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Defining Objective Content Quality Standards & Why Content Marketing is Cheesy with Margaret Jones (Airtable)

Defining Objective Content Quality Standards & Why Content Marketing is Cheesy with Margaret Jones (Airtable)

Welcome to another brand new episode of the Long Game Podcast. In this episode, we dive into the world of content quality and the processes involved in ensuring it. Alex Birkett and Margaret Jones share their insights on the topic, providing valuable tips and tricks for maintaining consistency and improving the overall quality of content produced.

Margaret suggests using checklists for different formats and areas of quality, such as brand voice and style guide, as well as regularly workshopping published content. This approach can help to maintain consistency and improve the overall quality of the content produced. She also shares their experience at a previous company where they aimed to produce the best content ever published on a topic. They used specific guidelines to achieve this goal, which resulted in high-quality content. However, they also acknowledge the potential for over-engineering processes and the importance of allowing for creativity.

The conversation also touches on different approaches to writing, synesthesia, and even basketball player Steph Curry’s flow state- this example is used to stress the importance of constantly pushing oneself to improve and adapt, while also allowing for creativity and experimentation.

Overall, the conversation highlights the importance of quality control in content creation. By implementing processes and guidelines, content creators can ensure that their work meets the highest standards. So, if you want to learn more about content quality and how to improve it, tune in to this episode now!


  • Improving Writing Skills
  • Subjectivity of Taste and Objectivity of Writing
  • Objective Editing
  • Balancing individual and brand voices
  • The Use of a Company’s Online Community 
  • Creating a Content Strategy Focus
  • Running a Quality Content Production Process
  • Quality Content Checklist 
  • Importance of allowing for creativity
  • Why content marketing is dead 
  • State of Cold Outbound

Listen to the podcast:

Key Takeaways:

[13:31] Improving Writing Skills

Reading more widely is a better way to improve writing skills than just putting your nose to the grindstone

“Um, and like I do think, and Bronny and I talked about this a lot actually. Um, you can improve yourself as a writer. Um, I have an m FFA in writing, so like I should feel that way, but like, it’s not through, um, it’s not through like putting your nose to the grindstone. I actually think like people become better writers through reading more and through like reading more widely. Um, , I actually remember Ronnie will like this story, um, but at some point he, um, he was writing for our like kind of more corporate event audience at event break. So like a lot of our clients were like a music promoter or like a person who does like a Lego conference. You know, like people were like, not your classic, um, like enterprise B2B buyers. Um, and he was writing for like, what was more of that like traditional buyer. So someone who like posts like a big corporate conference or something like that. And he was really struggling to like get the voice. Like, he was like, how do I write for these people? Like, um, and he happened to be reading, I think it was death by meeting one of those, like Patrick, um, what’s that guy’s name? Patrick Leon. Hmm. Um, he writes like all, he writes like a ton of business books. So like Ronnie was reading business books. Books and, um, at some point I was like, what if you like read that and then like immediately tried to write afterward cuz like these business books are kind of written for your same audience that you are trying to write for mm-hmm.  Um, and you’ve, and he’d been really liking them. So I was like, what if we like, you know, when you read something you just kind of like get that, um, syntax mm-hmm. Like stuck in your head. Mm-hmm. Yeah. The voice becomes almost your voice For a second. Yeah. You start writing like that. Yeah., it’s like the plague of like any grad students be like, no, I think I’m Joan Didian. Like. Um, but so like he, um, he tried that and it worked really well, I remember him like coming to me like a few days later and being like, that’s just like unlocked. You know, like reading, reading these business books and then that I like that are like engaging written and then immediately going in and trying to write for that audience. Um, for our content marketing, it’s working really well.”

[16:57] Subjectivity of Taste and Objectivity of Writing

Taste is subjective, but writing can be objectively evaluated for its purpose and effectiveness.

“Sure, sure. But like, I think taste is a lot more subjective than like writing mechanics. Um, like for sure when it comes to writing, um, they’re authors who I love, who people who I love and respect think are terrible, right? Mm-hmm., um, like, they’re like, I find that person unreadable and I’m like, oh no. That’s like the best writing there is. There is a subjectivity to it. But I think when it comes to, especially when we’re talking about, um, academic writing or marketing writing, um, writing that like has a very concrete purpose and is less kind of about like the mood. Um, I think you can be a little bit more, um, objective about saying like, this is strong and this is less strong. Mm-hmm. Um, it’s never a hundred percent, but I think you can actually generally come to some consensus about like, whether a piece is working or not versus like something like taste, you and I could have really different taste. Right? Like really, really, really different taste. Like you could come into my home and just be like, what are you doing here? This looks terrible. Like, I would never put this color here. I would never choose that coffee table. Um, these plates have nothing to do with this silver or what are you doing here? And I could be like, oh no, that’s exactly what I love about it. And we would both be right. You know? Hmm. Um, like I kind of, I dunno if I really believe in like, bad taste. Like I don’t know if I really think bad taste exists. I think it’s just like different tastes. But I do think there’s bad writing.”

[21:32] Objective Editing

Editors should provide constructive feedback as to why the written content is off or doesn’t meet the required standard 

“Right, right, right. But see that’s actually, that’s actually very specific to say this feels like it’s coming from a playbook. What you mean by that is, I’ve read it before. What you mean by that general is like a real word. General has a definition what general means is like this has been used in other like a broad range of other circumstances. And because it’s been used in all these circumstances, it does not feel specific to what we’re talking about here. That’s right. That’s it. Like, that’s what you mean when you say it general. So like, that’s actually again, objective. Like you’re, and I think like as an editor right? Our person who reviews things frequently when I read it, I’m just like, oh, this seems bad to me.. Right? Like my first reaction is like, oh, I don’t like this, this feels off, this isn’t working. But when I dig in I should be able to say, here’s why. And like, I actually think, especially if you’re working with writers who you want to grow as writers mm-hmm. It’s really important that you don’t just leave it at like, this isn’t working, this Is bad because”

[28:45] Balancing individual and brand voices

“Yeah. I mean a lot of that happens upfront. So like, at first I was gonna say, you know, if the question is just like getting something to feel on brand, like if you have your brand guidelines, it should be easier than if you didn’t. Right? Like, if you have a strong brand voice and you’ve got your characteristics, we’re, we’re like doing a rev on this right now at Air tables, that’s very much on my mind. But I should be able to look at things and say, okay, one of our brand characteristics is, uh, welcoming that like a lot of tech brands have that as a, as a characteristic. Um, I should be able to say like this sentence which where you like kind of, uh, set up this product to seem like very exclusive is not like flexing into our welcoming brand characteristics. So like that should actually make it easier for me to justify wealth, why it felt off to me. Right. Um, but this question of like kind of like individual personalities or like individual brands within brands, I think it’s really interesting. Like some, some of my favorite brands, I was just a, um, do you read content from Doug Kessler? He’s like an og. I I have. Yeah, Yeah, yeah. Like he writes that Velocity Partners, which I think he founded and like he has a really strong editorial voice. Um, and like his, when he sends out an email, um, it’s very particular to him. I find it super engaging cause it’s like talking to a very interesting person, um, which lots of tech brands do not sound that way and a lot of agencies don’t sound that way, but they really do. Um, and I would argue like a lot of the brand identity of Velocity Partners sounds a lot like Doug and that’s fine. Um, but like, if you can carve out space for those individual voices and like make them, um, like fit into your overall brand voice versus like trying to kind of force every person at your company to write the same way, it’s actually kind of a shortcut to that feeling of like closeness and familiarity that you wanna create with your audience if they, it’s, it’s just inherently easier to, um, like bond with, or like relate with like a person than a brand. Um, so like if it’s done well, it, it goes really well. But I do think it’s challenging for editors, um, to like sort between, um Okay, does this, you’re basically asking does this individual’s personality fit into our brand voice? Right.”

[33:12] The Use of a Company’s Online Community 

A company community is a place where members share tips, tricks, and solutions to challenges they are encountering 

“Yep. We have Universe. Um, we just relaunched our community, um, which is like such a wonderful place. Um, if you like Airtable at all, I definitely recommend checking that out. Um, cuz it’s where all our really smart people are like sharing, sharing their tips and tricks and like troubleshooting together. Um, you know, part of like the challenge of Airtable is it’s so, uh, you know, as we say, like extensible, there’s unlimit so many basically. Yeah, there’s so many. Yeah, there’s so many things you can do at Air Table and like we don’t, like we don’t at Air Table, we don’t know what all of those things would be. Um, it would be, they’re like infinite. It’s impossible. So like we really look to our community to tell us like, oh, we figured out a new thing to do, or we ran into a new challenge when we figured out this new thing to do.”

[34:28] Creating a Content Strategy Focus

“Oh, it’s so, I mean, it’s so much, um, we’re trying to do, like, and like content is so much. Um, my team is really focused on like three extremely interconnected, um, like pieces of the pie. So like, um, uh, one is like kind of closer to like more traditional content marketing. So that’s like, um, gated content we’re working on, you know, we’ve got eBooks and reports and webinars. Um, they’re generally, um, you know, they’re behind gates, so we’re driving pipeline with them. Um, and we’re also like nurturing leads with them. And that’s like very, very closely tied to, um, one part of our sales team, right? Like the folks who are like working new leads or trying to expand in like existing accounts mm-hmm. So that’s where you’re gonna find like thought leadership. That’s where you’re gonna find like, um, best practices that are gonna gonna like, take you deeper in your air cable journey. Um, we’ve then got like a more editorial arm that’s thinking like, okay, like what are, um, what are the things that people are just like looking to know in our universe? You know? So like without really talking about Airtable at all, what are like the best practices that people need to learn? That’s also where we would bring in like, you know, if we’ve got external, um, voices that we wanna feature or internal voices actually, um, and that’s like the blog or like our more like SEO focused content. And then the third arm, which was new to me when I joined Airtable, is educational content. So that’s the like, okay, let me actually take you into product, but let me frame it, this isn’t like support content. This is like, let me tell you about a thing you can do and let me actually show you how to do it with the goal of like, inspiring you and like getting you to like, go in there and like, play around maybe. Um, or it could be, you know, as we’re moving into a world where like more and more of our product is like accessible through interfaces. So like, you don’t have to be like building to be really in your table. You can actually just like go to the piece that you need. Um, which works a lot better for like larger teams where you’re like, no, I literally need like, you know, thousands of people to be like in Airtable every day. So it’s like not all of them need to like reconfigure the base. We just need them to like come through the interface. Um, so like now we have content that’s like, how to get your team on board, right? Or like, um, what are the kinds of things you should be looking to do an Airtable, even if you’re not a builder?”

[38:18] SEO and Content Ideation

The SEO and Content teams should work together to idealize the marketing of the company

“Yeah, it’s gone in both directions. So like, you know, if we have, I’ll give you an example. Like if we’re writing about, um, campaign planning, which is something like we, um, we have like a very strong use case in irritable to do like very connected campaign planning across all of your, all of your teams. Um, if we’re writing about that, we’re also saying, okay, like we know what we kind of want to say to our audience, what are they actually looking for? So we’re going and we’re doing our own keyword research and coming up with like, okay, these are the things that we need to like write to because we know this is where like the demand kind of is. Um, so in that case, like we’re going to SEO team and saying like, Hey, we’ve got these topics. Hey, we’ve got this audience. Like what are we aiming for? Like help us like fine tune this strategy here. But then conversely, um, the seot might be coming to us and saying, Hey, we see a big opportunity mm-hmm. with like this set this like keyword family or whatever it is. Like what can we write to that? Or like what already exists. Um, we do a lot of optimization. Like the oh in SEO is like very important to our strategy because like you can only create like so much new content and you only should create so much new content. A lot of what we do is like come back to the drawing board and like make sure we’ve adjusted for the algorithm or um, for our strategy, whatever. It’s,”

