MODcast Episode 2 – Finding the Werewolf: Data-Driven Storytelling with Lindsay Lyons

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Welcome to MODcast, from data-driven marketing agency MODintelechy. On this podcast, we sit down with thought-leaders and innovators across industries to learn how they got to where they are and what marketing strategies helped them along the way. Today, we hear from our client and friend, Lindsay Lyons, VP of Corporate Marketing at Epicor Software, on her data-driven storytelling approach to content strategy, leveraging insights, and how werewolves led to a turning point in her career.

Scott Thomas:

Welcome to the second installment of Modcast, candid conversations with industry leaders and innovators. On this session, we sit down with thought leaders and innovators across industries to learn how they got where they are and what marketing strategy has helped them along the way. Lindsay Lyons is the VP of Corporate Marketing at Epicor Software. I personally know her from her days at Dell computer, where she learned how to be a professional cat herder and all the while leading their content marketing strategy. Among her many talents she’s especially passionate about content as well as a damn fine leader. She’s a proud graduate of Purdue University, even though Duke basketball is better. And without further ado let’s get started. You’re not going there.

Lindsay Lyons:

No, still not correct.

Scott Thomas:

Not correct. Okay. All right. Well, thanks for joining on this beautiful 100 degree May Day.

Lindsay Lyons:

Yes. Summer is here.

Scott Thomas:

Summer is here. I want to talk a little bit, you and I have talked about this in the past, and maybe we’re just making up words, but talk a little bit about data-driven storytelling. Because I think you’re big on the content world among others. I come more on the data side, we’re both marketers, right? I’ve never really seen those two put together in many ways, either conceptually or otherwise. So, I’m kind of interested in exploring that as a topic to start and then we can take it from there.

Lindsay Lyons:

Sure. So data-driven storytelling is basically how I do what I do and what I always tell people is when you know who your target audience is, you don’t have to guess what they are interested in. You can go out and pull social listening reports, content listening reports, even their SEO and engagement click through email data and see what’s getting them to take the actions that you’re wanting them to take.

And when you connect that with the marketing material that you’ve produced, you can start to see trends of what topics, themes, solutions are getting the most engagement with that target audience. And then through marrying that with your third party listening data and seeing what other themes and topics they’re interested in, you don’t have to guess. You know what’s getting them to engage. If you have the luxury of market research, you can also talk about or start to pull in, again, insight around what’s driving them to even engage with this type of stuff, right?

So, what are the market forces that are happening? Because the data-driven storytelling is all about knowing that the reason people engage with content in the first place is to either solve a problem or capitalize on an opportunity. And you just have to figure out what that challenge or opportunity is, and then how your product addresses that and you’re golden.

I’d say the last element, which is also pretty critical, is once you pull that data, you’ll see what form factor or what channel they like to engage with. So is it video? Is it YouTube? Is it infographics? Is it white papers? And so then once you know what you need to say and what you want to say, you can figure out how to say it and it takes the guesswork away.

Scott Thomas:

No, that’s great. This is always my question, right? We go back a ways, right, but was there a point where something clicked for you or has it always been, and I’ll give more context on the data-driven part? Because a lot of times storytelling is seen as a completely different competency than data, right?

Lindsay Lyons:

Yeah.

Scott Thomas:

And so, I personally have not seen many professionals other than honestly, yourself, who’s brought those worlds together. And we push it a lot, but I think a lot of it from what we’ve seen is what I call just a lack of comfort. Because usually we’re working with content folks and it’s like, look, I came from a content side, maybe PR, maybe copywriting, right? The kind that come up through the ranks. You mind talking a little bit about that journey to use an overly-used phrase for you?

