to creating that separation in the marketplace, maybe deepening a relationship that you have with someone, maybe just making somebody sit up and think a little bit. When everybody is trying to do that same thing, there’s actually a real dearth of actual insight. So we have to actually look at the delivery mechanism, by which we’re delivering that insight. The executive class is getting older and a new generation is coming in. That old-school, printed-out, read-it-on-the-train-home PDF format’s not gonna cut it anymore.

One of the cool thing the Internet has done is given us what I call, “Infinite inventory.” There’s always another page to click to so we have to atomize that thought leadership into all of its smallest component parts and try and get it in these people’s feeds. That’s become big strategy for us, trying to figure out our production model and how we make that kind of stuff.

Interviewer: At FT Longitude, we often phrase it is that, “great thought leadership relies on robust research, analysis, and critical thinking and not just opinions.” The danger is, for the marketplace, and certainly in the whole content marketing, that bits of half opinions part of data that actually…Can you talk a little bit about the importance of the critical thinking and analysis that goes into the thought leadership.

Parker: Yeah, absolutely. We look at this a lot actually and it’s a bit of a cultural issue for us, to be honest. You have people who are absolutely brilliant in their field. As a consultant you’re paid to be professionally smart and they’re used to being taken at their word or their experience speaking for itself. But when it comes to content and an unknown audience who may not know you very well, who you are and what you’ve done is actually not as important as what you’re able to prove. My background is in journalism and editing, and there’s still the principle of, “If you’re gonna make a factual statement, you should have three corroborated sources to back it up.” The best journalist in the world, who’s been covering a subject for 30 years, they still have to do that every time they write something. Who they are doesn’t matter. What they write actually matters.

We’ve actually done our own internal research to prove this back to our own organisation because we were getting a little pushback. I’ve seen it in other industries too. That said, people are interested in branded content, but you have to prove what you’re saying. You have to actually point to specific research that maybe isn’t your own. You might have to start getting comfortable with that. You have to bear it out. These short POV or opinion papers, I think a lot of blogging goes too far into this world, I just don’t think are gonna create that sense of trust or believability or even the separation in the marketplace because everybody’s got an opinion. That’s how we’re kind of approaching it.

Interviewer: Right. It points again to the importance of this robust research and being clear what it is you want to talk about, in a way. What is germane linked to the objective of your clients.

Parker: Yes. We always have to start somewhere. I think a lot of research just casts around, looking for anything interesting to say, but it you don’t have a pretty strong thesis there’s a strong chance you won’t actually go anywhere with the research. We spend lot of energy and we call ourselves a people company. Client-centricity is another internal phrase you hear, something we really try and instil. We’re not even gonna go look at a problem unless we’ve heard it from out clients first. Then we can try and figure out or unpack something. Of course, we’re always trying to see around corners for the things that maybe aren’t problems for them yet, but it’s still kind of related to what we know about their business.

Interviewer: Right, so this process of developing insights, communicating, listening to your clients in the first place, is, if I understand correctly, a really important dimension to this process of coming up with relevant and robust research.

Parker: Yeah. Actually I was just writing a deck, before we spoke, about how we’re trying to build Insight’s products as a service to our own organisation from an external communications standpoint. We know that the businesses will come to our marketers and say, “I’d like to be in the market with this really cool thing that I think we could be able to sell.” But before we go around creating content for that, we actually wanna go back and maybe find out if that is a true pain point for a client. We’ve got ways to pull that information internally. There’s some really good technology out there now that can basically give us a gut-check if that topic is going to resonate. Not only from a business standpoint, but from a communication and marketing standpoint. Is there an audiences out there willing to even consume that topic from a content point of view.

Interviewer: Right, that’s very interesting. Can you talk a little bit about the technologies there? Because these tools, clearly, are very helpful in terms of activation engagement. Actually, the heart of this question of is it relevant? And are people going to be interested to read about it?

