5 ways a tech company shaped content to boost its profile

Zebra Technologies makes barcode scanners, hospital technologies and chips in NFL shoulder pads. Here’s how it branded itself as a leader in the ‘Internet of Things.’

Content strategy lessons

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan Communications’ distance-learning portal Ragan Training. The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations and interactive courses.

If you’ve worked for an enterprise with an ambitious content agenda, you’re used to cranking out copy and videos to call attention to your brand.

But are you doing all the work necessary to establish a successful agenda that draws headlines, scores impressions and establishes your organization’s leadership in the industry?

In her session “How a proper content strategy can make you a corporate communications powerhouse,” Therese Van Ryne, head of global PR for Zebra Technologies, details a campaign’s success in a cutting-edge area.

By providing knowledge and valuable data to its audience, Zebra placed more than 100 pieces of content each quarter, generating nearly 2 billion impressions from September 2016 through the end of the year. More coverage followed last year.

Zebra’s products are around you every day. The company produces barcode scanners and printers used by car rental attendants, retail floor workers and delivery drivers. Hospitals use Zebra technology in medical bracelets and scanners, and Zebra tracking devices are embedded in NFL players’ shoulder pads to provide Next Gen Stats.

Here are the steps Van Ryne recommends to establish a content strategy that reaps results:

1. Understand your brand.

Assess where it is today, Van Ryne says. How do you want it positioned, and what are your measurable goals?

2. Map your audience, and set your goals.

We all can get overwhelmed with the flood of available data, but it can guide you if you use it strategically and draw insights that drive decisions and inform content.

Van Ryne says, “Those who hold the data hold the power.”

Consider the NFL draft. Zebra places tracking chips on college players in the Senior Bowl. Some coaches come to Zebra and say, “Can I please have some of your senior Bowl data and use that in our analysis and our decision-making?” Van Ryne says.

In 2016, Zebra faced a business challenge: boosting its brand profile. This presented three objectives for the communication department:

  • Raise awareness of Zebra in the Internet of Things (IoT). When you’re speaking on a mobile phone to a friend on a mobile phone, you’re part of the Internet of Things, Van Ryne says. Zebra wanted to be part of the discussion.
  • Devise a campaign that would reach executives, chief information officers, IT leaders and general managers.
  • Generate 100 pieces of coverage per quarter—an ambitious level of more than one a day.

3. Research to build a strategic framework.

Use your own research, or tap into firms such as Gartner or Forrester to find out what your audience is thinking.

Zebra learned through its research that the industry was seeking a trusted leader to declutter the market and inform the conversation about IoT beyond the hype. Zebra set a goal of filling that role.

“We wanted to take the conversation to the enterprise level,” Van Ryne says.

4. Establish an engagement and content plan.

Agree on the overarching themes and storyline for paid, earned, shared and owned content. Then monitor your progress over time and readjust.

By laying it out in writing, Zebra could see the opportunities, along with ways to repurpose content.

Much of the coverage kicked off with an Intelligent Enterprise Symposium that Zebra sponsored in collaboration with the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH).

At that two-day event in September 2016, Zebra and TECH hosted 50 IoT and IT decision-makers from GE, Target, Whirlpool, Zebra Technologies, Google, IBM, Accenture, the NFL and other companies. The event featured keynotes, case studies and panel discussions, the objective of this symposium was to define intelligent enterprise. (Spoiler: Zebra defines it as the convergence of IoT, mobility and cloud computing into a new operational model.)

Participants praised the mix of businesses represented. “They loved to hear the challenges that people in other industries faced,” Van Ryne says.

Afterward, Harvard put together a 40-page white paper on the event with an executive summary. Coupled with a checklist that Zebra drew up of the top 10 things your organization should think about to become more intelligent, the white paper became a hit with salespeople and others hungry for information.

Social media and a press release helped push the information into the news media and industry publications.

Zebra also sponsored an Economist summit on “Building an Intelligent Company” in 2017, as well as another summit with Bloomberg, Van Ryne says. The company took its Harvard show on the road to Singapore, Paris, Mexico City and New York, hosting roundtables and conversations.

Zebra surveyed more than 900 IT decision-makers, writing up its conclusions in an Intelligent Enterprise Index. The company found that nearly 50 percent of enterprises have achieved only half of their “intelligence” potential, leveraging ties between physical and digital worlds for better visibility and actionable insights.

The report drew widespread interest and multiple headlines. It was such a success that Zebra plans to make it an annual report.

5. Evaluate your success.

“If you’re not measuring it, is it really a priority?” Van Ryne says.

Track the following:

  • What measurable results have you seen?
  • Did you meet your goals?
  • How can you continue to push forward?

Looking over its objectives, Zebra concluded that it had succeeded in convening executives to discuss its topic area, developing a content series that resonated with its target audience, and continued the dialogue with industry leaders at road events. This all raised awareness of Zebra’s role in the IoT market.

Best of all, more than half the earned media coverage conveyed Zebra’s messages.

The Intelligent Enterprise Index data drew 51 media interactions globally, 150 pieces of coverage and 552 million earned media impressions, Van Ryne says. Zebra expanded its message with a fact sheet and an infographic that were widely shared.

“Based on this success, we’re now making this index an annual activity,” she says.

Yet with that success, she offers a suggestion, for her own firm as well as others. Measure outcomes, not outputs. Impressions—great though they are—are just outputs, Van Ryne says. Zebra plans to focus on metrics such as how often its content is shared on social media.

“That means the reader thought enough about your article that they want to share it with their friends,” Van Ryne says. “Now, that’s an action that came out of it.”

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