It’s much harder to grow your brand if your work culture works against you.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How to encourage execs to develop a culture that appreciates content
- The importance of qualitative data and context when reporting
- How to tell a positive marketing story internally
- How to build the appropriate content team
- Content Performance Culture [book]
Amanda: He's worked as a journalist, non-profit executive, content strategist and digital branding strategist, I believe is your title, right Christoph?
Christoph: That works.
Amanda: Well, I'm very excited to have Christoph Trappe on the show because we're going to talk about his content performance culture philosophy, which I think is going to be really applicable to everybody listening. So, welcome to the show, Christoph.
Christoph: Thanks for having me.
Amanda: So, you have kind of an overarching philosophy about how content can be successful at a company. I'd like to start, rather than diving into all these different pillars, I want to start with this concept of a content performance culture, and you have a book by the same name, right?
Amanda: So, what exactly does that mean? What does that phrase mean?
Christoph: Yeah. So, at the end of the day for us to be successful, right? We have to have the right culture, in our companies, on our teams, and you know, when I grew up as a journalist, there was no such thing as content performance, "Christoph, how many people read your article.?", "Oh, 100,000, 80,000.", whatever subscription-- the subscription number was, right? That was kind of the thing nobody knew, and today we need content to perform, and there's a lot of people, they jump to immediate conclusions that content doesn't work, when they tried one time, or they post one tweet and it didn't lead them to become millionaires. So, to actually be successful, you have to create a culture that encourages and enables people to create content that has a chance to perform.
Amanda: Does that usually have to come from leadership or is there a way, you know, sometimes there are content teams that accompany but they don't feel supported? Is that something that has to come from leadership, or is that something that a content team can start trying to foster that kind of culture?
Christoph: I think it can start with a content team, but you definitely need buy-in and verbal support, you know, explicit support from leadership. I mean, if the leadership doesn't buy-in, if they just kind of let things go, and you know, everybody can do their own thing, it usually doesn't work. So, somebody on the executive level has to say, "This is what we're doing. This is why we're doing it. And here's, you know, here's how long it might take.". So, they definitely need the buy-in, the support from that level of the organization for sure.
Amanda: What do you think are some ways like, say that buy-in is not initially there, what are some ways to try to get that kind of buy-in? You know, if you're that marketing executive who's at the table, what are some ways that they can get the buy-in that they need?
Christoph: So, you always have to figure out what's the executive' s problem; what's something you can solve for them? And also, what are some industry standards, right? What are other people doing? And I just talked to an executive the other day, and they said, "Oh, we're doing really well, but we haven't really done good content marketing. We haven't really gotten our story out there; we haven't done good thought leadership.". So, I don't know exactly why that started popping up in his mind, but somebody somewhere probably said, "Well, you guys don't look like thought leaders. How come?". Do you know what I mean, like, publicly? So, you have to figure out what is the problem that you can solve with content for your leadership. And you know, the more that they think there is a need, whether it's real or perceived, you can jump in there and help them fix that and move forward.
Amanda: That's interesting what you said that somebody might have just mentioned something to them that they don't sound like authorities in their space. What are some other examples of that type of need, that you can propose that content can fulfill?
Christoph: So, you know, for example, you'd be surprised how many executives make decisions based on a couple people mentioning things to them, if they're influential people to them. But also, sometimes you see like there's something happening in the market, somebody else is getting ahead of you in the market, somebody else is more well-known, or they have a bigger share of voice in the market. So, the more you can figure out, what are those needs that you can play into? I mean, think about as we are in the Coronavirus pandemic, right? Why did some companies take off and other companies didn't? Why is Zoom the same thing as saying, you know, video conferencing, why didn't somebody else take off? So, once you see those things, you can jump in and say, "Hey, content can help you be more in front of people, be top of mind and you know, hopefully we can make up some of the ground.".
Amanda: Yeah, I'd like to talk a little bit about that. Like, what you're saying about just being top of mind and some of those goals and might be a little less tangible, and I think you talked before about anecdotal evidence and how it can matter. Can you speak to that?
