Amber Picotte of Curata – AI, Content Marketing and Choosing Features to Keep Marketing Agile

Amber is a sales enablement focused marketer, responsible for scaling Curata’s marketing processes, along with brand building, lead nurturing, partner marketing, and demand generation. Prior to Curata Amber led marketing teams at Upserve, SnapApp, and Wordstream, and worked at Eloqua, Unica, and Ardence. Amber has a BS in Marketing and Psychology from Bryant University.

Listen to the Podcast

In this episode Amber explains the challenges and opportunities facing content marketers including:

  • Analyizing content marketing
  • Deciding on the trade-offs between features and integration
  • Matching content to funnel stages
  • The power of long form content

Read the Transcript

John Wall: Welcome to Stack & Flow. I’m John Wall.

Sean Zinsmeister: And I’m Sean Zinsmeister.

John: Today our special guest, Amber Picotte of Curata, is here to talk to us. She’s the VP of Marketing and she’s going to tell us about their stack and what they’ve got going on.

So Sean, what have you got that you want to lead off with today?

Sean: You’ve been following the IBM conference that was last week. Anything that you were able to pull out of that? What was going on over there?

John: Yeah. My Marketing Over Coffee co-host, Christopher Penn, has been at World of Watson. Was actually in on a couple presentations. So, he’s been putting out all this content all week of everything that’s been going on over there. The big take away from that is situations where computers are now definitively smarter than humans and performing better than humans.

A couple weeks ago, there was a lot of chatter about a computer that was winning at Go, the strategy game which is kind of considered next level chess, and being able to beat the world champion four out of five times, I think it was. Which, nobody had expected. Everybody said that was another five years out.

They rolled out some other research at the event about computers being 30% better at diagnosing cancer by being able to … Because, basically you just dump in every piece of data you’ve ever had, and the computer is able to objectively rank and score that and be able to act upon it. As humans, when we see exceptions, we tell our three or four peers. The computer grabs the whole world all in one chunk and chews it up.

Chris’ big fear is, you know, start planning for some other kind of job, because if you’re not making some kind of art, you’re in a lot of trouble. I don’t know. Either of you guys following anything on AI and big data?

Sean: A lot of AI talk now is a lot of these companies are looking to hire more AI talent, and AI is definitely finding its way into the common lexicon around marketing technologists and marketing ops. It’s always really interesting to see what the big companies are starting to push out and how they’re adding intelligence layers into their business. I don’t know.

Amber, does this stuff intersect with your guys’ world at all?

Amber Picotte: A little bit. I think Pawan Deshpande, our founder, has done a lot of original research and thinking in machine learning. I think though, in terms of stuff that I’ve seen in the news that’s kind of interesting, and not quite sure exactly how it would be rolled out in real life but … Chat bots and AI for customer support use. Given some of the stuff I had seen in the past with some of those bots gone wrong with … Was it Microsoft that had the Twitter bot?

Sean: That’s right, that turned racist.

Amber: Yeah. I can’t quite imagine yet what kinds of companies would be comfortable enough to start deploying that in their customer success and support organizations, but curious to see how that plays in in the future.

Sean: The chat bots are really interesting, especially if you’re dealing with such a great amount of volume. Having the AI sort of be the very front line … It’s that whole sort of starting small thing, where maybe they first intercept the customer’s complaint or the inquiry, and then they quickly pass it on and maybe route it to the right human. I mean, this is something that before I dove into the marketing world, when I was doing sound design for these IVR systems, for phone systems, intelligent voice recognition systems for that … I mean, they’ve been doing that type of intelligence on the phone. It’s just that now we kind of have a bot that interacts.

