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Valuable Content Marketing

Thursday, January 14, 2016

How do you analyze quality content? Sharon Tanton and Sonja Jefferson tackle questions all about good content - a topic they know well, as they co-authored the book Valuable Content Marketing together. In the interview, Byron asks them if there's a new definition to quality content, and how the role of content creator has changed in the last few years. Keep up with Sharon and Sonja at: http://www.valuablecontent.co.uk/

                            Byron:                   Welcome back everyone, I’m here with Sonja & Sharon. Welcome!

                            Sharon:                 Hi Byron, nice to meet you.

                            Sonja:                   Hi Byron, it’s Sonja here as well.

Byron:                   Yes, indeed. You’re both co-authors of the book ‘Valuable Content Marketing: How to Make Quality Content Your Key to Success.’ So my first question for you is why would you want to take on at the topic of a book about quality content? You both must be insane. It is really, really difficult to create quality content. What brought your interest in taking a closer look at this topic?

Sonja:                   I think…it’s Sonja here. I think Byron it was just because our clients were asking for it. We work with professional businesses here in the UK. And they didn’t understand how to create this stuff, or even why it’s created when we wrote the first book. So it was really their needs that we were thinking of in writing the book and trying to make the ideas that we’ve accessible for them so they get it.

Sharon:                You’re right it was…It is quite amassing to do in a way. Sorry, it’s a hard thing to kind of explain a message in a book and keep it engaging and making people want to read it, but we were up for the challenge. We knew it would help so we went for it.

Byron:                   How do you define quality, and let me be more specific in defining quality, with the quality of the content itself versus its performance in the marketplace?

Sharon:                Good question. I think the two things are quite closely tied together, good quality content and performance in the marketplace. For me, I guess, the marks of good quality are that it’s helpful, entertaining, authentic, relevant and timely. Those are all the kind of things that we always stick to. The H-E-A-R-T spells heart, which is kind of neat, which appeals to me as a writer. The content that your particular customers are looking for and its content that helps you sell as a business, that’s what defines valuable for me.

Sonja:                   Yeah, totally without a doubt. Content is useful to your business, and its content that’s useful to your clients and it’s that sweet spot that we’re looking to help people to find and get and write about.

Byron:                   Can you imagine a chart that sort of…or a pie chart or something, that says, okay here are the ingredients of quality content, 1-2-3-4. Do you believe that you need all four of these to define something as quality content? Tell us how you analyze quality within a particular asset and how it becomes; it hits the bar of magic that it has enough of these ingredients to be quality. How do you think about that both from a writer perspective and a book author’s perspective?

Sonja:                   That’s a great question. I think in terms of one particular asset, you’re talking about one piece of content there Byron. They don’t have to have the helpful and entertaining in one single piece. I think that you can have content that’s inherently valuable and helpful and you can also have content that’s inherently entertaining and engages people that way. I think over a whole company and in terms of their whole library of contents, and it’s useful to have both those elements working together. But in terms of one piece…

Sharon:                Yeah, I think if you try to do everything in every piece of content, you just tire yourself and like I’ve just got to be hilarious, I’ve got to have much soul, I’ve got to be really helpful, I’ve got to have beautiful design, I’ve got to share in all the right places; you would never get off the start line. But make it…Choose one kind of asset and go for it per piece maybe.

Byron:                   How is the role of content creator changed in the last few minutes or…just kidding… last few years, in terms of the skills required to generate quality content. Of course that means many things these days. Explain to people how the skill set alone has changed in developing quality content.

Sonja:                   I don’t know if there even was a role going back that many years ago, that’s what’s interesting really. It’s a new thing. It’s evolving all the time. I think that there are many types of content creator that we see. There is a whole team of people you can put together that will create content over time but the roles got more sophisticated. Because it’s not…Your content has to be better I think, for starters. But it’s also not just about creation, a lot of it. It’s also about teaching clients or teaching yourself how you get that out there, how you distribute it, as well as the creation, so there’s two angles to it I think.

Sharon:                And I also think we are…have created a whole new level of people who now are expected to write a blog, who may be haven’t been in a situation of having to write in a customer friendly way since well…forever. The last time they had to write things maybe it was at school or anything they are writing now, it’s kind of report driven or an internal audience. There is a whole sway that people are having to learn to become something creative, and having to learn to write in a much more accessible, much more human way, which is an interesting challenge to people.

Sonja:                   Yeah. A lot of our clients are consultants and will give advice in some way. And again, they’re great at writing technical report but as Sharon said, having to change that tone of voice so that it comes across as accessible and friendly and engaging is a challenge. It’s a new set of skill and that’s what they have to learn, to be able to create quality content as you put it.