Christoph: Yeah, I would love to measure everything, but it doesn't always work that way, right? And so, when you look at anecdotal evidence, the example I give in the book is, you have, let's say you have an OBGYN, who is running a content marketing campaign, and not everything that they write about, that they blog about, is measurable, towards an immediate conversion, right? But people come into the clinic and the woman might say, "Oh, I have been reading your blog, and, you know, I love you thinking, I love your thought leadership. You've already helped me, just by me reading that. So, now I would like you to be my doctor."; that's anecdotal evidence. I can't measure that, you know that they converted to a patient, but I can measure the anecdote. So, make sure you find a way to actually document those and you find a way to play them back and sometimes what I've found is, so when somebody comes to you and says, "How many leads came to us from that campaign?", it's digital only, and you say, "Well, 50.". A lot of people might say, "Well, that's not very many, you know, why isn't it a million? Or why isn't it whatever?". But when you tell stories like that, evidence, you don't necessarily need the big numbers, but it feels like there's an impact. So, don't discount those kinds of measurements, make sure they're being played back, make sure people have that feeling, and of course, if you can support it with digital measurements, that's great, too. But it's not as linear as I'd like it to be a lot of times, unfortunately,
Amanda: Right. I think a lot of marketers struggle with that, people want them to report on numbers, but especially any awareness bucket, it's harder to do sometimes, because like you said, you don't know how they heard about you in the first place, and what finally got them to make that decision. So, do you think that when you're reporting on this type of stuff, it makes sense to have whatever data you have, but supplement it with actual stories, right?
Christoph: Absolutely. And context is also important. You know, I had Tamra Birkhead on my business storytelling podcast, and she talked about how 3% of your relevant audience is ready to buy at any given time. So, if I have 100 listeners or 100 readers, if they're exactly the target audience, only 3% will be ready to buy. So, at the end of the day, I have to have some kind of mass to actually convert people, right? So, if I only have, if I have let's say, I got 500 views on a new podcast, which is pretty good for new content marketing strategy, at the beginning, but they're not all the right people, right? So, how many am I converting? Probably not that many, and especially at that point in time, you know, they might not be ready to buy anyways, but they might be able to, they might be willing or interested in buying later. So, that's kind of where the top of mind awareness comes in, that you can create by creating good content as part of your content marketing strategy.
Amanda: So, it sounds like when you go back to say how one of these initiatives has performed, it's not just, "Here are the numbers.", it's, "Here's the context for why this might be the number. And also, here's some examples of it working from the actual mouths of the people who interacted with it.", that does sound much more powerful.
Christoph: Exactly. And the other thing to keep in mind, too, it is not a sprint. It's really-- it's truly a marathon. And when you look at a lot of the companies that do good content marketing, or like the content marketing experts out there, they've been at it for a long time. And you know, and the long time is, they've done it for years. And of course, everybody says, "Well, we need results today.", but it's like, the sales team, right? Yes, we want sales today but a lot of times the people they talk to, they're not buying the first time you call them or the first time you talk to them, and then, marketing is no different when it comes to that kind of timeline on how do you build that relationship over multiple touch points. And also, you know, the longer amount of time than, just me saying one time, "Hey, Amanda ,ready to buy my book?", and you say, "Not really, because I'm not reading any books right now, I got 10 on my list.", right? So, just something to think about that it's not, you know, don't think of it as a campaign, but think of it is, how do you implement it really, for long-term success and long-term strategy?
Amanda: How do you get executives to see it that way? Because I'm sure there are people listening are like, "Yeah, like, I definitely know, this is a long-term thing, but I got to get everybody else on board with that and willing to take that risk.". And I think it's interesting, the point you brought up at the beginning, which is like, you can, there's a certain way you have to test things out, but you have to do your due diligence. It's, if you just tweet one thing or post one thing, you're not going to really see the full impact to that, without actually giving it, you know, some sort of an effort. So, how do you try to, or how have you seen other people get that kind of buy-in?
