I had the extreme pleasure of sitting down with the “Godfather of Content Marketing,” Joe Pulizzi, to talk about the future of Content Marketing. We talked about the changes coming, personas, the biggest mistakes, and much, much more. See what the best in the business had to say!
Joe says that for the most part, even though Content Marketing as an approach has been around for hundreds of years, it’s still a very new muscle to most organizations. Whether you are a small, medium, or large sized business- it doesn’t matter. This is new. The whole idea that we are not just communicating in someone else’s platform anymore, but are trying to communicate relevant information on our own platforms- company blogs, Youtube channels, company podcasts, and the like. We are trying to create our own valuable and relevant information to create our own audience. And what we are seeing is that more companies than ever before are creating content. Studies show that 75% of all marketers plan on creating even more content over the next year. This is great, but it’s also a concern, because more is not always better. Joe’s concern is that even though people are feeling the need to “Feed the beast” of all these social channels, they are not putting enough thought into the stories they are trying to tell.
LACK OF STRATEGY
Joe says we see a lot of activity; like random articles and posts here and there, but says we don’t see enough organizations saying “Yes, it is valuable to us as a business to build an audience that comes to know, like, and trust us, and if we can then do that, then it will profit the business in some way.” He says there are not a lot of organizations thinking this way, and feels it’s a real problem. Joe says that BY FAR the biggest issue we have right now is that it’s a small minority of businesses who are building a documented content marketing strategy. We must ask these questions:
- What are they trying to do?
- Who are they trying to target?
- Who is their audience persona?
- What is the story they are trying to tell?
- What does return/measurement look like?
What we are seeing is a shoot first and aim later situation. What Joe is trying to do is talk to more businesses and marketers, saying; “Hey, let’s just take a step back and before you do that next tweet or post, and let’s figure out what we are actually trying to do,” and “Let’s actually tell a story that is different.” Joe says the that future needs to be for companies to have a look at the content they are creating and see if this is a different story and/or are they adding something that is truly of a value to customers lives or jobs in some way. And if you are being honest, you will look at the content you are creating and say “No, we are not, it truly is not different, nor is it truly not valuable.” Until we get to that point, marketers and businesses are going to struggle.
HOW TO TELL YOUR STORY
I asked to clarify that the “story” we are telling is not the story of our company, but rather the story of whatever topic or problem we are trying to solve. And Joe confirmed that is exactly right and a great point. He said that from the dawn of time, we have had tons of content about our company, and our products or services. But what companies don’t have is really valuable information that may be around our products or services, but is not about our products or services. He said a good way to think about it is we may be talking about how we would solve the same kind of problems our products or services would solve, but we do it through our content. A good example is John Deere. In their magazine, they don’t talk about the tractors themselves, but rather write and talk about how farmers can get more out of their land, how they can leverage technology in the right way, how they can hire the right people- but never the tractors! They look to help farmers be more successful small business owners. What happens is that trust is built. People will eventually buy a tractor from the company who has been helping them all along.
EASIEST AND HARDEST THING TO UNDERSTAND
I added that Content Marketing is at the same time, the easiest and hardest thing to understand. It doesn’t work with a linear way of thinking, and a lot of people are doing it wrong. But once you get it, a light bulb will go off. Joe added that it may not be for everyone, and some might not want to do content marketing, and instead take a traditional approach, which is fine. You just have to recognize that the traditional methods we have used over the last 50 years are not as effective. You used to be able to control where your message went, and in what channel, and you could be fairly certain your audience would get that message- a la a trade show or advertising. But now, consumers have complete control. They have a 24/7 informational device with them at all time. They can ignore your content at will. So what you have to think about is when they are not forced to listen to us like they have been forced to listen to us like in the past 50 years, what do we do?
Well, maybe a good alternative would be to create something that is really helpful to them, and maybe they will continue to come back for more- just like a media company. Take INC Magazine for example, when it comes in the mail, Joe is excited about it because he wants to spend some time and engage in it. This is how we need to think as companies. How can we think like INC. and deliver ongoing content that people are not going to want to ignore? Instead, for the most part, companies are putting out information about products and services that most potential clients absolutely don’t want, except for a VERY SMALL portion of the buying cycle- maybe 1% of it. Yes, when they are ready to purchase, they need all of that information, and they will find it. But we are so heavily loaded on content, for this small part of the decision making process, when what we need to do is spread our efforts into what we need at the top of the funnel, and maybe even more important, what content we need to deliver after the sale is made. In other words, what do we need to do to keep our customers loyal? Joe says that if you are going to start anywhere, it will be to create content for your current customer base to see how we can make them become better customers.