Byron:                   Likes, shares, arguably love, is that a new definition of quality and success?

Sharon:                How much something gets shared is a mark of success. I think it’s not necessarily the number of likes and shares, but it can be that the right person gets to see the content and likes and share it. I think every bit of content has work to do. It’s got to reach to the right people and get them to take the right action. You might only need that to be one person. You don’t need a piece of content to be successful and get 5,000 likes and appear everywhere. But certainly sharing is  a mark that yes, I’ve got this right and I’m talking in a way that people want to listen to, I’m saying stuff people want to hear. We certainly do look at shares as something as a mark of success.

Sonja:                   I think it depends on why you are creating that piece of content Byron as well. There’s different contents required at different points in the buying cycle, the sales cycle, if you like. If you’re looking for great awareness, and that shareability factor is a great measure of success of that piece of content because it’s gone far and wide, but there’s other places in the buying cycle. Our clients may want more loyalty and they’re driving from current clients and they may want…It may be a specific conversion or into a piece of content, in which case shares are maybe what they’re looking for, it’s action on the back of that. It depends why you’re creating that piece of content and setting a measure against that, that’s meaningful; it’s just going to get you where you want to go, get you to meet your goals.

Byron:                   What obligation do we have to our fans that read our content? And I asked that question because I was wondering how you figure the answer to that question, and if you even figure that question into your label of quality.

Sonja:                   Oh, that’s a really good question. You said what obligation do we have to our…

Byron:                   Fans and our readers.

Sharon:                I think my…That the obligation, the thing that I hold in my head, I tend to write…I have one person clearly in my mind I’m writing for, and my obligation is, is this going to help them? I think that’s my base, bottom line; be helpful.

Sonja:                   Yeah. I was thinking about, we’ve sent out some newsletters today this morning, Byron. That goes out to quite a few people around the world now. Our obligation is to really, really help them, what can we give them that nobody else can, that really helps to move things on this year. We gave away a list of questions this time which is the questions that we use when we go out doing client research with our clients. They are genuinely, seriously helpful and it’s smarter to be honest, to give them away.

Sharon:                We’re really going to have to send them out to all these people…

Byron:                   Yeah.

Sonja:                   It’s pushing that helpfulness as much as you can. And I think that’s just quite a good test of whether your client is going to like it or not, the readers are going to like it or not. It hurts a bit when you give it away. And it’s definitely going to hit home with the people who read it. But Sharon’s right, I think it is that mark of, is this genuinely going to be helpful.

Sharon:                Yeah. Why are they going to bother reading this? Is it going to help them? People are so busy, aren’t they? There’s so much content out there, there’s so much other stuff you could read, watch, look into at any one time, what’s going to hold them reading that.

Byron:                   When you’re both working with customers, how do you learn the wants and needs of their customer base? How do you do that research? How do you find out that? Are you guessing in persona development? Are you actually talking with customer service representatives? What’s the art and science you use to find out what people’s wants and needs are to help with the content creation process?

Sonja:                   Love that question. It’s definitely real research and it’s just the key to every project that we do, Byron. It’s based on real research. Of course we spend time with our clients and their team to understand want they want to get across. But the most exciting information comes from doing real research with people. We’ve done surveys but the really, really informative stuff comes from real conversations with real clients. So most projects that we do we end up standing on the phones with the company, phoning up and having half an hour to an hour conversations with at least ten up to 20, 25, 30 clients, and then listening to their answers. We ask good questions about the value the client needs and what these clients want, and we listen hard, and that is where the joy comes out of it. That’s where…

Sharon:                Yeah, we kind of can see patterns between clients’ wants and needs, but we also get…which from a writers point of view it’s fantastic for going on to use or to create content as the actual words people use, the actual way they talk about their challenges, the metaphors they use, the way they describe the things at heart, the way they talk about the values. And it’s usually so different from the way our customers themselves what they do. It’s always a massive eye opener but at least it’s fantastic, fantastic content.

Sonja:                   Yeah, and the message behind the content as well which is only thing we’re looking for.

Byron:                   Tell me a little bit about the art of style flax, I like calling it, where you’re trying to develop a tone and a style for a customer and create almost a stance of their brand within the content you’re creating. How do you that and how do you even approach that with a customer? And do you do it by showing them examples and showing them different strengths or styles? Is it like putting together like, “Here are three ways we could write this, choose which way you like better”? Tell us how you accomplish that goal.

