Explore some of our past podcasts hosted by WriterAccess founder Byron White.
Byron: Welcome back to our podcast series everyone. I’m here with Matt Heinz. Matt, welcome.
Matt: Hey. Thanks for having me.
Byron: You’ve decided to write a field guide, A Modern Marketer’s Field Guide. Hats off to you!
Matt: Thank you, yeah.
Byron: For starters I was exhausted reading your table of contents, just let me tell you that. This must be part of your personality type; that you like to detail every aspect of what is about to happen. Is that a true characteristic and perhaps a marketing strength I might add as well?
Matt: I’ll put it this way. People are hungry to learn what’s working and they don’t just want a set of broad stroke strategies. They want to know what to do. I think we all get tired of reading posts and going to the events and people will give broad strokes of, “Oh, you should be doing this kind of marketing, that kind of marketing….” but people are left with the question of, “How do I actually do it?” And so with the Field Guide, we really tried to give people really exactly that, just some specific direction on what to do to improve the performance of their marketing.
Byron: You covered some great, big, huge niches here. I want to try focus in if we could for this particular audience on the content strategy section which is just fantastic by the way.
Matt: Yeah. Well, thank you.
Byron: Yeah. As it turns out, we’re actually launching a content strategy service at our company. It’s going to be packed with really a great talent pool of people that are screened and vetted, so that’s exciting for us here at WriterAccess and exciting for our writer pool as well that’s listening in to try to tune in with, “Okay, am I prepared for a content strategy career? Do I have the skills and the chops to make that work?” Let’s start from the beginning. Content strategy, strangely enough, is a relatively new art and science, if you will I would argue. It is certainly way beyond content marketing, which is one of your chapters by the way, is called...Let’s see, it was called, ‘11 Reasons Your Content Marketing Isn’t Working’. Let’s talk about that for a second. Why isn’t content marketing working? Let’s start with that.
Matt: Content obviously is as old as time. I think the idea of content marketing is a little newer… But I think there’s a lot of content that just isn’t that good. I think, one of the biggest problems people have is people are creating content that says something but doesn’t compel people to do anything. It doesn’t give them something to think about, it doesn’t send them something to reflect on, it doesn’t either implicitly or explicitly give someone a call to action. Now that doesn’t mean at the end of everything is content, we need to have a button to download your trial or get a free copy or something, but what a content needs to have is a next step, it shouldn’t have a dead-end. When you say content is working or not, people may like your content but if you’re doing it as a marketing channel, and there is no incline factor, there is no sort of I guess motivated action for that prospect to take. Even if they’re just reading more electronically, even if they’re just learning more about that topic, if that doesn’t exist, then that’s one of the main reasons why content may not be working.
Byron: We’ve tended to fall into a trap with content marketing, partly because it has the word ‘marketing’ in it. When you become a content strategist, it’s really more about the content, wouldn’t you agree with that; the quality of the content, how good it is, what insights it offers, can you talk about that distinction between content and marketing?
Matt: Yeah. I think in a lot of cases you’ve got people that are creating what they think is content and really it is just a rewrite of their product brochures. Good content typically addresses a higher level of the sales funnel. It’s a lot more about the prospects; it’s more about your customer than it is about you. You earn the right to keep their attention. You earn the right to eventually create context between that content and what you can offer someone by helping them be better. I think that content could be blog posts; it could be concepts like this. One of my favorite forms quite frankly is enabling salespeople with great content that they can actually deliver in many cases in live conversation. Imagine hanging up from a sales call and leaning back in your chair and saying, “Wow. That was really nice. Boy, I would have paid for those insights.” On a sales call, right! But that’s what’s happening in B2B sales organizations around the country, and content marketers are delivering, are creating those insights, are creating the basis for those conversations to transform the way sales conversations happen. Is it marketing? Sure. But it can’t be about the product, it can’t be about you, it’s got to be about them.
Byron: Your section on the five stages of effective content strategy are quite interesting to me, the first being objective. ‘Different strokes for different folks’ as the expression goes and you might add to that different strokes for different folks at different stages of the customer journey. It’s almost inspiring me if you will, to want to make a customer at WriterAccess when they’re placing an order for content to tell the writer, “Okay. What stage of the funnel is this in? Is it discovery stage or is this the closing part?” But can you talk about objective and how that can completely go amiss with when it comes to content strategy?