John, you have been following that stuff as well with the chat bots over at the conference. What was it … Jeff Pulver’s conference just a month back. Anything seem knew from that or …

John: Yeah, as a matter of fact, that’s right on the mark. This is cutting edge stuff. Jeff has actually rolled out a chat bot event, I believe in New York City, next month. I’ll put a link to that in the show notes so that people can check that out. Yeah, from that previous event they had call systems that were getting 70-80% success rates in handling calls, just by what you said, having a database of all the possible solutions and being able to automatically route through them. The crazy thing with that was 250 million jobs worldwide to be impacted by…

Amber: Wow.

John: … call center data. Yeah. A huge impact of technology on the rest of the world.

Sean: It’s so early though. I think the one that they were flaunting, which is the Facebook messenger, the one I like to complain about, is Poncho. The one that’s supposed to sort of intelligently talk tome about the weather. I don’t find … It’s not very intelligent though. In fact, it’s pretty darn stupid.

What’s going to be really interesting, going back to the phone thing … You know, when I call any of these big companies and things, I’m the guy who sits there and mashes zero to try to get to the human as fast as possible. So, it’s going to be interesting to see actually how does this … is it going to improve or degrade the customer experience? I think time will tell.

Amber: In some cases you may not be able to tell. Pawan, our CEO, has an AI based virtual assistant named Claire and many of us were fooled originally by the fact that we actually didn’t even know it was a bot. So, you know. I take it back. I can definitely see some ways that it would be an interesting experience, and certainly some customer experiences that I’ve had would probably be vastly improved if a robot were handling the transaction, unfortunately.

John: Was Claire email based or voice based? It had to be email, right? You were just fooled by the email?

Amber: She was email based. Yeah, yup. She’ll help reschedule meetings and … I feel like that’s her sweet spot, was rescheduling some of the meetings and responding to some … There must be ways to set rules around what sorts of responses she can provide without human interaction first. But yeah, she’s pretty good.

Sean: I tell you … When it comes to natural language processing with machine learning, it’s so incredibly difficult. I’ve had a couple friends and especially, again diving a little bit into my experience with … People wonder why Siri doesn’t always perform all that well when it comes to how it reacts when it comes to your voice, and if you think about how all the different accents that it has to deal with, and all the different nuances, and then trying to pull things out of text is super hard.

I mean, this is something that we were looking at, at my last company, at Nitro, was smart documents. Being able to sort of intelligently understand what was going on in a document just by looking and procuring things just from the text, and understanding like could we build intelligent work flows out of that? I don’t know. John, it’d be interesting to see where things start to go and if people could actually start to add that type of stuff to their work flows. We’ll see.

John: Yeah, it’s definitely a change of … Like I’ve said, make sure you’ve got your career path mapped out. You don’t want to be road kill as the AI rolls through your town.

Let’s move forward though. Again, we’re all about the stack here. Amber, tell us basically what does Curata do? Let’s get a start there. What kind of problems do you have to solve, and how do you serve your customers?

Amber: Curata is all about content marketing. So, we have two products. One, which is a curation platform, that lets marketers find great content from across all sources on the web based on keywords or influencers, or sources that they know to be trusted, and then empowers them to share that across social channels, through an e-newsletter, or micro-site, or blog. That’s actually the product where some of Pawan’s machine learning has already been deployed. Over time, based on the content that you are actually sharing from the results that you get, it will learn and become smarter with what it recommends to you. It’s a pretty cool product that’s been around since 2007.

More recently, just about a year ago, we released a product, our content marketing platform. Which, I think is really interesting and has the potential to change the content marketing landscape in terms of the analytics that it’s able to provide kind of at the fingertips and on the fly for content marketers, and help them to really understand what it is about their content strategy that’s actually driving revenue and impact for the business. There’s some really cool granular analytics that they can get within that platform.

Sean: This is definitely the next innovation level for content marketing in particular. I think what we’re seeing a lot of machine learning applied to is like, how do you de-noise the social world? I know that Mark Schaefer has always written a lot about that idea of content shock, where we’re just … There’s so much content out there. How do we find the good stuff, and how do we connect our prospects to finding the stuff that’s going to help solve their problems?

