Inbound Now #16 - Content marketing best practices with Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi, of Junta42, joins the show to chat about all things content marketing and shares some best practices he has learned over the years.

During to show we chat about:

  • The biggest mistakes companies make with their content
  • Important Metrics to keep an eye on when measuring content marketing efforts
  • The difference between attraction content vs. retention content
  • and what’s on the horizon for content marketing


David: Welcome to the show Joe Pulizzi. Joe is a content marketing evangelist. He’s the co-author of “Get Content Get Customers.” He’s the founder of Junta42 and, and he has a great blog over there on Junta42 that’s usually listed on the AdAge 150 List, which is a great accomplishment. I’m glad to have you here on the show, Joe.

Joe: Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

David: No problem. I wanted to get you on to talk about all things content marketing, and why businesses should be thinking about their content strategy, and really how they can leverage content to grow and further their business goals. Sound good?

Joe: Yeah, absolutely. You just let me know. I can go right into my definition of content marketing, or we can go wherever you want to take it.

David: Yeah. All right, let’s start there. What is content marketing in your mind?

Joe: The easiest way to look at content marketing is the idea that marketers are now publishers. If I were going to put it as an elevator pitch, what I would say is, “Like it or not, you’re a publisher today.”

Then you’ve got to go into what does that mean? It’s the idea, simply put, that customers don’t have 3 seconds for a sales pitch today, but they’ll take 30 minutes for a good story. That’s really what we’re talking about today. We, as brands that sell products and services, have got to tell really compelling, relevant stories.

So the idea is how can we, as part of our marketing program, create valuable, compelling, and relevant content, multiple channels? We’re not just talking about Web here. We’re talking about in-person, print, mobile, and anything else that you can think of, iPad device. How can we create that type of content to attract and retain customers on a consistent basis?

We’re all doing it. According to the research that you’ve done and that we’ve done at the Content Marketing Institute, everybody’s doing this today, but they’re not doing it all that well in a lot of cases. You’ve got a lot of content. You’ve got a lot of clutter going on. So there’s a big opportunity for those companies that commit to it and say, “Yes, I want to be the trusted expert in my niche.” If they want to do that to grow their business, they’ve got to create some really amazing content, and that content, simply put, has to be as good as anything else in their niche. Or why are your customers going to pay attention to that?

David: Right. So speaking of some of those mistakes, what mistakes do you see companies making content marketing-wise?

Joe: Oh boy, how much time do you have? One is not consistent. You see campaign bursts. So you have a lot of companies that have this campaign mentality where they’ll do something for three months or six months. I’ve seen some brands out there that they will do a Facebook content program for three months, and then they’ll stop. Content is a promise to your customers. You have to be consistent about it. That’s what we’ve learned from media companies out there. They don’t stop their content, and they’re very consistent about it. So one is consistency.

Two is sales pitch. You have so many companies that want to sell in their content, and it frankly doesn’t work. Once your customers get a sniff that this is more salesy … they are very accepting. According to a lot of the research we see, there was actually just some research out last week from the Custom Content Council and they talked about the fact that consumers are okay with sales pitches as long as the information is relevant and valuable. So we’ve got to make sure that it’s relevant and valuable. They know that it’s coming from a brand, and they know that ultimately there’s a marketing goal behind it. But it’s got to be relevant and compelling.

I know a lot of brands out there that they will just say, “Oh, no. We’ve got to get our product mentioned in here or there.” It’s not going to work out for the most part because as soon as you do that, you’re probably not relevant and valuable anymore.

The other thing is they’re only focusing on one channel. You’ve got to think about where your customers are hanging out. Back in about 2001, 2002 – boy, I’ve been in this business too long – we saw this big migration from print custom magazines over to online. Not that that was wrong necessarily, but they just abandoned all that consistent content that they were doing and they said, “Oh, we’re going to do all this new stuff because online is cheaper, and you guys are all online.” Well, a year later, they were all coming back to print, because they said, “Our customers weren’t migrated on the Web yet.” They weren’t there. They weren’t hanging out there.

