Pretty much everyone is looking to grow their companies. So how can content play a role?
If you’re in charge of scaling growth, don’t miss this episode.
Entrepreneur and digital marketing strategist Sujan Patel, who has founded and grown eight companies (including the very popular MailShake), talks about how content has played a large role in his growth strategies over the years.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- Different ways content can amplify brand
- How some of the biggest marketing names have built their brands
- How to measure your brand authority
- Sujan’s approach to content strategy
- Will It Blend?
- 10 Years of Content: How My Approach Has Changed from 2009 to 2019 [blog post]
Amanda: This week we're going to talk about how content impacts brand growth. And to do that, I'm very pleased to be joined by an entrepreneur and digital marketing strategist who has founded and grown eight companies, including the popular Mailshake. He's a highly respected marketer and speaker, and honestly, I'm psyched to chat with them. Welcome to the show Sujan Patel.
Sujan: Thank you for having me. I'm pumped to talk about today's topic, because I think definitely under, not only utilize but people don't leverage this enough.
Amanda: I agree. And I think people might know that it's important, but they don't actually know how to execute it for themselves. So, hearing from your experience I think will be really useful. Also, just to start, I feel like when I talk to people like you who have so much experience, but I don't even know where to begin sometimes. I think I'm personally interested to know how you've changed your perspective of content just throughout the different companies you've worked at. So, what have you learned from those experiences? And how is your perspective shifted on how useful content can be when it comes to brand growth?
Sujan: Yeah, I think but you know, I've been doing SEO content for such a long time. I think I've used it from, if you remember back in like the early 2000's, like the Blendtec, will It blend, you know. I will component to try to get people, companies, clients, customers or myself, some PR, you know, some SEO value to rank for something. You know, it kind of changed from like trying to say something spicy, create something, some piece of content that can get awareness to infographics, for link bait, to stats, to get, you know, to be like authority in the space to just building massive content, I guess using content build massive just awareness or traffic to a site that a lot of times in my early days didn't ever convert. I mean, I've built, I think four or five different companies, built up traffic to, you know, using content so like content that ranks pretty much, primarily SEO driven, but like the intent to purchase isn't there and like not very intent based kind of content pieces, and had seen no impact on revenue to learning that the hard way is figuring out how to create content, that's a little bit more in line with like, buyer intent or the right persona or taking those things into consideration, and then as well as like, what are things that I can build, like thought leadership for a brand? But also, what can you do to build the brand as well, right? And so, when you think of all these things combined, it's like, it's fairly hard to say, I want to create a content strategy that does it all. And so, don't get me wrong, you have to compromise and there are compromises in many different ways. You just have to really figure out I guess, what's your content purposes and then where it's going to go.
Amanda: Yeah, when you say content purpose, are you talking about individual pieces of content? Or is that just like the overall strategy of what am I trying to achieve here with content marketing?
Sujan: I'd say the overall strategy here, it's a little bit of both right? Like, the strategy indicates that tactical pieces of content that you may need to create, to actually achieve that result. But I really mean on a strategy level is like, okay, and by the way, that strategy can change every three, six months. So, my team and now we're fairly sophisticated. I say, hey, look, we break things up into quarters, like what do we want to achieve this quarter, right? Like, do we want to try to build up our brand? And we want, like, what's the outcome we want? Do we want to just build up the massive traffic funnel? Or is it, do we need more middle content, like middle of the funnel kind of buyers, a little bit more buyer intent? Do we need more awareness? Do we want to use this to kind of build up our brand? So, we have a goal right? And, I'll say that, like, the earlier you are, the less sophisticated it needs to be. And it really is a matter of like getting traffic and just getting out there, getting awareness. If you have no content, don't overthink it, like create content, I don't care what it is, just do it at a regular cadence, weekly, monthly, bi weekly, daily, whatever you can kind of muster up, that would be then uniquely, valuable content, like something that, how can you stand out? You can get those things, just start creating content.
And as you start creating, the next step is to figure out what the premise or the purpose of the content is, what's the thing it's going to do for you? And if we have traffic, it can't really say I want to build my brand because it's just too far away from happening. But if you look at like, and a good example of companies, like Content who have helped them build a brand is word stream, right? Like word stream. They're just massive, massive content, like engine, right? Meaning like, their content generates traffic. But if you look at how it's built their brand, I've actually sat recently and just analyze their whole backlink profile and what I found is they actually get quite a bit of press. That's no surprise, right? Larry Cam writes for all these publications, actually It's not from that, it's not from Larry Cam writing for Ink and saying he's a CTO word stream, it's actually from being listed, like being a source of record. So, like when Bloomberg writes an article on like, Google AdWords, CPC inflation or like, people boycotting Facebook. Word stream gets, like a press mention or somebody from their company is quoted in there.
So, like, that's a way to build a brand and I looked at like, what they're being quoted by and it looks like they're always being referenced when it comes to a stat or state of industry. Change, right? So, like, people boycotting Facebook, they got reference, XYZ stat changes. Okay. So, then like, if you look at that outcome, and you think about what did they do to get there? Well, obviously, they must have been doing some PR. Turns out, they created a lot of content, and they built a brand around publishing stats on what's happening in the AdWords space, like in the ad tech space, and they just built a brand of that, and then all that PR that they get is a good outcome based off of that. So, that's what I mean by building a brand like that. Yeah, they build a lot of content, they create a lot of content, they build a content machine that generates a massive amount of traffic and probably a lot of signups. But like if you look into the details, they chose intentionally, and I chose intentionally around the stats and details. I mean, industry changes in the ad tech space to them correlate to getting PR.