Lindsay Lyons:

I can give you the exact moment the light bulb came on. I was working on the behaviorally-triggered email program for Dell with you Scott, but you were on the data and kind of the program coding and design side. I was sitting on the content side deciding what content could and should be served up for each of these behavioral triggers. Right? And we had put a bunch of stuff into and it was again very Dell, very technical, very academic. And we started collecting data, looking what was getting clicked on, what was getting engaged with, what was then being re-served to people because of the engagement rates and whatnot. The piece that was beating everything else head and shoulders above the rest was a piece that was actually a highly technical case study about one of our precision workstation machines that was being used by a special effects studio.

But the headline was how to build a better werewolf and kind of dating myself, it was Pinewood Studios. They were using it to do special effects for the werewolves in the movie, Twilight showing how it had the computing power to render this realistic stuff. But because it had that storytelling headline, we had people that were clicking on it that were two and three clicks deep that didn’t come in looking for a workstation, but absolutely wanted to know what that was about. And so, that was when I was like, oh my God, it, it doesn’t matter. People are clicking on this even though they have no intention of buying it because they’re just looking for something to entertain them at some point, but then also to get work done and they’re looking for a good story. So we started to take the approach of really boiling down what we were trying to get across and knowing that the same hammer can’t hit the same nail every time, right?

So, there is a time and a place for technical information. There is a time and a place for speeds and feeds, but it’s not everywhere. And that was the moment that I was like, okay, we need to start testing different approaches, start testing different ways of telling these stories and we’ll start to see trends. And then what that also told me was we don’t have to guess because if we can A/B test this stuff, if we can even A/B test headlines, we’ll know exactly what to do.

Scott Thomas:

Right. So, would you say that some of that had to do with sort of the environment you were in or do you think, and the reason I’m saying this is just think about people kind of coming up in marketing as well, right? Like Dell from a cultural perspective is maybe a little more data driven as an organization than some others, right, in terms of large companies, right?

Lindsay Lyons:

Yeah.

Scott Thomas:

Or, you’ve been talking about a little bit on like putting yourself in the right position versus what I would say is also your own natural curiosity, right? Did it take both of those together or where did that magic happen?

Lindsay Lyons:

I think Dell’s culture was always very, very data driven. There was always a necessity to assign some kind of measurement to what you were doing. However, I think again, the light bulb that went off for me was you can marry the art and the science, and it doesn’t have to take the humanity out of what you’re doing. And I think what environment did for me was to see that the science can inform the art and the art will actually influence the result of the science and the data. So, I think it definitely was a product of my environment because honestly, if somebody had come to me and said, don’t worry about the numbers, I probably would have been like, whew. However, I don’t think I would have had the business case to be able to say we need to change the type of content we’re creating. It can’t just be speeds and feeds, it can’t just be product information. We’ve got to tell a story. That data helped me make that case.

Scott Thomas:

No, that’s great. Thank you because that’s always in my head which is what is nature/nurture for lack of a better term. In making that case, do you feel like the data was the linchpin of making that business case at Dell? Or, do you feel like that’s also a product of data plus storytelling to build that business case? And the reason I say that is a lot of people, like if somebody comes up and says, “Hey, we want to do more data driven, storytelling.” You go to the CEO, CMO, right? What does that look like?

Lindsay Lyons:

Well, I think the data is the linchpin, right? Because at the end of the day, if you can prove that you can get better results with better storytelling, no one’s going to argue with better results. No one’s going to say to you, “No, I want to continue to produce crappy stuff that nobody looks at,” rather than just changing up even how we approach it. Storytelling and products material are not mutually exclusive. You can craft a story using basically exactly what you have even by producing the same stuff, but in a different more interesting way. And if you A/B test against what you have versus what you’re proposing, you’ll know exactly if you have a case or not. Right? So, the example I’ll give you is we still produce a ton of case studies, but we changed up exactly how we produce them and took instead of a more technical white paper approach, we took a storytelling approach talking about the situation, the challenge, the action, and the result.