Parker: Yeah. I think some of them are the old classics of interview or polling-based methodology. There’s some really great companies out there that are coming from the publishing world and how these large global newsrooms are filtering in a lot of the user-generated content. From war zones or breaking news, they’ve gotta actually figure out what’s real. That’s actually forced them to get their tech right so they can slice and dice that stuff and see what’s bubbling up within a certain community, a certain topic or sector, down to even a specific building.

We’ve applied that sort of stuff to business problems and say, we’ve got a lot of experts at a cybersecurity conference in San Francisco, let’s point what we’ve got at that specific building, follow all 400 people there, and then figure out what they’re actually talking about amongst themselves and use that as an opportunity to tailor a keynote speech or a social media campaign or a larger piece of research. It goes longer term too. It doesn’t have to be that rapid. I alluded to some internal research we did too. I think we don’t spend enough time looking at our own audiences. We’re constantly putting our resources toward business-focused content. Obviously you’ve gotta make money and sell these services, but I think we do ourselves a disservice if we don’t apply this same rigour to the people that are showing up to our website and not following us on social media.

We constantly are looking at what we call an “audience map” to learn a bit about them. It’s actually changed our own comms strategy as well where, well we need to probably be on Facebook a little bit more because the B to B audience there is growing rapidly. Or we often say that, as an organisation we’re constantly going after the C-suite: the CTO, the CIO, the CMO now. But what we figured out through a lot of research is that those people are really busy and they offload a lot of business decisions to their lieutenants at the VP and director level. So, we have started to tailor our content for that age group that is now entering that director-level, 30’s to 40’s. Stuff like that is how we’re always making sure that data and insights are injected into everything we do and we’re not resting on our laurels of conventional wisdom.

Interviewer: Capgemini is a very large organisation. Do you tailor the content for internal audiences as well, for example, the sales team?

Parker: Yeah, absolutely. I think we are a company of over 200,000 people now globally with a really big sales organisation and an entire function of marketing dedicated to our current accounts talking about upselling and things like that. So a lot of the research and formats that we could consider for an external audience on dot com or whatever, that kind of format or even that kind of content might not be appropriate or the same kind of stuff that we would create to give to a salesperson who’s gonna go on a sit or teach them a new product or service.

We think about internal enablement as much as we do external distribution and I think that’s really crucial as well. Because it’s the same content source, but it’s almost a totally different channel. “Channel” being a really loose word there, but it’s also important.

Interviewer: Absolutely and I’d like to come back to that maybe in a moment. You touched on social media. It seems to be a very important element today in distribution and activation and so forth. Talk a little bit about that. Clearly Twitter, LinkedIn, you mentioned Facebook, can you talk a little bit about where that fits in when you’re delivering a campaign.

Parker: Sure, it’s obviously really crucial. Not only because the audiences are large, but it actually offers us a chance to track the data coming though. It’s something we can actually measure. Full stop, social media is a paid scheme at this point. I think we still have marketers who expect organic reach from social media or expect picking a fun hashtag at an event is actually gonna matter. I have to be the bearer of bad news quite a bit that it doesn’t matter anymore. Especially now that even Twitter’s gone to an algorithm for reach. These are all going to be closed off from us unless we pay as businesses. And that’s fine.

We can play in that world and we’re starting to develop a desk to do that internally for our marketers to show up with budget and a bunch of content and then we’ll help them figure out how to push it to social. I did mention Facebook. I’d love to come back to that just briefly in that, there’s conventional wisdom that Facebook is purely personal and there’s no business content being done there. That might be true for organic, but what we found through our research and what the campaigns are telling us is that there absolutely is an appetite for good B to B narratives through Facebook. Some of our best performing stuff is there. So we know that our audience are there consuming content. And then…I totally lost my train of thought.

We still, of course, use LinkedIn. LinkedIn has got a nice sponsored post product and they’re getting good with a lot of their other products. They’re making a play to be a bit of a martech stack for business marketers. Things like LinkedIn sales navigator for sales leads. There’s a really cool product called Elevate that we use in our internal employee advocate programme. We’ve got a big programme called Expert Connect that’s got nearly a thousand people who have signed up to, basically, not only be coached or helped get their social media presences off the ground and running and empower them to get in there and start talking and being active members of that community on social media, but also as conduit for us to make them aware of certain pieces of content. Whether it’s just interesting stuff we’ve found ourselves or it’s maybe actually Capgemini business-focused content.

