If you’re in B2B marketing, there’s pressure to play it straight. There’s a fear of looking foolish, or of not being taken seriously. It can be a very difficult mindset to break out of – even if you’re job as a marketer is to stand out from the pack.

However, some companies are willing to take a chance. Sure, it doesn’t always work, but when it does the rewards can be great. When it was introducing a new “unified monitoring” messaging, IT software company AppDynamics knew it had to get creative to grab the attention of its audience. So, they came up with the idea of a series of comic strips, The Adventures of Franken-Monitor. Franken-Monitor is the bad guy in this series, a symbol of the pain felt by many of AppDynamics’ prospects and customers, who have to deal with siloed monitoring tools, conflicting data and internal politics.

 

It was fun, it resonated, and it broke through.

We recently had a chance to pick the brain of AppDynamics’ Senior Content Marketing Manager Kevin Goldberg to find out how their team brought Franken-Monitor to life. Goldberg first got involved in content marketing at Red Bull, but left behind the boring world of energy drinks and extreme sports for the excitement of IT operations software.

We started by asking about the process of getting approval for such an adventurous initiative. Was it a hard sell?

Kevin:  Luckily, it wasn’t too hard. We knew we had to come out of the gates with strong messaging for our Unified Monitoring toolset (which admittedly isn’t the sexiest of topics). Also, we didn’t technically ‘invent’ Franken-Monitoring— it was used by an industry pundit awhile back in a blog. We mostly took the phrase to help describe the common pain points perfectly, and created a multi-touch campaign around it. For the comics specifically, it was our CMO’s idea to aid our existing infographic.


Scribewise: But still, you had some fun with it; it can be difficult to do that with B2B folks who want to be so serious.

Kevin:  Definitely. We took the name/idea, and ran with it. A funny story about the company reaction…

A guy (I believe in finance) came up to me after the initial infographic and said, “Thank you, the concept of Franken-monitoring just clicks with me. I never quite understood what we did or what Unified Monitoring was before that.”

Scribewise:  Ha! That’s pretty good validation—and from finance, no less.

Kevin:  Exactly. The point of the campaign was to explain a pretty technical pain point in easy to understand terms.

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Scribewise:  What was the C-suite’s reaction when they first saw a comic book? Were you already getting enough traction to credibly put that forward to them?

Kevin:  Surprisingly, our CMO was pretty invested throughout the whole process of the comic creation. Typically, he leaves me alone and just has final tweaks or feedback once we’re closer to being finished. However, for the comics he asked to see each iteration and provided pretty pointed feedback that ultimately led to a better product.  He was also present for the ideation phase, where we came up with what each comic would be about. 

It’s pretty rare you see a CMO that invested in what could easily be seen as a trivial asset. I think he viewed the Franken-Monitor comic as a chance to have fun in an industry not typically known for interesting/innovative marketing. 

Scribewise:  What was the creative process for the comics?

Kevin:  We started with a few ideation brainstorms with the CMO, lead product marketing manager in charge of the launch, one of my counterparts, and me. I think we walked away with about 10 ideas for comics. From there, we kicked off an email thread with a few other folks and narrowed it down to the three we wanted to execute. The cartoonist was able to grasp some of the technical jargon, but there were probably six rounds of feedback for each strip.

 

The importance of maximizing your opportunity

Scribewise:  We preach to our clients all the time that they need to get as much mileage as possible out of their big ideas and to utilize as many channels as makes sense. With that in mind, what other aspects of the initiative were there?

Kevin:  We conducted a study with EMA Research to find out just how big of an issue Franken-Monitoring was throughout large enterprises. What the study revealed is that 65 percent utilize 10 or more monitoring tools. So, we had our industry credibility there, and we co-authored a full report with EMA. With that report, we also co-produced a webinar for attendees to learn more and ask any questions. Those were more of the lead gen activities, but we did a lot to spread the awareness higher up the funnel. It started with this infographic, then spread to the comic series, blogs, and so on. All of these efforts intended to drive readers and registrants to the webinar and report. The webinar was one of the most attended that year and the research report still gains quite a bit of downloads each month. 

Scribewise:  How does Franken-Monitor fit into the rest of AppDynamics’ content marketing? Is this the primary thrust or one of several “pillars” of content?

Kevin:  This was one of several pillars for the whole Unified Monitoring push. However, I think the results were unexpected and you can hopefully look for Frank to be resurrected in the near future. 

Lessons Learned – what’s next in content marketing?

Scribewise: Let’s zoom out for a second: We’re seeing a lot now about the importance of quality over quantity in content. But of course, true break-through quality takes some courage. Do you predict more companies swinging for the fences?

Kevin:  I think a lot of companies are doing content marketing, which means they have a blog and a few case studies. However, what separates good from great is the quality AND quantity of content they’re producing. As we become more data-driven, we’re able to optimize on themes, form factors, etc., but in order to get enough data to make a business decision, you’ll need to produce a good amount of content. I like to call it producing the most, best content we can.

During my time at Red Bull, one of the content folks said that they’re not creating content to compete with the Monsters and Rockstars of the world, they’re creating content to compete with cat gifs and random other videos. Ultimately, content marketing is a battle for someone’s time— so you want to create content at the best quality you can, in order to give yourself a better chance against the mountains of content out there. 

Scribewise:  Has that mindset been adopted at AppDynamics, at least within marketing?

Kevin:  I think so. There will always be the major campaigns and tedious sales enablement content we’ll need to create. However, AppDynamics is great with allowing us to be creative with nearly any type of content. From an interactive quiz to find out what kind of stereotypical developer you are, to a series of funny videos, we’ve created numerous pieces of creative content (especially for the enterprise software industry). If something works and creates buzz, it gives us the data and buy-in to create something new and push the boundaries even further.