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How NetApp uses branded content to engage C-level execs

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NetApp wanted to build a conversation not just with customers and potential buyers of its computer storage and data management solutions but also with C-level executives and influencers. That audience isn't necessarily interested in technical white papers, however, so the company set out to publish thought leadership content that appealed to a broader audience. But NetApp's marketing team had a problem. “Netapp.com is not a place where they go,” said Annalisa Camarillo, senior manager of NetApp's executive engagement programs. “Executives don't spend time on vendor sites. They go to sites that provide business insight and create opportunities for dialogue.” So in May 2012, NetApp partnered with Forbes.com, launching a branded content page on the media company's BrandVoice native advertising platform. The platform gives marketers access to the same publishing tools that Forbes.com journalists and contributors use to produce and promote content. NetApp did not enter into the agreement lightly, Camarillo said. She spent more than a year considering the program and developing a content strategy. She tapped seven writers to regularly contribute to the site, enlisted a managing editor and determined an editorial strategy. “We needed to know what conversations we wanted to start,” she said. The platform allows the company to step away from the polish of marketing materials and emphasize authenticity through brand ambassadors, she said. CIO Cynthia Stoddard wrote about her lifelong relationship with math in one article and offered brand-building tips in another. Founder Dave Hitz wrote about the business strategies that helped propel NetApp into the Fortune 500. It's a peer-to-peer conversation, Camarillo said, among leaders who are navigating the current business climate. “We don't lead with a selling approach,” she said. “We're inviting people to get in the car with us.” In its first 11 months of operation, the NetAppVoice page drew more than 644,000 unique visitors and generated more than 932,000 page views, according to Forbes.com analytics, and the numbers continue to grow. Readers have used social media buttons built into the platform to share the content more than 37,000 times. General-interest pieces perform the best, followed by articles related to news stories, Camarillo said. NetApp engages with followers and people who share content via social media channels, “liking” posts and responding to comments. Camarillo also keeps an eye on Forbes editorial and event calendars. “We look for opportunities to leverage the Forbes brand and align our editorial with their editorial as much as possible,” she said. Fourteen companies currently have BrandVoice channels on Forbes.com, said Mark Howard, VP-digital advertising strategy for the company. About a dozen other organizations are moving toward launch. “The influx of social media has conditioned marketers to understand what it means to become an active participant and build out these channels,” he said.
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