And the case studies that are put together in that way, we just, the salespeople tend to send them out more. They get used anecdotally in sales calls. We have more engagement on the website. And also candidly, the customers that we’ve worked with have given us positive feedback about the experience of telling their story and saying, I really enjoyed that. So, if you pile all of that together and say, even if at the end of the day, the revenue and the pipeline stays the same, but we have people getting more usage and the customers have a positive experience just for the change in strategy of how we’re writing which costs no more, shouldn’t we make that change. I can’t think of a single reason why we would argue against it. So, again, it’s kind of like when you’re building a business case like that and you have all of these data points and you present the case of what is the risk of doing nothing, it becomes very obvious.

Scott Thomas:

Well that’s interesting you say the risk of doing nothing because I think that’s what I hear is that’s part of the pitch, right?

Lindsay Lyons:

Yeah.

Scott Thomas:

Because that’s why we see, right. I try to frame it the same as well there’s a risk in doing that. And I was all right, let’s flip that around, right?

Lindsay Lyons:

Right.

Scott Thomas:

The risk in not doing that, right?

Lindsay Lyons:

Right. It’s like, okay, so I was brought into Epicor to stand up a content function and a content practice. Being just a little bit sassy, it’s like, hey, if everything was going really well, you wouldn’t need me. So, not to be a jerk about it, but this is costing you nothing extra, and I’m just telling you it’s a change of approach and these are the results so far. So, to be honest, kind of a no brainer.

Lindsay Lyons:

I’ll tell you the other thing is when I proposed to the CMO that we were going to make this change and I didn’t have any Epicor data to back it up because we hadn’t made the change yet, I was ready to do the pitch and I had pulled industry data and this is what we’re doing. I was like, I think we should get a more storytelling approach, and this is that. And, and she looked at me and she went, “Well, yeah, let’s do it.” And I went, well, I have four more slides of data that I can show you but it’s just, it’s such a no brainer in an industry standard these days that I think it’s relatively low risk. But, by pulling that data you also have a really nice baseline to measure against.

Scott Thomas:

That’s a really good point, if nothing else, right?

Lindsay Lyons:

Yes.

Scott Thomas:

You have a baseline using it for sale purposes. You’re also doing it for a whole number of other reasons.

Lindsay Lyons:

Right.

Scott Thomas:

No, that’s great. I want to take it a slightly stay on the content route, but in slightly different why questioning. It sounds like I’m interrogating you. I want to talk a little bit about snackable content. I want to go through the, I want to say the hype versus reality, right. I don’t know if you can share examples of that.

Scott Thomas:

Because content is expensive, right?

Lindsay Lyons:

Yeah.

Scott Thomas:

You hear that in Hollywood. It plays very similar, right? People have champagne wishes in their budget in most cases.

Lindsay Lyons:

Yes.

Scott Thomas:

Can you talk a little bit about the reality of trying to do snackable content in that context?

Lindsay Lyons:

Yeah. So, it is hype versus reality in a lot of cases. First of all, the first thing I’ll say is I see people getting really wrapped up in form factors and they’ll come running in the door with their head on fire and say, “I need an infographic.” And it’s like, okay, about what? And it’s like, “I don’t know, but I just need it because people like them.” And it’s like, no, no, no, no, that’s not how this works.

Lindsay Lyons:

So, when you have snackable content, the first thing you need to decide is the piece that you want to break into more pieces, does it have enough information in it to be broken apart? Are they interesting and valuable enough to be broken apart? And can they serve almost as mini advertising or CliffsNotes for a certain section that would make somebody want to go to that anchor piece of content and either fill in a form, a gate or perform some more higher level of commitment in order to get their hands on the full anchor piece of content.

Lindsay Lyons:

If you don’t have enough to make smaller pieces, several smaller pieces, at least two or three, then it’s just a repackaging exercise. It just means that you’re taking this piece and you’re going to make it more palatable for someone to consume.