Today, you’ve got to think about where are your customers hanging out. What social networks on they on? What forums are they on? Are they still getting the postal service? Is there an opportunity in print? Is there a missing event in your industry that you could put together and be a part of and coordinate and create some great content around that and position yourself as an expert?

Those are just a few of them. But I think that overall it’s we’re very used to thinking like marketing people, which is what we want to sell. With content marketing, we first have to think about the needs and the pain points of our customers and create content that answers those questions. If we do that right, they then pay attention to us. They then buy from us. They then talk about us. It’s easy to talk about. It’s hard to do.

David: Right. So it’s really more about becoming that resource where you’re giving people the answers to their questions and maybe you’re even telling them how to do what your business does. But in the end, they’re probably going to be like, “Uh, you know what? It’s too much work. We’re going to hire you guys to do it.” The company providing the content, right? Is that kind of the idea there?

Joe: Frankly, when we talk to brands, I don’t care who does it. If they can do it internally, that’s fantastic. Most brands, 55 percent of brands outsource some part of the content marketing process. We know that’s going on right now, but it doesn’t matter if they do it themselves or they do it outside. Sometimes it’s easier to do a little bit of both. What we see in a lot of bigger brands is they have a content coordinator, or maybe it’s under social media, whoever that’s under. And then they work a lot of journalists or a lot of content agencies to get out that work.

Let’s say, for example, that a brand like a Proctor & Gamble wanted to do a custom magazine. Well, does Proctor & Gamble have a production designer, graphic designer, a project manager, an editorial director that understands how to produce a magazine and understands how to integrate that into the marketing process? Probably not. And there’s no need to hire those full time probably if you’re just doing a quarterly magazine. So you outsource that.

Now if you’re doing, let’s say, twice daily or a three-time daily blog, you might say, “Well, we might have enough work for that position that we could insource that into our company. Plus we want them to be part of the culture of the company, so we’re going to hire that position.”

I think it really doesn’t matter how you source it. I think it matters are you are committed to doing it? Does your C-level marketing team buy into it? And then, are you going to be consistent in doing it and integrate that with the rest of your marketing?

David: Right. So you’re talking about old-school mediums, too, like print, and how companies were creating a bunch of stuff. They switched to online. Then they switched back. When companies are transitioning from traditional to online stuff, do you see a lot of companies just basically putting their TV ad on YouTube and thinking that’s going to cut it? What advice would you give to companies basically repurposing that content or changing it up for the Web?

Joe: Repurposing, repackaging is a big question right now. Most companies that we talk to actually have a ton of content, but they just haven’t told the story with that content correctly. Like if you’ve got content going out all over, let me give you some examples. You have salespeople out there right now who are talking about problems with customers. If you’re in B2B it’s happening right now. You have customer service people dealing with support issues all the time. There’s great content going on right there. The answer to that problem on the customer support line is a piece of content!

But in both those cases, the processes probably are not set up to capture that content. So that’s what we need. How do we set up a process to capture that content? Is that person answering the question taking that down and putting it into an FAQ section onsite? Is that a possibility to have that be a blog post? Are you sending out your salespeople with Kodak Zi8s or Flip cams where they can do an interview at the end of their meeting? Which by the way, at all the companies I’ve talked to that do that, the customers love getting interviewed by the salespeople. They love it. They think, “Oh, I’m going to be on a blog. That’s great!” They give their permission. They sign it over, and it’s fantastic. What a great way to involve your customers in your story, which is also their story as well.

I think that we have the content. There’s no shortage of it. It’s just how do we set up a process within our company so we can extract that story and figure out what are the really important things that we need to tell our customers and which channels should we use? If it’s a long-form story, let’s say it’s a 3,000-word story. Well, that might be better for a digital magazine. It might be better for a print magazine. It might be better to scope that out as a white paper. That’s definitely not a blog post. I see some 3,000-word blog posts, and I just shake my head. I’m like, “Oh no, you’re using the medium wrong.”

So it’s things like that. You brought up the idea of commercials. I don’t have any problem with a company taking their commercials and putting it on YouTube, but don’t have any expectations that a lot of people are going to watch that. Use that as more of an archival resource.

