There’s more competition for your prospect’s attention than ever before. That means the bar is higher for each piece of content you create.
Winning content means being intentional and deliberate with your strategy. In this episode, we talk about everything from strategy to selection, and how our own thinking of content strategy has evolved over time.
- What to expect when learning a new discipline
- The importance of strategy in content marketing
- How content marketing plays into the business strategy
- Focus on market share (Not revenue)
- What does content strategy look like?
- Is content your only option?
- Content consumption is changing
- Strategy is a trade-off
- Common mistakes in strategy
- Building trust with your target audience
- What mating theory teaches us about marketing
- What is a good content strategy?
- Connect with Alex on Twitter or LinkedIn
- Connect with Allie on Twitter or LinkedIn
- Connect with David on Twitter or LinkedIn
What is Kitchen Side?
One big benefit of running an agency or working at one is you get to see the “kitchen side” of many different businesses; their revenue, their operations, their automations, and their culture.
You understand how things look from the inside and how that differs from the outside.
You understand how the sausage is made.
As an agency ourselves, we’re working both on growing our clients’ businesses as well as our own. This podcast is one project, but we also blog, make videos, do sales, and have quite a robust portfolio of automations and hacks to run our business.
We want to take you behind the curtain, to the kitchen side of our business, to witness our brainstorms, discussions, and internal dialogues behind the public works that we ship.
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05:51 – What to expect when learning a new discipline
Most disciplines follow a maturity curve, where experimentation is replaced by strategy as people learn more about what works for them.
“Maybe I knew about content marketing before, but I didn’t call it content marketing cuz I had read authors Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferris and their blogs, and that was content marketing. But the first time I heard it wrapped in terminology was reading Joe Pei’s book. It wasn’t Content Inc. It was the one before that. But he was the founder of Content Marketing Institute and the book was eye-opening, but it listed a bunch of different content formats and ideas. It’s ‘oh, you could create an industry newspaper. You could create a magazine, you could do a blog post, you could do infographics’. All of these creative ways to market your company through organic written word essentially. And that. That was largely the idea that I had in my mind of content when I first got into it. It was brainstormed a bunch of topics that you care about and maybe your audience cares about. Write them, make them to the best of your ability. And that follows the trajectory of most disciplines and their maturity curve. Because if back to experimentation and cro, most of the books at the start when people started learning about that term conversion rate optimization, they were ‘Hey, you can run AV tests, you can test button colors, you can test landing pages, you can test copy.’ And it was this evangelist way to say ‘Hey, here’s a thing you can do.’ And then over time that starts to get honed in and it’s maybe you shouldn’t test everything. Maybe you shouldn’t create infographics. Maybe that’s not right for your business. And that’s when you start to hone in on a more mature version of strategy. That was my introduction anyway.”
08:33 – The importance of strategy in content marketing
David reflects on their experience with content marketing and how they’ve come to realize that strategy is the most important part.
“Content marketing 101 guide and it was the same thing as what you read where it was here are all the different type of content types you can create. These are infographics and these are social media things. And I remember going into one of my first part-time jobs being You should go do social media, you should do eBooks, you should do blog post and all this and then over time I realized, oh, it’s more of figuring out what you wanna write about and then you can figure out what mediums it should be. But lately what we’ve been talking about is , it’s saying no to a lot of all those things you could do and figure out, strategy this nebulous term but now we’re starting to pull it all the way back before we even talk about topics or formats or anything like that. Wait, what the hell are we gonna do? What? What is the strategy? And we’re starting to peel back that. Onion, with clients now.”
10:17 – How content marketing plays into the business strategy
Content marketing strategy should be focused on business goals rather than individual pieces.
