Here is a transcript generated by of The Content Mix podcast interview with Simon Blake, Munich-based marketing director, on his content marketing strategy:

Shaheen Samavati 0:15
Hi everyone, I’m Shaheen from The Content Mix, and I’m excited to be here with Simon Blake, EMEA marketing director for Vertiv, a global provider of equipment and services for data centers. Thanks so much for joining us.

Simon Blake 0:26
Great to be here, Shaheen. Thanks for inviting me.

Shaheen Samavati 0:28
Great. So could you tell me a bit about your background and how you became an EMEA marketing director? How you got into marketing?

Simon Blake 0:35
Sure, yeah. I’ll try and keep it brief. So I’ve been in this role for approximately 12 years with this company, Vertiv, and I’ve had a number of different roles within the organization from a marketing standpoint. But just before that, a little bit of background, I spent 12 years in agency. So I joined a small agency in Ireland after I left college, and it was a small promotions agency, we built it up, and we were bought out by J. Walter Thompson Worldwide. Saw what we did, they liked what we did. They didn’t have that offering in Ireland. So they bought us to buy the expertise. And then after the earn-out our managing director left, I stayed on as managing director for a couple of years. And at that stage, I felt I’d kind of, you know, run my course in terms of what I could do in agency. So I also wanted to see what it was like on the client side before I got, what I thought at that stage was too old, and coincided with a time in my life where myself and my wife wanted to live abroad. So I left the agency, we came to Germany, and I really had no idea where I was going to end up. I kind of figured I was probably going to end up back in agency. But after looking I ended up in an area where I had no real experience in terms of the market, which was technology. So what we do in Vertiv is, as you say, we do infrastructure, critical infrastructure for data centers. So all the big hyper-scalers, you know, the big social media networks, internet service providers or smaller organizations, we’re the backbone to making sure that they’re up and running all the time. So really interesting area. Yeah, it’s an interesting industry to be in. It’s a fast-moving one. And it requires us to be really on our game from a content point of view, to hit the right bases.

Shaheen Samavati 2:21
I see. So the company has offices all over the world. So why are you, how did you end up in the German office?

Simon Blake 2:30
Yeah, we’re a global organization. And really the, you know, the EMEA part of that organization is, again, scattered across EMEA. But because I was based in Germany, you know, it just so happened that this is where this role, the first role that I took, which was to head up a marcomms unit for the EMEA side of the business, was located. So that’s why I’m here.

Shaheen Samavati 2:50
I see.

Simon Blake 2:51
And it’s a nice place to be.

Shaheen Samavati 2:54
Awesome. The company is actually based in Ohio, where I’m from, coincidentally. Can you just tell us about, kind of like, the scope of the business? Because I know we said it’s global, but it’s a really big company, right? And it’s actually listed on the stock exchange now.

Simon Blake 3:09
That’s right. Yeah, we’re about a $4 billion company, just listed on the stock exchange. We were part of Emerson Electric. That’s where we started from. Emerson sold us a few years ago, we went into private equity, and we were, we’ve gone public. And we have a new executive chairman, David Cote, who comes from Honeywell, giving us some fantastic new experience in terms of how we can accelerate the growth of the business. But what we do essentially is, if you’re talking about critical infrastructure for a data center, very simply, you have the building, which is a data center. Inside it you have, you know, thousands and thousands of servers, which are processing data. Those servers need power protection, they need clean power, and they need, what happens in a data center with hundreds and hundreds of servers is an enormous amount of heat. So you need to extract that heat, but that cost of extracting the heat is about 60 percent of the total cost of running a data center. So companies come to us because they don’t want to spend tons of money extracting heat. They want companies who can do it effectively, efficiently, and also make sure that the power is stable so that the servers don’t go down. So they keep availability, but they also don’t hemorrhage money in the process doing it. So they come to us for reliability. And that’s what we do. And we service, every single time you conceive of a business, retailers, you know, as I say the hyper-scalers, so the big guys who have, you know, these football field-size data centers, to telecommunications networks, to industrial networks, oil rigs… Everywhere where there’s IT, you need critical infrastructure to support it. Anywhere you have a house, you need a foundation. So anywhere there’s IT, we’re somewhere beneath it to support it with the critical infrastructure.

Shaheen Samavati 4:54
So what’s your day-to-day like as EMEA marketing director? What’s your role?

