In March 2020, the world changed seemingly overnight.
In March 2020, Salesforce responded to the new reality of business seemingly overnight, launching its Leading Through Change content initiative on March 17.
That’s not a typo. The first blog of the program launched March 17, days before California issued shelter-in-place orders and airports effectively shut down.
How could such a large company pivot so quickly – not just on one channel, but on all its channels and in multiple formats? And not just pivot but deliver results that surpassed any of their expectations?
The story behind Leading Through Change illustrates why it won Project of the Year and why we chose Jessica Bergmann, the driver behind Salesforce content strategy, for 2021 B2B Content Marketer of the Year.
I’m thrilled to take you behind the scenes of this award-winning project based on information Salesforce provided on its award application and on details Jessica shared with us at Content Marketing World 2020 and in interviews with CMI.
‘Overnight’ content strategy shift months in the making
The answer to how Salesforce launched Leading Through Change so quickly sounds simple. The company relied on a documented content strategy and training the 1,300 marketers who worked for the company (at the time) to follow it.
But that simple answer obscures the months of effort behind it. The underlying work started around July 2019, when Jessica and team set out to create a “content revolution” at the tech giant. As part of that revolution, Jessica and team launched a comprehensive integrated planning effort that had content strategists working with each line of business and industry team to document their content strategy for the year. The content series that grew out of that work (360 Perspectives) paused when customers’ business challenges changed as a result of the pandemic, though some of the work got repurposed into Leading Through Change and some rolled out later. But the revolution’s principles laid the groundwork that enabled Leading Through Change:
- Make content an integral and strategic partner in marketing planning
- Co-create content with Salesforce customers and partners to earn trust
- Stop “random acts of content” in favor of series and content that leads the audience to a next step
When COVID hit, Salesforce stopped all marketing, including the 360 Perspectives series Jessica’s team had spent months preparing.
“Companies’ needs had changed,” Jessica said. “The messages and campaigns we had planned prior to COVID were no longer relevant.”
In rethinking their marketing approach, Salesforce made three pivotal decisions:
- Every new program needed CMO approval.
- Nearly all content offers were ungated for the first time (gating didn’t feel right when their goal was to help during COVID, Jessica said).
- Customer and market insights teams informed all new plans and messaging.
From listening to customers (and their insights teams), the company found a need for information around how to go digital fast. Companies needed to figure out how to keep employees working successfully remotely. They needed to tackle new business challenges, like deciding when to go back into the office and how to operate safely.
Out of those and other insights, Leading Through Change was born.
The goals were straightforward:
- Provide actionable, global leadership content from the community, world-class experts, and Salesforce leaders
- Create a forum for community and conversation with peers
- Show humanity in a time of turmoil, while positioning Salesforce as a trusted partner
In March 2020, @Salesforce paused all marketing. In weeks it launched Leading Through Change. To do it, they had to revamp their whole #ContentStrategy. @jbergmann shares how via @EditorStahl @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
Bringing change to life
Taking the series from goals to a quick launch took some doing. Everyone got involved.
“We put all the wood behind one arrow,” Jessica said, “We went through one weekly approval process. We worked in one system. We all worked through one planning process.”
In a way, the crisis brought about the content revolution the team had been working to bring about for months. The content team had a seat at the strategy table. And the desire to co-create with customers proved helpful for the Leading Through Change initiative, just as it had for the earlier series.
“When the pandemic hit, no one had all the answers,” Jessica said. They had to ask, “How can we lead through change with our customers, experts, and partners?”
The answer was to put customers at the front of the series. “They were telling us how they were navigating the pandemic’s impact,” she said.
As Salesforce explained in the award submission: “We created content about what we knew — leading with values and customer-centricity — while tapping into the expertise of international medical experts, CEOs, and government leaders”.
Salesforce teamed up with experts, including leading CEOs and luminaries from various industries. The participation of these experts let the team take on topics they hadn’t covered before, including well-being at work, upskilling, success from anywhere, and vaccine management.
For example, they published a series of articles and videos based on interviews with Dr. David Agus, such as this one about why companies should consider hiring a chief health officer. The article was published on the general Salesforce blog and tagged to the Leading Through Change initiative.
And they recognized other big changes happening in 2020 and 2021 as conversations about justice, race, and inclusion were elevated in the world. For example, the company hosted Music for Change: Hear the Next Generation Raise Their Voice for a Brighter Future, a live celebration and competition highlighting original, digitally produced songs from students around the world and featuring celebrity judges, will.i.am, Jewel, Dave Wish, and Dr. Ron C. Smith.
“I think this combination of interviews with experts, thinking at the forefront of change, talking about our product innovation, and then bringing in a moment of entertainment and levity is what got customers excited,” Jessica explains. “Customers were proud to be part of it.”
Ultimately, Leading Through Change took a multimedia, multinational approach that crossed broadcast, on-demand video, blogs, audio, online learning modules, and social media channels in over 20 countries and 15 languages.
In the first month of the series, organic prospect traffic to the site increased 47%. The live broadcast series reached more than 600 million viewers on owned and social channels, with an average of 10 million views per episode. Salesforce’s blog newsletter audience grew by over 70%.
Form completions through webinars grew 80 times, which led to nearly all of the 5% year-over-year engagement growth in the first month of Leading Through Change.
Salesforce also used the project’s success to attract new attendees to Dreamforce – its biggest event of the year – which took place virtually in 2020. Through LinkedIn engagement retargeting, they earned over 600,000 impressions on the 2020 Dreamforce registration page and 1,400 clicks to the page.
It also got the notice of the business world. As Matt Derella, global vice president of Twitter, explains:
The Leading Through Change show has been a lighthouse example of a business adapting to change to create value for their customers and advantage versus their competition. The quality of the content and the scale of the conversation is breathtaking. After their initial envy, other leading brands are learning from and trying to catch up to Salesforce’s innovative approach.
@Salesforce’s Leading Through Change show has been a lighthouse example of a business adapting to change. The quality of #content and the scale of conversation is breathtaking, says @Derella via @EditorStahl @CMIContent. #CMWorld Click To Tweet
Leading Through Change proved transformative for content strategy and content marketing at Salesforce. And, as with any transformation, it wasn’t easy.
When you tell everyone there’s one content initiative they all need to get behind, you can expect pushback. As Jessica said, “Of course, there’s friction.”
Working in a single system helped because everyone could see what they were working toward.
What helped was to change the conversation from “No, you can’t do this,” to “No, this doesn’t align to our approach, but here’s how you can modify or consolidate this idea to be included in the series.”
Eventually, the results spoke for themselves. And the lessons it taught inform their work on new content projects, too (including the print magazine Vantage Point that launched this summer and the all-new Salesforce+ streaming service.)
Ultimately, Jessica says, the experience “was a major learning curve for a lot of the team. We were all stronger afterward. It streamlined our processes and changed the way we operate and develop content across the board.”
Now, that’s leading through change.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute