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Humanize Your Brand: How to Create Content that Connects with Your Customers

Monday, August 22, 2016

On this week's podcast, Byron chats with Jessica Ann, CEO & Creative Director at Jessica Ann Media and author of Humanize Your Brand: How to Create Content that Connects with Your Customers. Listen to learn how Jessica grew her blog, her favorite type of content, and what advice she has for writers.

Byron White:           Welcome back everyone. I’m here with Jessica-Ann. Jessica, welcome.

Jessica:                       Hi, Byron. Thanks so much for having me.

Byron White:           It’s always great to chat with you. You’re the author of Humanize and CEO, I might add. We enjoyed visiting with you and being on the stage with you, it seems it’s just great to be connecting with you again.

Jessica:                       Yeah. I love being there. Thanks for having me again.

Byron White:           You’re of course the author of Humanize Your Brand- How to Create Content that Connects with your Customer, and thanks for your great book by the way. But let’s dive into your own career. How long have you been this sort of content creation world if you will?

Jessica:                       Content creation, I started my business about four years ago. I put my first blog up out into the world about four years ago and never looked back since.

Byron White:           Was your blog the catalyst for a lot of your career advancement? Or how did you come about to go from blog writer to leading a company and writing a book and speaking all over the place?         

Jessica:                       A hundred percent, it was my blog that really catapulted my entire career and that’s why I believe so strongly in what I do, content marketing because I’ve seen the magic and the power of content marketing when you do do it right. I started writing on my blog four years ago and I just wrote about what I was really passionate about and that was the intersection of creativity and storytelling under the umbrella of humanity, really. We’re all in marketing. Humanity and marketing because we’re in this new paradigm right now of marketing and it’s coupled with everything kind of coming together and that fascinated me. I really just wrote about what I loved and then people saw what I was writing and wanted me to write for their company.

Byron White:           Tell us a little bit about your blog? First of all, what’s your blog address, so people can go check it out and then tell us a little bit about what you select to write about and how you think at the back of the mind about your targeting audience and who is that target audience? Let’s talk a little bit about your own writing.

Jessica:                       Sure. Yeah. My blog is at jessicaannmedia.com/blog and you can find, there’s a section called articles and you can pretty much find every article I’ve written, it’s up there since day one. How I go about deciding what to write about; I really just try to tap into the collective consciousness of humanity. I know that sounds like such an abstract answer but I really just try to go a lot deeper than the tactics of the marketing world. When I started I was writing a lot about the shiny objects like how to do all of the social media platforms that are out there. Then I kind of wanted to get a bigger picture to create more context around this tactics. Instead of just writing about social media, I really got a higher level picture of everything and I do that just through living my life. I talk to a lot of people, I really just try to really be a part of the conversations that are happening in the marketing and the technology spaces because when you really get an understanding for what everyone, all these big brands are talking about and doing, you can really kind of guide your message and your content to address the needs of your customers.

Byron White:           Tell us about how you connect with customers? Who finds you? How do you really grow your business which really focuses on writing I’m guessing from what I know about you? Who are your customers and how do they find you?

Jessica:                       I write from an emotional content. From an emotional context rather. I really just try to put myself out there as me. I really have nothing to hide. I try not to have anything to hide. I just show up on my blog as me and I really connect with my customers through the stories that I tell. I think I connect with them; I hope I do. I get good feedback sometimes, not everything is the best most loved articles but you kind of use what you’ve already written as the guide for your future work. For instance, I’ll look at my most shared articles and I’ll see why was that really popular. What is going on here that people want to know about, people are sharing this article? I’ll really look into that, I’ll talk to people on Twitter. I love being on Twitter and just engaging with people through private messages even because you can really get deeper insights into people on how they think when you’ve talked to them one on one and you work with them to really guide your message to where the conversation’s going in the industry.

Byron White:           What kind of client… Your writing by the way is hard to even describe; it’s concise, it’s to the point, it’s real, it’s human. It’s as if you’re talking to somebody next door. Do clients want you to write in that same style?

Jessica:                       They want me to write in the style that fits their audience and my agency does that, so we’re more than happy to work with big brands who have their own voice because that’s the power and the beauty of writing is that we all have our own unique voices. Each brand and each human that comes into this world has their own experiences that have led them up to where they are today. You can’t really… I don’t want to be using my voice for someone else. I use what I know because that’s the magic that I love to bring to this type of work in the world because it’s kind of using my perspective on things and using it and coupling it with the brands that I work with to create really unique, meaningful content that engages with their customers. Instead of looking at things in a really tactical basic way and just saying, “Here’s what you need to do,” and like kind of dry, informative content that… Let’s be real, most people don’t want to consume dry, boring stuff. I’ll add in some humor if it fits the brand’s vision and if it fits the brand’s messaging and I’ll add in what I think makes sense for them in the right, most authentic way possible.

Byron White:           You have an interesting package that you sort of sell on the site, I want to ask you about that. It’s sort of like a $2500, sort of monthly retainer kind of a concept is that right or for the package, a couple… Could you explain that to me and how you’ve priced yourself? It’s really simple and I would think appealing for companies that need someone like you.

