lessons from a celebrity blogger

In the world of Sales and Marketing, Craig Rosenberg is a celebrity blogger. If the name doesn’t ring a bell, you’re more apt to recognize his personal brand, The Funnelholic. Recently, Craig gave a presentation on blogging best practices at the San Mateo B2B Bloggers Meetup. Here’s a photo from his presentation, which took place at DNN’s San Mateo office:

funnelholic presents at a blogger meetup

In this post, we’ll detail the rise to fame of The Funnelholic and what you can learn from his journey. By reading further, you’ll pick up insights to apply to your own blog or brand, be it personal or business-focused.

The Funnelholic Journey

Here’s how Craig kicked off is presentation to our Meetup group:

funnelholic started his blog in 2008

Craig started The Funnelholic blog in 2008 and found some early success. But sometimes you need a spark to take things to the next level. That spark came along in 2010.

Spark: The Battle For Marketing Automation Supremacy

Today, Marketo and Eloqua are leaders in marketing automation. Marketo had its IPO in 2013, while Eloqua is now part of the Oracle Marketing Cloud. Back in 2010, the marketing automation space was coming into its own, and that’s when the battles gained steam.

Who doesn’t like a good fight? A fight involves conflict and high stakes. It provides for captivating drama. As Marketo and Eloqua duked it out, The Funnelholic was there to document the battle. Craig had no ties to marketing automation, but marketers were his target audience. So good match there.

The traditional business press was not likely to cover this story. They certainly wouldn’t draw an analogy to gangster rap. But that’s exactly what The Funnelholic did. And his readers loved it. The post that sparked The Funnelholic brand is titled “Thug Life: Welcome to the World of Marketing Automation,” in which Craig draws comparisons between the marketing automation fight and the battle between East Coast and West Coast rappers.

In the post, Craig addressed why he wrote it:

“God, I love this game. Again, I am not a reporter, so the object here is not to inform you of this public battle, but rather to offer some thoughts.”

The post garnered lots of views and shares. In addition, it generated comments from industry influencers, who’d soon become part of The Funnelholic’s network of contributors and commentators.

Spark: Timing Can Be Everything

Greenfield is defined as “an undeveloped or agricultural tract of land that is a potential site for industrial or urban development.” In 2010, online marketing was in full swing. But online marketing using marketing automation was new. And content about the marketing automation space was greenfield.

Think of The Funnelholic as an urban developer.

Combined with a memorable brand (i.e. once you hear the name “Funnelholic,” it’s hard to forget), Craig’s blog grew to become the leading voice on marketing automation. The funny thing is, it was not by design. As Craig notes in his “Thug Life” post:

“A number of people have asked me to comment, but I have avoided talking about it. Alas, I have been smoked out of my foxhole.”

The early rise of The Funnelholic can be summed up with this formula:

Blogging Success = Memorable Brand + Interesting Content + Exclusive Voice in an Emerging Space

As the industry gathered to read The Funnelholic’s posts, marketing automation vendors invited Craig to speak at their events. Fast forward to 2013 and Marketo featured Craig in this poster at their annual conference:

craig rosenberg at marketo summit

Note: Image via Demandbase.

What You Can Learn From The Funnelholic’s Journey

The rise of The Funnelholic provides valuable lessons you can apply to your blog and business. Here’s what I learned from Craig.

1) Parlay Your Personal Brand Into A Business

Craig’s personal brand, along with all the great content he published, helped him launch TOPO with Scott Albro. TOPO is “a research and advisory firm that helps companies grow faster.” The TOPO blog is much different than The Funnelholic, but each blog serves a purpose. I’ll let Craig explain it:

funnelholic vs. topo blog

blogging tipIf you’re as passionate about something, you can build a personal brand. As your personal brand grows, that brand can help you launch a business.

2) Use Content To Facilitate Conversations

The blog posts on The Funnelholic are informative, fun and entertaining. But looking beyond the content, the posts provided a spark for an industry-wide conversation, in the form of blog comments.

In “Who’s Going to Run This Town? The Continuing War For Marketing Automation Dominance,” Craig wrote about the marketing automation battle. A conversation ensued in the blog comments, including numerous executives from the marketing automation vendors. The commenters included Jon Miller, Co-Founder of Marketo.

Having the leading blog post on a topic is great. But having a post that drives industry-wide conversations is even better. Content should drive more than consumption; it should drive conversation. And guess what? When you have so much conversation happening, people come back to your blog time and again.

Those who commented return to read the replies. Those on the periphery come back to watch the conversation unfold. While blogs are starting to disable comments, The Funnelholic demonstrates the need to keep them alive: comments enable the community (i.e. in this case, the Sales and Marketing community) to converse in a way that’s meaningful.

Long live blog comments!