Simon Blake 4:59
So day-to-day, I mean my specific area of responsibility is within content strategy for EMEA. And that is, you know, I would say it’s, we need to identify, first of all, the themes that our customers are interested in hearing about. That’s the first thing. And there are quite a few of them across the board, whether it’s efficiency, whether it’s reliability, you know, whether it’s “help me make sure that I don’t get fired from my job, because I’m not doing a good job in this area.” And that’s a real, you know, issue for some people. So first of all, I’d say finding out what the themes are that they’re interested in. Second thing is then, there’s loads of other competitors in our space, who also understand what’s going on. So if we all talk about the same thing, we’re not coming up with anything new. So we try to identify what is the gap between what they know and what they need to know. So we identify that gap, and if we can do that, and imagine it’s like a canyon. The person’s there, what they need to know is there. And our job is to roll out that wooden rope bridge from one side to the other, and help them navigate across there in an engaging, in an entertaining way, so that we—and also a suspense, keep a suspense so they want to get to the other side. And when they get to the other side, this is where this promised land of this information that they’re looking for is. And that’s really what the day-to-day role is, like, what do we want to say? How are we going to say it? Is it compelling? And then, you know, what is the distribution strategies to make sure that the right people are getting the right message? How do we then follow up with them after that?

Shaheen Samavati 6:45
Yeah, this reminds me of Joe Pulizzi from the Content Marketing Institute. He says that the content, your content niche is that cross section between… what your customers are interested in and what you’re an expert on, and how you can, you know, find where you can really bring value to them. So what has been your approach, like what is your niche when it comes to content?

Simon Blake 7:12
Well, that’s a good question. Because there is no one, in our area, there is no one niche, there are a few different niches, as I alluded to. And we also have quite a very broad target audience of who we can talk to. So more and more, you know, content marketing is in an evolutionary process, you know, and the more we do it, the more we get more refined to identifying, hey, we want to talk to Joe, the facilities manager in facilities this side, or we want to talk to the CTO of large organizations. And then it’s really saying, okay, what are maybe the two or three campaigns that we can run this year and beyond, which identifies maybe two or three, maybe even just two niches within that, to say okay, let’s have something meaningful to say about that niche. And for example, one of the areas that we’ve started this year, very successfully, in promoting is the whole idea of a skills gap in our industry. So if you look at our industry, which is essentially dominated by mechanical and electrical engineers, who come in and do this job, 20 years ago this was, you know, one of the few areas where they could go into, you know, large component manufacturing, working in facilities, whereas now if I’m a mechanical or electrical engineer, I can develop an app, I can go and work for Google, I can do lots of other things with my engineering expertise. So we see less people coming into our arena. And this is an issue, because we need people with tribal knowledge, who can pass it on to generation to generation to generation. And we see this is getting tighter and tighter. So this scenario, we say, this is not directly related to selling any of our equipment, it has no benefit to anybody, but it identifies a need of people who work in these facilities to say, yeah, I see that, I’m having difficulty finding people to work with me. Or if I’m a channel partner, I say “I can’t get people to work on my own channel business.” So we talk about these topics in a, I would say, a very impartial way to try and generate traction, generate traction with people so they start relating to the company, and saying, these guys talk about something that means something to me. They’re not trying to sell me something, they’re not trying to make me buy a product, but I’m identifying with them. And I really believe, you know, content marketing is a long-term game. It’s like building a long-term value for the business through an engaged audience. And you can’t do that in three, six or nine months. It takes years. I mean, you know the Content Marketing Institute, and you’ve seen the example of The Furrow magazine from John Deere, 120-year-old magazine, which, you know, I think they say in the whole life of it, they’ve mentioned the words “John Deere” maybe four or five times. It’s all about, you know, building the trust and relationship with an audience to get them to come back to you over and over.

Shaheen Samavati 10:20
Absolutely. And do you have some examples of particular types of content or strategies that have worked for you?

Simon Blake 10:27
Well, I’ll give you another example of taking what I was talking about, and bringing it to sort of the next level of engagement. So we talk about, you know, we have some podcasts talking about this topic, about the skills gap. We also talk to some channel partners about it and we promote that, so you know, getting voices from other people, and not just us talking about it. But also we’ve just created an online tool, which is called Datacenter Career Simulator. So we have worked to design, what do we think the top six new job roles will be in this sector that don’t exist at the moment? Okay. So what are they, and what skills will you need to be able to compete for one of those roles? And what is the training you might need to do now? So we have an interactive tool which gets you to come in, asks you a couple of questions about what are you doing? What’s your role? What are your interests? How progressive are you towards changing technology? And then it almost has like an artificial intelligence which creates your personalized job role for you, based on what we think is going to be your future role, and also gives them a customized video as well, of what that role might be. So really trying to bring the idea to life through engaging methods as well.