DO YOUR ANALYSIS
Joe says to do the analysis!
- Content. See where your content is light. Where are customer problems coming in where you are not part of the conversation? Let’s say you believe the statistics that say anywhere between 60-80% of the B2B buyer’s journey is complete before they ever look at your info as a vendor.
- Know where to start. If they are not looking at your info at the top of the funnel, you may not be included in this decision at all. You must be part of this, but again, one of the better places to start is with current customers that already know you, so you don’t have to sell them on your products or services.
- Value. All you have to do is deliver ongoing value that is outside of the products/services you offer. Then you can get these people to help share you info.
Joe mentioned Marcus Sheridan as an example. When Sheridan started blogging for his own Riverpools and Spas company, he created the #1 educational swimming pool blog on the face of the earth. All he did was go to his current customer base, and ask what they were struggling with, what questions they had when looking for a pool, what kept them up at night with outdoor entertainment, and other questions. You can set up listening posts on social media, but if you already have sales people out there talking to current customers, that’s the very best place to start. I mentioned that we did a recent podcast with Marcus where he gave an awesome tip to BCC (blind copy on email) your marketing department whenever a salesperson answers a question for a client. This is a seamless way to make sure the marketing department is directly inline with what customers want to know. It will also create a plethora of blog topics to start writing about.
To circle back around to building an audience persona, I asked Joe if he had any tips on building these personas. Joe says it’s important to understand who your buyer is, and used B2B (Business to Business) as an example. If you think about the average B2B purchase, there is anywhere between 7-9 individuals involved. You have a buyer who actually signs the deal, but you also have recommenders, influencers, gatekeeper, and more. All these kinds of people are involved in the process, and any one of them can be targeted. But you have to make a decision on who you target, and that is the hardest part. So, when you create your content, you need to decide who it’s for. The key mistake people make is trying to target too many people at one time- you have to make a decision.
I asked how one would figure this out. Joe said this is what he would do:
- You need to go through the steps on who buys your product/service. And if you don’t know, you need to go back to someone who made the decision and ask them. Who ultimately signed this, who was involved, how did you make this decision, etc. And by the way- the sales team, if they are worth their salt, should know this too.
- After getting this information, you have to analyze where you might be getting stuck. Say its at the influencer level, then you create content designed for them to have them look at your products or services in a positive light. This will position you so that when a need arises, they’ll be more likely to engage with you.
- But bottom line- you need to create a content plan for that one persona you deem most important, and move forward. You can’t just create content for every single person involved, as it will be too thin. The best place to start, and make the most headway, is to focus on the low hanging fruit problems (Side note: Marcus Sheridan says to start writing about costs, not necessarily the costs themselves, but what might go into getting a bid, as this is the most common question being asked).
Joe mentioned that this sounds harder than it normally is, because most companies already know who their buyer personas are. But where they make the mistake is to create programs for 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 different personas at the same time, when they need to be concentrating on just one. You can’t be relevant to 5 people all at the same time, so you must focus on just one.
THINK LIKE A PUBLISHER
For instance, if you are in publishing about mechanical engineering, you need to develop content for mechanical engineers, and not plant mangers and CFOs. You just can’t do it! Content marketing is basically publishing (with lots of layers to it, of course), and if you look at the basic definition of content marketing: To create valuable, relevant and compelling content on a consistent basis, to a very targeted audience, in order to maintain or change behavior- it’s basically the same definition as publishing. The only difference is as a media company, you are looking to generate revenue through selling of content- like subscriptions or advertising. If you are a company that is not a media company, you are looking to monetize by selling products or services, so it’s really the same thing. The future is for companies to think, act, and operate like media companies. Joe does mention how important it is to not just drop everything else you are doing, but suggests taking some of your marketing budget, and allocating it to other things that make sense, such as a content approach.