Facilitate dialog and conversation around your blog posts. The ensuing conversation enriches the post.

3) Long Form Ungated = Winning Combination

If a gangster rap post launched The Funnelholic, then a sales development playbook launched TOPO. The post titled “The Sales Development Team: A Proven Framework for Success” is worthy of an eBook. It’s 4,000+ words long and contains the secrets to building a sales development team.

Instead of creating an eBook and placing it behind a registration page, Craig and Scott said, “let’s give away our secrets.” Did ungating this content impact their business? Quite the opposite. Ungated content has far wider reach than gated content. And when people read this post, they contacted TOPO to say “I want to do that. Please help.”

In addition, Craig notes, “we have seen it literally printed out by prospects on live sales calls.”

Consider whether your strongest content pieces can create a larger impact as a blog post or web page. TOPO’s ungated content is so good that buyers seek them out.

4) Connect Online With Offline To Make Yourself Famous

Craig built a large and loyal online following, but complements it with offline, face-to-face interactions. The quality and depth of offline, one-to-one interactions are more meaningful than those that occur solely online.

Tips from Craig’s presentation:

  1. Speak at events
  2. Show up to events
  3. Network
  4. Introduce yourself to smart people

Craig recalled a time when he published a widely read blog post. A well-known marketing expert found Craig’s phone number and gave him a ring. “Craig. I read your blog post and completely agree with what you wrote. Just wanted to call you to let you know.”

The call meant a lot to Craig, so he now makes similar calls himself. If he reads an interesting post, he’ll look up the author’s contact info. He’ll call the author and introduce himself. This tactic helps Craig expand his network, while learning new things from smart people.

blogging tip

Complement your online brand and following by connecting face-to-face with people at events and meetups.

5) Specificity Wins

According to Craig, “Nothing is more boring than the blog pontification. Nothing is more sticky than providing real specificity.” On the TOPO blog, an editorial lens is applied to each post. The lens says that each post needs to be specific enough that the reader knows what to do next (i.e. the Sales Development Framework is the shining example of this).

In addition, Craig notes, “when we do make a point, it has to be backed up by data or use cases.” Clearly, TOPO knows their readers well. B2B sales and marketing pros are online to solve a challenge or problem. That’s why solutions-oriented content suits them well.

blogging tip

Think about the problems and challenges faced by your readers. Spend a lot of time creating content that helps solve those problems.

6) Adapt Content And Persona To The Needs Of The Market

Early on, Craig established The Funnelholic as a leading site about Marketing. Then Craig and Scott founded TOPO. Customers, along with a portion of his blog’s readership, started to ask for help with Sales. So Craig directed some of his attention to solving problems for sales leaders.

It worked: today, the majority of TOPO’s business is with sales buyers, while The Funnelholic’s content has shifted to 50% marketing and 50% sales. On the TOPO blog, two recent posts include Sales Development Onboarding Framework and Time Management for Sales Development Reps.

Craig used to make “top lists” of marketers, like this list from Leadtail:

top 50 most retweeted b2b marketers via Leadtail

The Funnelholic is the 9th most retweeted person by B2B Marketers, according to a Leadtail study.

These days, he’s finding himself making as many Sales-related lists as he does Marketing.

blogging tip

Stay close to the wants and needs of your readership and customers. Adapt as needed.


7) What’s Old Is New: Use Email To Build Relationships

sell your content first

Email still works if used correctly. A smart way to use email is to generate opt-ins, backed by strong content. Here are steps provided by Craig:

  1. First step in your relationship with a prospect is to build trust.
  2. Build that trust with your content.
  3. Start with a form to consume more content on a regular basis.
  4. Ask only for their email.
  5. Next step is to get them to consume gated content

On The Funnelholic, Craig’s single call-to-action is to sign up for his newsletter. If you’re not satisfied with his newsletter, you opt out, and Craig’s fine with that, since his newsletter content may be suit everyone.

In a DNN webinar from earlier this year, Chris Brogan mentioned the same concept. He called it the “content upgrade,” which involves an email opt-in, followed by an email-focused relationship. All it takes is one click to end that relationship, so content must meet the needs of your subscribers.

blogging tip

Subscriptions are gold. Think of ways you can leverage your content to generate email subscribers and retain them.

Bringing It Home

I’m fascinated by The Funnelholic’s journey and I’ve learned a lot from Craig. To recap the tips I shared in this post:

  1. Build a personal brand, then put it to use.
  2. Use content to drive readership and conversation.
  3. Think about ungating some of your longform content.
  4. Go out and meet people face-to-face.
  5. Make your content prescriptive and specific.
  6. Adapt your content to your customers’ needs.
  7. Use email (with content!) to build relationships.

This post was originally published on the DNN blog.

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