We recently had the opportunity to interview Barry Feldman, an industry leader when it comes to content marketing and social media. Apart from sharing his challenges and successes in the content marketing industry, Barry shared much of his valuable knowledge – which every online marketer can benefit from.

1. What is your professional background?

You’re talking to 25+ year veteran of marketing, communications, advertising, and copywriting. I initially studied Communications, and ended up landing my first job in public relations. At some point down the road, I took a portfolio creation course and decided that I wanted to pursue copywriting. That worked, and I was able to get jobs in advertising, and the next 10 years of my career was in the ad agency business. I bounced around from agency to agency, during which I survived through recessions and bouts with unemployment – otherwise known as freelancing.

In 1995, I realized that I had enough. I left the ad agency business, hung a shingle for the first time, and called it Feldman Creative. That’s the way it’s been ever since. The company focuses on online marketing, and I primarily work as a content marketing strategist. I probably differ from the majority of content marketing strategists in that I don’t only deliver strategy – I also roll up my sleeves and get involved in the actual content execution.

2. Why did you leave advertising to start Feldman Creative?

I didn’t decide to leave advertising – advertising was my true love. I decided to leave the advertising agency business. Up until I started Feldman Creative, I had always worked for someone else, and I’m not always the easiest guy to get along with. I often say, “You don’t have to agree with my opinion, but you do have to hear it.” When you work for someone else, it’s not in anybody’s interest for you to be as opinionated or as vocal as I am.

At my last job, I was the Creative Director, and like most ad agencies we had three or four accounts that mattered most. In some cases, they weren’t particularly satisfying and I couldn’t make the call to walk away from the business or say something that would get us fired. So, I just thought I’d be happier working for myself – which many people had advised me to consider in the past.

In 1995, after having spent close to three years at a prominent agency in Silicon Valley, I got to know most of the agency owners and creative directors in town, and felt more comfortable about launching my own business. I made the move and warned my wife to brace herself for an impending period of poverty – but luckily this didn’t happen! I immediately had a very full plate, with close to no marketing or self-promotional strategies, and the business took off.

3. Did you see envision a future for content marketing back in 1995?

No. I think anyone who answers “yes” to that question would be lying! The truth is, when you look at the history of content marketing, as various publishers such as The Content Marketing Institute often do, they remind you that content marketing is a very old practice which dates back to the early 1900s. Many people give John Deere credit for its first implementation with its magazine, The Furrow. They weren’t about products –they were simply about helping customers become better at what they do.

Content marketing just didn’t have a name in the 90s, and nobody could have said, “In the future, the customer is going to be in control. They’re going to be doing research on this thing called Google, or a search engine, and we need to respond accordingly.” That is indeed what happened – but only years later. The evolution of content marketing happened gradually, and I think a couple of realizations came to be. One, brands realized, “Uh Oh! We don’t really get a chance to control the path and the message to the degree that we used to.”

The term “content marketing” probably doesn’t even go back 10 years, and we have Joe Puluzzi of the Content Marketing Institute to thank for it. It would have been hard to see it coming back then, but on the other hand, it was never lost on people that customers like reading educational content.

4. Has content marketing become a standard practice for B2B/B2C?

It has definitely become a standard, and the outsiders now are probably less than 10%. There’s no denying that the vast majority of content marketers are stumbling into it and beginning to understand it one way or the other. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they’re often firing before they aim, which can result in an onslaught and constant noise. Most people are practicing content marketing but doing it recklessly – and perhaps for the wrong reasons. The people who do it consistently well are the ones who realize the results and the benefits of it.

5. In your opinion, what is the most powerful content marketing format?

If I have to provide a singular answer to your question, then blogs are the most powerful type of content marketing. But, what’s power? In terms of marketing, power is realizing our objectives, and so it has to be analyzed on a case-by-case basis. What comes to mind as an equally “powerful” content format is perhaps video. I’ve seen many companies that are not strong in writing, and don’t want to be. They’re not investing the resources in it, and don’t plan on outsourcing or hiring, so they may lean more heavily or exclusively on video content.

The content marketing strategy you choose has to match your company and its objectives, and it has to be something your company can do well. It’s not like you’re going to be the first one to do it; chances are you’ll be in a crowded field. Beyond doing it well, you have to do it consistently. Before you begin, have a little conversation with yourself and your team, and ask, “What can we do for the long haul so we can be the best, or among the best, in our niche?”

6. What are your best practices for creating an editorial calendar? How can you scale this based on team size?

I definitely don’t think that editorial calendars are a must-have, and I don’t mean to be saying that for the sake of being a contrarian. I think an editorial calendar, which generally means you’re buying a content marketing platform, is not a bad idea – and will be essential as your team grows. This is where the scaling part of the questions comes into play. The larger a company is, the higher the likelihood that its content comes from various sources, which can result in chaos. People won’t know what others are working on, and that’s exactly when an editorial calendar can be extremely practical. Basically, an editorial calendar is a necessity when there are more than 5 people involved in the content marketing strategy.

