Ungate your content! In conversation with Marty Roberts


The second episode of our podcast “How did you do that” recently dropped on Spotify with special guest Marty Roberts. Marty is a success-driven and well respected executive leader with 25 years of experience and a strong background in management, marketing, and strategy. Marty’s history includes creatively mapping, strategizing and realising extraordinary growth in streaming media, systems software and start-ups. 

We’ve had the pleasure of working with Marty at both Wicket Labs and Brightcove and couldn’t resist picking his brains on some of his brilliant marketing success stories.

Click play below to listen to the podcast or keep reading for an edited transcript of the episode.

Keeping technical and product audiences engaged throughout the purchase lifecycle

Anu Ramani: Marty, I work with founders and CEOs all the time, right? People who have had a bright idea, a great technology that they have productised or brought to market in some way. And, and something that’s really common among founders is that they really love their product. It’s very me, me, me. And they literally cannot understand why their prospective audiences don’t think the same way. But you weren’t like that. You had a really strong understanding of that cycle. And I’m just interested in understanding how you had such a flair for keeping technical and product audiences engaged throughout the purchase cycle.

Marty Roberts: Yeah, it’s a good question and a great reminder that, as they say, no one has an ugly baby. Of course, mine was beautiful. We always have to remember that at the end of the day. I often remind technical leaders that the way we want to sell our product and the way we want to be sold to is not necessarily how our customers want to buy. We need to understand the personas we are selling to, their pain points, what keeps them up at night, and their needs. It’s also important to consider their wants. Recently, we discussed with a director about their job goals, like getting promoted to VP. Keeping their motivations in mind changes how they buy software, as they tend to be more conservative to avoid mistakes.

Understanding the customer is crucial for any marketer. Having empathy with our audience, to really walk a few miles in our customer’s shoes, is super important. From that, we can decide on the right content strategy, marketing strategy, and sales strategies. It all comes from deeply understanding who that customer is. We often forget that and think, “if we build it, they will come.” Sometimes that happens by luck, but for the rest of us, finding the right product-market fit is a struggle. The best way to achieve it is to really understand who your audience is and who that customer is going to be.

Anu Ramani: And how did you achieve that? Did you do market research or did you just hire people who came in from the customer side? 

Marty Roberts: Yeah, a little bit of both, actually. Hiring people from the industry who have been customers of your business is always valuable. It gives you an inside track into their thoughts. That’s an advantage. Additionally, it’s a lot of market research and customer interviews. We talked to many prospects, having open, less formal conversations. My best insights came over coffee, lunch, or drinks with people. You ask about their priorities, what they’re working on, and their worries. Keeping the conversation going with interesting questions helps dive into what they need in their business today.

Once you understand where a business is going, you can tailor your story to meet them at an interesting point. That’s how we got inside our customers’ heads—through open conversations. For broader markets, you can do more detailed research, surveys, etc. In my startup roles, we didn’t have those budgets, but we did at Brightcove. First-party research is also valuable for identifying trends, sometimes before customers recognize them. It can produce some of our best content.

Tracking B2B buyer intent

Anu Ramani: And talking about understanding that, are there any technologies or automated ways of doing that? I remember we’ve spoken about platforms that track buyer intent through websites and so on. We’ve had some chats about that. What do you feel about software like that? Can it replace these conversations? Does it supplement them?

Marty Roberts: Yeah, it doesn’t replace those conversations. Instead, it augments a different phase of the marketing cycle or the buyer journey. It’s symbiotic. Once we have good content, we need to figure out who’s in the market for our products and where the best opportunities are. Our marketing is designed to drive people to our websites, but we’ve often relied too heavily on forms and gates for content. Research from Forrester and Gartner shows that 70-90% of the customer journey is completed before they contact a company. If they fill out a form, they might give junk information to avoid outbound contact, as they’re not ready yet. We must respect the buyer’s process.

Platforms like 6sense identify buyer intent scores, which are quite interesting. Using Google Analytics and Salesforce data, machine learning models indicate when a company is in the market. We might not know who specifically, but we can identify companies like Ford Motor Company on our website. When their buyer intent scores rise, we can target these qualified accounts. We then send our sales and business development reps after these accounts, targeting the primary personas.