BIGGEST MISTAKE COMPANIES ARE MAKING
Joe says by far the biggest problem is dabbling. You have companies doing a little stuff here and there. Companies might put out a blog once in a while, have a couple of Youtube videos, post a few Facebook posts, or have an e-newsletter go out every so often. They are doing a little of everything, but not on a consistent basis, and if Bob is in charge of the blog and he’s out, then it doesn’t go out. It’s become so cheap to distribute content that people are just doing it half-way. In the past, if you were putting out a custom published magazine, it would cost a ton of money, so you would put a lot of thought and resources into doing it right. Joe feels there is not a lot of thought going into putting something on a corporate blog, because it doesn’t cost anything, outside of time. This is killing some companies because they are looking at content marketing the completely wrong way.
What he would tell those companies that are just dabbling, is to make a decision and focus on one content type-
- print content
- video content
- audio content
Then look at the platform: Is it your blog or website? Is it Itunes? Is it Youtube? Then, consistently deliver scheduled content. Maybe you deliver a blog post every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, post a video each Friday, or send a magazine once a month- just be consistent. Set the expectations for your content, that is your content promise, and then deliver. Over time, you will build your audience. Joe says that this does take time, and if you look at past results, it takes somewhere between 9-12 months to build this as it does not happen overnight. It’s not a short-term fix, and like he always says, “It’s a marathon, not a sprint.” So for anyone listening, try focusing on a specific type of person, and start to build your subscriptions- email list, Youtube subscribers, magazine subscriptions, etc. And if you are just dabbling right now, and not seeing the results, it’s better to freeze what you are doing, develop a consistent plan and kick it off when you are ready to buy in 100%. Of course, if it’s working some, then continue, but some people are just doing this stuff because they feel like they need to do, but we are now realizing that we don’t! What you need to do is commit to something that is going to make an impact on your business, and do that well. The extra stuff that isn’t making an impact? Don’t do it.
FUTURE OF THE CONTENT MARKETING SPACE – TOO MUCH CONTENT?
I asked Joe if he sees an oversaturation in the content marketing space, and what pitfalls people should avoid. Joe said there are two things to consider- the consumer and the marketing side. On the consumer side, there is no oversaturation, as there has always been too much content since the dawn of the printing press. Because there has always been too much content for us to engage in, this a very marketing-centric concern. Because marketers think there is way too much content because they are putting it all out there and it’s driving them crazy.
Joe said to put consumers to the side, and have an inside look at the content marketing landscape. He said that pretty much every agency on the planet (SEO Agencies/Ad Agencies/Social Media companies, etc.) are going to say they offer some content marketing plan, so he does see some consolidation of some of these agencies and larger companies buying out smaller ones. Because, of course, not every company or their brother knows how to execute a content marketing strategy the right way. Joe says you are likely to see a lot of brands buying small media companies and bloggers, because they have the funds to do so, and the bloggers and smaller companies might not have a sustainable business plan. He also mentioned that there are way too many tech companies out there. The MarTech (Marketing & Technology) space is way too overcrowded with tools, and you can expect to see some of these going out of business or consolidating. You should be seeing less technology companies in 2017 than you did in 2016, because venture capital dollars are going to be tightening up. But Joe said all of this is really good for the industry, because it means this industry is maturing and we are going to start paying attention to only those things that make sense. So while he sees a lot of change coming, it will all be good.
DOING CONTENT MARKETING YOURSELF OR USING AN OUTSIDE AGENCY
I asked Joe how a company owner or CEO can make the decision of trying to take on content marketing themselves, or to look for an outside agency for help. Joe says that almost every single company uses a combination of both. They produce some content themselves, and also use some outside writers, or content producers. There is no rule that says it needs to be done internally or outsourced, as he has seen both models work well. But, what is key is that the strategy remains internal. Then, you decide what you don’t have and what you need help with- content creation, project management, graphic design needs, website development, marketing automation, etc. Joe said you might look at your plan and decide you need audience development: We need this content produced on a weekly basis, we need someone to create it, edit it, proofread it, design it, and then distribute or amplify it correctly. You need to ask if you have someone on staff who has the know-how and the bandwidth to do all of this on a consistent basis. If so, then great, and if not, then great- just look to outsource it. There is no one way to do it, but you must develop your strategy internally-because there is no way an outside agency will know how to do this better than you.