Generally, I don’t work with large content marketing teams. When I do, I’m usually just a player on the team. More often than not I’m taking a company that’s new and struggling with content marketing, and working with small groups. I implement a strategy called “editorial buckets,” which is based loosely on the idea of editorial calendars, but it’s a departure from them because it doesn’t generally tie a topic or a content type to a specific deadline.

When I get into it and I’m planning for companies, the team usually consists of the client, 1-2 bloggers and me. Initially, after having gone through the planning process and figuring out relevant subjects and media type, we create a long list of blog or content topics at large, and put them in categories I call “buckets”. Let’s say you’re in my profession, and talking about the power of online marketing. A bucket might be copywriting, strategy, the use of visuals, social search, what have you. We tend to create 4-5 buckets, and then write a fairly large list of ideas under each one, so we can plan ahead for the next year.

7. How often should a company be blogging?

In terms of numbers, my take would be to decide on a minimum number. If you don’t have that, perhaps you’re giving yourself a little too much flexibility. The minimum number of blog posts that should be published per week is one. Honestly, it doesn’t even have to be per week. I’m seeing people in content and online marketing say that it could be one per month. What you need to do is set a realistic expectation of yourself based on your resources. Beyond that, set a realistic expectation for your readers, so they have a reason to subscribe, stay tuned, come back, so forth. That might be a little difficult to do once a month, so if you’re just taking a wild stab, and you’re new to blogging – I think you should aim for one a week

When you don’t abide by a schedule, you risk publishing content in fits and spurts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a blog that was really heavy when it first started, and everyone was gung-ho. A few months down the line, it’s down to a trickle, and sometimes they stop publishing completely. That creates all of the wrong impressions – the company doesn’t have a marketing department, they’re not in business anymore, they don’t really care, or they think they’ve failed. This is a long-haul game, and so you’re going to make mistakes. Often times editorial calendars are over ambitious, and that you were indeed kidding yourself about the amount of content that you can produce. It’s important to be practical and realistic about a number; once you decide what it is, you either meet it or you over deliver.

8. Apart from being overtly promotional, what is the number one mistake made by bloggers?

They’re being boring and they’re blending in too much! I think you stole the best one. Blogging is definitely not about “depositing your press releases here.” That’s not a conversation, that’s not social media, and there’s nothing engaging about it. Therefore, you put your finger on the worst sin, which is to treat your blog as a place that’s only meant to sell. Once you get beyond that kind of thinking, you understand that you need to become a publisher. This entails telling stories, making lists and giving how-to advice.

Bloggers create link bait that’s extremely effective, so if I decided that I want to read about how to get more Twitter followers, I could probably find a hundred stories published about that today. Same goes for how to do Facebook advertising effectively, the death of SEO, or how to increase your conversation rates, etc. Those trends come, and they’re going to get hammered to death. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hit those topics, but make sure to bring a fresh perspective to them. You’re not going to succeed simply by having a great title or topic – you’re going to succeed by having great content. Great content traces back to the entertainment factor. All of these posts are attempts to be educational, but it’s the entertaining ones that are going to stand out.

9. How do you identify what topics will resonate most with your audience?

There are a number of ways to tackle this, and categorically speaking, we’re talking about “listening.” In the online context, “listening” means reading. The exceptions might be listening to a podcast, looking at an infographic or watching a video. These are all forms of listening, but basically what we’re talking about is researching what’s going on in the market before you get started. So, you listen and you ask questions, and then ultimately, try things out and you measure them. You’re always going to be experimenting, and however much research you do, the best you can do is to make educated guesses. Numbers are ultimately going to dictate whether those guesses were good or bad.

The next question is: How do you listen? This can be done using social media listening tools. Once you identify your general keywords, and beyond that, niche keywords, you can set up Google Alerts to receive content daily. Then you’re going to start reading.

A great way to do this is to follow the most influential people in your business, because they’re the ones who are the lighthouse that guides the ship. If you can identify 5-10 people who you are trustworthy and influential in your business, often described by having a large and or loyal following, you’re going to want to listen closely to what they’re doing, and look at how their audience responded to it. Did it get a lot of interaction, shares, follow-ups? Did it create more content on the subject? Those are indications that you’ve chosen the right topic. You shouldn’t shy away from a topic simply because it’s popular, like we talked about in the last question. You should bring your unique perspective to it.