Shaheen Samavati 11:51
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And it’s really interesting to take that approach, like to focus on careers when that’s really a topic that’s not directly related to what you sell at all. Yeah. So I was curious, how much of the strategy is done at the European level, or at the global level? And also, being EMEA marketing director, what is your, what challenges do you face working in the European market? And how is it different than other parts of the world?

Simon Blake 12:23
Yeah, that’s a good one, I would say, you know, we have definitely as an organization become much more global in our approach to everything in the last 24 months, marketing also. So we work very closely from a geographical term to develop the overall specific campaign strategy and narrative that will go across the business. So you’ll have people from APAC, Latin America, North America, and then EMEA feeding in as one group to decide, what do we want to talk about? How are we going to do about it? And then it’s a divide and conquer in terms of who would take the responsibility for maybe building that. Which is great in a PowerPoint slide, but I see into your point that what are the challenges of working in EMEA versus maybe in a single language territory? I think, for me, the biggest challenge, being a native English speaker, is you often come up with concepts, wording, nuances, that work fantastically well in English language, and they just do not translate. And that can be, you know, even then to headline copy and blogs, themes for campaigns that you have, you’re bringing in some sort of, changing some expression from English to make it seem, you know, smart and clever and punchy. And it just does not translate into other languages, they just don’t get it. So often you have a very impactful English language, you know, opener or, you know, hook, which maybe is just not quite as engaging in other languages. So I think that’s possibly the, I think maybe I don’t see the, I think the team across the territory probably find that maybe one of the more frustrating aspects of it.

Shaheen Samavati 14:12
And how do you solve that?

Simon Blake 14:16
I don’t know whether you do solve it. I think you have to accept that if you’re working in a multiple-language, if you’re developing everything centrally, and then it needs to be delivered at a local level, there’s always going to be one territory, who maybe gets, you know, gets the most effective version of it. And sometimes we see that in Germany as well, where I work with the German team, and we come up with something, and it totally works in Germany, and it just could not work anywhere else because it’s a localized expression or way of dealing with things. And I think also, language, you know, I think English is quite a, English-language countries are quite casual in the way they talk and present things. Certainly in German, it’s more, needs to be more professional, a little bit not quite as casual. So you need to be conscious of that when you’re, you know, briefing agencies or third parties to write things or to create things, that it needs to somewhere fit in, in the middle. But I think the risk is that you don’t want to make it so elemental that it’s vanilla.

Shaheen Samavati 15:22
Yeah, absolutely. Well I was curious, how do you measure the success of your content?

Simon Blake 15:30
Yeah, again, I mean… If you want to measure, you’ll always find a way to measure something, right? And you can always find a way to measure positively as well. And I think, you know, the key way that we try and measure back to the business is, you know, through metrics. And a lot of it is always going to be quantitative versus qualitative. And obviously, content marketing does require qualitative measurements. You know, you can have as many mentions as you want, but what was the takeaway of those mentions? What was the effect of that? And that is a harder nut to crack. But from the quantitative side, I mean, I think one of the initiatives that we started actually about a year and a half ago, was… we do a lot of our business through channel partners. So we sell to a distributor, distributor sells to a reseller, reseller sells to end customer. And you really want to have a, try and motivate and engage the resellers to recommend your product to their end customer. But we don’t have necessarily the direct touch always to the reseller. So we decided, instead of doing newsletters to our channel community, we said let’s change that approach and make it like The Furrow magazine. Let’s make this a publication which talks about the things that our channel partners care about, and we can also help them be educated about in front of their customers. Because these channel partners are not $4 billion global conglomerates; they’re small companies, so their access to information that we would have would not be as much. So we said, let’s create a publication that goes out quarterly, which talks about these things that are going to help them look smarter in front of their customers, and help themselves, you know, make it easier for them, but not talk about products, not talk about solutions, not talk about our company. So not an inward-looking thing, but completely outward-looking thing. And we started that, we launched it, and we were all excited about it, but the measurement of it was about the same as the newsletters we were doing. You know, the pickup rate, opens, clicks… so a little bit deflating at the beginning. But as you then did the second iteration, and then into the third, all of a sudden you start seeing, you know, the needle starting to lift off. And that’s why I say, it takes time to demonstrate the success of content marketing, but I think when you really understand what you need to do—and this is what we needed to do—it works. So, you know, measurement, primarily through quantitative means. But my comment would be to the audiences, don’t expect it to happen in the first two quarters—could be a year. So there needs to be a buy-in at an executive level that this is a long-term strategy.

Shaheen Samavati 18:18
Absolutely. Yeah, that’s what you said at the beginning, and I think it’s a really good point: you can’t expect to have results overnight. And the fact that you typically don’t means that it’s something that not everyone is doing. So it’s kind of like a bet that you have to take, right? And expect the long-term payoff.