Christoph: So, first of all, for any content team that's listening it's, the excuses must stop. And here's what I mean by that is, I can stand here, I can sit here, I have a standing desk where I stand most of the day, but you know, I mean I can say, "Well, I can do this if you spend $30,000 for me to get this software, this content tool. I can do this if you give me two more roles, one as a writer, one as a video producer. I can do this if, if if...". It's, to an extent, don't take it the wrong way guys, but to an extent like my kids, you know, "I will be active as soon as you buy me whatever.", no, you can go outside and be active, you have a bike, you have a net that you can pitch into, right? Like, my 12-year-old is a softball pitcher, and there's always ways you can do things and content. And especially today, man, the tools are getting so much easier. You know, you can record a podcast like, I mean, we're, I don't know what your setup is, but I'm on my phone, right? With Apple, not even air pods but earbuds in, and when I first did podcasts or any audio, 15 years ago, you know what we had to do? You and I, we would meet in a studio, soundproof studio, right? And this wasn't an option. So, find the ways to do some things and get started, show some initial results, and then slowly start asking for more, you know, and ask for the right things. And you know, not everybody can do everything, but try to find those early results and just kind of keep going and then kind of build on that and really consider what you truly really need.
I'll give you another example. I would not call myself a video storyteller, any stretch of the imagination, but I've won awards for immersive video. You know, last year the Folio, 2019, best immersive video and it wasn't just me, it was a team, right? But my point is, I had a $72 virtual reality camera in Chad video when we were doing a story Active Shooter training, you know, the sheriff's office came in and they did active shooter training, and people actually went through what felt like a very realistic training. And I literally just put the camera on my phone, in Chad virtual reality video, of the shooter attacking us, right? They didn't have real bullets, but they were still shooting at us. And, you know, you can see the story. Like, I could do that for $72, I didn't have to go to my boss and say, "Hey, I need a $15,000 budget. And once I do, I can do virtual reality video.", right? I just did it, and I found the cheapest way to do it. So, there's a lot of ways that you can find cost efficient ways to tell stories, and you know, go from there. And then, you know, once you see some success, move forward, try something else, and then ask for more. And then also, think about, who do you actually need on the team? And then also, who do you already have on the team? You know, who could help with the current strategy that's already part of your team or another team and then kind of go forward from there.
Communication though with the executives, super important, right? Report back little results. And I'll give an example, marketers should also be good about marketing themselves. And I one time worked on a project and this team, they were talking about how sales didn't come in, and it wasn't a good week, right? But my team didn't come up. So, somebody said to me, "How come your team didn't come up? There was no more sales for that service.". And I said, "I think it has to do with the marketing.", right? Because we've been reporting little results all week long. So, they kind of forgot about that, they were also no sales in this area, but they saw the little other results that were indicators of, you know, hopefully success, more success down the road. So, you have to tell your own story to the executives and other people that make decisions.
Amanda: Yeah, it's funny how, I think sometimes especially if you don't have a ton to report and you're quiet, then you don't necessarily want people just filling in those blanks for you, right? I learned that on like, the client side early on, I was like, "If I don't send an email about what I'm doing or what our team is doing, you know, they might just assume you're not doing anything.", like what's going on? So, even if the story is just like, you know, have you done that, where it's just it's kind of like progress updates, it's explaining where you're at with things, rather than kind of not reporting at all?
Christoph: Yeah, you have to find something good to share, and I'm not talking about you should massage everything to be positive. But you know, there's always a positive story somewhere. I'll give you an example. When we started doing VR video more, when clients, when you were shooting it, and the partners they would, I would always, when they see it, I would always report back on what their feedback was, right? And I would always say something like, you know, I mean, when it was positive, "They were so happy how we did it and how it was done right away.". And then what I would do is, I always follow up with an email. So, here's still content asset that published and then a lot of times especially and we talk about VR video, which is pretty new, for most companies, or a lot of companies, they would reply and say, "This was so awesome, we shared it everywhere.", you know, etc, etc. So, then you have another positive story to share from that experience, because now it's in writing. Now, technically, some people will say, "But you already shared it.", well, sure, but they responded again, and nobody will remember that I already shared it, right? They will just see, "Oh, my goodness.", that's awesome to see a partner that's very happy with working with us.
Amanda: That's a good point that they probably won't remember, I think we take that for granted sometimes, that people are going to always remember what we said even you know, a week ago, let alone months ago for a project.
Christoph: You know, I mean, my theory is, it's like parenting, I'm going to have to repeat myself 15 times before anybody remembers anything.
Amanda: That's so true, though. I mean, that's why it's a fundamental thing in branding, it's like, somebody has to hear about you so many times before they'll ever convert. It's the same with anything like you're saying like, internally too, you have to keep bringing up the same thing over and over again, not always overtly but like you said, like reporting on little wins and stuff like that actually makes an impact over time. So, that's, you know, this is all part of kind of like the performance culture side, and I know you talked about how goals, and goal setting is a very important part of that, you want everybody to be on the same page, understanding what to expect out of it. So, what are some examples of like, exec level goal setting that people can do for content marketing?
Christoph: So, I know there's always a big raging debate out there on, "Oh, we don't want vanity metrics, and blah, blah, blah. You know, we don't care about likes, and we don't care about this and whatever.". But people do care about it, and here's how I know, because every time I have a campaign, and I say, "Oh, this only had like, 400 impressions.", people say, "What? That's it?". So, they do care about it, right? I think at the end of the day, people need to be aware of what is like the max that they can get for a certain campaign. So, for example, you know, I'm a big fan of remarketing, for content, for webinar, really for anything, because it's already the audience that's on my website, they leave, I retarget them, and I try to get them back. And you know, there's a limit to how many impressions that campaign can see, and that limit depends on what my website traffic is like, you know? So, think about that, if you know, how many people can you actually reach? What's your share voice in the marketplace? There's a lot of tools out there now that you can use. I actually did this with Hootsuite, you know, when Zoom, I did an article on Zoom, I don't remember the exact topic what I was talking about. Oh, I think I was making the point, this was before Zoom had the security issues; I was making the point that, maybe you should call your webinars, Zoom meetings, maybe more people would show up because everybody's currently doing Zoom meetings. In fact, that's why there's more Zoom happy hours, then there's real happy hours, you know? So, should you rebrand it? And what we looked up Hootsuite is, the sentiment and shared voice for Zoom was just out of this world, I mean, off the charts, and mostly positive. So, you can look at that too, you know, what are people saying about you? How are they feeling about you? You know, how many people are paying attention to you? So, some of those goals.
And you also want to have an upward trend. Every once in a while people say to me, "Oh, but what's the goal?", and it's fine to set a goal but at the end of the day, one time you have a home run, and you pull that goal out of the water, right? And then, you kind of have to catch up again for a little bit. But high level, what are people saying about us? Do they know about us? What's the share voice? Are they paying attention to our content? Are we getting people to come back to the website? You know, how many people are doing certain things? And I know that it is a lot more difficult than just saying, "Today we sold 10 things.".
Amanda: Right. There's a lot of nuance there. I think, even when you have data, there's so many different aspects of the data you can report on and so many different ways to pull that data. Have you seen a lot of trouble in that regard? Like, not knowing exactly what to report on, and how?
Christoph: Yep. So, when you talk about the different roles, so, one of the pillars of a good content performance culture, is to have the right people, in the right roles. So, what that really means typically, you need somebody who is good at strategy, and they can figure out what do we try to do? Why do we do it? What do we prioritize? And then, we need somebody, and they can be the same person, if you only have one person, you might not have a choice, but you need somebody who produces the content. So, whether that's talking on a podcast, interviewing the experts, writing, whatever it might be, but somebody has to produce content. Content that's not published will never perform, I can tell you that, you don't-- free advice; I don't have to charge you an hourly rate for that. But it's common sense. But you'd be surprised how many people don't even try to publish content and go, "Oh, how come it didn't work?". And then, you need somebody who is a digital analyst. Actually, I'm missing one here. And then, you have digital syndication experts, right? So, they work on, how do we get the content in front of people? And again, it could be the same person, right? I mean, like when I blog, I do all these roles at once, when I do my podcast, same thing. But of course, I can't be good at everything. And then, the final one is, you need somebody who can actually analyze data, and who doesn't have an agenda. And so, when you come to a writer, and you say, "Well, how is this content performing?", the writer will always find something positive to talk about, the end, right? It's their content, they don't want to make it look bad, or they don't want to, maybe they don't want to dig deeper, but you need somebody who can look at the data, who can tell us what it means, who can give us things to work on, and this is really the biggest trick when it comes to analysis, what can you take from it? What can you learn?
