Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Learning Content Strategies from the Best with Jenn VandeZande SAP's Editor in Chief for SAP CX

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending time with and from learning from SAP’s Editor in Chief for SAP Customer Experience, Jenn VandeZande.  We talked all about thought leadership strategies, working with influencers and other fascinating topics.  Here are some of the choice excerpts edited for readability.

KRB: Jenn, tell us about your thought leadership approach and strategy.

JV: Thought leadership means discussing current trends in a way that is relevant to the market now, and in the future.  I also focus a lot on evergreen content and making sure that we're not putting a timeline on content that we publish.  In addition, I want to be inclusive.  I purposely recruit women and people of color to be thought leader contributors, previously there were just a lot of white men sharing content on the site. I think that to be relevant we must include everybody, and in order to do that we need to be purposeful about recruiting and encouraging them to share.

KRB:  Let’s talk tactics as an editor.  Do you ever feel it would be simpler to just write all the content yourself?

JV: As an editor my job is to polish up the ideas of other people. I think it's rewarding to see other people’s ideas come to life. Some of the most meaningful feedback people have shared is how I have been a source of encouragement to them. I love writing, but my job is to help them shine.

KRB: In my experience leaders often volunteer to write content, but rarely follow through with their commitment.  Why does that happen?

JV: I think that especially this year priorities have shifted so quickly.  What might have been relevant before, just isn’t relevant now, or the content just isn’t right.  Also, some people think writing is easy, everyone will love it and it will go viral.  I have received emails from content writers asking me to make it viral.  It doesn’t work that way.  It takes a ton of work and customization to optimize a piece.

KRB:  I have a rather loose strategy for article writing.  I write as I am inspired with new ideas.  What’s your strategy?

JV: It’s not just what you find interesting or think should be a priority.  It's what your readers are thinking about. I will always look at the search terms on our sites. Covid-19 really changed how we worked, scheduled and published content. We had to adapt our strategy to address the content needs and interests of our readers.

KRB: Let's look back over the past ten years, how have you seen thought leadership and content strategies evolve? 

JV: Ten years ago, thought leadership was still very much part of corporate communications.  You'd have somebody in the C-suite drafting the messaging and giving it to spokespeople. I think thought leadership today is now more customer oriented. It’s about what the customers are interested in, and what they're searching on.  Today thought leaders look more diverse. They are more diverse. So, it evolved from a traditional corporate messaging function to be a really important part of demand generation, sales and keeping customer trust.

KRB:  There are a lot of people like me that have been writing and sharing business and technology strategies for a long time.  What are your strategies on how to differentiate your content and stay above the noise?

JV: That's the tough part of the job.  When I get content submissions, I ask what purpose does it serve? Is it what our audience wants and needs?  I think understanding our audience is very important and I dedicate a lot of time to that.  I review our search histories.  I want to know how people got to our site, and what they're looking for along the way.

KRB: As a futurist, I write a lot about things people haven’t yet thought much about or searched on.  How would you optimize new and unfamiliar content?

JV: My initial thoughts are - what does it mean for my audience?  What will my audience be looking for?  If they are new to a topic – what questions will they need to ask going into their first meeting on the subject? Put yourself in their shoes and create content for them. That’s how you do it.

KRB: If someone wants to be a business and or technology thought leader - what advice would you give them? 

JV: You have to get in the trenches and really experience things firsthand. Don't think your views are always right. A really good mark of being a thought leader is having an open mind and being able to evolve your position.  Keep an open mind and be in the trenches. Get your hands on the work. Don't assume anything. And always, always, always fact check.

Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist | Leadership Strategies at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.