So Elevates is essentially a mini-Facebook, if you will, but tied to somebody’s LinkedIn profile. We’re able to pull all of those experts in, group them into specific themes and topics, and then we can kick content to them. It’s really easy for them to share from the mobile app. We’re using it in a slightly different way than a I think few other companies are.

Interviewer: Right. At the heart of this is this question of internal advocates, as you say. Particularly with such a large and skilled staff with various in-depth expertise.

Parker: Yeah, well it’s also a way to get around the algorithms, to be honest, if we’re gonna get our edge rank reach dropped down to below 5% as Capgemini. Some of our employees, who are actual human beings, have a much higher percentage of organic reach to their followers. If we’re able to tap into that, it’s just another way of making sure Capgemini has a presence on social media.

Interviewer: That’s very interesting. Now I wanted to talk about one of the findings in recent power of though leadership research that we did at FT Longitude. This was about the importance of building trust through though leadership. I’m just wondering…We’ve seen an outbreak of fake news and there’s so much information overload in general, what’s been your experience in terms of building trust? Can you maybe talk a little bit about what needs to happen for this promise to be realised?

Parker: To be honest, the fake news stuff hasn’t necessarily touched B to B yet. I think there’s an implication there with our media buying strategies because there’s a lot larger implications in terms of brand safety and where our inventory runs. Capgemini’s actually pretty judicious in how we buy media digitally. We do a lot of it at the content level on cost-per-click sponsored posts so it’s not display running against something untoward or not safe for brand or even the fake news taking up inventory or in the feed. I’m sure we’ve had discussions with our media partners on that stuff, but hasn’t quite touched us yet. Trust, I agree, is always an ongoing issue in this industry where we have to be taken at our word or prove that we know what we’re talking about. If we lost that trust we don’t have anything at all.

There’s always going to be a rigour to what we put up and create. We work very, very closely with the business to edit and make sure anything we say online is actually true. Especially our research is pretty well done. I think it’s still gonna come back to the account delivery and sales side of the business. They’re the ones who are really the stewards of that trust. External comms is a mouthpiece or manifestation of what these people are coming up with. For the folks that are actually face-to-face and nose-to-nose with clients and partners, it’s their trust that they’re earning. We’re just helping to say it in a compelling way.

Interviewer: Can we talk a little bit about ROI, Parker?

Parker: Yeah.

Interviewer: Measuring ROI is a challenge. Can you talk about it in the context of thought leadership and its strengths and limitations and how you look at it in your campaigns.

Parker: Sure. There’s two side to how I think about this, and thought leadership is one of them. It’s the opportunity for us to bring people in to actually complete an action that is measurable by technology for us. Whether they are downloading a paper or signing up to hear podcasts, it’s an actual entry or gate into our sales funnel. The data layer underneath that I getting a lot more sophisticated. We just implemented Salesforce’s product across all of our digital properties. It’s taken us a long time to set up because there’s so much going on for us across all of our country websites and all of our social media channels and all the thought leadership that we produce.

We’re trying to basically track all of the IP addresses that are hitting our website. That’s all anonymous. We don’t know who those numbers are attached to. Then, when someone actually passes through a gate, we can then retroactively go back and see that email address or that job title or that person’s name, and see all of the things that they’ve done in the past with that particular IP address. We’re starting to figure out actual user journeys because thought leadership allows us to figure out who these people are. Then, because they then are part of a database, we’re able to then deliver tailored content because we’ve been tracking that user journey all along. Tailored content through a drip campaign, usually through email, but we’re looking at retargeting through paid media as well. Then delivering things that they might find interesting. So using past behaviour to influence future content delivery.

That’s a lot easier than it sounds. From an organisational standpoint, teaching this to hundreds of people is really difficult and a slow change management process. We’re also looking at data management platforms online. We’re able to segment out those IP addresses even further and seeing what kind of content that they’ve looked at online. That’s part of our road map too. It’s a big concerted effort that we’re still steering toward, but we kind of know the direction that we need to get.