I talked to a contractor the other day that had something like 40 or 50 commercials. I said, “Great, put those on, but don’t think that people are going to rush to YouTube and search for all kinds of stuff and find you. You might get a couple. It might help in some part of the sales process, but probably not. What’s more effective is if you are answering your customers’ pain points through a piece of video content that you probably didn’t have before.”

David: Right. Okay, cool. So once the light bulb goes off and companies realize that they need to get on this content marketing train, because it’s answering customer questions, it’s helping them be found more in search, etc., etc., there are so many benefits to it. After they do an internal audit of what content they might already have, where else should they start? Where would you suggest?

Joe: Well, I think the first thing you want to start with is who are the people in your company who are already used to telling these kinds of stories? Reach out to the people in your company who are already doing blogging, that are already active on social media. Those people are already used to being open and telling their story. Well, why don’t you get them on your team and get them to start blogging for and promoting your company? Because if they’re already doing it, the odds are that they’re probably more than willing to do it for you.

There’s actually a company in your area that I love to talk about, OpenView Venture Partners. They have 90 percent of their employees that are actively blogging. They started there. They made the blog the center of their entire content marketing strategy. Then they took that blog and then they added videos to it. They would bring thought leaders and customers in to talk about their problems, and they cut those videos up into one-minute segments. They started to create e-books and white papers. So they started with getting their employees involved in that, and then they scoped that around an overall strategy.

So, that’s all great, but what OpenView teaches everyone, every small, medium or large-sized business is that you’ve got to start with a strategy. Just like everything else. Content marketing, inbound marketing is no different than any other marketing strategy or philosophy. Do you have to start with what are my objectives? What behaviors do I want to see out of my customers? How am I going to measure success? You’ve got to at least start somewhere. You might change it along the way, but if you don’t start with where am I going to go with this thing, and what are our ultimate expectations, you’re going to fail.

You’ve got to start off with your strategy, and then you can think tactical. I see a lot of brands out there they start with, “Oh, let’s do a blog.” That’s great. That’s fantastic, but what’s it going to do for your business? You better have it written down somewhere because if you don’t, somebody’s going to get lost along the way.

David: Right, and setting those benchmarks. Talking about the benchmarks and the goals, what would be some metrics that you would say would be a good point to where do we need to move the needle too? What metrics would you say?

Joe: I always like to use ROO, return on objective. I’m pretty tired of return on investment. I think it is overused and it’s about a meaningless term at this point. Return on objective seems to resonate a little bit better with marketers, because they’re like, “Oh yeah, what’s my marketing objective, and then how am I going to measure that objective?”

So just be very linear with it. If I’m focusing on ROO, what’s the first thing I want to see? Probably sales. Everybody is like, “Okay, well, can you actually measure sales? Can you measure through the pipeline where somebody signs up for a lead and touches that content along the way, and then at the end of the day, you show some kind of purchase behavior?” Great, you can do that. You guys know. you can use HubSpot software. Not to pitch your stuff, but you could use that along with some kind of a marketing automation system where you can figure that out.

Great, okay. Well, let’s say that it’s not attraction marketing. Let’s say it’s some kind of nurturing or let’s say that it’s retention marketing. Well, can you figure out how many times they touched a certain piece of content? And then you can figure out what their behavior is after that.

If you look at the total big picture, you can look at things like rankings in search engines. Search engine rankings is a great thing to look at. Website traffic is fine. I don’t have a problem with it, but I’m still concerned about conversions. I want to see people that take behaviors. So website traffic can show you some indications that you’re doing things right, but at the end of the day, what’s your conversion rate?

Same thing for social media. I love people sharing our content I love the retweets. I love shares on Facebook. But at the end of the day, we look, just like you do, what’s the percentage of people that have converted from content coming in through those sites? I’m very cognizant of that from an attraction standpoint. I also know that we have a lot of current customers in the system and we want to keep our customers.

David: Right.

