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Content Marketing Strategies for Dummies

Friday, January 8, 2016

What is great content, and what makes it engaging? Byron chats with Stephanie Diamond, author of Content Marketing Strategies for Dummies, who addresses these questions and more on our weekly Writer Podcast. Stephanie worked as a marketing director at AOL for eight years, and founded Digital Media Works, Inc. To learn more about Stephanie and her books, you can visit http://www.contentmarketingtoolbox.com/.

Byron:               Welcome back. I’m here with Stephanie. Stephanie, welcome.

Stephanie:      Hi. Nice to be here.

Byron:               Indeed. You’re the president of Digital Media Awards, but more importantly perhaps at least for today’s podcast is you’re the author of ‘The up-and-coming Content Marketing Strategies for Dummies’. Congratulations on that new book you have coming out and for being selected by Wiley. That’s a real honor. Congratulations.

Stephanie:     Thank you very much. I’ve written several dummies books and I love it.

Byron:               I was going to say you’re no stranger with Wiley. You probably could walk in there in office fluently anytime you want and say hello.

Stephanie:      Well, I have a good relationship with them because I love their books and the ones I write, I’m very happy about. But of course, they have millions of other books so.

Byron:               Indeed. Content marketing strategies is, of course, a very hot topic these days as we all know. Tell us about your own personal background with developing content marketing strategies for other people so we can get your perspective.

Stephanie:      Well, I started out at AOL as marketing director in the early ‘90s and at that time, I had really a front row seat to see how people bought online because everything was new. My department had the main screen pop up and we could tell how people were… what people were interested in, by what they were buying from the main screen popup, and also how they were using the service. What I found then, the most important thing was to tell people, find out what the software could do, and really just figure out ways to enjoy it. One of the main things that I found was that if software works, people say that’s great, they say that software developers are geniuses. If they don’t understand it or it doesn’t work, they blame themselves. I really want to get that out of their head. I want them to understand that if they don’t understand something or if the information is not good, the [0:02:16 inaudible] is on the people presenting it and that’s how I write everything. I did a lot of training for training CDs and things like in those days. My whole interest is in helping people figure out either as the company what to write, and what their users are interested in and how to engage them and also as a writer, how to engage our readers. Content marketing for me is something that I’ve been involved in for a very long time.

Byron:               Just a small footnote. When you began at AOL, I’ve learned that there were about a million subscribers. When you left, there were 36 million subscribers. Wow. You saw incredible growth from that time period. That must have been an exciting time.

Stephanie:      It was an amazing time. In those days, it’s interesting, those people who don’t know their history are doomed to repeat it. I see everybody who’s involved in content marketing kind of reacting the same way that people did when having a website was a new idea or using the internet was a new idea. People will always buy the same way and that they will want to improve themselves or all the things about buying that we know. It’s just a matter of the technology doing it differently or presenting it differently.

Byron:               We must tell our audience the funny story of this interview and that is when we reached out to you genuinely to interview you for this book, we learned that WriterAccess is in fact featured in your book. That was really a big surprise to us because the book was not out yet and we did not know that, so that was quite interesting. Thank you for selecting WriterAccess to be featured in your book.

Stephanie:      Well, one of the things I want to do with the book is make sure that are enough resources in there to accommodate almost any request that somebody has, how would I do this, are there tools that I can use, that sort of thing. I really wanted to make sure that for those people who were interested in outsourcing content writers that they had resources and your name certainly came up.

Byron:               Well, we appreciate that. We work hard to earn the reputation that we may have with you and how we do that all day, every day with our 17,000 customers and 10,000 writers. But back to the book. We write of conferences as well and I really enjoyed what you call your five-C cycle. We have something a little bit different. We call it Content Planning, Creation, Optimization, Distribution and Performance Measurement. But I really like what you did. The company focus, customer experience, content creation, channel promotion, and closed-loop analysis. I wanted to focus closed-loop analysis because I love what you’re doing over there. Can you tell us a little bit about that part of the puzzle that you created?

Stephanie:      Yeah. That part, what I find often is that people are reluctant to second guess their strategy. There’s nothing wrong with going and relooking at your strategy every couple of months and seeing if you’re hitting your target. In these days, when you can measure and analyze anything, the important thing to do as you’re working is to see what’s happening. Look at your analytics and see what’s engaging your customers. What I do is I ask them at some point in the process to look at everything they’ve done. I have tons of worksheets and other things that they can go and look back at and see if the premise of their strategy is still good, and whether they need to make changes because today, it’s really easy to make changes, but a lot of people are reluctant to do that. They just want to stick with the strategy thinking, “If I stick with it long enough, it will work,” and the thing is if you stick with a good strategy long enough, it will work, but sometimes the customer interest changes or the marketplace just changes in general. Things change constantly as we know on the net. You have to really be aware of analyzing things as you’re going along.