“ I would say there’s even a window a little farther back, which is how does this play into the marketing strategy and the general business goals and trajectory and the pace that you wanna grow those. Because I was maybe on the tactical level, but if I look back at my experience at Lawn Starter, we had a strategy that mapped up towards the company and growth goals. And what we were doing with content was , it was a fairly sophisticated approach in that we knew that people weren’t going to necessarily read articles about lawn care or landscaping and sign up for an Uber for lawn care app but we knew that there was bottom funnel search keywords for these terms, and they were. Mainly playing in the realm of local seo. This is people would search Austin Lawn Care or Washington DC Landscaping, but it takes a lot of links and a lot of SEO juice to build up, the authority to rank for those pages. What we would do was create link bait content, infographics and things that would surely never convert. And we would drive tons of links. We would do scholarships and we would do ego bait for different, local newspapers and stuff that. And all of those would funnel back into those landing pages. And that was the growth goal is how can we, increase the organic rankings and traffic through those because that’s how we’re going to get users. And that was the end goal of the company, right? That in that way, we, we map back even more. And we don’t say how do we wanna write this piece? How are we’re gonna reach them? But what how is content even fitting into this puzzle of marketing in the first place? ”
13:13 – Focus on market share (Not revenue)
Market share is increased by getting more people thinking about the company earlier on in the process.
“What I found, talking to prospects and even our current clients is it almost always boils down to either we wanna drive revenue, we wanna get market share. It’s those two. And then market share is where it’s we want to get essentially more people thinking about us earlier on in process where they’re not necessarily focused on direct revenue, but they’re We need to at least let people know we exist. And then the people who want revenue are We want leads from this content. And I find out on call, on sales calls, people always say, We wanna do organic and seo. And I keep asking them why or why it’s important. And it always comes back to we don’t want traffic, we want leads. And then that helps define the rest of the conversation where it’s let’s talk about who your ICPs are, who’s your buying persona? Who’s involved, What’s your brand point of view? And then we start talking about things. Far beyond what keywords do you wanna ring for?”
15:27 – What does content strategy look like?
A good strategy has many factors that contribute to it such as the location one is starting from and what resources are available.
“ Even saying a goal of generating leads is not a strategy that’s the outcome of what you wanna do. How would y’all define, or what are some examples of what a good strategy. Can I give a high level metaphor for a strategy first? Of it and this may be an approximation, but I of it if you were gonna take a trip to let’s say where do we want where do we wanna travel to? That’s your goal. Maybe you wanna go to San Francisco for a conference that, and you’re, where you start from matters a lot. If you’re starting from Oakland, your strategy’s gonna be completely different than if you’re starting from New York City. And then that’s the strategy is how you get there and that depends on your weaknesses, your strengths, your assets, what you have available. If you have a car, that’s an option for you. But if you don’t have a car, could you rent a car? Oh, you don’t have the money for that are you gonna hitchhike? Are, can you take a plane? Do you need to get there faster? Because you’ve got a conference at a certain time that you need to be there. All of those things inform, the route that you take there. And then the individual tactics are All right, we’re taking a road trip. We’re gonna stop this many times in the way, and we’re gonna take the seating route because I wanna see Sedona it maps back down to that. But if you don’t know where you’re going, and if you don’t know where you’re starting and the assets that you have available for you, then it’s almost impossible to say which route is the best way to get there? And the modes of transportation would be the tactics, the modes of transportation is more of a strat it’s more of a strategy. It’s if you’re going to take a road trip versus a plane versus a train that, because that has to do with how much money do you have? How many suitcases are you bringing, what size of a party you travel with, All of that stuff. I, And then the individual decisions along that journey, are largely the tactics. I see. It’s how you complete that journey. How do you complete that road trip? like How much gas do you get there? It’s also answering why Why you wanna take a plane versus why you wanna take a road trip. There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s especially if you’re in mar marketing leadership or communicating to marketing leadership, why you believe your strategy is the best case. The question’s gonna be why do you think we should do it this way versus those other ways? You need to be able to say we’re on a budget we can’t necessarily fly all these people, but we can have five people in a car and it’ll be more cost efficient where we don’t have a ton of urgency, we can do that and it’ll be more fun for the team. Being able to explain to why and reason things out is a huge part of strategy that I people tend to miss. Cause you’ll ask her what their goals are or why they believe this is the best way to do things. And they’ll be isn’t isn’t it the only way to do it? Or isn’t it, why isn’t it obvious that it’s the clearest reason? And it’s not everyone thinks differently. And a big part of strategy is communicating to why with the additional context. The important part of doing that too, it’s an exercise that will force you to say, we don’t have the resources to do this. We have a Tesla and the only way we can get to San Francisco is on a road trip. This is not feasible or it’s not gonna be fun. Or you’re the only route here is a train and we don’t wanna take the train. We’re not willing to invest in that long the timeframe. We’re not gonna do that and we’re gonna scrap that trip and think about something else. And that’s totally fine too. But a lot of people think, All right, I have to go here. I have to do content, I have to do this specific playbook. But they don’t think about the inherent weaknesses or limitations or forcing functions that they’re gonna have to go through to meet that goal essentially.”