I’m curious. To sort of build out the profile and gain some more context, what type of businesses are approaching these problems? What are the problems that they’re looking to solve when it comes to stuff that you guys do?

Amber: That’s a great question. I think one of the biggest challenges for marketers in general, and for content marketers as well, is really clearly defining the problem that they’re trying to solve because there are so many problems and there are so many platforms out there. With our curation platform, where that has been I’d say most widely adopted, is with teams who are more on the early stages of deploying a content marketing strategy. Really, as you mentioned, part of the game of getting your voice heard and building that thought leadership and credibility in the social sphere and through an inbound marketing approach, is having a lot of content.

I think 80% of content that’s created really doesn’t move the needle for organizations, so it’s really about how many at bats you have. Curation is a great way to help round out brand generated, or brand created, content. We see organizations being really successful where there’s a 60-40 or a 70-30 split, in terms of content that’s originally created by the brand and then supplemented with curated content that they find across the web.

Teams that are just getting started … It’s a great way to lean on thought leaders and influencers in the space, take the content that they are creating out there that is thoughtful and useful, adding a bit of your own perspective to that content or maybe raising a question or some unique perspective to what that thought leader has already generated, and then sharing that out through your social channels, or email marketing, or blog properties. It’s really a great way to, again, kind of supplement the content creation strategy.

Our content marketing platform … Obviously once you get to a point where you are creating content regularly, you need to know what’s working. There’s some question and some buzz maybe that’s brewing a little more recently around, "Is content marketing dead?" The challenge really is that a lot of organizations have gotten started with content marketing hoping or expecting that it would be easy, they’d be able to find some silver bullet, or they’d see value really quickly. The reality is, as we all know, anything in marketing and anything good takes time and effort and it does take a while to get to that tipping point of impact for the content or an inbound marketing strategy to get there.

Once you do get there, the task inevitably becomes, "How do we do more? How do we do better? How do we make sure that we’re putting our investment, growing our team, hiring the right freelancers, et cetera, et cetera." How do you keep that engine going? The content marketing platform, I think, is really cool because it very simply without a whole lot of struggles around implementation, integrations, and work flow changes, empowers a content marketer to have that kind of insight and information at their fingertips.

Sean: Amber, you’ve worked for some content powerhouses in your career. I mean from …

Amber: Yes.

Sean: … time at Eloqua and Wordstream, Upserve, and a few others. It always seemed that when content marketing first became hot and then we had technology to sort of help amplify that strategy … It seemed that we went from a volume play and now we might be entering more of a, "How do we add more intelligence to the content?"

Are we seeing more personalization where it’s about reaching the right people, because you talked about analytics and we’re seeing a little bit of that on the predicted analytics side. Are you seeing that trend, especially as you’ve gone through your career, where it’s not necessarily about the volume but it’s all about how do we get more of a data driven content strategy, if you will?

Amber: Absolutely. I think that at different organizations, at different points in my career and in our content marketing strategy, we’ve been trying to solve for different problems. The thing that I think is really cool, is the power that Curata content analytics gives you. Really kind of helps you to answer different kinds of questions. For example, at Wordstream, it was absolutely a content marketing powerhouse and just produced a bunch of content we had. We were focused on building our blog visitors and our social presence. Slowly but surely we would continue to find really creative and interesting ways to get lots of people to our site.

Once we kind of solved for that, if you will, the question then became,"Okay, well. Are these the right people? How come when we get these huge spikes in visitors to our blog we’re not necessarily seeing the same rate of conversion through the rest of the parts of the funnel? Is there value or how do we monetize the value of some of these broader nets that we’re casting? Do we want to be doing that?" All those sorts of questions around fine tuning the content strategy. Those aren’t easy questions to solve, and so you kind of make some guesses, tweak some things, and try and use the beacons that you have, maybe through Google Analytics, or Salesforce campaign tracking, or your marketing automation solution. But, they still leave quite a lot to be desired.