It’s a hand-in-glove situation: understanding the personas we’re selling to, identifying accounts in the market, and creating good content to engage prospects even before they’re ready to share their information. This approach helps us determine which named accounts are in the consideration phase for purchasing a new solution.

Ungating your website

Claire Trévien: I love that because you’re revisiting marketing fundamentals but amped up with technology, and it works really well together. I’m wondering, are there other marketing tactics that you see as fundamentals that many marketers skip and should take a closer look at or focus on?

Marty Roberts: So in our particular case, we got rid of all our gates. Every page on our website had a “Contact Us” button, and we even had a chatbot that effectively scheduled meetings when the prospect was ready. We changed our content strategy from long documents to interactive solution guides, where each chapter required an additional click to go deeper. This provided more buyer intent signals for the machine learning model. Research shows that prospects engage with an average of 11 different pieces of content, and at Brightcove, we found they engaged with 7 to 20 different pages on our website, often in a seemingly random pattern.

Prospects were all over the place—on press releases, blogs, product pages—making the buyer journey a spaghetti mess. There’s no single B2B buyer journey; it’s messy. You need to set the table so when prospects are ready to engage, they’ve done all their research and consumed as much information as possible. This approach breaks the traditional marketing model of getting visitors on the website, into a form, and then giving them content. I don’t think that model is as effective anymore.

Anu Ramani: I think it’s a less mature model for sure. Are there any mistakes you have made, or more generally, that you see tech B2B marketers making that you wish they wouldn’t? Is there something you have done in the past that you wouldn’t do again if you could revisit it?

Marty Roberts: You know, I’m not sure the podcast has time for all my mistakes, but we can talk about what keeps me up late at night, things like that.

In general, I think one of the fundamental mistakes we make, especially around product marketing, is not matching the stage of where a company is relative to the classical product life cycle model. This includes the value proposition, the types of positioning we put into the market, and the resulting material we create.

For example, the video platform space is quite mature, having been around for about 24 years. Customers in this space are generally well-educated about the technology. However, too often we think about our pricing strategy without considering the market maturity. If we have a premium price point, we need to justify it with value, not just features.

In a mature market, marketers sometimes make the mistake of focusing on functional positioning, which is more appropriate for early stages. For instance, at Wicket Labs, a startup, I sold charts and graphs, feature by feature, because that’s what we had. But in a mature market with a premium price point, we need to sell value. We’re not quite at the stage where we can sell brand like IBM or Salesforce, so we focus on value-based positioning.

We shouldn’t fall into the trap of matching competitors’ feature-by-feature blog posts. Doing so can lead customers to ask for discounts based on features they don’t need, instead of recognizing the overall value of our solution. Instead, our content should support a value-based message, demonstrating how our product solves customer pain points and provides a great solution.

Each feature should be a proof point against that value, not something that stands alone. Many marketers and companies don’t have a clear messaging framework. They need to understand why they are using a particular message and how it aligns with their content strategy. This framework should manifest across all channels, from the website to sales materials.

I’ve made this mistake in the past and learned the hard way. It’s crucial to ensure our positioning strategy matches our pricing strategy and ultimately our content strategy to tell a cohesive story.

Anu Ramani: Having worked with you and your subordinates, you have something of a reputation for being a real stickler for high quality content. And I don’t just mean well-written content, but the substance of the content and how well it addresses the needs and pain points. Could you talk to us about the mental checklists you use to gauge the quality of content?

Marty Roberts: Yeah. You know, I have a pretty simple bar for my teams. If a prospect or customer is going to give us their time to read our materials, they should come away smarter. They need to learn something. It’s a privilege to have their time, and we must respect that. Too much marketing is surface level, just skimming the top. We need to go deep and help educate our customers and prospects, making them smarter in this space. If we do that, it’s the best brand touch we can achieve. There’s no scientific backup for this, but I believe respecting our prospects and making them smarter puts the company in a better light. When a sales rep engages with a well-informed prospect, the conversation starts at a higher level.

