I learned that the label for what our company does isn’t as important as what our company actually does.
Last week our company, ion interactive, was a sponsor at CMSWire’s Digital Customer Experience (DX) Summit. Since we are an “interactive content marketing” company you typically will find us at events like Content Marketing World, Content 2 Conversion, Content Strategy Innovation Summit, and Content Tech.
Is it apparent that we are all about content?
So… how did we end up at the DX Summit? By its own definition, DX Summit is an event that “brings together the world’s foremost digital customer experience (DX) and marketing technology (MarTech) leaders and practitioners who are defining the next generation of digital experiences and creating the organizations and teams that make them a reality.”
Interactive content marketing is our “thing”. It’s our label. Our banner. The flag we fly. But the thing is… I’ve learned that for a business, labels are both a blessing and a curse.
Blessing: Helps people categorize what you do and put you in a box.
Curse: People categorize what you do and put you in a box.
What our software creates is interactive content. But it also creates digital experiences. And it could also create some other-as-of-yet-to-be-named things as well. And it’s been a long, winding road for me to come to terms with that.
I think this is a challenge for many innovative companies who are forging new paths within existing markets, particularly for software as a service. You need to put yourself in a space that people understand, but if you are doing something innovative it means piggy-backing on an existing paradigm that isn’t quite right or creating a whole new category which, let’s face it, can be pretty daunting.
When we launched our software-as-a-service platform in 2007, the label we picked was one we created. Post-click marketing. To us, it represented exactly what our platform let marketers do — create the experiences that came after an initial click on a digital ad. Customers could launch landing pages, microsites, conversion paths and any other type of stand-alone experience without needing developers or code. What to call these “things” they were launching? Post-click seemed to fit the bill.
And with that shiny new label we set us off on a dedicated thought leadership effort to socialize the term. And it in a lot of ways — it worked. Some people really got it. And some other thought leaders started to use the term as well.
But for every person that got it, there were others who just didn’t understand our label. And sometimes we would explain it and people would say to us, “Oh, right, like landing pages,” with a look that asked, “why didn’t you just say landing pages from the get go?”
But to us and to our customers, post-click was so much bigger than just landing pages. Our customers were launching experiences not pages. And they weren’t just experiences, these were great experiences that lifted engagement and conversion rates significantly. During this time we launched campaigns like, “No More Landing Pages!” and “Beyond Landing Pages” in an attempt to get the message out that the post-click experiences were so much more than just a page.
But when it came to finding market fit, we knew in our hearts that we needed to use language that people instantly understood. Unfortunately, post-click marketing often felt like an uphill battle. Slowly over time, our messaging evolved to… you guessed it: “landing pages”. And from that label, we could easily explain how we offered a product that was bigger than just landing pages. But at least it gave us a familiar term to start with.
During this time, although we leaned more and more towards using the term landing pages to describe our space, it never felt really right. It was such a narrow portion of what we offered and of what our customers actually did with our software. But people understood it so we plodded along. Sometimes it felt sort of like a rectangle stuffing itself awkwardly into a square shape and declaring, “Yep! This fits!”. The rectangle knows it doesn’t fit but doesn’t know where else to go. There was a resignation about using the term “landing pages” to describe what our software did.
And so, there were a few more variations along the way.
At the time these felt like major positioning shifts, but in retrospect, they were just little twists and turns on a relatively straight path. Like when we switched from “landing pages” to “conversion optimization” and then back again. Over the course of about 12 months.
That year, I remember being on a panel about post-click marketing at an industry event when one of my co-presenters made a snide remark about “post-click, conversion rate optimization, landing pages…or whatever it is we call it these days…” as he trailed off. Ouch! But, he was right and it felt like it was aimed right at me.
So, yes, for many years we were a landing page platform — a rectangle in a square. And sure, some of our customers made landing pages with our tool but they also made really sophisticated, data-driven, personalized, dynamic experiences that were so much bigger than a page. They were app-like in their behavior and they were the types of digital experiences you would normally need a developer to code. But our platform allowed a full-stack marketer to do it without code.
Our constant, nagging issue of what to call ourselves eventually led to a big departure from landing pages, a reframing that aligned with what our most deeply adopted customers were doing. We called it marketing apps, because many of the best things our customers were doing with our software were app-like experiences. And they were using those app-like experiences to accomplish major marketing goals. It wasn’t really a true pivot for our company, because we weren’t turning away from our existing business, but it was a definitive pivot of our message and marketing and a big evolution of our product to support those types of experiences even further.
There was a lot to like about the phrase “marketing apps”. Most importantly, it felt like a very accurate description of what our customers were using us for. But it also meant we’d once again be defining a new term for our audience and we’d been down that road before when we coined the label, post-click marketing.
For a little while, “marketing apps” worked. We got some great press and it helped us gain traction and visibility in a way that landing pages never did.
But we started noticing that the language our sales team and even our prospects were using was “interactive content,” and so organically that phrase took root and made its way into our messaging, our conversations, and even our hearts. And this time, it really fits. What our customers are creating are interactive content experiences. And really they always were — back when it was landing pages, conversion paths, and even microsites. You can’t create a digital experience without content. You can’t even create an offline experience without content. Everything, at its core, is content.
And so, that leads me back to where I started this story: How an interactive content marketing company ended up at something called the Digital Experience Summit.
Over the years, I’ve learned that while the label is important, it is not everything. The truth is our customers can use our platform for post-click marketing, for conversion optimization, landing pages, for marketing apps, for interactive content, and for data-driven digital experiences. Or whatever else they want to call it. They do all these things with our software, and probably many others that I can’t even define or label yet.
And that’s okay. When you create a company, you want to put a stake in the ground and have a label to describe your space. But, maybe some things can’t be defined by a single label and if you embrace that, it gives you room to get in front of audiences who need what you do.
Much like the organic, natural progression to “interactive content,” we’ve informally come to think of our platform as “the CMS (content management system) for everything a CMS can’t do”. Calculators, quizzes, configurators and everything in between.
A company still needs a label for it’s offering, and interactive content is ours — that’s not changing. But, how we frame it and how creative we get with that is certainly open for consideration. I’ve come to learn that our product is so much bigger than any one label can denote. Yours probably is too.