Matt: Oh, yeah. Well, the objective is important but understanding the context of the audience is important as well. Some content really is drawing a straight line between your customers’ objectives and the products that you’re selling. But if you’re thinking about people at the top of the funnel, if they don’t know who you are, they’re maybe not aware the problem exists. Stage one of the buying journey for many people is what I would call, or what theoreticians call, challenging the status quo. When you’re thinking about content at that point, you’re not justifying a decision; you’re not giving people a guide to evaluate solutions. You’re just helping them think about something in a different way. You’re helping them discover an insight, or a metric or something that makes them think that what they were doing or what they weren’t doing is not the right path. There’s all kinds of great educational value, added content that you can put in that stream but not understanding that context and having that help you determine how to write, how to create what format should it be in, how long should it be, what’s that call to action at the end, all of those variables are going to help make or break whether your content is working.
Byron: Your next step is asset architecture. I like this step. It’s actually fairly innovative and interesting. What do you mean by asset architecture?
Matt: Well, it’s all a way to describe it. I think about it as like you’ve got a good story…Content comes down to story. What’s the right way to deliver that story? If you’re trying to get a fortune 500 CTO to engage with your content, you probably shouldn’t put a 40 page white paper in front of them. They’re never going to read it. But the story is independent of the asset, the story is independent of the form asset the content is in, so that same story could be delivered in a short video. Or in a PowerPoint that people can flip through on SlideShare. Understand the context of the story in the buying journey but also understand the nature of the individual you’re going after, and think more critically about what that asset should look like. I think people often default to blog posts, default to the written word. There’s things in our arsenal that have become kind of rote as marketers but they still work. Like paper still work, webinar still work, but not for everybody and not at every stage.
Byron: You talk a little bit about execution but I want you to dive deeper for a second. How do you in your agency, teach and train people to adapt your clients’ style and tone. How do you do that?
Matt: Yeah. Fantastic question. Anybody who’s selling anything whether we’re selling to our clients or when they’re selling to their customers, you have to immerse yourself in your client’s world. You have to immerse yourself in their culture, in their nomenclature, in their slang, in their acronyms, and in many cases, if you’re working across diverse industries, those can be foreign things. I think any good service provider is going to take the time to learn; learn from internal folks, you’re going to learn from people that have been creating and speaking in and around the industry. You’re going to find subject matter experts that in many cases can create content with you, for you. We work with some deep, complex B2B industries and in some of those cases we’re actually not writing the content ourselves. We just don’t do it because we just don’t have that subject matter expertise. But a lot of what we talked about so far in terms of your strategy for the content, your asset architecture, what you need that next step to be, we do quarter back that working with the subject matter expert to get the right content developed.
Byron: I’m going to go throw out what we do at WriterAccess because you might find it interesting and be curious more about how the process works. Imagine 20,000 customers, 14,000 writers and this platform in the middle, trying to figure out who’s a good writer and an algorithm at scoring people, all kinds of crazy stuff going on at WriterAccess. With our plus service customers that we bring on, we launched this new program which really for us was trying to solve a problem, which is the customer that doesn’t really know what they want, until they see what they want. Welcome to all of our problems, right?
Byron: We call it on-boarding but you can also call it sort of style morphing or style flexing. The way we do it is we take one single order and we place it the same order to three different writers, and we absolutely require the customer to give each of the three writers feedback on what they like and don’t like about their work. The customers then get back a second draft and then and only then make a decision with which of the writers wins the competition if you will, or the contest. What’s fascinating about that is we believe that that is such a good thing to do and a healthy thing to do, we at WriteAccess actually pay the other two writers. We encourage the customer to do it so much; we will actually pay for the two that they don’t accept. We think writers learn along the way. We think that’s the right way to onboard a writer to the type of tone and style. What are your thoughts on that? Do you think a system like that can work? And have you ever done something like that yourself?
Matt: You know I haven’t, and doing that in parallel I think it’s a fantastic idea. It speaks to how well you sort of stand behind what’s important to you and I think that alone, that story of how you’re doing that and why you do it, that’s a great piece of content. So without pitching someone on, “Hey, you should come work with us” by explaining what you do and why you do it and how that accelerates the path of finding someone that’s going to be a good match for your business is important. We work with companies that are looking for…they’re looking for good technical writers and it can be difficult. We work with a company that’s in the chemical reseller space…And talking about chemicals it can get complicated pretty quickly. They’ve spend a lot of time trying to find someone that not only is a good content creator, a good writer, but also can quickly align behind what their industry needs.