Byron:               This is going to sound like a funny question, but what does a content marketing strategist do in one minute or less?

Stephanie:      A content marketing strategist looks at the business and says, “What is the content that I should be supplying to my customers and to my potential customers to (1.) engage them, but (2.) to make them better. How can I help them use my products? How can I help them feel that whatever I’m doing for them is really adding value?” It’s really a way to look at the business, figure out your goals, and tie your content marketing strategy to that. It’s really great once you have that done to figure out what you’re going to write about in all of those sorts of things. But if you haven’t figured out how to tie all those things back to your growth goals, you’re really wasting your time. People who are not starting with the strategy are finding that it’s just not working out.

Byron:               Are companies beginning to realize they need a content marketing strategist onboard and what percentage of companies do you think are adopting that within their workflow?

Stephanie:      I think that people are becoming more aware of it because what’s happening is they throw a lot of stuff against the wall to see what would work and a lot of it didn’t, and they thought, “Well, maybe this content marketing is not for me.” But as they see their competitors succeeding with it, they realized it’s not necessarily the fact that their audience is not interested. It’s that their audience is not interested in what they’re providing. Yes, I think they’re starting to realize it. I think they don’t necessarily need a content marketing strategist onboard, but they do need one to at least start them off with the process and get them to understand what they should be providing for their audience and how that ties back to business goals.

Byron:               Where can a content marketing strategist learn the practice of content market is? What’s the best environment to do that in? Do you feel content marketing strategist need to have backgrounds in writing, or analytics, or conversion metrics, or all of the above? Tell us about the skills if you could and other things that pop in your in head with the question.

Stephanie:      Well, that’s a really interesting question because I think that being an online marketer is the first step. If you understand online marketing, you can then focus on how you can create content that relates to that. But if you don’t understand what your business model is or what they need to understand if their working with somebody, what they’re business model is, how they make money, how they’re going to grow, what they intend to do in the coming year, then creating a content piece for them really it’s not going to do much. I think they need to understand online marketing, and also basically how businesses make money online, and different business strategies and models. I cover business models in the book because I think it’s really important for them to see if you’re going to help a company and you don’t understand how they make money. In many cases, in fact, the business itself doesn’t understand what it’s business model is. They understand certain things; how their product sells and that sort of thing. But if they don’t understand the model, then they’re really shortchanging themselves, and they need to figure it out and really study it and make sure that everybody in the organization understands it. It’s really critical because everybody is now a content marketer. You’ve heard that I’m sure about how customer service and just every department that deals with customers and some that don’t actually impact how content is created and how it’s engaged.

Byron:               One of the biggest problems that content marketers have and I know you have a whole chapter dedicated to that, but give us some of the highlights.

Stephanie:      Yeah. There are three things that content marketers have trouble with. The first is they don’t have enough time, they feel like they can’t create enough no matter how much they create, and they also don’t know what to write about. Given those three major problems, I focus on my Five-C strategy on tackling those particular problems like not enough time, can’t create enough of the product itself, and don’t know what to write about, especially don’t know what to write about.

Byron:               Where do you think content marketing is going to go in the next couple of years? Do you think that we’re going to move more to technical basis from which the skills will develop or more to a creation? Will strategist become more creators or will they become more analyst moving forward?

Stephanie:      I have to say that I think they’ll be more involved in the analytics and that doesn’t mean there isn’t a huge role. As a writer, of course, I champion that role as much as I can. But I think that people, once they start developing this content, will see that it’s an asset. It’s a data asset if they analyze it. Once you build an asset like that, you have to analyze it and have to continue to grow the data. I think strategist are going to become… content marketers are going to become more focused on that, which is not a bad thing because unless you create content, you have nothing to analyze. It’s never going away. It’s never going to be done by technology.

Byron:               Where’s all this great content going to come from that we need to make the content marketing revolution work and what role does a strategist have in developing that great content?

Stephanie:      Well, all the great content is going to come from writers or customers who create their content and give it to the company itself. The important thing though is that you have to know what to write about so that you’re engaging your customers, you’re not wasting time with the content you’re developing getting kind of a hit or miss strategy. There're so many strategies now; building pillar content, and doing curation, and a whole host of other things. The content can be generated. It’s the matter of generating content that will really engage your users. I think that that’s where it’s headed.

Byron:               Tell us about engagement. What is great content and why is it engaging?