Simon Blake 18:37

Shaheen Samavati 18:40
Well, let’s go into your recommendations. So I wanted to ask you about an app or a tool that you use in your job.

Simon Blake 18:49
Yeah. I mean, you know, there’s just been such an explosion of things like collaboration and workflow tools, and it’s like, I’ve never seen anyone or heard anyone saying, “That was an incredible marketing campaign, they must have used an awesome workflow tool or process tool.” I think there’s so many tools out there, and I do sense that often, organizations try and use them to compensate for the fact that they don’t have good content. The process is brilliant, you know? And it’s like the ISO certification for making concrete life jackets. You can make a concrete life jacket and get an ISO certification for it. But it’s useless, right? The process is great, but the end result is useless. So I think there’s a lot of apps and tools out there. I think the one that I would call out, which is a free one—there’s an enterprise version as well—is Grammarly. Especially for writers, where it really gives you a very fast, you know, return on how am I doing, how was this? Quick, small changes that you can make that really, I think make quite a sharp difference to the end product.

Shaheen Samavati 20:02
Absolutely. It would be cool if they expanded into more languages. For EMEA, right? And then I just wanted to ask you about any marketing influencer that you’d recommend people follow.

Simon Blake 20:16
Yeah. I had the benefit of going to Content Marketing World almost two years ago in Cleveland, Ohio. Now, you know, I’ve been to quite a few conferences, events, marketing over my career. I’ve gotta say, none of them have stood out at all. This one was fantastic. I mean, the quality of people that they have speaking were… it’s not peer-to-peer all the time. You have people who work in the film industry, you have people who work in television, media, startups that are nothing to do with marketing. And they’re really giving their input on how to tell a story, how to be engaging, how to win people over: behavioral science, not marketing. And the guy who really stood out for me, who blew me away, was a guy called Andrew Davis, who runs a podcast called The Loyalty Loop. And I thought this was certainly, the sort of eureka moment for me in terms of somebody who really understood how to connect marketing with behavioral science and make a difference. So I would recommend, if any of the audience is not following, he’s really, really good.

Shaheen Samavati 21:31
Yeah, really good recommendation, and also a great recommendation for an industry event. So that also answers that question. And actually, I’m from Cleveland and I’ve never actually been to that event. I’ve always wanted to, but I’m a huge follower of the Content Marketing Institute. And actually, that was kind of an inspiration for what we’re doing with The Content Mix and this podcast as well.

Simon Blake 21:51
You have to go, you’ll have to go, yeah.

Shaheen Samavati 21:53
Yeah. It would be really easy for me, actually, I need to do it. It’s just the timings haven’t worked out. And actually when I lived in Cleveland, it hadn’t started yet, because I moved to Europe 10 years ago.

Simon Blake 22:03
You know, there’s a really interesting story about why it’s, there’s a whole… Joe Pulizzi wrote a book. I think it’s called Making Town Business or Making Business Town, or maybe it was Andrew Davis. And it talks about—it’s Andrew Davis who wrote the book—and it’s all about the reason that Content Marketing Institute is in Cleveland. It’s an interesting read.

Shaheen Samavati 22:24
Yeah, I’ll definitely check that out, I’d love to learn the history. Well, so we’re about at the end of our interview, just if you have any closing thoughts or final advice?

Simon Blake 22:35
Yeah, I think, you know, one of the areas where I think a lot of marketers who are not focusing on content marketing, and focusing on, I would say, you know, old school marketing is, they market a lot to their internal organization, the executives in the company and themselves. They view things in a mirror, and they talk about themselves, their customers. Sorry, not the customers—they talk about everything but that, they talk about, you know, the products or services, their company and how great they are. And really, that’s not what the customers are looking to hear about; they want to hear about themselves. And now that we have social media, there are, you know, a thousand new ways that they can bombard people with the same message that they don’t want to hear. And I think there’s a real opportunity for people to, you know, look at what their competitors are doing and what they’re doing and seeing, is there any difference in what we are doing? And you will find a lot of the case you have this like corporate twinning, everyone’s talking the same thing instead of trying to differentiate themselves. So I think there’s a huge opportunity for people to set a new tone for their organization and differentiate themselves, and then use social media as a way of amplifying that instead of just talking about themselves the whole time.

Shaheen Samavati 23:54
Very good point. Well, thank you so much, Simon, for joining us on the podcast.

Simon Blake 24:01
My pleasure.

Shaheen Samavati 24:03
And thanks everyone else for listening in. For more perspectives on the content marketing industry in Europe, check out We’ll be releasing more interviews just like this one daily on our podcast, so keep listening and see you next time.

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