[43:05] Running a Quality Content Production Process

Well-oiled content production process prioritizes quality

“Quality content? Um, yeah, keep it light. I should start with that. Um, I mean this is my, this is my whole job. Like, this question is like, what is your job? Um, uh, I mean, gosh, where do I even start? Like there is the, let’s start with the quality piece. Um, we’ve already talked about this a a little bit like with our, like is it subjective? Is it objective? Um, and as you can tell, like my goal, and I think the goal of like any well-run content team is to like make it as least, uh, subjective as possible. Like figure out what the rules of the secret sauce are as much as you can and like document those. Um, a common pitfall of um, trying to like produce a lot of really good content is that, um, you don’t know what really good means at your company. Mm-hmm. So you are relying on one person or even like a small handful of people to just like gate, keep it all right. So you’re like, it’s, we’re not even try to define it. We’re just gonna stay. If Ronnie’s read it and he says it’s good, that means it’s good. Um, and like that sets off lots of alarm balls for us, right? Cause like that’s not, uh, sustainable. What if um, Ronnie like has a baby? Um, what if Ronnie gets a new job? Um, then what do we do? What happens to our content? And like, you see this happen at companies, right? That like, they’re very reliant on one person, especially if that person has like a very strong voice. Um, and then they dunno what to do after that person leaves. And it kind of like, there’s like a pale imitation going on, but the problem starts before they leave. Cuz even while they’re there, that person is slammed, that person like isn’t able to like do anything else. Um, and often like there is internal disagreement about what good is that just doesn’t get addressed. Cuz we’re just like, eh, we’re just like, we’re gonna put that question aside and just like let everything filter instead. So like when it comes to every content person has had this moment, I’m sure you have, um, your CEO slacks you and is like, what’s up with this tweet <laugh>? Like, I don’t like this. Why is this out there? And you’re like, oh, I thought it was funny. Like the coil thing. I thought it was great. Um, and like, maybe your CEO doesn’t have that sense of humor, right? If you have guidelines, if you’ve taken the time to quantify and align, you now have something to point to. Like, you’re like, hey, uh, you know, miss CEO like remember when we talked about how we wanna take risks with our voice on social and that we think like these examples from HubSpot are very funny and we wanna do things like that. That’s what we’re doing here. So, um, now we can have a conversation that’s like, oh, that actually felt like it was pushing it too far. So now we have an example of that’s too far. Now we’re gonna document that and not do it again. Or we have a like, oh yeah, you’re right. HubSpot does that. We like HubSpot, we wanna be like them. Like that’s a really different conversation than I thought it was funny. Yeah. Right?”

[47:36] Quality Content Checklist 

“Like, I don’t know, most companies I work with, they say, you know, for it to be good, it needs to have a strong perspective, right? Um, most companies are like, I want us to say something new when we, when we talk, um, I want to um, I want to adhere to our brand voice. Um, like those are kind of the things, Right. That most companies want and like make part of their quality definition. So like what I’ve tended to do, because especially if you’re working with, um, freelancers or like you have a bunch of different writers who maybe are not like immersed in your day-to-day is like, make it really simple like checklists, like think like a content me <laugh> marketer here. Like how do I make this something that like a person can just have and kind of go through? Um, so like checklists for different formats, like here are the different areas of quality and like here’s how, you know, you’ve checked them off. Um, as an editor, anytime I notice that I’ve been giving the same feedback over and over. And like, is that on the checklist? That should be on the checklist. Um, so like anyone who I’ve edited would tell you like, I’m obsessed with first sentences. Like, I’m like, I’m always like, is this hooky enough? Like, is this short? Like, is this gonna like get them to keep reading? Like, is this saying something really like different and interesting? Like first sentence, first sentence, first sentence. So like, that’s on my checklist is like hot start. Um, and like credit to, uh, JLA Bik, who was the one who always said hot start to me at event, right? But like hot start, that’s like on our checklist, right? Um, so like anything like that. Um, big one in concept marketing is like, oh, have we been saying like we a lot? You know, like when I read a paragraph that’s just like when we set out to like, make our amazing product, we never re and you’re like, da da da. No one cares. No one cares. Um, like this should be like reader focused. Like I should read it and say like, it should be saying when you have this problem  you know, like, like here’s how you can solve it. Not we realize that we can solve problems. Right? Like very different. Um, so like something on my checklist is like, have you interrogated like every use of the word we did, we need every we in this, right? Um, so anyways, we’ve got like brand voice, um, style guide checklist for like writers and reviewers. Um, and then a fourth one that I really love. So we are just starting to do an air table is like regular workshopping of published content. So it takes the heat off a little. We’re just gonna look at three of the most recent things that we like, shit that are like out there in the world. And we’re gonna like group review them, right? And say like, okay, did this feel like it embodied their brand characteristics? What do we think of this first paragraph? Um, is the CTA really strong here? Um, is there another piece that we could link to? Let’s just like comfortably as a group, like ask these questions and that’s gonna make this feel like we’re doing this by committee. There’s no one person in the hot seat. It’s already out there. It’s fine. Um, but also like next time we all sit down to write or review something, we’re thinking about these conversations.”

