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Manulife reveals content technology strategy, ROI

Manulife produced plenty of content, but needed a way to manage it and figure out ROI. Here's how the company did it -- and saved over $1 million in the process.

LAS VEGAS -- With offices all over the world, Manulife has no problem creating content.

Instead, the Toronto-based insurance company needed to solve issues around global content creation to ensure content synchronized with -- rather than competed against -- its various departments. The company also needed to ensure its content produced a return on investment -- either in the form of lead generation, efficiency increases or reduced costs.

To help provide these insights, Manulife Financial Corp., which owns U.S. insurer and investment company John Hancock, looked at content technology systems to help deliver analytical insights and a collaborative process for departments stretched across the globe.

"Content marketing at Manulife didn't exist a couple of months ago," said Shawna Dennis, global head of content marketing at Manulife.

Major content technology providers include Marketo, Skyword and SnapApp, but in July 2016, Manulife began using Contently, a New York-based content marketing company, to help with its content problems.

"Content marketing is still an emerging space, and brands are looking for guidance," said Kelly Wenzel, chief marketing officer at Contently. "It's rare that a company will come to us without a content plan, but they are looking for that expert guidance to help lead them."

'Driving growth for the brand'

With content marketing on the rise, more companies look to content technology to determine whether their content reaches their customers and drives their message. As Manulife's customers moved toward more digital avenues, old-fashioned brochures and pamphlets didn't have the same impact, so the company turned to telling more stories, rather than just writing up informational brochures.

Reaching potential customers with content isn't as simple as sending out mass brochures or white papers. Consumers are looking for information, but also want it to be in an attractive and easy-to-read format. Potential customers want to read stories, not just company information.

Storytelling in business helps you establish a relationship with the end consumer.
Shawna Dennisglobal head of content marketing, Manulife

"Storytelling in business helps you establish a relationship with the end consumer," Dennis said. "When I started this role, I talked to people and kept hearing, 'We don't have any content.' Or, 'We don't know how to find it.' Or, 'We don't have the resources.' We knew we were creating content around the organization, and we just needed to bring it together and give people access to it."

It can be challenging to create content that will not only inform and regale potential customers, but also differentiate your message from competitors looking to attract the same clientele.

"Topics are finite, but tone is where you can create differentiation," Wenzel said, adding that Contently uses artificial intelligence and natural language processing to help its customers stay on brand, while also shifting the tone from sounding either generic or too much like a competitor.

"Brands are behind the notion of storytelling, but you can't produce content just for the sake of it. You do it to map a business objective -- and, most commonly, that's engagement. It's about driving growth for the brand."

'If no one sees it, it's useless'

Determining the ROI on your content is important to satisfy sales departments and to justify the time and energy expended to produce stories.

"As long as sales is driving marketing, the focus will always be on the bottom line," Dennis said. "It's hard to create content that educates people when sales can't directly correlate that to a lead."

Using content technology within Contently, Dennis and those at Manulife were able to see which pieces of content performed the best and where they were performing. With that information, Manulife was able to put a dollar figure on the benefits of its own content -- with savings of roughly $1.2 million from July 2016 to the end of the calendar year through creating efficiencies where existing content could be repurposed, instead of being created anew, and generating new leads for sales.

"Once we knew the value of different types of content, we tracked what was in our library," Dennis said. "[We took] the tracking we got through Contently on the pieces of content that were being used, and how they were used, and we converted that to value."

Contently doesn't provide pricing on its website, but Dennis said the $1.2 million in savings in that six-month period was approximately 10 times the investment.

That ROI aspect of content technology, Wenzel said, can provide the business impact information decision-makers look for and make it easier to scale the program out.

And while Dennis and those at Manulife continue to create and track content, the latter can still use some improvement.

"We can always do better on seeing where content goes, how it performs and how it resonates," Dennis said. "It doesn't matter how much content you have in your library -- if no one sees it, it's useless."

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