Joe: The content is important, but it’s a different kind of content. That’s where it gets a little more complicated, where you might need some help from the outside. Attraction content is different than retention content. So with attraction content, you’re doing all these things. You want to be found on search engines for the right keywords. You’re going to be sending out blog posts. You’ve got content that is being spread through Facebook and Twitter. That’s fantastic.

Well, on the retention side, you might look at things like a print loyalty magazine, which by the way, I’ve been doing print magazines for over a decade now, and for the most part, they work if you do them right, because it’s a loyalty vehicle. You would never, ever use a print magazine as a lead vehicle. That’s where some people get mixed up. That is a loyalty vehicle.

An event is another loyalty or upselling type of vehicle. So look at what your goals are, what your objectives are, and then obviously for the event you’re looking at, what’s the spend of those customers who went to your event versus the customers that didn’t? You can actively show return on those things.

The same thing goes for print. Do an AB study, and by the way, it’s doesn’t have to be just print. You can do a white paper as well. Let’s say it’s a digital white paper.

David: We’re a fan of the digital stuff over here.

Joe: For us, we do a print magazine, but we also have six or seven different digital versions of that magazine. We have podcasts that are integrated with that magazine. We have white papers integrated with that. That’s all online. So even though one of the channels is print, there’s no such thing as a print magazine today. You’ve got so much digital wrapped up in the integration of that. You’ve just got to make sure you know what your objectives are.

So I would just say focus on what your objective is, and first of all, you can focus on some kind of behavior. It doesn’t have to be a sales behavior. It would be nice if it is. But at the end of the day, what’s their behavior? Are they making actions, and then can you show that as some kind of an increase in some portion of your key performance indicators?

David: Right. I think you lay out an important point there in thinking about your content. Before the sale, bringing them into your site, and then post-sale, all that content that’s going to keep them a happy customer and keep them engaged with your company, re-upping subscriptions, upselling, or whatever it may be. There are a lot of things you can do there, and thinking about those in different ways is I think really important that you point out there.

Joe: Just one more thing. On the government side, Oracle does some really good work with white papers and webinars. When somebody goes in and if they get to three different combinations of the right webinars and white papers, they’re sent a whole different slew of content. That’s a lot of work to do that, but that’s really impressive. What they’ve said is, “Hey, this person is set up for this kind of content because they’re interested in A, B and C. So we’re going to send them X, Y, and Z.” That’s whole marketing automation, and you have to have the content to prepare for that. If you don’t have the strategy to start with, you can’t do the X, Y and Z content.

David: Right. So producing content is hard, right? It’s hard work to make great content. There’s no doubt about it. So ideas for content, where do you pull inspiration from? Where would you advise companies to start thinking about content and creating it?

Joe: You start with your customers. I always say, “What keeps your customers up at night?” If you don’t know the answer to that for your business, you might be in the wrong business. But let’s say you don’t. So how do you find out your customers’ pain points?

I’m a big fan of readership studies. You can call them whatever you want to. We see a lot of customer satisfaction surveys go out to our customers. Well, hold off on one of those for a second and send them a readership survey. Figure out what their pain points are. What are their biggest challenges? You’d be surprised at what your customers give you. And frankly, if you did that one thing, you’d probably have content ideas to last you a year.

But let’s just say that you don’t from that. They’re more than willing to give you ideas on that. Talk to your salespeople. Talk to the front line. Most of the salespeople that I talk to, the marketing department is not going to them and getting their input about what the challenges are to the customers. Customer support, talk to them. You’ve got to have a process, whether you use a tool like a Yammer or whether you just have an ongoing communication project management tool where you’re talking to them and getting this kind of feedback, fantastic.

Then just do your basic social media monitoring or online listening. Your customers are talking all over the place online. Whether you use a Radian6 or Scout Labs, Google Alerts, TweetDeck/HootSuite combination or whatever the case is, you can listen actively right now with what’s going on with your customers and probably have enough there for content ideas.

It’s not a shortage of content ideas. It’s a shortage of focus by the marketing department. It’s now important enough we need to focus on that, so you have all the content ideas. Then get your content coordinator, chief content officer, whatever you call them, and then take that and put that into an editorial calendar. Make sure that the editorial calendar goes out about three months. You can always change it, but you should have content ideas going out for three months. That means your white papers, your webinars, your blog posts, all those things are already set for three months so that you can coordinate with the rest of your marketing program.