Something that we’ve learned at Curata is long form blog posts actually out perform any other content format that we’ve tried out in the past. So, I do think that it really depends on your audience. What they want, what they’re coming back for, but also what problem you’re trying to solve for. Something that’s going to work at the top of the funnel is entirely different than something that might be best for helping to improve conversion rates through the middle or the bottom of the funnel.

Yeah, I definitely think personalization is still a part of it. You mentioned the predictive intelligence part. I think that’s a huge trend that will continue to impact Martec now and through the future, and that’s certainly something that Curata is looking at incorporating. Once we can understand what content is performing best for what purposes or outcomes, we can start doing some really cool and smart things around recommendations to help marketers figure out what to promote, what to do more of, that kind of thing. I’m really excited to see how the predictive part will influence how folks use our product and how our roadmap evolves.

Sean: No, 100%. You mentioned long form content and another interesting trend, maybe it’s just a passing fad, I don’t know, but I’ve actually seen with the email messages that I get from a lot of marketers that I get these days, because I definitely field a lot of them so at least I have some standing here … They’re actually starting to make the emails a lot longer too, where they’re almost at the point where they’re putting the entire blog post into the email. I’m like, "Well, there’s something to that," because maybe it’s like it’s one less click. They can just devour the content. I think it’s going to make it a little bit harder to track, but a lot of interesting stuff happening there.

Amber, in terms of your team and how you guys are built out … What does your marketing team look like? What are the parts that you own? What’s the lay of the land?

Amber: Yeah, so we’ve grown from a three person team when I joined three months ago, to a six person team now, with our most recent hire will be starting next week. Really, the goal has been to expand the skillset on the team and get us to a space where we have some specialization on the content side, so that we can just do more. We’re really focusing right now … My goal is to build the team and the operational foundation that we need to pour fuel on the fire for 2017 so that we can scale and grow really quickly.

John: You guys … I’ve noticed from the site that you integrate with all the major players. What are you using as far as system of record, email service provider, all that kind of stuff?

Amber: Sure. This is another area where we’ll be investing in and growing in the future. The goal is really to expand and layer on the different channels that we’re using and continue to empower the team to find ways to optimize, refine, and do more. The stack that we have now … We use Salesforce, and Marketo for our CRM and marketing automation, and then we’ve also got InsightSquared for our reporting. On the sales side, we’re leveraging Datanyze and SalesLoft to help with some of our outbound prospecting and account selection. In the future, the places that we’re looking to invest in are ABM Tech. So, we’ve been doing our diligence and research in that space. That’s a really interesting growth category as well, so we’ve been doing a lot of demos for the last couple of weeks there. Thinking into the future about what personalization and A/B testing solutions and … I really expect to invest a lot in growing our marketing stack as we learn what’s working.

Sean: Now that’s curious, because I know ABM Tech in particular as a category, while it’s still pretty early, I’m curious. Any sort of observations that you’ve found as you’ve guys have started to explore the different types of solutions? Any sort of trends or things you could bring?

Amber: Yeah. I think it’s funny that ABM is so cool right now because …

Sean: Is it?

(Laughing)

Amber: … like most things, it’s been around forever. I think that the interesting thing is, it’s not necessarily that there’s a new problem that’s been defined, but there’s new solutions that help make the approach smarter and maybe easier in some cases. That’s what I think is cool about the ABM space now. Early days in, you know, but I think again what’s interesting to me is how to evaluate what we need now versus where we’re going to be maybe six months to a year from now. The challenge, I think, is that there are solutions out there that do so much, and when I think about where we are at right now and what we need, they feel much bigger than what we would be willing to take on right now.

There are other solutions that really zero in on helping with the reporting and just the connection of the leads and accounts, and that’s really interesting as well. Some companies seem to take more of a sales enablement approach to solving that challenge versus maybe really powerful marketing tools. It’s early days in terms of what we’re evaluating, but again it’s a lot of things to consider for a marketer in one of those spaces where, kind of like content marketing, it may not always be super clear exactly which problem you need to solve right now and how to bring on the tech that’s going to work for what we need now, but continue to grow with the team as well.