And you know, a lot of times people will say, "Oh, we're looking at what content performs the best.", and that's great, that's in theory, a good strategy. But the problem is, sometimes content takes off, and you can call me and say, "Hey, how come that took off?", I'm like, "I don't know, I didn't even think it was that good.", you know? One time we had a client, they had content take off, and it had like, 50,000 views in 24 hours from like, every state and 40 countries or something, and people tried to figure out why it took off and nobody ever figured it out. And their theory was, somebody shared it in a Facebook group that was huge, and then people shared it from there. But we don't know, right? And how much time do we spend on that? So, look for the things that matter, look for the conversion points, how do you, you know, where do you put the button to get people to do things? So, what is the call to action? What are we trying to get people to do? But absolutely, analysis and then the other thing is, now you need people who know when you might be getting traffic, that's not good traffic, right? So, that could be anything from bots, and that's a whole, I know, there's ways to filter it out, but first you have to catch it. And then, you have to, then maybe you're not getting the right audience, you know, so, you have to figure that out, or, you know, all those different things. If you're a huge company, and you have a lot of internal traffic, you've got to figure out that that's happening. So, you can't say, "Oh, my goodness, look at the traffic that's going way up.", and half of it is your own company, who cares? They're not customers, you know. But again, it's like, these are, in the good old days, it wasn't that difficult, right? We didn't have to think about it. But there's absolutely all kinds of ways you can screw that up, just like anything in content marketing. So, you need to have the right people who can learn those things, and then also who can implement them and who also, can talk about them in a way that makes sense, you know? I still remember way back when, when we ran social campaigns and the digital analyst would literally report like, and whatever to the client, you know, "We have this many likes and this many engagements and this and that.", and I'm like, "Why does that matter? Like, what happened with the content? Like, are those really the best measurements?", you know? So, yeah, it's definitely part of the team that you need to have somebody that's good at it and knows what they're doing
Amanda: Yeah, that makes total sense, especially as you're saying with the bias that people, they don't even intentionally have it a lot of the time which is bias that if they created something, they're not going to be like, "Here's everything that went wrong about this thing that I created.", you need a person that can look at it more objectively.
Christoph: Yep. You know, the other thing that comes to my mind too is when you report on content performance, and this is different from when, you know, like print, when you're like a print journalist. In print, thing goes out the door, now it's out the door, now there's something else tomorrow, right? The thing from yesterday's gone. But in digital content marketing, everything sticks around forever and ever, right? So, what happens a lot of times when you well, you have a couple home runs, and they always stay at the top, you've probably seen that before, right? You got like, three articles, they drive all this traffic because they rank high, there's a lot of interest. And so, sometimes, you know, what I see, especially newer content marketers, do they compare their content to those articles, and they never measure up, right? Because nobody does, until like, down the road, if even then. So, how do you report success? And the way I would recommend it, I do have an article over on CTRAP.online about this as well as you have to look at the time frame. So, if I published an article a couple days ago, I should just run my metrics since the last couple days, and then see where I rank, right? So, I can say, "This content took off, because it was the most read in the last two days. Or maybe it didn't, because it's not even in the top 20.", you see what I mean? So, you have to put the context around it.
Amanda: Yeah, that's a great point. And another one of your pillars is about ongoing evaluation. How do you know how often you need to be checking in on things like this?
Christoph: So, you know, digital, you have to check in, I mean, daily. I mean, it's just, the reality of things, especially when you're moving forward with ongoing campaigns. You know, if you're running ads, you should look at them daily, like, "Oh, what's working? What's not working?", and I know a lot of those things get automated more and more nowadays, but you should look at an email marketing. I mean, there's now tools out there that basically do everything for you in email marketing, right? They do the personalization for you through AI, they pull the content based on what they think the user will read, based on what they know about them. So, you don't even have to do any work if you do it well. But you still have to take a look, are people opening the emails? How many people are unsubscribing? What are we learning? So, it's still, you know, you still have to supervise the technology and same when it comes to content. You know, if something is spiking all of a sudden, is there something that you can capitalize on today? And then, on the content creation side, so to speak, is something taking off in your industry that you need to address today? And there's tools for that today. I mean, even Google Trends allows you to do some of that, what is about to take off? Maybe you should cover it, maybe you shouldn't. But again, if you don't look at the numbers, you don't know, right? You don't know if you should address it. So, I would make a point to look at that daily, that's another reason why you really want somebody in that role, even if it's just part of their role, and then, you know, make decisions from there.