We’re not talking about features and functions; we’re discussing business problems and how our content, like white papers or solution guides, addresses those issues. When I review content, especially when we’re three-quarters through the process, I put on the customer hat and ask, “What’s novel? What am I learning?” Bonus points if I learn something new. The goal is to empathise with the customer and see how they will learn something new. As experts, we need to teach them in a way that makes them smarter.

This approach has been more effective for me throughout my career than creating surface-level summaries, which is easy to do, especially now with generative AI and all the tools available.

Anu Ramani: Absolutely.

Marty Roberts: And the bar is only getting higher for content strategies.

Are trade shows a waste of time?

Claire Trévien: I think that completes that particular portion of the podcast. I wanted us to move on to a quick fire round of truth or myth, if that’s all right. Where basically, I share with you a statement, and you tell us if you think it’s true or false. So the first one is: trade shows are a waste of time.

Marty Roberts: So, I say false to that. In my experience, it depends on what your point is. Just showing up to a trade show and expecting a whole bunch of leads to pile in as people walk through the booth doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it does, but it’s not absolutely true. I find that for trade shows, people deeper into the sales cycle go shopping. It’s one time a year where senior executives come out of their offices or homes to engage. Our conversations at trade shows, like the Consumer Electronics Show in January, often involve senior executives learning about new technologies and having deeper, meaningful conversations.

From those conversations, we get their agenda for the year. We learn their priorities and can plan our follow-ups accordingly. For example, if they have an initiative kicking off in the spring, we won’t hammer them every month, but we’ll increase our engagement as March approaches. This helps us understand the timing and rhythm of our customers. That’s one way to use a trade show effectively.

I just came back from NAB, where we had dozens of customer and prospect meetings. People were shopping for new solutions, which is how you make a trade show effective. Am I right? Am I wrong? What’s your take? Are you going to say fail?

Anu Ramani: I partly agree. I think that it’s difficult to do trade shows right. It’s very easy to fall into the trap of saying, “I’ll go to a trade show and meet a bunch of customers,” but it is not a substitute.

Marty Roberts: No, it’s not. In fact, anybody that’s just walking into your booth, I mean, it happens. Walk-ups happen, but they’re more, you know, it’s…

Claire Trévien: You need to have some kind of plan. It’s not just going to magically happen.

Marty Roberts: That’s right.

Claire Trévien: For before, during, and especially after. I think they forget about the after a lot of the time. Just like bung them into the newsletter and don’t do anything else.

Marty Roberts: Right, right. Exactly right.

Claire Trévien: I love what you said about trade shows almost as another research tool as well. I think that’s a lovely way of thinking about it.

Marty Roberts: Absolutely. I mean, face-to-face has kind of fallen off post-COVID, and it’s really tough to find those opportunities. Even when you plan to visit a town, people might say, “I’m not in town; I moved a hundred miles away.” These are the realities we have to think about. So getting people together still matters.

Claire Trévien: I agree. It’s also about which events you choose and whether they’re just an exercise for the sales team to have a bit of fun, or if they’re really thought out. It goes through different trends, being either really positive or negative about them, depending on how they’re utilised.

Marty Roberts: Yeah, I’ve always had a quota: no one goes unless they have at least four customer meetings. That makes the outcome more deterministic by setting clear objectives for the sales team.

Is personalisation more important than content quality?

Claire Trévien: That seems like a good number. All right, let’s move on to another one. Truth or myth: personalisation is more important than content quality.

Marty Roberts: I think that’s a myth, actually. I have some experience with personalisation, and there are two aspects that are often misunderstood. One is the data quality you can act on, which is actually quite limited. For instance, if I have personalisation data suggesting that a prospect is in a later stage of a sales cycle, I might hypothesise that instead of promoting a contact sales form, we should promote analyst research. The idea is that at a later stage in the sales cycle, the prospect needs to justify their decision to buy our product to their boss, showing that it’s the right fit and supported by third-party endorsements, such as customer case studies or analyst research. However, the numbers don’t always support this approach.

The second aspect is that personalisation is more suitable for consumer businesses with large volumes of data and simpler content requirements than in B2B. For example, an e-commerce product description might be around 200 words, which is easier to personalise. In B2B, where we might have 12 different pieces of content including blog posts and videos, it’s much harder to direct users to the right content at the right time. Investing in good search capabilities, such as video search, speech-to-text transcripts, and other tools to help people find relevant content, is more effective than personalisation in the B2B context.