Sharon:                In the client research interviews, what we will usually do from that is, we write an observation and we pull things out and we put out kind of keywords that people are using and you sort of build up a lexicon of client-friendly words which have come from them. And then what I would usually do is kind of write a sample copy for them, this is how your Twitter message would sound, this is how your About Us message would sound. I don’t tend to give them options because I’ve been working with the real building block words all the way through. For me that feels like this is the option. This is how your clients talk. This is how it’s going to work for you. So it’s a mix of creativity and working with the real world.

Sonja:                   Yeah. And it’s a push for people, particularly in the kind of industries that we’ve been working in, to take that step into a different tone of voice. It takes bravery I think, from a client point of view, to stop communicating in a different way. We get a sense from our client how far we can push that.

Sharon:                We try and push them further.

Sonja:                   We do. It’s that combination I think again, of knowing them well and talking to really understand how the customers communicate and matching that.

Sharon:                We would give them some rules afterwards, we leave the words we will use and how we’re going to talk about…our customers…how we would talk about our services. We do. We leave them with a guide so they can…Not in a room but, yeah, we build through talking to clients.

Byron:                   We’re all creating a lot more content these days, which is both good and bad. How do you make your content stand out? Because you’ve done a lot of research in that area and does the book help people? Talk a little bit about amplification.

Sonja:                   It does. I think that’s really important and we love the work that Mark Swayze have been doing on this at the moment. He’s really pushing that harder as well. I read something, and I wish I could remember where it is from, in terms of what you need to aim for if content is going to stand out, and they talked about making your content…To stand out it has to be inherently valuable or surprisingly human. And I think that pushing those boundaries that effect is what we need to do to make it hit home.

Sharon:                For us the content…Often the things that really take off are the things that we just do for fun, and I think which are this kind of mad, crazy, creative idea and we put it into content form. Like a few months ago, we came up with this idea that The Land of Content or Content Island…We thought, imagine if content marketing really was a journey and really went to a place called content, what would be there…And we do have a fantastic designer here [0:15:07 Libby] and we had an absolutely kind of hysterical couple of hours mapping out of a book. This is human content on everyone land…we have good intentions and then what happens. Sometimes they get dragged up into the pool to quick wins where they’ll just think I’ll just use the content file. And sometimes they end up in spooky books where they don’t know what to say….Those kind of content is where you’re not necessarily even thinking of the end result…end up being the things which take you a very, very long way.

Sonja:                   I think just people to have the joy of it, and have a lot of fun doing it.

Sharon:                Fun is really good way to make your content good. If you’re enjoying writing it I think people probably enjoy reading it.

Byron:                   How can you…I have a question that might be difficult to answer but we represent, as you know 10,000 plus writers at WriterAccess, we have new writers that join us all the time. We have 17,000 customers at WriterAccess and our platform is helping our customers find writers a place or to manage their work for. But there’s something interesting that I’ve been stumbling on lately, is that particularly in preparation for a content marketing conference which is coming up in November, that is this concept of, if you’re going to create really great content, you need to probably be passionate about that topic area. Wouldn’t you agree and how does this play into content creation from your perspective? When you go into that glue company that you mentioned in your book that I was looking over, you know…

Sonja:                   They’re a great example of content done well.

Byron:                   Yeah, right. They produce glue, you just have to be passionate about glue until you start realizing the potential for connection between things that stick together, stickiness…Where would the world be without stickiness? Your mind starts to spin. So tell us how passion becomes a critical element and do you feel a platform like WriterAccess has an opportunity for these writers to express their passion with customers and how can they do that?

Sonja:                   That’s a great question.

Sharon:                I think that the genius thing that [0:17:34 inaudible] do is something that you test on those. It just spreads the story of stickiness. It gets its clients to share all their amazing ways they’ve made things stick together, and all the things they’ve fixed, that kind of messages that sort of joy of fix. It just makes people smile. And they become applicants for that business just because they want to share the way they fixed their bike on the way to work or the way they fix their seatbelts when they were trekking to the Arctic.

Sonja:                   They may not be passionate about glue but they’re passionate about the purpose of that business and the purpose of the business is for the joy of fixes. People who fix things in the world and bringing them together and getting them to do more of that. Not necessarily be the product but it’s the purpose behind the business that is the passion to share as much as anything else. And for your writers, and your clients, I think that’s really interesting because everybody has a different reason for being in business. Everybody’s got a different purpose in life in general. If they can get that across through the right thing then that would make a big difference to how the content…how it lands with people too. But it does matter. You ask a good question there.

Sharon:                Yeah, definitely matters.

Sonja:                   You can tell…I’m sure you read stuff too, whether it’s written with that passion behind it.