Stephanie:      It’s an interesting question because many content marketers think that their business is too “boring” and that there’s nothing that they can write about that would be interesting enough to engage their users. But it’s really important to understand that any content that you write for your users is interesting to them if you create it properly because they’re interested in what you’re doing, your service, your product. You have somebody who’s interested in learning more about what you’re doing, and what you’re providing, and the value, and all of that. One of the things that I think is really important both to writers and business people who are involved in content marketing is to understand some of the things we learned in brain research in recent years. In the last ten years, we’ve learned more about the brain than we have in the last hundred before that. What I’m talking about specifically are things like dopamine, oxytocin, the brain chemical that we elicit when we are reading something that either gives a reward or makes us feel comfortable and interested in what we’re reading and have good feelings towards the business. If you understand how to invoke those, it’s not a creepy thing where you’re going into a laboratory and trying to mix up these chemicals. What’s happening if you’ve completely understood how they work, you can give anticipation, you can get your readers interested in learning more because those chemicals will be released when they’re reading your content. When writers start to create an article, they should be thinking about anticipation, the things they can do to make their reader feel like they want to learn more, and other things; uncertainty, things that make them want to feel like they want to go to your website and see what’s there, some of the things that they really need to think about because they’re automatic, they’re built-in to your reader so that if you use them properly and encourage the reader to feel engaged with everything you’re doing, you’re one step ahead of the game.

Byron:               Agree. Tell us about brand for one second. I want to come back to neuroscience, which we were discussing there. But I want to ask you an important question about brand. Do you feel that brands will eventually need to have a strategy for the content their creating, will need to define a unique voice, and are companies ready for that?

Stephanie:      Well, I think that’s what a brand… A brand is something that’s in your customer’s mind. A brand like, for example… think of a brand like Disney, some things come to your mind immediately when you think of that brand. All the different brands are already doing that. The major brands are already doing that. They’ve taken up a place in your brain and when you hear about them, you have a certain reaction and you are in the mind of the customer as that brand. Now, the interesting thing about branding is that you cannot tell your customer what your brand is. They tell you what your brand is and what your brand stands for. It’s very important for you to use content in that way to let them know these are the values we hold, these are the things that we believe for our customers, all those sorts of things that tell customers who are they are and then their customers will let them know if they’ve achieved that. They have to. Branding is all important; it always has been and it will be. In the future, nobody is too small to have a brand in the mind of a customer because of their engaged with you, they have some thought about you. You really need to focus on that and pay attention to the kind of brand you’re building.

Byron:               How can our writers tap into neuroscience in the art creating content that better engages the target audience?

Stephanie:      A couple of things. First, what’s really important to me when I sit down to write is I say, “What am I going to do to make this user better? How can I make them feel stronger? How could I help them achieve their goal,” and I start there. If I start with that focus and realize that they’re putting themselves in my hands and they’re hoping that I’m going to do something valuable for them that I’m not going to waste their time. The brain has several parts to it as we all know. One of them is the lizard brain which is the part of the brain that deals with fear and deals with what we call fight or flight. When a user is starting to read an article, they actually have… they’re going to have a reaction to it, “Is this safe to read? Is this okay,” that’s where oxytocin comes in. Oxytocin is the brain chemical that says to you, “It’s okay to approach,” meaning they won’t be afraid, there’s not something bad that they’re going to read, or they’re giving you’re their trust. The more you work with that, the more you develop trust. If you think of ways to put that in your article, communicate that in your article, I think that you’ll get a better response than if you haven’t thought about those kinds of things. In addition, one of the things about writing as Dummies writer, the Dummies have a very specific style of writing. Anybody who’s looked in a Dummies book knows the way they format things. What they make sure they do, and I found is incredibly useful, you start with the premise that you’re not going to throw anything at the reader a word they might not understand in term or concept. You just, in a little parenthesis, you explain what it is, nobody is going to feel talked down to. In the things you read online, there’s often acronyms and other things that people don’t understand. If you make it simple to understand, you really are gaining the trust of the reader. In addition, one of the other things I love about Dummies writing is that when you look at it, real dummies don’t read so it’s not like you’re saying your reader is a dummy. Now, I know everybody knows that. But if you start with the idea that you’re going to not only use persuasion, but you also want to use some education and help your reader understand something, I think it goes a long way and I think that’s why the dummies books have been so successful is because they know the reader is intelligent, but the reader just might not know this particular topic and they start… I know that every one of the books I’ve written, a great deal of work goes into it and there’s lots of concepts and things that I have to develop, and work through, and to present in a way that’s easy to understand, but you can never go wrong doing that. As a writer, remember that you always want to simplify; you want to create a structure that’s easy to follow, bullet points, things like that; and never worry about talking down to your reader as long as you have a genuine concern to educate them.

Byron:               What book are you working on next?

Stephanie:      Well, interestingly enough I’m not working on a book right now. I’ve created this book with lots of worksheets and all sorts of templates and things like that. What I’m going to work on now is working with people who are interested in their content marketing to help them actually get involved and use my five-C process so that it becomes easier for them.