Now, all that said, there are many cases when a company has a certain style, has certain habits from a content creation standpoint, but those may not be working. They may be writing in too jargony, in too technical format and talking over the heads of people that really just want straight talk. They just want to hear things in plain terms, even though they understand the technical nature of the content as well. It goes both ways. I mean, I think anybody who’s writing, anybody who’s creating content, whether you’re a freelancer, whether you’re working with you guys or whether you’re internal, needs to understand the objectives and nature of who they’re working with. But great writers also bring their own insights, they bring their own ideas, they bring their own instincts that can make that work better.
Byron: Another challenge you took on, and I’m not sure why you took this one on to try to explain it to people but measurement. Even a specifically attribution of particular assets and the challenge that we have is helping customers with their content marketing efforts, educating them on play the long-term game please, this is not a get rich quick scheme. A steady stream of content is required. What are you doing in the measurement world that’s interesting these days? What new, either technology or methodology are you using to try to deliver interesting performance stats back to customers?
Matt: I mean there’s a whole sub-genre now of the sort of multi-attribution, multi-campaign, multi-variant attribution reporting tools that you will sit on top of content management systems, will sit on top of marketing automation systems, look across campaigns, look across different touch points and try to ascertain, okay when someone engages with this content, are they more likely to close faster? Does engaging with this content versus that content tend to accelerate the pace or the speed or the velocity of them turning into a qualified prospect and now understands the problem and who wants to solve for it. These are really complicated questions. On one hand, it doesn’t really pass the [0:13:33 inaudible] test. You’re selling six, seven figure deals. No matter what it is, the white paper download didn’t generate the sale. So this pure straight one campaign attribution doesn’t work and these long sales cycles, you’ve got multiple pieces of content that they’re touching at different stages or their journey, but their increase in software sort of like visible, like full circle insight, like bright funnel and others that are allowing us to measure and weight the important and the impact that those different pieces of content on how they’re not just providing conversion but driving the appropriate movement of those prospects further into the buying cycle.
Byron: It’s frustrating times out there right now, for sure. I think you’d agree upon that. Without this direct attribution, the investment has been stalled for quite some time. But the problem is companies are beginning to surge and spiral downward when they see a crisp reality that their competitors are crushing it in the social sphere with great communications and great team members in place on those competitive teams that are just really connecting with the prospect customer and the customers. Hopefully we’re going to get there pretty soon and I think maybe Google will help lead the charge there with a much deeper dive into analytics and influence than we can even imagine right now. I love your continuous improvement. I call it betterment, constant betterment, right. How do you relate that to actual copy itself? I think our writers would love to hear that question. My father, a professor of philosophy, used to always tell me, “Writing is re-writing.” Why is that okay? Why is improvement…? Do you believe you can always make content better, you can always make a landing page better? Tell us your thoughts on that.
Matt: I absolutely agree. Being able to measure that in an objective, quantifiable manner gets kind of difficult, but not always possible or as easy as you would hope…I’ve been writing for years, I look at the stuff I wrote three or four years ago, let alone last year, I cringe. I think we all…The active writing, the active practicing a craft, no matter what it is just makes you better, not only because just practice makes you better but then you publish that and you see what people react to, you see what people critique for you. Some of the best people in any craft, whether you’re an actor, you’re an athlete, you’re a writer, you’re a content producer, you’re not only getting better because your product is [0:16:07 inaudible] because you get audience feedback, but the best people are open to constructive criticism from each other. From their peers, it’s not always easy to hear but it’s important. I think the other…We talked about attribution…When you can see quantifiably not just what content drives a sale but what content will accelerate someone’s buying path, [0:16:28 inaudible] counter intuitive. You may find just through the act of just testing and discovery, that certain things are working, other things aren’t. The direct marketers do this all the time when they do A/B testing. You test because you don’t know. And sometimes what works is counter intuitive to what you thought would work.
Byron: You have an interesting section in the book on white papers. I want to jump ahead to that and just because you’ve chosen to take on one of the most boring topics with writing in the history of the world and how to make it better. Not that we ever thought it could be better but hats off to you. I was really fascinated with this section of the book because I think you’ve got some great ideas. You start out by saying the cover; you’re talking about the cover page. Thoughts on that?