Jessica:                       Yeah, absolutely. This is my most sold package. It’s like you said, it’s $2500 for a ten article bundle of content. It comes with an editorial calendar and a call… and it’s really diving deep into the brand. I put that up there as my price just to give people a base point of the type of quality that my agency delivers because I really pride myself on high quality content and you really get what you pay for in this day and age. But at the same time, I’m willing to work with brands who really want to start creating meaningful messages that just need a starting point. Usually, with small stuff, it’s like, a lot of brands would think, “Oh, I’ll purchase one blog post and put it out there,” and that doesn’t get you anywhere. You need a longer term strategy so that’s why these ten articles are like the best baseline and the best foundation to start any company with, because you really get a strong foundation of how my agency works and we can really show benchmarks for success even just after these ten articles. It’s really the best package for a lot of brands that are out there today.

Byron White:           It’s a great approach and a simple way to explain it. Are you finding the content strategy part of the job critical and important and where did you and if so, I figure it’s going to be yes, where did you learn content strategy? How did you learn to help customers get into the skin and the heart of the audience, identify who that is, content planning and creation optimization, distribution, performance measurement. That’s all part of content strategy, right? Do you offer that with your packages? Is it all about performance and if so where did you learn those skills?

Jessica:                       Yeah. Absolutely. Content strategy is a huge part of content marketing. You can’t really do content marketing without having a high level strategy around it. I learned these skills… Everything is self-taught. Obviously, I’ve taken tons of online classes throughout my career, in education, in communication form John Hopkins University. I also have a degree in visual media from American University. I really followed the trend since… I can’t even remember. Since I was a kid, I wanted, I loved television. I loved communications and media and I followed TV. My career took me from print. I started working as an intern at the Washington Post and then I went to TV, national media with MSNBC. Then I went into national radio at XM Radio. Then I followed that into YouTube and doing podcasts for a small non-profit in Washington DC. Then from there I launched my business. And each time I moved into the different space, into the different medium, I was constantly learning. How do you connect with people on this media? What are we looking at here? How do we engage the audiences in the best way possible, so that we really can create this strategy that connects? Not only does it connect but it brings in business. That’s a special part I love because it’s fun, it’s meaningful and you can really create a lot of context around the content that you’re creating based on what you’re learning and you iterate as you go.

Byron White:           We’re launching a course that we’re really excited about that’s going to be coming out in the fall on content strategy. It’s like a six pronged fork if you will. It’s pretty heavy. It’s the most extensive and time-consuming and information packed piece of work I’ve ever attempted to produce. But in that book and in the course and the book we’re hoping to educate and acclimate people on making the leap from writing and indoor editing to content strategy. What advice do you have to people? Obviously, you haven’t seen the course yet or what we’re going to be doing over there, but what advice do you have for writers, the listening in to take their writing careers to the next level and to dive deeper into helping customers with the road map, with the plan and with the plan that’s routed in performance and in developing content plans and strategy for people? Are you doing that a lot yourself with customers that are going much deeper with you than just the ten articles sort of, kick the tires plan? Are you doing that now yourself? Are you writing content plans and helping them with strategy and helping them with topic selections that engage and looking over the data and getting into their Google analytics accounts and seeing what’s going on? Are you doing that now and what advice would you have for people that are looking to do that, Jessica?

Jessica:                       Yeah. That’s a really good question. I think my answer to this is to not get too caught up in the data and the analytics. And I know that’s crazy for a marketer to say but I think you can really go down some crazy rabbit holes with that type of information. Yes, I agree it is important to have but at the same time, I see so many brands and marketers and people who are looking for the next big thing just getting stuck in the shiny objects without really knowing why they’re there. You can waste so much time on social media these days and you don’t just want to be another more noise for the situation. You want to really create amazing content so that people actually want to consume what you’re creating. The key is to simplify more than anything and to not add in more tactics and more… All this stuff that you think is going to work and yeah, maybe it will. But a lot of people just like to throw on tons of this stuff without really asking the deeper question of why. Why are we doing this? Why are we here? Is there one platform we can do really, really well on instead of being on 20 different platforms? Just taking a deeper, deeper look into their strategy before jumping into everything and trying to tackle every piece of data that comes at you, because you can make yourself crazy.

Byron White:           Have you done much with writing out the customer journey for some of your customers and diving deeply into all the touch points along that journey and looking at what people are thinking and feeling throughout the journey?

Jessica:                       Yeah. Absolutely. There’s so much you can do with that. That’s what makes it so fun, is because I think that’s a key, crucial element in any type of concept marketing that you do is to know why are your customers searching that specific search in Google. Then knowing when they get to their page, what exactly do they do next. Looking at the analytics and finding out, “Okay. They’re here for this reason. How do we create more content around why they’re there instead of having them bounce off the page?” It’s really just that simple and guiding them through the whole entire process. Yeah, absolutely. I love doing that work. It’s like one of the most crucial aspects of content marketing I think, is to just knowing what your customers are searching for and how you can create the content that’s meaningful enough… For not just them to read but actually enjoy and be entertained and informed by the content that you’re creating for them.