Lindsay Lyons:

The next thing I see is people say, okay, this white paper has three sections. That means we’re going to make three smaller pieces and I’m going to make an article, an infographic and a social campaign. And it’s like, no, no, no, no, no. Don’t confuse your snackable pieces of content that you need to go out and use to tell your story with the ways that you’re going to reach your audience. So email, social posts, those aren’t the vehicles that you’re going to use to tell your story. The snackable piece is what’s going to do that.

Lindsay Lyons:

And then the last piece of advice I’ll give is there should be connective tissue between each of your snackable pieces and that pillar piece, because they are built off of each other and it’s going … your goal and the whole strategy behind snackable pieces remember was binging. You want people to get lost in how great your content is and consume all of those three smaller pieces and sign up for the bigger piece. Right? Because then you’re like indoctrinating them. If you haven’t built the experience that allows binging, you shot yourself in the foot. Again, I see people who send out that infographic and they’ll maybe embed it in a Marketo email, but then they don’t tell you where to go to get the other related content. And it’s like, okay, thanks for watching. Bye. And you walk away. You’ve just killed half your effort.

Scott Thomas:

Yep. No, that’s great advice. Are there any specific places of pillar content you usually see, like that’s a white paper or like a video case study, kind of the top of the derivative content pyramid. Do you have a go to set of content pieces that you look at, if that makes sense, right, in terms of make snackable, right? Sometimes it’s like, hey, I have a 14-page white paper, right? Yeah, that’s got a lot of content. Let’s use that and we’ll break up three different pieces and …

Lindsay Lyons:

So, the rule of thumb that I always use is if you have a piece of content that someone is highly unlikely to fully engage with on their phone, you need to create a smaller, more consumable piece that will draw them to then consume that larger piece. It could be a white paper that’s only two or three pages, or it could be a really long meaty article.

Lindsay Lyons:

But the reality is, is that most people will, their gateway drug to your content is going to be on their phone. So, you need a version of that information that people can use on their phone. And that’s kind of my rule of thumb. If somebody says to me they have a white paper, I’m like, what are you turning it into? Because if you don’t have enough content in a white paper to turn it into something, it’s just a really long article, which needs to be edited. So, that’s how I think about it. You can turn anything into snackable content, but the first question I would ask is, should you? Who’s going to want to read it?

Scott Thomas:

Right. Well, I’m going to go another route maybe back down some of your international experience, because I think we talked a little bit about content, a little bit about your background. You’ve lived internationally. You worked internationally. What is the most interesting story business or otherwise?

Lindsay Lyons:

Yeah, it’s business actually. I was on a business trip, this is in my days at Dell. In one of my roles we were asked to travel around to all of the global field marketing teams and train them with our content strategy that allows for the best of data-driven storytelling, customer focused storytelling, and really helping folks turn that corner from kind of batch and blast marketing to this marketing automation.

Lindsay Lyons:

So, we were sent on the tour to our South American and Central American field marketing teams. And it was 10-day trip with seven flights. So colleague and myself, my boss actually, we flew down, started in Brazil. It was two weeks before the Olympics, so it was a little bit crazy. Not as crazy as I thought it would be. It was very quiet because everyone was on strike. And I was like, oh, this doesn’t bode well for the Olympics.

Lindsay Lyons:

Yeah, it was fine. First lesson learned was, hey, guess what, in July in Brazil, it’s winter. And Brazil’s a very large country so the further south you go, the colder it gets. And so instantly caught a cold because we packed for July. Then our next stop was Panama. Hands down the most beautiful place. Absolutely wonderful. Couldn’t recommend it enough. And then our last stop was Mexico City.

Lindsay Lyons:

So, by the time we’d been to Mexico City, we had been on five flights in six days. And so we flew into Mexico City on a Monday and we’d worked all weekend and our directive was, you can take the Monday off because you’ve been working so hard and then you’ll go and you’ll train the team on Tuesday. We were like, okay, great.