Matt: Well, I mean we all judge books by their cover right and white papers are no different. If you’ve got a boring looking front cover that’s just a headline and a byline, that doesn’t communicate much. You could have a terrible white paper that’s poorly written but it’s got a well designed cover and it’s probably going to perform better on landing pages and on the Slide Share and elsewhere. The packaging of our content matters significantly. There’s just test after test after test that just bares that out independent of the quality of the content underneath.
Byron: We’ve learned a lot about topics and titles and headlines, tell us about those critical elements. And by the way, talk for a second about reverse engineering success with site like BuzzSumo. The answers are right out there people! We know what lists at the top, so talk about topics and titles and headlines.
Matt: Well, even though Google works very differently than it did when we were doing exact match keywords, three or five years ago, people are still searching for what they’re searching for. If people are searching for one phrase over another more frequently, that tells you that’s more top of mind for more people and that might not be a bad headline for you to use. As much as I still like the concept of white paper as a format, I never want to hear any client call it a white paper. You go to our site, you look at our white paper section, it’s under resources and we call them best practice guides for the most part. We work with a company that sells basically a back office tool specifically for churches. So it’s an ERP basically for churches and we publish for them a series of ministry guides that are focused on different elements of ministry for churches. It’s a white paper, I guess. Like it’s the easiest way for marketers to talk amongst marketers and describe generally what it is. But if I’m marketing something to an executive pastor and call it a white paper, that don’t really mean anything, right. Ministry guide at least implies some value to it, and just gets you that much closer to engagement.
Byron: I’d like to ask you about two things. A lot of our writers are very knowledgeable. Some of them are aiming at content strategists, they’re tuning in and listening to this, but earning the right is something that is an interesting concept. I want you to understand…You can tell when we hear you talk, you’re clearly an expert. You’ve been involved in many successful plans for many customers. You have earned the right to advise and give your customers advice on how to make their marketing better. How does a freelance writer or a freelance content strategist earn the right, with a prospect customer, to give them advice and to give them the best direction that would be received well? How do you earn that right?
Matt: We’ve spent a lot of hours just on that. I think some of it is reputation, and surely if you have a reputation and if you have a history of doing this, doing it successfully, if that reputation precedes you either in ratings or in a referral or a recommendation, that can give you the benefit of the doubt even when you’re saying something that people don’t necessarily believe yet or haven’t heard before. They’re more likely to be thinking, “Maybe he’s right because he’s been right all these other times.”
The other way to shortcut that, and in general I don’t think that there’s good shortcuts for this stuff but one way to try to get it more quickly is to ask questions. If you go into the room and you immediately start telling people what they should do. If you, independent of learning anything about their business or asking any questions, within five minutes of meeting, you’re like, “Well, your content doesn’t do this, and your content shouldn’t be doing this…” and what you should or what you shouldn’t be doing; like no one wants to hear that even from people that have “earned that reputation over time.” If you ask questions to understand what their objectives are, to understand why they’ve done things a certain way, how that’s performed for them, you could come back and give almost the exact same ‘you should’ statements but they’re based on insights that you just gathered even in just five, ten minutes. It implies a level of credibility that a lot of people don’t take the time to earn. Like I said, the longer you work the more reputation you have. Ideally that reputation, you want to include that but even in the art of a 15, 20, 30 minute conversation, by asking the right questions, by respecting where the company’s coming from, by having a level of empathy…Interest, curiosity and empathy around their situation, their assumption with the right question is that what you’ve come back with, is based on that and it has more credibility and that helps you as a professional.
Byron: Matt, you’ve written four books and…actually five. What’s your next book?
Matt: We actually in either late May or early April, still locking down the date, the next book is being published; it’s called ‘Full Funnel Marketing.’ It’s a little bit of…sort of a sequel to the Field Guide. It’s been a couple years since the Field Guide was published and it’s time for a refresh. I think a lot of the content in the Modern Marketer’s Field Guide is still good. It still works; but there’s new concepts, there’s updates for that and we just want to do something different. Full Funnel Marketing will be out sometime probably early May of 2016.
Byron: Terrific. Well we’ve really enjoyed listening and hearing you offer some great insights today. Thanks for being with us.
Matt: Yeah, of course. Thank you.
Byron: Right on Matt. Thanks for tuning in everyone. We’ll see you next week on this writer podcast. Thanks for tuning in.