Sharon:                Yeah and for the joy as well, where the joy is connecting with that passion…Definitely for writers, to be able to access that and use that and bring it into their writing to connect with more people.

Byron:                   Storytelling is of course a huge topic these days. As we all know, it’s less about selling the features and benefits of your products and more about perhaps telling stories about how your products are made, or stories that make people smile, or touched a heart. But convincing customers to bring storytelling to their content is challenging. How do you that with your customer base? How do you convince them to open up and tell stories and be transparent with how they think and what they do and what they read and the mistakes they make? How do you do that?

Sharon:                What we often do is share examples of a company doing it really well. Storytelling is a bit of an abstract concept and I think it’s quite hard for a business to think how can we use stories…But once you start sharing them things like this, just like you’ve mentioned, or some people like Hiut Denim that tells stories really well, they can see the commercial benefit and they can see…

Sonja:                   They feel how it connects with them. We run something called the valuable content awards Byron, which is recognizing greatness in contenting businesses around the world. This is how we’ve landed across…Hiut Denim as Sharon mentioned. All of the businesses that we reward tend to be fabulous storytellers. We’ve got a rich pool of stories about companies telling stories on their website that we share with our clients. So I think you have to see it through other people and feel it as well, and get that.

Sharon:                I think storytelling is…I find it’s quite a hard concept. One of my evergreen story is Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs…that when you handle a business you think how is that relevant to me? You have to show, show it in context, show how well businesses do it.

Sonja:                   And ask them about the companies that they connect with. Interestingly, when they peel it back, it’s always the ones…

Sharon:                The ones that tell a good story.

Sonja:                   Yeah.

Byron:                   Stories get passed around and shared unlike features of products, right? But it’s convincing the customers. I’m just going to ask you a question one more time because I’m really interested in it. How did you show customers for example, valuable content and explain how it worked and why it worked?

Sharon:                Exactly. In the first kind of client presentation, we will take an example of websites that do it really well. We’ll show them a story. We’ll walk them through it. And we’ll show them a set of few different ones, different context. It’s the actual sharing it, showing them how…

Sonja:                   Yeah, definitely…Then that connects. The other thing is being influential with our customers and then…I was getting some feedback on the project we’ve done recently today, it’ Simon Sinek, the brilliant, brilliant TED talk that he did…

Sharon:                ‘Start With Why.’

Sonja:                   The ‘Start With Why’ and that brings home to clients, to our clients and our customers the importance of starting your purpose with why, starting with your story, and that one video I think has changed the minds of so many customers actually, isn’t it? I mean, presentations…

Sharon:                It’s not what you do, it’s why you do it. They do get it, a couple of mantra, we’ve got to explain, we’ve got to be able to explain why we’re doing this, tell that story really fluently and really well. That’s been a real game changer.

Sonja:                   Thank you Simon Sinek for that one.

Sharon:                Thank you.

Sonja:                   He’s brilliant.

Byron:                   Good plug there. I’ve had Simon speak a few times. He’s pretty special. Great insights…I have two final questions for you, who would you like to get a hold of you and how can they get a hold of you?

Sonja:                   I think anybody. The people who we really, really love to help are brave people running small, ambitious, independent businesses who really want…have something to say to the world and want to get that across, but maybe is struggling to know exactly how to communicate that, what it is and how to communicate it through the content that they share. So that’s for me.

Sharon:                Yeah, I think so. We often look at businesses big and small, but the people we really resonate with are the people running kind of small businesses, people who could actually decide today to do content marketing and then will be able to work on something tonight and get going rather than great big corporations that have layers and layers of decision-makers underneath them. So kind of affinity with small business, like how you said it; kind of brave, independent people who really want to make this work, we want to help them do that.

Sonja:                   In terms of how they can get in touch with us, we’ve obviously got a website, so it’s tons of…valuablecontent.co.uk. And the one thing that we can give them straight up that will help and would be accessed to the Valuable Content Club which is our email news letter club. We send out a couple of emails every month and it genuinely is our best stuff. And we’d love it if they joined the club and we can help them in some way make their content even greater.

Byron:                   Well, it’s been a pleasure having you both on today’s podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Sharon:                Thank you, we’ve loved it.

Sonja:                   Yeah, thanks for the questions. Great questions, I think.

Byron:                   Hopefully I challenged you enough.  Terrific. Well, thanks again for tuning in. We look forward to being in touch with you folks and until next week everybody. Hope your life’s a little smarter, better, faster, wiser. And thanks to this great podcast. Thanks for tuning in, see you next week.