We are working on a new B2B technology offer for our clients. In the presentation we are creating we have put our buyer at the center of the story. This approach is logical but not easy to execute. In this article, Kylie Lobell shares Google’s approach to creating content. Empathy is one of the tenets that the article explores. Yes we agree that intimately understanding your buyer is critical to creating content that attracts the audience.

About a year ago, Veronique Lafargue was working on Google Insights, a platform that transforms data into intelligence for businesses. Moving into her current role as the global head of content strategy for Google Apps for Work, Lafargue is responsible for building a loyal audience and making them aware of the capabilities of Google Apps. One of the most efficient and effective ways for achieving this goal was through using innovative .

At her 2016 NewsCred Summit session, Lafargue discussed how she and her team successfully captured the imaginations of Google Apps customers and drove engagement with her company. They relied on three principles: know the user, think 10x, and create a prototype.

Know the user and gain empathy for the customer 

As a logical first step, Lafargue knew she needed to figure out who the Google Apps customer is, what their needs are, and how the company can help. Aside from analyst reports, Lafargue had access to very little data on her audience. As such, she decided to hold focus groups in five key markets: France, the United States, India, Brazil, and Japan. She spent time in the field for six months collecting data and hearing about customers’ business concerns firsthand.

Lafargue discovered that mobility and productivity meant five different things to the groups in the five countries. For instance, in the United States, she talked to a chef who used his phone in the kitchen to collaborate with his staff and create recipes. In Brazil, a customer was stuck commuting for hours at a certain time everyday and needed to be able to do everything from her phone. She required a friendly user interface, voice recognition, and a smart assistant to help her out.

In Japan, two workers frequently attended customer meetings but wanted to make sure they didn’t miss their weekly team meetings. India has internet connectivity problems. A business owner there needed to be able to track inventory and talk with customers even while offline. All around the world, Lafargue saw that people wanted to be able to combine work and family.

Through their meetings, Lafargue and her team learned who the user was and began to create that would appeal to them. She could stress Google Apps’ collaboration capabilities, its easy-to-use interface for commuters, its meeting platform for salespeople, and its offline functions. She only figured this out by getting to know her users face to face and ultimately cultivating empathy based on that knowledge.

The lesson that Lafargue learned is that empathy cannot be delegated. By hearing individuals’ stories, she brought back essential empathy for the Google Apps users to her team and created a cultural awareness and knowledge base to communicate internally. Lafargue also found out that many of her customers were extremely emotional in their buyer’s journey. There was a lot of anxiety and frustration across the users, as well as suspicion. She wanted to acknowledge these emotions and deploy empathy by helping out her customers through the Apps. She could relieve their anxiety and ease their fears.

For example, for users struggling with productivity and connectivity, cloud collaboration would make communication much simpler. Being able to stay productive while on a train while commuting would ensure that no working hours would be lost. Having the chance to work offline even when there was no wifi available would make a business owner less anxious and much more productive.

The customers in the focus groups assisted with the B2B content creation process as well. Lafargue showed them samplings of content they were making, and customers said whether or not they liked it. One video featured a colleague of Lafargue’s at her computer using Google Apps. The focus group responded that the woman looked like a small business owner and not like someone who worked at a large company. Lafargue put the woman in a ponytail and glasses, and situated her in the middle of a big office. The video received much more positive feedback with those simple tweaks.

When companies want to create content, they have to figure out whom they’re serving. This can’t be faked or forced. Becoming familiar with customers and asking for their feedback is the key to content marketing success, whether it’s B2B or B2C. Once Lafargue knew what kind of content was going to resonate, she prioritizing being imaginative and thinking outside the box.

Think 10x and make time for innovation

Lafargue and the team at Google know how important it is to schedule time for creativity. It is the key ingredient to lead to innovation and stronger work. To ensure that she was flexing her creative muscle, Lafargue avoided putting meetings on her calendar for the mornings and started developing her photography skills.

She began dreaming and thinking about different images and said she became a bit of a creative director. This led to her team taking images of thousands of Google Apps customers around the world and writing out their stories for a B2B content marketing campaign. According to Lafargue, these stories with accompanying images received 25 percent higher engagement than other B2B content they created. People were also spending as long as five minutes reading those stories – a noted increase in engagement and time on site.

As a content marketer, Lafargue believes it’s her job to educate, inspire, and be useful to her audience. The content she created for Google Apps customers, as well as the feedback from it, has been included in briefs for other teams at Google, like sales and advertising. She also shares content and the feedback with partners so they can come up with stronger campaigns.

Lafargue and her B2B content marketing colleagues broke down the silos to drive all of Google forward. She found what worked and then spread her findings and assets to other Google employees. She said that content marketers, “have a treasure of knowledge that’s valuable in many, many groups.”None of this would have been possible if Lafargue didn’t have the time to focus on photography. By allowing workers to be creative, new ways of content creation can be discerned and implemented, ultimately driving sales and customer engagement. Once findings have been revealed, content teams can then share them across the organization to positively affect the company on the whole.

Virtual reality to discover customers’ content needs

Always on the lookout for new ways to connect with her B2B audience, Lafargue found the third and last piece of her recipe for success in an unexpected space. Through virtual reality, Lafargue could show her customers what went on behind the scenes at Google. She was taking a risk, so she prepared herself for a flop. However, she said that there is a saying in Silicon Valley: “Nobody likes to fail but everyone likes to learn.” She decided that even if she failed, she would have learned something.

The virtual reality footage was set in the Google Garage, which is a maker’s space. There was a camera that followed the team. It gave the viewer a look at what goes on in the space. From start to finish, the virtual reality project took six weeks to make. Lafargue and her team are still working on the project. Once the video goes live, it can be experienced via desktop on YouTube 360 or through a Google Cardboard viewer.

Even if there is a chance for failure, it’s important to go outside the norm and try to deliver content to users in new ways. If it doesn’t go well, at least an attempt was made and a company can improve upon it the next time around. If it does go well, then the company can do more campaigns like that and maximize their chances for content marketing success.

Key lessons from Veronique Lafargue
  • Businesses need to know exactly who their customers are by meeting with them face-to-face and holding focus groups
  • Empathy cannot be delegated; instead, businesses need to have personal interactions with customers, figure out what their struggles are, and work to solve these issues with useful content
  • There has to be space for creativity so that new ideas for campaigns can be generated
  • The content marketing team cannot exist in a silo; they must collaborate and share findings with every other employees in sales, advertising, etcetera
  • A content prototype is necessary, even if it means taking a risk
Actionable insights to take in your content marketing strategy
  • Host focus groups and/or talk with your customers one-on-one to find out what issues they have
  • Take these problems and come up with content that will be solutions for them 
  • Give yourself time to breath and follow creative pursuits, because it may have a direct impact on your campaigns
  • Establish solid relationships with sales, marketing, and other company teams, and don’t be afraid to show them your discoveries
  • Take a leap of faith and create a content prototype

Want to learn more about connecting with customers and using innovation in your campaigns? Watch Veronique Lafargue’s session at NewsCred’s 2016 Think Content Summit in full.

Become a b2b content creation master