James Anderson

How Optum Transformed Their B2B Marketing to a Content-Led Strategy – #C2C15


It’s a big task to move an 80,000 employee organization on to a completely different mode of marketing thought. But that’s what Karen Thomas-Smith and her team at Optum has done, and they did it in the sometimes slow-to-adapt industry of healthcare.

Karen moved Optum — a B2B healthcare software and services organization — from traditional marketing to content-led marketing and thought leadership. Though she was met with resistance at first, she has since transformed Optum’s marketing for the better, as she presented at the B2B C2C conference this week.

Optum’s Journey To Content Marketing Success

Optum’s marketing efforts were once what Karen called “one and done” marketing, meaning trade shows, brochures and other traditional efforts. The focus was on the big sale. If a brochure were a first date, it closed with a call to action that asked for marriage.

Before making the switch to a content-led strategy, Karen’s team at Optum graded themselves on the following categories:

Marketing activities – events, collateral, marketing mix, client intimacy
Measurement – ad-hoc reports, defined process, automated systems, business outcomes.
Messaging – product, solution, persona, by audience type, personalized.
Knowledge – Product, line of business, market trends and competition, buying behaviors, market insights
References – case studies, reference materials, create reference clients, reference relationships, champions
Sales Engagement – periodic emails / webcast, centralized portal, proactive communication, honest, candid dialogue, shared goals and alignment

The Optum team compiled the analysis and agreed to re-assess on a yearly basis.Karen-Thomas-Smith-Optum Based on the analysis, Karen and her team were able to transform Optum’s marketing efforts to focus on the evolution of provider marketing. Karen’s mission was to transform relationships with clients and build trusted relationships with internal business partners. To do so, she needed to get a wide buy-in on her new content-led strategy.

Internal Buy-In

In order to convey to sales and marketing staff exactly what a content-led strategy encompassed, Karen’s team developed a dating analogy. Staff was asked to consider content-focused strategy in the following dating steps:

  • Cruising the bars
  • Buying you a drink
  • We’re dating
    (negotiation, we’re engaged)
  • We’re married

Using this analogy resonated with marketing staff, Karen said, and the department was able to have fun with the process.

Once Optum had a wider staff buy-in, they agreed at large that in order to be smarter, the new model needed to be the “true north” objective. The team developed two metrics that they looked at daily to maintain true north:

  1. Lead generation (how much pipeline to sales forecast?)
  2. Sales acceleration (prospect or client is meaningfully using marketing content activities to accelerate through pipeline. Get it to closure faster.)

Flipping Roles

In order to fully optimize staff, Karen flipped the team’s roles and job descriptions just as she had flipped the marketing focus. A Thought Leadership and Content Director was identified, as well as another new position called a Sales Liaison.

In this new role, the Sales Liaison is a marketing position that is entrenched within the sales team. This person becomes a one-stop shop for sales info. The Sales Liaison is essentially an extension of the sales team, someone who hears what is truly happening in the field and can report back on sales needs and help shape content that meets a sales person’s objectives.

Karen found that working with sales changed dynamics of the team to be smarter and work more closely together.

By realigning the talent, Karen was able to move a staff member who naturally wanted to be closer to sales into the Sales Liaison role. By taking the time to move the right person to the right role, by letting staff members raise their hand and describe what interested them most, Karen was able to see the employees blossom and grow in the positions.

Content First

The Optum team also challenged marketers across the organization to focus on a segment rather than a buyer. In doing so, the team developed buyer personas within differing buying environments.

Next, the team made the bold announcement that they weren’t launching a new marketing campaign. Instead, they were developing content first and foremost. By developing content first, the focus shifted to quality content that truly reached buyers where and when it was most important. Once that content was in place, then a campaign was to be built around it.

This was a bold move for Karen and team. They were labeled as “rogue” within the organization. They had taken what a successful, modern company was already doing and changed it up entirely — and proposed to do so without proven past performance that would indicate that it would work.

Pilot Campaign

That’s where a pilot campaign comes in. Karen recommended that if it’s your first time around using content-led marketing strategy, marketers should focus on one project first to refine their process.

A pilot project for Optum consisted of an analytics project for health care providers. Within the project the push to adopt digital processes had to be made before health care providers could focus on metrics. Much of the content related to the project contained messaging around “How do you get started?”

Marketing Results

In order to convince the rest of the marketing department at Optum that the flipped model was going to work, Karen had to show success.

And she did. Karen’s team demonstrated a return of 5,300 form submissions, $106 million in pipeline revenue, a 17% Click Through Rate, and an 89% email open rate from 500 pieces of unique content.

The team was no longer rogue. They had transformed the marketing department at Optum to a content focused organization and were now seen as innovators and trailblazers.

Be sure to look for continued @TopRank coverage of the conference with upcoming sessions from Celia Brown of SAP, and Laura Ramos of Forrester Research.


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