Byron:               Tell us about strategies for writers, and how you might be helping them in the book in developing some templates and other things that might be a great catalyst for them?

Stephanie:      One of the things that’s so key is that most of the writers struggle with the blank page and there have been several studies that have been done that show that anybody who starts with a template is going to come out with a better result than if they just start with a blank page. It’s great to either find templates, you can find millions of them online, or develop some for yourself and then perfect them so that you’re never starting with a blank sheet of paper. The idea that a template might squash your creativity is totally wrong. What a template does is it allows you to think through the way things should be done, the way that articles should be structured, and it’s a way to give your creativity some boundary so that you can press against them. If you look at it and say, “Well, this is not the right question to be asking,” you’re automatically developing the right question. Templates are a great tool and something that I think every writer should use.

Byron:               Imagine we have thousands of writers that are working with thousands of customers, and they’re doing it on this online platform. Do you have any suggestions or advice for writers on how to get more information from their customers so they can create more content that’s better?

Stephanie:      One of the things that I always do is I ask the customer, “Let me understand what your customers’ already seen.” I’ll go on their website and look at whatever has been written before, and ask them, “Is this sufficient? What’s good about your articles? What needs improvement,” so that you get a sense of… you want to understand what they already know that they haven’t told you, but innately know about their own content. I think when they get started, they should look at everything that’s been written about the company within reason. Then after your customer, what do you like about this and what do you think needs improvement. I think they’ll actually get a lot more feedback that way, and it will help them develop a relationship and also write better content.

Byron:               Strangely enough at WriterAccess in the next few months, we’re going to be launching some new pools of talent and one of them is a content strategist. Could you tell us a little bit about the transformation of a writer to becoming a content strategist and what skills they would need to develop to be a great content strategist for a customer?

Stephanie:      Yeah. I think that’s a great question because as a writer, you’re focusing at the detail level. What you need to do as a content strategist is a rise up high in the organization to the business focus and you need to understand what… look at, like I said before, the business model, the business goal. Those things are incredibly important. That’s where you develop your content strategy, which will then dictate what the content should be. But as a strategist, you’re going to engage people at the business level, what has been done before with these goals and how can we approach your customer so that they are engaged with the new content. A very important aspect of it is to have customer persona and to understand who your customer is in a really deep way, and that’s why I talked about making the customer better because as a content strategist, marketing strategist, what you really want to be doing is focusing on how you’re going to make your customer better, how you’re going to make the customers’ person better, so that you’re really adding value because that’s what people are looking for. Just focusing on the details as a writer is one thing on the specifics of what they’re doing. But as a content strategist, you need to look at the big picture. One of the things that I use for looking at the big picture of things is I create mind maps for companies to help them determine what’s the big picture of their business. When a content strategist approaches this from that angle, and I think people should think about those kinds of things, they have better inroads to learning about being a content strategist for that company.

Byron:               One of the content strategists that I talked a little about in the first book I wrote on the content marketing roadmap is a simple expression, but I want to ask you a question about it and it’s the following: Content marketing, you could define, is the art of listening to the wants and needs of your customers, and the science of the delivering it to them in a compelling way. Do you think we’ve gotten any better in the last few years with listening to the wants and needs of customers and if so, what are you seeing that’s different now that’s helping us to listen better?

Stephanie:      I don’t actually think we’ve gotten better. I think that we’d like to get better. But I think that what social marketing has done, it has focused people on the negative. When you see customers talking to companies on social media, what they’re normally doing is, “Hey, I need help with something.” It’s a tech support thing or it’s a customer problem. I think that we’re not trying to elicit more about what customers’ needs and interests are. We’re only focusing on how can we solve these problems. I think that what we need to do is start to take this focus of the customer persona and look at what are the positive things we could be doing and push those out on social media. It’s understandable that you’d start with focusing on solving problems, but I think you want to get beyond that and I think that’s where social media needs to go with content marketing.

Byron:               Stephanie, I want to thank you for being on the call with two final questions. How can we get a hold of you and a copy of your book, and who would you like to get a hold of you?

Stephanie:      I would like to hear from anyone who’s interested in doing content marketing, learning more about how to write content marketing, more about the content structure, and those sorts of things. My book is available on Amazon starting on January 19th.

Byron:               Terrific. Is there a website that people can get a hold of you to connect with you?

Stephanie:      Yeah. My website is contentamarketingtoolbox.com and you can reach me there. My goal for the new year is to have everybody feeling better about the content marketing they’re doing because they’ll feel comfortable if they have a strategy.

Byron:               Terrific. Well, it’s been great having you on today. We all really appreciate your time and your insights. Thanks much.

Stephanie:      Thank you very much for inviting me.

Byron:               Indeed. Thanks for listening and everyone, we’ll see you next week. Thanks for tuning in.