Sean: I think that that makes perfect sense, because there’s so many things out there and there’s probably so many different problems. Especially when you first enter an organization, you’re looking through the stack and trying to figure out, "What are we actually using and is this showing any real value? How do we amplify what we’re doing here or like get more people on this or," …

Isaac Wyatt from New Relic always talks about this pruning strategy to look at what’s shelfware in our stack right now, where it’s like, "Oh, could we live without this. Maybe it’ll come back, right?" it’s not necessarily that it’s bad tech, but it’s probably just not adding the value that we need right now.

From the content side, the other thing that I’m always interested in, especially given your guys’ team layout, is from the project management side I think always tends to be the unsung hero when it comes to marketing teams getting things done. I’m curious, do you guys have project management technology that you’re using, or what does your process look like in how your team goes about getting things done?

Amber: We actually use our own content marketing platform internally, and that has scheduling and production and some task management stuff that we’re able to use on the content side. Our director of content and the content marketing manager that we bring on will be 110% power users of that tool. That will work really well for them. In terms of keeping the other parts of the organization coordinated as well, we use Trello and Google Docs. We’re lucky enough, right now, that the team is small enough and we’re all in one spot. We run weekly stand-ups and kind of … It’s relatively easy at this point in our journey to keep coordinated.

I’ve read a good amount about team size and at what point does the size of the team introduce other challenges and loss in efficiencies, and you know that the coordination becomes a lot more of a critical component there. Luckily, we’re not there yet. I think it’ll be a little while before we get there.

But yeah, we use a combination of our own platform and then, you know, some cool Taco … Taco from Trello tells us how to be the best users of Trello. We get by with just good old in person communications a lot of times too, which I think also can be an unsung hero.

John: Yeah, so you have this interesting challenge in that you’re selling a tool that can be used for marketing, so you’re having to … You kind of have this drink your own champagne challenge that not everybody has. Does that make you more aggressive in getting more tools, and doing more integrations, and get more done, or does that make you more conservative in that you want to make sure that you’re following best practices every time and always looking good? Which side of that do you guys fall on?

Amber: That’s a great question. Curata has created a product that really is meant for the content marketer, so it solves their needs and their challenges. It’s interesting. I was reading an article by David Raab about another kind of interesting transition in the market place, where initially a lot of marketing tech was created on purpose to empower the marketer to get things done so that they wouldn’t have to involve IT, be too worried about all the integrations and nuances of that. That they could be nimble and they could choose platforms that really had the best feature set to solve their particular problem.

What’s happening as teams are bringing on a lot more technology, they are starting to hire systems analysts who really take more of that IT approach to evaluating the efficiency, the integrations … Both of the efficiency from a cost perspective, but as well as what are all the needs that are happening across the team. What happens when that approach is taken is solutions that are a little bit more holistic get selected, but it means that the individual user that’s trying to perform a specific role probably doesn’t have really the features they would choose, or the features that help them get their job done the best.

I thought that was a really interesting way to think about the problems you’re trying to solve and the technology that you’re selecting, and at what point … Where do you want to be? Is agility and technology that helps individual core functions of the team the biggest problem and greatest opportunity to solve for, or are you large, are you spending a lot of money on tech, do you stand to benefit more from taking more of the systems analyst kind of approach to it?

It terms of the product that Curata has created, it’s made for the content marketer, and it’s created to solve the problems and give a rich feature set that enables and empowers the content marketer. It’s not necessarily a solution that was built for the VP of Marketing, for example, to answer all of the questions that I may have about all of the different things that we’re doing across channels and strategies and tactics. There are pros and there are cons to that. I don’t think that we suffer at all from drinking our own champagne. I’ve been at organizations where that’s certainly been painful and challenging. Where we were required to adopt a solution that really, honestly, we weren’t the ideal profile or ideal user of, but had to do it anyway.