Ultimately, we’ll be able to draw a distinction between the first tweet someone came in on as an anonymized IP address, down hopefully through as a sale. Now, they grey area that I’m really fascinated with is that because a user journey on a website is so long, and they might come back 10-20 times if you’re pumping out some good stuff. There’ no way to draw a distinct line from a contract when, to a particular piece of content maybe six months earlier, right? Because that first piece of content might have actually been tagged to a completely different campaign and might have been paid for by another business unit and might have been promoting a completely different piece of thought leadership.

There’s this nebulous concept of influence, or content influence, of how other pieces of content and other pieces of thought leadership, other campaigns, end up affecting the sales funnel of other campaigns farther down the road. There’s this rising tide lifts all boats, but that tide is extremely difficult to measure. We’re gonna have to talk a lot about this as an industry, moving forward, as these data layers get more sophisticated and people start using things like Salesforce and Marketo and all of these other funnel measurers. I think it’s gonna be pretty interesting to see how we figure that out.

Interviewer: That’s fascinating, the power of technology, the potential to see below the surface and peel back the layers of data and see what’s actually happening. So, bearing that in mind, how do you balance these factors when you’re considering the effectiveness of a campaign?

Parker: It’s a great question. We, as content strategists, and I have a team of content strategists that we set up specifically to guide marketers through this though process, figure that out upfront before you create anything. Where does this piece of content probably fit in the funnel? Are we really going for awareness here? Because it’s kind of a nebulous topic that we’re introducing to the market and we wanna pick up some press coverage and all of that stuff. So maybe we won’t gauge that piece of content. Maybe we’ll actually break up a three minute video into ten 20-second videos and we’ll actually host them on Twitter and use them as auto-play, right? So it’s not bring anybody back to dot com, it’s just delivering messaging.

Then there might be something that is a bit farther down the funnel into consideration, or actually buying, where we want them to step through a gate. We want to turn them into a sales lead. Usually the big monolithic thought leadership that still needs to be published as a monolith because the long-form is the bedrock for all that atomization we’ve talked about. There’s a significant investment in that stuff from the business so they’re gonna want to see sales leads come out of that more times than not. We’ll usually get the big stuff but we’re always looking at way to break it up into smaller pieces. Maybe we’ll use those smaller pieces as top-of-funnel and then try and bring people into the ecosystem.

Interviewer: Right. I guess the keyword here is experimentation. As the technologies change, also finds an opportunity to play with new technology, explore the potential, and maybe, as you say, be a little bit more open to different ways to see how you can engage with this content and engage with people at different stages in the funnel.

Parker: Yeah, I think that’s something, culturally, that a lot of companies might be struggling with. We talk about innovation until we’re blue in the face, but it really comes down to us being comfortable with never doing the same thing twice. Definitely marketing and anything with digital and media, it’s not a vocation. We’re not blacksmiths who are handing down strategies through the years to different generations. We’ve gotta try something new almost every time. You  run into people who thing there’s an actual playbook that works, and then they’re gonna do that playbook instead of trying to experiment. Every single time, you should never be just following a recipe.

Interviewer: Right. That tops into this question of culture, which is also important as well. We talked about the employees as advocates, and I guess being aware of some of these questions that you’re saying about content, and seeing themselves as part of that process rather than, “It’s somebody else’s job.”

Parker: Yes. I think that there’s, this might sound harsh, but there’s a lack of empathy for an audience in a lot of marketing. In editorial you’re kind of trained to think about what someone would want to read and enjoy reading rather than getting them to put their name in a Salesforce form to treat them as a sales lead. They’re not sales leads to us yet, they’re actual people who want to read and enjoy a certain piece of content. That sounds like a very simple thing, but it’s incredibly important and incredibly difficult to really get people to internalise that level of empathy. I think it can really make all the difference. There’s, I think…How would I describe this? A certain lack of conversational tone that holds a lot of B to B content back because there’s so much money at stake for some of these contracts, and because business, with capital B, is always seen as a very adult thing. There’s an overuse of people falling back into this stilted formality in terms of how they develop their content, even the voice they use to write this stuff.