Amanda: And that's to make tweaks to your own strategy. How often like, if somebody has control over how often they're reporting on anything to their higher ups, are those little wins worth kind of mentioning just in passing or, you know, little updates, or should everything kind of be saved for larger, more infrequent check ins?
Christoph: So, it depends on how you communicate, and it depends also, I guess how big your organization is. So, if you're in a huge organization, you're probably not going to send a slack message to your CEO, if that's four levels up. But in a smaller organization, you might be able to do that and say, "Oh, this just happened. I'm so excited.", and they might get a little joy out of that as well, that you just shared that. So, you want to think about, you know, what's the setup of your organization? How do you communicate? You know, how easy is it to communicate? And, you know, just bring it up. And the other thing is, I know people want formal reports, and I've seen plenty of those over the years but sometimes I wonder, how many executives actually read that eight-page report or whatever, you know? And there's so much stuff in there, like, is your message actually getting lost? So, even if you do a formal report, make sure it's skimmable, make sure you highlight a couple of things that are worth noting. And some of the small wins that I'm thinking of here, I don't even know that you would put them sometimes in the report, right? Would you put it in a report that a partner said to you, they were very happy with the VR video? Maybe, if there's a section in there, but it's probably more like hallway conversation or a slack message or, like the informal, weekly update. So, it's just something to think about.
And then the other thing, if you're doing reports, there's still people who do PDF reports, and not currently, obviously, I'm grounded until October now, content marketing world is currently my next scheduled trip, you know, due to the pandemic. But, you know, I travel a lot. So, when people send me a PDF, like two column PDF, guess what? It's hard to read on my phone, and I most likely will not get the message out of that that you want me to get out of it.
Amanda: Yeah, that's a great point that you have to think about the actual medium and make sure that you're communicating visually, in the best way. So, Christoph, one of the questions I ask people at the end of every episode is, what do you think is the biggest mistake people make when they are trying to get buy-in for content?
Christoph: The biggest mistake I think is, you have to find some quick wins and you have to really jump in quickly. Some ways around that sometimes you can do like, you can call it a pilot, right? Or beta phase or whatever. But you have to start to show any result, I am a big, big believer, I've never seen a work where people go in and they say, "Oh, we need to do 18 committee meetings and we need to analyze every industry related to us, who has done what? What have they done? Did it work? etc, etc.", and that-- it just takes too much time, doesn't mean you shouldn't be deliberate, doesn't mean you should be strategic. But I think the biggest thing is, because people expect results so quickly, that you're really, really hurting yourself by slowing down too much. Because if you go ask for permission, and then you finally get permission to do something, and then if you're really, truly unlucky, and I've seen this actually happen, the thing you asked permission for is not even the thing you need to do anymore. You know, so, you have to find a way to balance those things. And you know, to keep people, the price, get buy-in, but also, start some things and try some things. And certainly, that's easier said than done in some industries. Like, if you're highly regulated, there's no way around it, that you kind of have to do that. But other industries, where you have a little bit of leeway, you might be able to move forward quickly, and then, you have to show the results. And also, make sure the executives hear those stories from other company people, other company leaders who were involved, right? I mentioned the OBGYN story earlier, if that person ever talked to the CEO, it wouldn't work, right? But since they brought it up, it really helps to get buy-in because it's not just coming from me, who is trying to move the strategy forward.
Amanda: Yeah, that makes total sense. So, knowing the objectives of this show, do you have suggestions on who should be guests on future episodes?
Christoph: Oh, that is always a good question, unprepared. Who is-- who should be a future guest? I think there's some of the usual subjects out there. Let's see who else, I have listened to the show, I do listen to it in Google podcasts. So, I don't remember every single guest, Andy Crestodina certainly has a lot of studies out there that are worth talking about. You know, the one that's kind of dropped off a little bit, I guess, is Jeff Poulos, he is in Australia so, good luck scheduling that, but he might be a good one. I actually met him before in Mumbai, and he certainly knows what he's doing. Who else? Well, I mean, there's probably all kinds of different people that could come on here.
Amanda: Yeah, if you think of anyone just shoot me an email. I just like asking just to see if I'm overlooking people or, people I don't know that other people admire. So, it's always an interesting question. Alright. Well, thank you so much for sharing your insight on how to build a content performance culture, Christoph. I appreciate you taking the time.
Christoph: You bet. Thanks for having me.