18:41 – Is content your only option?
Content is a great medium, but we should also be open to other options.
“I wanna go with that example of a prospect that was we’re a live chat. We wanna compete with HubSpot, Drift, Intercom, Zenes, whatever else. Company has a live chat feature. And they’re saying, we wanna win on organic and yet to take a look at the why. And it’s why do you believe that? I don’t, If I were them, I don’t think there’s any reason to believe they could win on organic comp, against any of those. And you need to go back what’s the goal? And then if they say their, our goal is to get some customers then you can start thinking about what are the different paths to getting customers for you? If it’s content as a medium or a channel, then let’s think about that, but also be open to other mediums if they were talking to us they’re probably sold on content and they know it works. They don’t know how exactly to do it. And then we can start talking about, what, where are you different when it comes to content? What’s different about your product or company compared to all the incumbents? What’s your messaging and positioning? That’s gonna define all that business strategy is what defines content strategy. Cuz then now we can say, Oh, you have a different opinion on how live chat should be done compared to these incumbents who’ve been doing it for 10 years. Great. Let’s talk about that. But that’s not an an organic traffic play, that’s a, positioning and naming your enemy and thought leadership play, which is not gonna get them organic traffic. That’s a concrete example of questioning some of your assumptions and asking why. And then go when you can’t answer a why with a good response, you step back and you’re waiting, what are the other options here? That we should be considering.”
23:19 – Content consumption is changing
An organic play should be woven into the larger strategic conversation about content strategy.
“ Content consumption is different now than it was five years ago and it’s changing. And I’m talking written content consumption videos, that’s a whole other ballgame. And I don’t think a lot of people keep that in mind. The whole point of creating content, publishing it, Yes, when it comes to business goals, but also from the reader and the consumer perspective or the business consumer perspective. And that not only dictates how you generate topics, but also how you distribute, which is why how we gonna get people’s attention, is a question an organic play. David, I the word that you use the word, the way that you use the word play, cuz it’s not an organic strategy necessarily, that is woven into the strategy. But I don’t think that strategy needs to be as. Emphasized on the, distribution is a tactic, SEO is a distribution tactic. It’s not necessarily the strategy doesn’t only need to revolve around that. It’s one part of the larger strategic conversation, which is going back to my initial introduction to content strategy, which was a list of keywords all rooted in, or driving organic traffic. And that is not a strategy. I using the word plagues. It releases the emphasis on that being the end all, be all of how you de decide what you’re writing about and then how you measure success. That’s one component of it. The keywords and the SEO approach is fine, but it’s, more than that.”
26:28 – Strategy is a trade-off
Making a decision to go down a certain path, knowing that you won’t be able to address all the other things you want to do is part of strategy.
“If you are not making a trade off and you’re probably not doing strategy because strategy. The decision to go down a certain path, knowing that you won’t be able to address all the other things you want to do. For us, we’re sure we can grow traffic. Sure, we can write about all these things targeting more junior content markers and grow traffic. But we’re that’s not what we need right now. We need to, that’s our trade off in order to focus on more nuanced content that targets marketing leadership that doesn’t generate target any key words.And I that trade off is huge. I see it’s coming up with a lot of prospects now. I’m workshopping this phrase, but it’s the traffic trap. Where they come to us after working with another agency who said they would do constant strategy. They wrote about high search volume keywords. They have a lot of traffic, but none of it’s converting. And now their executive team is Hey, traffic is down because they lost rankings on those keywords. We come in and we’re Is that content converting any anyone? And they’re No, but leadership wants us to maintain this while also generating leads. And then they’re Oh, clearly it’s a conversion rate optimization problem. And it’s No, the, this is 1 0 1 content that has a lot of search volume, but these are entry level people, probably college students, that will never have their this pain point to buy your product. They’re never gonna become a lead.”