In the B2B sector, especially in the States where privacy laws are lax, personalisation can feel intrusive. For instance, if a website greets a visitor with, “Welcome, Ford Motor Company,” it can feel creepy and intrusive. Theoretically, personalisation should work well, but it depends on the data used to trigger personalisation and how you test its effectiveness. It’s a tough challenge to ensure personalisation generates a better impact, so I remain sceptical about its effectiveness in B2B.

Claire Trévien: I think at an automated level, it’s so easy to get wrong with B2B, but on a much smaller scale, a sort of ABM approach can work. When you really know the person and the company, that can be fine. But not on an automated scale, I don’t think.

Marty Roberts: Yes, that’s a great point. In account-based marketing (ABM), when you’re really dialling in and aiming to amp up your presence with a particular account, personalisation can work. But it’s not the classic definition of personalisation, where you don’t know who the visitor is, but you use enough data to personalise their web experience. Even with 2 million visitors to the Brightcove website, I don’t think that’s enough data to make good personalisation decisions.

Is video effective in B2B content marketing?

Anu Ramani: Let’s talk about video. Video doesn’t work in tech B2B content marketing, truth or myth?

Marty Roberts: That is a myth, actually. The data is pretty conclusive that video works effectively at breaking through the noise. When you survey both B2B and B2C sectors, most customers have watched a video before making a purchase. At Brightcove, we found this to be true. We had video producers on staff and constantly created new videos, whether customer case studies, product managers discussing new products, or executive presentations about the company’s vision. These videos convey excitement and passion that text simply can’t.

It’s important for prospects to see that we have passionate people, not just robots, doing the work. They want to hire partners who are engaged and thoughtful. Video is a more effective medium for conveying this passion. It doesn’t work in all cases and is no substitute for a deep solution guide that educates the customer over time. The webinar format has been overdone and isn’t as effective anymore. However, short videos, 3 to 5 minutes max, on specific topics or messages, are quite effective as part of an overall content strategy. You can’t rely solely on video, just as you can’t rely solely on text. You have to do everything.

Anu Ramani: Certainly do.

Claire Trévien: I think it’s also partly about accessibility and the different ways people like to digest information. Some people get all the information they need and enjoy it from a video, while others prefer long-form text, and some prefer podcasts. It’s nice to have lots of options for the same topics to cater to different preferences.

Anu Ramani:  Another important point is that video is much more democratised now. Everyone can make videos, and the heavily produced, overly corporate videos with big mics are no longer necessary. It’s easier to produce and more believable as well.

Marty Roberts: Yes, that’s exactly right. Everyone is now used to informal videos, whether it’s on YouTube, TikTok, or other platforms. People prefer seeing the genuine passion of employees presenting their next big thing and having fun with their product, rather than the polished corporate talking head.

As a slight aside, there’s this idea that generative AI, especially around video production, will bring down costs dramatically. You could type in a script and have a professional-looking avatar read it out, looking like a newscaster. But the question is, does this create a credibility gap with our prospects? Is it better to have a polished summary of product announcements, or a product manager who’s super excited and has been working on it for months, even if they’re not a professional spokesperson?

Which approach has a better impact on prospects? A less professional but more credible presentation might be more effective. These are the questions we need to answer as marketers. Video production is going to become very easy, but maintaining credibility in those videos might become more challenging.

Anu Ramani: I’ve always felt that with generative AI, authenticity, which is such an important driver in decision making, will get compromised.

Marty Roberts: It will, for sure. It’s going to be a fascinating couple of years, especially around content marketing with companies like Nvidia leading the way.

Claire Trévien: And I guess we’ll become so used to seeing these AI-generated videos that we won’t even think twice after a while.

Marty Roberts: That’s right.

Claire Trévien: It’ll be very strange. I know where my preference lies, but I guess AI can be useful for certain stages or types of moments where you don’t need an authentic real person as much: steps by steps for example.

Marty Roberts: There’s definitely a time and place for AI. No need to licence B-roll if the computer can just generate it. The industry is going to change a bit. But at the same time, being authentic as you bring your message to market will still have a premium.

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