In terms of using social media for listening, it differs from one network to another. Most of them now offer a search option, which you can use with varying degrees of success. Hashtags have grown to be fairly prominent across all of them, and so for instance on Twitter or Google+, if you know what you’re looking for and you precede it with a hashtag, you can see a lot of activity on that topic. You’re going to want to see what kind of success it had, as defined by conversations, engagement, sharing, and various other statistics that would indicate people are paying attention and taking action.

10. What role does content marketing play in the sales funnel?

It definitely plays a major role in the sales funnel, and one of things I love to say about content marketing is that it qualifies people from the get-go. You’re using content marketing and you’re using pull instead of push strategies, so you’re talking to people that are actually interested.

If you’re a classic company, and the marketing department is in charge of leads, than the leads are handed over to sales. Content marketing, compounded by tools that help you assess the users and their activity, is the great qualifier. The further people dig into your content, the more they’re going to qualify themselves and learn what they need to in order to understand that they’re working with the right company. When they slip away in the sales funnel, perhaps they’re not the right prospect to spend your time on converting, or perhaps you’ve made some mistakes.

The problem with the sales funnel is that the vertical slices within it aren’t always the same. In general, there are usually three of them: the top one’s awareness, the middle one is interest or consideration, and the bottom is usually action or closing a sale. For each slice in the funnel, you need to create marketing that speaks to that prospect in an intentional way.

However, marketers need to realize that their work doesn’t end at the bottom of the funnel. What comes out of the funnel are customers, and then the funnel inverts. John Jance, the author of Duct Tape Marketing, calls it the hourglass. This is a better metaphor in my mind, because people who buy and love your product are probably your best potential sales force going forward. So how do you invert that funnel so it gets bigger again? You need to concentrate on content, customer service, and things that make customers happy and willing to tell their friends about your product or service.

11. What are the top three ways to optimize a company blog?

As far the optimizing the actual blog content, it has to be relevant, original, and deep in the knowledge that it’s sharing. It should be fun, like we talked about before, and bold – and something that’s worth returning to.

Secondly, you have to promote your blog. You see a lot a blogs, and there’s quite a bit of noise and competition out there. The promotion strategy for your blog is equally as important as the creation of the content itself. You also have to refine it. I spoke briefly about how digital marketing is a never-ending experiment, and that’s the bad news – especially since it often fails. But the good news is that you fail fast, since you gather data in real-time, and you learn as you go.

Now, if the question is, how do I use my blog to generate sales for the company? You have to think about the best way to take advantage of this brief moment in time where I have that precious commodity that is called attention. It’s up to your blog to keep people there beyond the typical goldfish attention span. The best way is to make it obvious what you want them to do, by having a call to action.

If you’re thinking in terms of the funnel, and turning someone into an interested prospect, the call-to-action might be an email address. You’re going to want to optimize your blog by making offers that keep them on the site and engaged, and then nurturing your prospects afterward using e-mail marketing campaigns that keep prospects updated about company news, events, and promotions.

I think you can also try to conduct a survey at the end of your blog or encourage readers to engage in the comments section of your blog. If you can get them to write something, agree, disagree, ask a question or suggest another story that they saw, then you’re taking them to the next level and it will be a much more memorable experience for them.

12. At Feldman Creative, what has been your most successful marketing strategy?

The answer to that is guest blogging. I’ve experimented a lot and tried a number of things to put Feldman Creative on the map, and I’m happy to say they’ve worked. It’s a lot of hard to work; I write a lot, dabble in media, podcasting, video and so forth. The success has really come from creating content that makes people enthusiastic enough about marketing to hang in there for the long haul and come back for more.

So what does guest blogging mean, and how do you do it? Don’t guest blog right away. Take your own blog seriously enough to the point where you feel that you’re offering a portfolio of posts that show that you can write and understand a relevant topic, and make it entertaining, helpful and inspirational. Your blog becomes a portfolio, and then you find guest blogging opportunities.

There are a lot of them, and sometimes you can’t find them, and only they can find you – particularly when it comes to upper-echelon blogs such as Fast Company or Copy Blogger. Often, places you want to blog for are too good to be true, and there is no easy way to get there because there’s no application process. Initially, try to find places that don’t have that degree of friction or difficulty, and that are looking for guest bloggers or user-generated content. I’m not saying that you should use this strategy to deliberately promote your product or service, but if you’re a blogger and you’re talking about a popular topic, and you find a blog that talks about it, that’s a place where there’s a simple application process.

My blog is popular now, and I haven’t stopped doing that, but I probably could if I chose to. Now I have thousands of subscribers, so it worked. I borrowed that audience by using somebody else’s audience, and offered what should be considered very reciprocal, mutually beneficial things. I’m offering you this post and more, and it will be of great value for your readers, and for me. Then, the audience starts to come, and hopefully you’ll enjoy a snowball effect.