David: Okay, cool. One of the questions I had for you here is that on your blog you always talk about having an editorial calendar, you’re a big fan of it. What tools do you use as your content calendar? Do you use a regular Google Calendar?

Joe: It’s funny. I have talked to probably six or seven companies, and we just haven’t done it. But I’ve said, “Hey, somebody out there should be creating an editorial calendar, because I think there’s a huge opportunity because there’s not a perfect system out there.” There are some good tools. Central Desktop has a really good tool you can use. You can use something like BaseCamp. We frankly use Google Docs and Excel, because we’re a small company and it’s easy to do that and there are no excuses that way. You don’t have to say, “Oh, we don’t have a fancy editorial calendar system.” You don’t need one. You frankly just need to make sure that who’s responsible for it at the end of the day, and who’s keeping track of it and sending out reminders.

Central Desktop is a really good tool because it’s a project collaboration tool. It’s like a Microsoft Project. It may be a little too complicated for some. But for bigger companies, it’s great because then everybody gets notified. You can also do the same with TeamWork, or BaseCamp has those same kind of tools as well. But if you don’t want to do any of that stuff and you’re cheap, just use an Excel spreadsheet.

David: Okay, cool. So your editorial calendar right now for your multiple blogs, how does it look? It’s kind of like a shared doc, where you list out ideas and someone says, “Oh, I’ll write about that.” That’s kind of how you do it?

Joe: Right now what we do for Content Marketing Institute is that our content director Michelle Lynn [SP] keeps our editorial calendar. She keeps it in Excel. We keep it active in Dropbox and we can go in any time when changes are made; everybody can go into it. We have about 70 different contributors who contribute into that blog, and Michelle is air traffic control. She’s the most important person we have working on who’s doing what, because as you know, somebody might drop out at the last minute, or we could get a submission that’s just terrible and we need more editing time with it. We’ve got to move things around; that’s why you have to be at least three months out. At least from an idea standpoint you have to be one month blocked in and know what’s going on, because at any minute you might have a hole where you’ll need to move things up and around.

The big thing is you have to have somebody who owns that. In our company Michelle owns that and can work with all those people. It’s not easy, but she makes it look easy and she does a fantastic job.

David: So you have over 70 contributors to your blog. Can you give the audience any advice on how to attract guest bloggers that may want to contribute to their sites?

Joe: Well, the first thing is that we’ve been doing this as long as you guys have, at least in our niche, but it didn’t start out that way. For the longest time I was blogging every day, just myself. And then when you get some traction, you get some followers. I had more and more people on my person blog who wanted to contribute just because we were doing some good stuff. All right, great, but that’s not what my blog is for, and that’s when we created the Content Marketing Institute.

I think that if you’re a small company, a small business, and you want to do that kind of thing, if you target a contributor, first of all I would not go right out and e-mail them and ask if they would write for your blog. I think you need to get active in their community; you need to comment on their blog posts. They need to see you as being more on the same page as they are, as a friend. Then when you’re active for at least a couple of weeks you can reach out to them, and they’re more than happy to talk with you in that way.

I’ve been doing that for a long, long time. As long as you get active in their community, bloggers will do a lot of things, and they’re happy to support you. But if you come in from the outside like a traditional PR person would, ‘Oh, we’d love you to guest blog on our blog,’ either you don’t get a reaction, or they say, ‘No, we don’t do that kind of stuff.’

But if you become almost like Internet buddies, Internet friends, part of the community, you can build up that list. So I would say probably the first 30 to 40 people that wanted to contribute to our blog worked by simply sending an e-mail and a ‘yes.’ It was so, so easy because we already had relationships with those people. So build a relationship first before you go out and try to get guest bloggers on your site.

David: Right; it’s the ‘give before you get’ mentality of the Internet, and I think you’re dead-on there.