At Curata, it’s interesting because I think our director of content and even myself I would say, absolutely we get a tremendous amount of value. The workflow and what’s being planned and produced on the content side, tying that into what are the other things that are happening across the entire marketing function to create that holistic calendar, is certainly not something that our current platform does solve or needs to solve. But, in terms of keeping an efficiency around what’s happening across the team is certainly something that we’re still trying to figure out the best way to solve for.

Sean: For you guys internally, looking ahead into next year and next quarter, what are the next big problems for you and the marketing team to solve? What are you guys looking at?

Amber: Good timing. I just had a nice chat with my Director of Demand Gen and Director of Content to see if we were all on the same page with those critical priorities. Good news, we were. I was excited about that. On the content side, certainly bringing in another content manager and being able to expand what we’re doing there. We’ve been able to, through the analytics that we get through our platform, see that long form blog content generates 23 times the impact of revenue than other forms of content do. For a while, we’ve been saying, "We should see what happens when we move from once a week long form blog production to twice a week. Can we move the needle even move there? Or, where is the cap on the gains there?"

So, definitely getting some more bandwidth on the content team to test that theory out is going to be critical. We are focused on improving the user experience of our blog and our website. On the blog, it’s really going to be around creating a better experience for content binging, I guess would be the term that I would use. Making it so that it’s really easy for people to continue to get lost in the great content that we have on the blog. That’s going to be important.

Also, from the content perspective, thinking about creating content throughout the buyer’s journey and specifically creating some more stuff that highlights our customers, talks a little more about our product, and really lets people do a lot more of that self education because let’s face it, that’s how people buy now. So, we want to be able to put more of that content in the fingertips of people who are doing that research. That’s big in and critical on the content side.

On the Demand Gen and tech side, really we’re putting ourselves in a position to do account based everything, I like to call it. I don’t like to call it ABM, because it’s not just marketing. We’re really kind of working cross functionally with the sales team and our customer success team to nail the very specific profile of our best and most successful customer, and then figure out the ways that sales and marketing are going to partner to go find more of those accounts. We’re really excited. We’ve done a lot of foundational work on that side now, and as I mentioned, we’re looking into some tech that will help to support that but also starting to think about the multi-channel programs that we can put in place to do an awesome job at creatively marketing to those great accounts.

John: That’s so funny. You know, I had not given much thought to the fact that ABM, yeah it’s a shortcut, because none of those tools and projects exist without a lot of sales involvement. That is definitely misleading.

Amber: It is.

John: Amber, I’d like to thank you for taking some time to talk to us. If somebody wants to learn more about Curata or what you’ve got going on with your stack, what’s the best way to get in touch?

Amber: If they’re interested in learning more about the product, go to Curata.com. We’re doing a lot of really cool improvements there. Check back often and feel free to send me your comments on what you see and what the experience is like on that site.

John: That’s great. Sean, what have you got going on? Anything, links you want to share, big things happening?

Sean: We’re just ended our Q3, we’re on the fiscal calendar, not the calendar year. We’re just entering Q4 now, so doing a lot of planning. A lot of great stuff rolling out, so you can check out all our good work over at Infer.com. You can also hit me up on Twitter, @SZinsmeister, or LinkedIn, or just Google Sean Zinsmeister. I’m pretty easy to find.

John: All right, that’ll do it for us for this week. You can find more from me over at Marketingovercoffee.com, but that’ll do it for us until next time. Thanks for listening, and we’ll see you in the stacks.

John Wall

John Wall

John J. Wall speaks, writes and practices at the intersection of marketing, sales, and technology. He is the producer of Marketing Over Coffee, a weekly audio program that discusses marketing and technology with his co-host Christopher S. Penn, and has been featured on iTunes.

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