[53:42] Importance of allowing for creativity

Over-engineered processes should be avoided as they slow creativity 

“Yeah. I think it can be done. Um, there have been times where, um, when we start getting like very modular with our content, this actually hasn’t happened to me at Air Table, but at some other companies where we were really trying to say like, okay, every piece has an introduction that’s this long. And then we have, um, a paragraph setting the problem. And then we have five bullet points about how to solve the, like I think when you, I think going down that road can end up feeling, um, it just ends up like reading less organically, right? Because like your writer never gets into like a flow state. Um, cuz I do think like, I’m sure you’ve had this experience, like sometimes the words just pour out and don’t you find that when the words just pour out, it reads that way too. Um, like you can actually so like it’s natural if you keep Yeah. It just, it it actually like, it comes across, right? Like as a reader you’re like, wow, this is just flowing. And that’s because you’re like, you’re just, you’re now in someone’s brain following their beautiful thought process rather than like feeling them try to communicate a thought. Um, those are very different experiences and like I’d argue like academic stuff often is like all the latter, right? Yeah. And that’s fine. Cause they’re like, I have this big idea, oh, I have to get it across. I’m gonna use the biggest words in the longest sentences. Um, and sometimes it’s super rewarding to like read fuko or whatever and that’s fine. But like, generally not what we’re trying to go for in our content. Um, so yes, to answer your question, I think you can over-engineer. Um, you’ll read it <laugh> you’ll read the over-engineering in, in the final product. Um, but I think it’s hard to do, like, especially because I tend to hire people who are like super creative, um, and like kind of index more on the like needing a little more structure. Um, I don’t encounter that quite as much in my Field. Mm-hmm that’s interesting. I mean, personally I’ve never experienced it because I think I’ve not put myself in the position as a writer to be adherent to a lot of like overly rigid processes. But like I’ve, so yeah. I’ve seen the content brief is, is where I see this done pretty frequently because the content brief is important. Obviously you wanna set expectations, guardrails, this piece has a goal. You wanted to accomplish that. But I’ve seen some content briefs. Actually, I was gonna write a guest post for a company and I saw a content brief and it was like three pages long. I’m like, I don’t know if my articles three pages long. Like what, what do you want me to write? Right? Probably not.”

[01:06:01] Why content marketing is dead 

The old content strategies are no longer applicable in this new ages, time to restructure and use new ones 