Joe: Real quick - this is funny because I just read it in Rolling Stone. Gary Vaynerchuk was quoted in the latest issue of Rolling Stone. He said, ‘We’ve done what so many companies don’t want to do because it’s so hard. Because we build relationships, one person, at a time.’ And that’s what we’re talking about with inbound marketing, with content marketing - we’re building relationships one at a time, and it’s fantastic and it works, but it’s hard work and it takes time.

David: Right, totally. So with content marketing moving into the future, what do you see that’s on the horizon? What should marketers be paying attention to?

Joe: I’ll tell you what: if you’re not thinking of yourself like a media company you’re doing yourself a disservice. I wouldn’t call it a revolution, I’m calling it an evolution of the marketing department into a publishing department. We are seeing that right now.

I mentioned companies like Oracle before, if you look at their marketing department they have a whole team of writers and journalists that they’ve had for a long, long time. They were a little bit ahead of the curve because they’ve been producing magazines and newsletters for a long time. Same thing with John Deere; they’ve been producing a newsletter for over 100 years. Those types of companies have gotten it, and they got it awhile ago.

Most companies are still not there yet. You see content spurts and you see content as part of campaigns. What I think you’ll start to see is that the majority of money and resources out there do not lie in the hands of traditional media, it lies on the corporate grant side with companies like Microsoft, Cisco, Google, Proctor & Gamble. They have a lot more money than traditional media, and they’re starting to figure out that in order to get attention from our customers, we need to really be like media companies. I’m not saying be like journalists - that’s not what I’m saying; but be like media companies and provide really helpful resources to customers on a consistent basis in the video, text form, and iPad and everything else.

So they’re starting to get that, and over the next 10 years you’re going to see that more and more of the media that’s consumed by you and I are not coming from media companies, they’re coming from brands. We’re seeing that evolution now. Most companies that I talk to aren’t asking, ‘Why should I do it, Joe?’ They already know they should do it, they’re asking how. So we’re at that beginning point; I would say that if this was the Internet, we’re looking at 1998, 1999. We’re just at the beginning. If it was a 9-inning ballgame we’re just getting out of the dugout right now, so there’s still a lot of time, but there’s a long way to go here.

We’re going to see that transition, and because there are no barriers to entering technology we’re going to see it happen pretty fast here.

David: Right. I just had C.C. Chapman on the show, and he’s another content marketer. He was talking about what you’re saying, that it’s about companies becoming media producers. Basically, whatever your industry or niche is, making your site the Wikipedia for that, and the hub of information, where people are going to come back and back and back. Even if they’re not buying from you immediately, when they do need to make that decision, you’re top of mind. I think that’s one of the key components of content marketing.

Joe: It’s absolutely true. If you’re a small business listening to this right now, and you’re wondering how you right now from a content idea standpoint, I would say figure out the content niche where you can be the leading expert in the world. That means you’ve got to get really small. For example, I’m not just an expert on pets, I’m an expert on pet supplies in the regional area of Cleveland, Ohio that focuses on transportation needs. You know what?  You can be the leading expert in that because we’re so nichified with media today. You’ve got to think of yourself in content.

We made that decision with content marketing; we felt we could be the experts in that. HotSpot made the decision in inbound marketing. You could be the experts in that; it worked out pretty well for both of us! From the standpoint of small business, don’t go bigger, go smaller. You want big content ideas, but within a small niche so you can be the leading expert in that area.

David: Cool! That’s great advice. So Joe, where can people find you online?

Joe: At Content Marketing Institute you’ll find every piece of how-to information on how to help your content marketing program. There’s Content Marketing World 2011, which UpSpot [SP] is a sponsor of.

David: All right!

Joe: You’ve got it - September 6th, 7th and 8th in Cleveland, Ohio. It will be all about content marketing and we have tracks for B2B, B2C, and small business associations. Why Cleveland? We’ll have it at the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame; we just announced Silent Bob himself, Kevin Smith is going to be our entertainment speaker, so we’re pretty excited about that. Then if you want to check out my blog, you can go to junta42, J-U-N-T-A, .com and find us there.

David: All right, cool. Thanks for coming on the show, Joe. We’ll have to have you back sometime.

Joe: Thanks for having me.