Byron White:           When you look back at some of the content you’ve created for your customers, how did that process happen? How were you able to create such great content that worked well for them and that was received well?

Jessica:                       The key is culture. The culture of the company. Some of the best success stories that I had with brands have come down to the fact that the company itself has a really open culture and they’re okay with really being one of the first businesses or brands to do something a little bit maybe unique or out there. Content marketing is still somewhat new in a lot of businesses. Really, their culture needs to be open and they have to be willing to kind of explore the rabbit hole of content and where it can be going. Yeah. The best customers that I’ve had were… It comes down to that word, culture. It’s crucial.

Byron White:           Exactly. Do you have any final words of wisdom for the many writers on the line listening to, looking to advance their careers and to take it to the next level? How were you able to do that? How were you able to start your own agency and break grounds and work with customers in a variety of ways?

Jessica:                       Sure. Yeah. I think the key is to really be willing to listen. Really listening to, not just your customers but yourself. What is your own intuition kind of telling you that you need to be creating? I think it’s so important to really know how to tap into the millennial generation as well because we’re the ones that are on the computer non-stop. We’re all addicted to our screens. We’re not an American phenomenon. We are a worldwide movement. The millennial generation is going to control nearly 1.4 trillion dollars of the American economy by the year 2020. We’re not just looking for the things, like cost and reliability. What differentiates us from previous generations are that we really want to know if brands are socially responsible? Are they charitable? Are they environmentally friendly? It’s so much deeper than just putting content out there. You really have to make sure that the culture of your brand is really in line with who you say you are. Are you a good person? It’s really that simple. Just showing that you can really get your message heard by the millennial generation through being a good human being and creating amazing, incredible content.

Byron White:           It’s funny. When I think of two questions and how they don’t line up, it’s pretty interesting. When you say to yourself, “Are you a good person?” We say, “Wow. Let me analyze that. Like, there’s a lot to being a good person.” Whereas when we say, “Are you a good brand?” We don’t’ really say anything other than, “Are your products really good? Are your services good? Are you offering something people want and need?” We don’t get into the DNA of that brand typically. Do you agree with that and isn’t that part of the problem that you’re poking, what you personally are trying to solve?

Jessica:                       Absolutely. That's a huge part of my belief system and my book as well. I think it’s so important to really be centered in who you are so that you can create a brand that’s true to who you are. I really believe that who you are is the core of the content that you create and if you say that you have a brand, then that becomes something else. I think that, yeah, you can work within your team and you can have a team that has a great culture and your culture can help co-create the content, but if you, if you’re the CEO, president of our business, you need to really have a strong understanding of what makes you, you, so that you can create art instead of advertising. That’s how I see it today, that’s how I see content marketing. You’re literally using art to bring in customers and to let them share and co-create in your story.

Byron White:           Well that’s a perfect segway to our current website being torn down and rebuilt with our creative director that is absolutely brilliant, so stay tuned for that everybody. We think we’ve created some really amazing art to display, we do. But on behalf of the many writers who listened to your last statement, is it the place of a writer that’s creating content and developing even a content strategy [0:19:11 inaudible], you know, could potentially for a customer to basically inform the customer, you know, “I know this is going to be appear as bad news but your brand sucks. It has no personality. It is not real. It is not human. But I’ve got some answers that can help you change that, let’s talk about how you write and how you communicate and the stories that you tell.” Is it up to the writer, do you think at the end of the day, to make that possible? Or do you feel like you need other members of the team to help out with that often very difficult challenge to humanize a brand?

Jessica:                       You know, it’s a really fine balance between allowing the writer to have that ability to make the decisions and to lead that conversation and also it depends on how big the company is. Being willing to work with the rest of the employees within the company as well because, like I said earlier, it comes down to the culture. A writer usually has a really strong voice, so they need to be the ones guiding the rest of the company and the rest of the culture into this new paradigm. It comes down to this question here, “How do you translate the breaking of the status quo into acceptance in your culture?” What the writer’s job is to do is to break down the status quo. Businesses are putting out all this information and it’s boring and it’s not good. And who’s the person that needs to come in and say, “You know what? This is status quo. It’s BS and no one’s going to want to read this. We’ve got to turn this around and create something magical.” So that the culture really can be on board with whoever is leading that conversation. And the company will eventually learn to accept it. Of course, in the beginning, it’s not going to be easy; it never is. But if you have a writer who is willing to put themselves out there like that. It’s not an easy job. I commend any writers out there who are on this path because it takes a really strong person to be guiding the company culture down this path. But do it, it’s important work and I fully support you.

Byron White:           It’s always a pleasure, Jessica, to talk with you, we appreciate your insights today for some great writers we have on our team listening in.

Jessica:                       Pleasure to be here Byron. Thanks again for having me.

Byron White:           Thanks for tuning in everybody. See you next week.