I think that there’s room for informal-ness, while still seeming smart, especially with this new generation that’s coming up as the directors who are, again, making these decisions. We council a lot to bring it back into a much more conversational tone. Maybe actually even a little bit of whimsy and fun. Fun is actually one of Capgemini’s seven cultural attributes that we and always embody. It’s interesting. It seems like an easy thing to talk about, but we have to bring it up again and again. Lighten up and have some fun with this. Maybe crack a smile. That’ll show up in your work, especially when it gets into distribution through social which is inherently conversational. There’s no physical space for formality with a lot of the character count rules. We talk about that a lot as a culture as well.

Interviewer: Right. You highlighted something that I think is very important: this potential dislocation between the content within and the communication media, the social media, which, as you say, is increasingly informal. That doesn’t have to mean that the insights are any less. It’s about communication isn’t it? I know that some direct marketing specialists talk about this. People think when you’re talking to an individual consumer, you talk to them in a very different way from a head of…A CTO or someone like that that you’re promoting your product. But actually, fundamentally it’s people reading it and being able to tap into that and recognising the more emotional side of decision-making itself. It isn’t a BCG matrix or one of these…

Parker: Right.

Interviewer: …things that we learn in business school, but actually these are more multifaceted decision-making processes.

Parker: Yeah, absolutely. It’s important to also think about it…An audience on Twitter is different than an audience on LinkedIn. We have to then tailor messaging even further, into a smaller audience. That actually goes beyond voice to even content format. One of the things we have to fight against all the time, and I know it’s a bandwidth issue with a lot of our people, but we’ll create one set of assets and one set of messaging and then push that out into all of the different pipes that it goes to. What we’ve talked about is that you’ve got to have a different set of messaging and a different set of assets per channel, with varying degrees of complexity, because that audience is gonna be different on each one.

Maybe we all have LinkedIn or Twitter on our phones, but even our own personal concept of our own voice and the kind of content we expect on either channel is gonna be different. We have to always drive that in, that empathy, that informal-ness, and that voice is even more discreet community-by-community.

Interviewer: Very interesting. FT Longitude, at the end of the year, did our forecast trends for 2017 and we seem to be more or less on track with a few of those, with many of those as they’re developing. I’m wondering if there are a couple of trends that you think that will have an important impact over the coming six months or a year, within the thought leadership and content marketing?

Parker: I think the data and ROI stuff is gonna be increasingly more important as the tools get a little bit more sophisticated. We’re gonna have to think of way of delivering that thought leadership outside of that that traditional PDF into smaller, more engaging pieces, and then figuring out ways of actually tracking and measuring it’s effect the same way we can right now on dot com. Dot com allows us to plug in all of our own listening devices and as people pass through we’re able to figure stuff out, but as we know, most of the content is consumed off of our own platforms and out of our control. We have to always think through that. Yeah, I’m not sure of any other big thought leadership trends at the moment.

I think it’s easy to fall into some of the new, shiny object formats everyone’s talking about. VR and things like that. But at the end of the day, it’s easy to overextend yourself in that direction and I don’t think B to B is really gonna be moving into really progressive, crazy stuff anytime soon. So I guess that’s like an anti-trend.

Interviewer: Yes.

Parker: They won’t be trendy.

Interviewer: Yes, thank you for that. That’s good to know. Well, that’s been a fascinating discussion full of rich insights. Thank you so much, Parker, for taking the time today to share your insights and experience. I wish you the very best of success with your continuing work at Capgemini.

Parker:  Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.

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About the author: Thought Leadership Insights

Our Thought Leadership Insights podcast series, presented by Fergal Byrne, digs deep into some of the key conversations surrounding thought leadership, and its use.

From building brand reputation, boosting client relationships, and having a real impact on a firm’s bottom line, Fergal interviews FT Longitude’s three founders, as well as a number of industry experts in thought leadership.

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