Lindsay Lyons:

So, we decide to go sightseeing in the city center and by this time again, absolutely exhausted, not really paying attention the way that you probably should in the city center of Mexico City and went to the Zocalo where there is the ruins of the Aztec city that it sits underneath almost all of Mexico City.

Lindsay Lyons:

Well, all museums in Mexico city are closed on Monday. So we were like, well this is just great. Now, there’s an open air part of the museum where you can kind of look over railings and look into the city ruins. And we’re looking over the city ruins and this guy, very official looking young man with a lanyard and a clipboard came over and said, the museum is closed today. And we were like, yeah, we know. Only afterwards did we realize he was speaking English from the start which, you know.

Lindsay Lyons:

He goes, but it’s okay. We have an extension of the museum just around the corner that you can come and see some of the original ruins underneath in this area. And I was like, I don’t know. Is it free? He’s like, oh yeah, it’s absolutely free. I’m like, okay, let’s go.

Lindsay Lyons:

So, my boss and I also another female bop off down an alleyway where another young guy comes over and is like, “Oh, are you going on this tour?” And they were like, “Yes, we’re about to start it.” So it’s two dudes and us and I’m still well, this is weird, a little bizarre, but it should be fun. So we’re about to walk into this building and the guy with the lanyard turns around and goes, “By the way, when we walk in here, we’re going to have to walk through the store to the back of the building. Don’t talk to anybody and don’t look at anybody or they’ll think you’re going to buy something.” And I was like, oh, this is really weird because the people in the store should know that this is happening if there’s a museum in their basement.

Lindsay Lyons:

So, still not saying anything. Walk back and he’s stopped at the top of the stairs that go into the basement. We get there and I remember thinking to myself, this is a really bad idea. Nobody knows where we are. We’re heading into a basement and we’ve just had to avoid eye contact with anyone who could have given us any kind of help. But, it would be rude to leave because this man seems very enthusiastic about his basement museum.

Lindsay Lyons:

So, then he walks in front of us. There’s like a giant padlock on the door and he unlocks the padlock, of course. And is like, “Hang on, I’m going to get it ready inside.” And I was like, oh, he’s getting it ready. And I look at my, my friend, my boss, and she’s like, and … I was like, what? She was like, no. And then he throws open the door. “Okay, come on.” So we walk in and he goes, “Walk into the middle of the room.” It’s like just a cement basement. He closes the door. There’s no lights on. And she grabs my hand and goes, “If we get murdered, it’s all your fault.

Lindsay Lyons:

Only then was I like, oh my God, we are locked in a basement with no lights on with two dudes in Mexico City and no one knows we’re here. Our phones aren’t working because we’re in a basement and what are we going to do? Well, come to find out, it was a totally legit museum. The reason you were in the basement is because that’s where the original street level of the city was. He was turning on these special lights so that it didn’t fade the murals that were painted on the city walls. But this is after a solid five minutes of us thinking we’re going to be murdered. And it was like murals about the afterlife and this is what the Aztec afterlife was, and this is the road to death and all of this.

Lindsay Lyons:

And I’m like it’s pretty stressful. I’m not really enjoying this, even though I’m a history buff. So, on the way out, he’s like, “I hope you enjoyed it. Please sign our guest book. And this is a new tour, so if you could give us any advice, we’d really appreciate it.” I was like, I would really work on the entry spiel to this museum because it really did feel like we were about to be killed. And he was like, “Oh, that’s so funny.”

Lindsay Lyons:

So, we leave the museum and walking outside and a ton of alarms start going off everywhere. And I was like, oh my God, they found bodies in there or something. And people start running out of the buildings. And my boss looks at me and is like, when the locals look nervous, you should be really, really nervous. And I’m like, yeah, but my nervous bone is worn out. I just mentally fought for my life for about 30 minutes in there. And it turned out it was an earthquake. We didn’t feel the earthquake because we were outside, but the city was about to go on lockdown because there were going to be aftershocks and I was like, we just need to get back to the hotel.