28:17 – Common mistakes in strategy
A common mistake is not acknowledging fundamental weaknesses or copying competitor’s playbooks. Another one is measuring what is easy to measure instead of what actually matters.
“ I wanted to bring that up because I mentioned one of the biggest mistakes with strategy being not acknowledging fundamental weaknesses or copying competitor’s playbooks. But the other one is this measurement. Trap, is the best way to put it. Because what’s easy to measure often gets measured. Traffic is often the foremost thing that SEO teams and content teams are gonna be gold by. And I’ve seen that before where a piece that was previously ranking number one drops to number six due to some sort of competition or algorithm changes or whatever. And then all of a sudden all of your numbers are down, but you’re still printing as much money as many leads, et cetera, because that piece of content was a false flag of sorts, red herring. Pric victories are common in the space, especially with executives who don’t understand SEO and content. And example from a past company that I worked at was we had held this snippet a number one spot for essentially a top of funnel term, but it was a category term. I don’t wanna be too specific here, but C-suite level at a large company was We need to take this back from our biggest competitor. It was number one and number two. It was fluctuating Google rankings And it’s you can do a bunch of link building. You can beef up that content, you can pull all of your resources over to this and eventually win that out. But at what cost? it’s you can succeed, but that’s the pure victory thing. It comes at great cost because it’s this opportunity cost where you could have written a hundred new blog posts that were low traffic and your competitors warning them, looking at in the time that you spent sculpting this one thing that didn’t matter that much, but was more visible.”
34:00 – Building trust with your target audience
It is important to build trust when targeting those higher up in organizations.
“When it comes to targeting folks that are higher up in organizations, there’s a lot more trust building that needs to take place. And companies as ICS or content leads, Wanna build that trust within their content program, they have to leverage the knowledge and the expertise of those that built the company or hired them or set the stage or set the positioning or all that stuff. I know Alex and I have talked a lot about what narrative excavation looks for some of our clients and some of our folks that we’re working with. A lot of people call this thought leadership hybrid content, whatever. But second to getting buy-in from executives is getting their time too. And that would be something good to build a course on, or at least write a post on cuz you can only do much through an organic play. And the topics that you surface through organic research. Thankfully now content strategy, it’s pretty common to weave in thought leadership, but I don’t think a lot of people do it well. But second to how you use thought leadership and how you use position driven topic research and p POV driven topic research. There needs to be the complimentary distribution as well. And that’s probably not through Google, depending on how you’re writing the piece and how you’re anchoring it in a keyword or not. I want a massive tangent, but I was thinking about how to leverage your execs time and their buy-in. And that’s almost a two-parter. Those should go hand in hand. Especially for folks who can’t get a CEO or a CMOs backing maybe.”
42:04 – What mating theory teaches us about marketing
Marketing is about getting attention and being selected out of a vast array of options.
“ One area that I find fascinating because it’s relevant to marketing in general is evolutionary biology and particularly sexual selection. It’s mating theory throughout the animal kingdom. And you get these theories fishy and runaway, which I’ve likened to how Google search results work essentially. When you have a fitness signal or a mating strength signal. The opposite side starts to over optimize for that. And you get these absurd characteristics with peacocks tales and it’s this glorious, beautiful thing that becomes a disadvantage from a survival perspective. But because it’s a mating advantage it’s selected for. All of that stuff I find fascinating because marketing is inherently about getting attention and getting selected out of a vast array of options.”
47:27 – What is a good content strategy?
Things that you need to know to on how to make a good content strategy
“That’s something, if I could sum it up, the three axioms of a good content strategy that I always say. And I want to add the fourth, which is it should be exciting enough to beat out all of the other competing initiatives that you could invest in. But the three that I always say that have to be in place, content should drive measurable ROI content should be a compounding flywheel channel. It should grow over time in its moat and defensible. And then the last one, which is what we touched on, content strategy should be one that you’re uniquely suited to win. If somebody else can do it, they probably will.”