“Yeah. And I just won’t explain it. I’m just gonna say content. Meese, cheesy content. Meese. Dad, drop my mic. Let’s move on. Um, no, I’d love to talk about it. Like, okay, so when I started out in content, they worked at Marketo and I learned from like some really talented content marketers, but like, you probably remember this, the thing of that moment was, oh my gosh, you guys, what if we stop hitting people over the head with the thing we want them to buy? Right? And then like, if we stop saying like, buy one, get one free, that’s content, we’re done. And we started saying, let me offer you something of value, right? And exchange for your like, loyalty and love, right? Like, we’re going to give you something for free. Like, I worked at Marketo, so I’d be like, we’re gonna give you a bunch of best practices for like writing performance marketing ads or, um, for like testing your email nots for free. I give this to you. Um, of course I’m gonna subtly plug my product, but like, you know, that’s happening. You know whose blog you’re on. Um, and like in exchange for that, you’re gonna like love us and like think of us as a leader and like refer to us when you need something. And it’s kind of this like long game for building, like both like customer acquisition and nurture, but also like retention, right? Um, and that was kind of like a revelation. Do you remember this? And everyone was like, oh my god, value mm-hmm Um, I remember everyone would always be like those, um, like Lowe’s had this series that was like helping you do stuff around the house, which makes lots of sense for them. Cause they’d also be like, and use our nails or whatever. But like, people love that, like helpful, helpful content coming from a brand. Now, I would argue in the like decade since then, <laugh> we’re now like, like your audience is super suspicious of that. Hey, because we’ve been like 10 years of like, hey, like just talking about nails, but like by our nails, right? Like there’s something always like a little bit disingenuous there and like your audience is like kind of tired of that, right? Um, and the other piece of that is like, there’s so much shitty SEO content out there that like, if you’re actually trying to like, figure out to do something and you Google it, you’re just in a sea of garbage, right? The worst. They’re like, we’ve. It’s so bad, it’s so bad. Um, my partner is always like, the internet is broken and he is, right? Um, and that’s why people are like more into like chat gtp right now to answer questions than Google, right? Because like chat GTP actually gives you everything. Whereas like Google is like, no, we’re like, we’re, this is just based on who’s paying the most for our ads. So like, anyway, so we’re very suspicious of like the internet as a place to like teach us how to do basic things quickly. So we don’t want, if I’m like, okay, I’m like working on, I’ll go back to my marketing campaigns example. Um, like if I’m just trying to figure out how to do something, like I’m like, how should I approach this? You know, like I have to figure out my campaigns for the year. Who do I need to bring into the conversation? Um, like what order should I do this in? What’s like a reasonable timeline? Like just like gimme some frameworks maybe because like, I wanna make sure I’m doing this in a smart way. If I start Googling that, I’m gonna get like, what is campaign planning? Oh yes, there are 20 types of con of campaign plans ranging from the benefits of rudimentary to sophisticated and the benefits of, and the tools that you should use. And it’s just like, I’m just really trying, like I actually wanna know something right now. Yeah. So like my trust in this mechanism that like, that kind of content marketing is so reliant on is low, is really, really low. So like, so when I say it’s dead, I mean like that kind of content marketing that like content is king because like you’re gonna be, the way people have, you know, are like learning things. Like we’re gonna like educate and drive value, um, just from all our great best practices. Like that stuff is out. Mm-hmm. Like I don’t think, I don’t think people are happy with what they’re getting there.”

[01:14:17] State of Cold Outbound

Vague cold messages and emails will always meet a dead end

“The passive aggressive ones. Like the, like Margaret, I have been reaching out to you for seven times and you, um, have not responded to any of my emails and I’m extremely concerned about the state of your, um, digital asset management platform. And I really need you to, to tell me the right person to contact. Um, I will call you in 15 minutes. I somehow have your phone number. You know, it’s just like, it just feels like so unhinged and you’re like, yeah, okay. Like I like this is written as if we have some kind of relationship as if I had like asked you for something. Like that’s very, the tone is very much like, why are you ghosting me Margaret? Yeah. And I’m like, I’ve never heard of you and, and I actually still don’t understand what your product is. So like, can we please stop? Yeah… Yeah. Well, and it’s like, you know, sometimes it’s like, you know, a friend of a friend or something, you know, it could be actually, you know, it could be someone who like, like I actually do like to talk about content strategy if someone wants to talk about content strategy, but it’s like, it’s like it’s somebody who has like some kind of content tool and they just want to like, they wanna pitch, but they frame it as like, yeah, yeah, I’ve had those, let’s let’s you and I just talk content strategy. And I’m like, this is very like, so I just say no across the board.”

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Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.