Scott Thomas:

Well, maybe you are trembling at the same vibration rate.

Lindsay Lyons:

Probably, most likely. She was like, “We just have to get out of here.” And so then we went into the office the next day and told everybody what we had done. And they were like, “You do realize that Mexico City has a very high kidnapping rate.” And we were like, huh, good information to have had yesterday.

Scott Thomas:

Yeah. Well right. I mean, you know.

Lindsay Lyons:

We lived. We lived and …

Scott Thomas:

You’re find.

Lindsay Lyons:

And hey, lesson learned. Don’t go into an unmarked basement museum with a guy just because he has a clipboard and he looks very official.

Scott Thomas:

Well, I paid attention, right? The word free seemed to be the hook.

Lindsay Lyons:

The free thing was it. I was like, I’m not going to go to your private, scary basement murder museum and then have to pay for it, so let’s just do that. And then the other thing I learned was anyone can make a lanyard with a laminating machine. So let’s pay attention to that too.

Scott Thomas:

Those are all really good lessons. Those are all, I think people can get a lot from that. Just general personal safety. Yeah. That reminds me last year with my entrepreneurs group, we went to Mexico City because they’re a sister city and there was a big bus that 50 business owners got on. And there was a huge sign that says entrepreneurs here and I was like, boy, this seems like a really good target bus to kidnap.

Lindsay Lyons:

Yes.

Scott Thomas:

Just going to, and we’re not really being very sort of discrete about the whole thing.

Lindsay Lyons:

No. And I will say it was a totally legit thing. And the guy was a very nice guy and it was a really great museum. It was a really great experience, but I was like, I never, I think part of what was so freaky was I never felt in danger. I have been to some truly dodgy areas of the world and where I probably should have been most on my guard I was not because I was like, it’s beautiful and the food’s the best I’ve ever had and the people are lovely. Never entered into the equation.

Scott Thomas:

Well, that’s a theme on now the second show, right? The first show has Brazil, which personally the only country I’ve really been afraid for my life and it’s a lovely country, but I was afraid for my life in Brazil. I’ve been to over 80 countries.

Lindsay Lyons:

We were also in a situation in Brazil where we probably should have been more afraid, but that was the country where I had my really bad cold so I was on cold medicine so I was like, everybody else just tell me. If somebody is on a motorcycle coming up with a gun and we’re stuck in traffic, just tell me when to duck. That was what we were told. They were like, “We can’t get stuck in traffic. If they see you guys there’s robbers that pull up on motorcycles so just give them everything.” And I was like, they’re not having my Tamiflu.

Scott Thomas:

You got to hold the line at somewhere, right?

Lindsay Lyons:

You have to have a bottom line.

Scott Thomas:

Right, right.

Lindsay Lyons:

That was my adventure. I made it out. We flew home, but have to say, could probably point to that museum and tell you guys to go because it was great.

Scott Thomas:

Zocalo, right and …

Lindsay Lyons:

It was in Zocalo and it was the basement of a religious icon shop that sits right behind the cathedral. It was yellow if you want to know, the outside of the building was yellow. But just look for the guy with the lanyard and the clipboard and he’ll take you there for free.

Scott Thomas:

I’m sure it’s fine. Just start with that, right? Follow the lanyard guy.

Lindsay Lyons:

That’s right. Just look like someone who’s really lost and he’ll find you.

Scott Thomas:

Good. Well, I think those that’s better advice than all that content marketing stuff you’re talking about.

Lindsay Lyons:

Absolutely.

Scott Thomas:

Well, Lindsay, thank you. Appreciate all your time. It’s always fun to catch up and make each other laugh and learn a little.

Lindsay Lyons:

Yeah. And thanks for having me. This is my favorite stuff to talk about.

Scott Thomas:

Awesome. Well, thanks again. Enjoy your sunny Texas day. Thanks everyone for joining.

Lindsay Lyons:

Thank you.

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