Amanda: And the concept of authority is so interesting to me because it's clearly so important but difficult to measure. And it does compound everything else like you're saying, like you can't become the type of person or brand that is referenced in these news articles. If you haven't already established yourself as somebody that even news publications can trust right? So, I feel like it can get really overwhelming for marketers sometimes to know where to start. And it's interesting that you say like, if you have nothing, you just got to get started and be producing something consistently and getting your stuff out there. How do you recommend people start prioritizing after that? What should they be checking to see if it's working for them? Maybe they've done that first step of, okay, I have Content out there. I'm talking about stuff I know about. And I'm not really sure what to target next. So, they examine the funnel and see where they have weaknesses there. What's your strategy for that?
Sujan: Yeah. So, look, I think my approach is, so these are all very hard things to measure. And it's very long game focus, like not monthly, quarterly. I'm talking years, like decades, right? And I see that because it takes a long time to build that, right? And like using content that builds your brand authority is two things, creating the right content. Okay, let's just assume enough trial and error, somebody intelligent marketer can figure that out. Plus, time and consistency, right? So, if you publish content consistently, consistently, over some freaking time, you're either going to stop doing it or it's going to work and you're going to continue doing the right things, right. So, I say this because if you look at like, like guys like Rand Fishkin, Neil Patel, you know, those two guys, I think has a really good timeline of like, they've just done it for such a long time. And they've got the rep that they have, because they've done it for such a long time. And I know like a lot of folks in the digital marketing world hate or love, Neil and that's fine, I think whatever he's got, but he's got it. He's got a strategy and he's just leveraging the crap out of it, right. And he's building his authority, that way, right? You measure his brand and Rand's brand over the course of like a 20 year periods of which, like we're in the second like, so two decades of which we're into the second decade, you'll see just like consistently rising references to their brand volume, right?
And so, you're thinking, okay, like, how do I repeat that? How do I build that authority? And what is authority? How do you measure what authority is? Well, I'll tell you what I've done and how I've measured it. One is opportunities coming. So, let's talk about that, like the finite authority value, number of brands mentions without you doing anything, right, your brand, your company, your name gets referenced without you doing anything squat. Two number of opportunities coming to your door, at your door inbound, right. So, think about people just linking to you without doing anything, like paying you for a quote. That's great, giving you podcast interview opportunities like this, right like this, like inbound. Maybe customers coming through the door. Again, very tangible revenue based one, you can obviously account for. Maybe if you're a startup and you want VC funding, because you built the brand, people in VCs know you're more trusted, and they're coming inbound. So, there's those types of things that can come in or it's straight traffic, and that traffic converts at this XYZ funnel. Right? And so, there's a lot of different ways you can measure it, but I look at all of those, right? And I look at like, I do something for a quarter or six months, and I say, I wanted to first drive traffic, get a drive traffic. Okay, now I want to drive more inbound, you know, podcast interviews. Well, for that next six months, did me doing that work? Right. So, I think it's just really about measuring, looking at all the things you can measure, and I can tell you from 2014 to now I've been actively building my brand and the more I blog, the more opportunities I get to blog. The more I speak at a conference, every conference I speak at, the first five, the first one was really hard, the first five are really hard. But after that every conference I spoke at, I got another opportunity. So, it's almost like me speaking at conferences, helps me to speak at conferences, right? Same thing on the content brand, the more content you create, that's really awesome on stats gets you more people knocking on your door asking you about stats, right? So, it's like, eventually, you end up kind of leading people to you based off your actions, and it's hard. It takes a while to get there.
Amanda: Yeah, it sounds like first you have to figure out what you're going to be or what makes sense for you to be an authority in, right? And then like as a company, what you stand for, what you want to talk about, producing that content consistently over time, and then it sounds like you're talking about like more specific goals. So, you can have like, kind of nebulous goals like I want to be an authority, but how do you actually put that into action? And like you said, if you can break it down in two, okay, I'm going to have a podcast, right? And my goal is to get as many new subscribers as possible or to get as many guests as possible, then that can make it a little bit more manageable than attacking it from like 50 different angles. Is that the case?
Sujan: Yeah. And then one more thing we should add about that, is that when you think about how you're going to get there, you also have to think about, like, what can you do, at whatever time you start, that's different, that's just different than what's out there. How do you stand out? And whatever time you start, right? Ad I'll tell you that, like the later you start, the harder it is to stand out, right? I mean, again, if you look at Neil's site and Rand's content, they've done it for a long time to produce a lot of good content. But if you look at the content now and you say, does it stand out from the crowd? I would say, no, it's just like SEO tips to do blah, blah, blah. Like maybe the content tips are unique. But like, you look at that title versus all the other SEO tips published by everyone else, it's not unique. It is unique because people think they're the first, they have the reputation for it, they might have been the first one to publish that piece of content, or they have the brand and the credibility just to get the benefit of the doubt.
Amanda: How do you recommend? So, like people are kind of late to the game, if they know they have competitors that they've been around longer, they already have that established authority. How do you recommend they kind of figure out, how they can differentiate in a meaningful way through their content?
Sujan: Think about different formats. So, like, if everyone's doing written content, do a podcast, if everyone's doing podcast, do fricking Instagram lives or Instagram stories, right? Just think about different mediums as a form, think about different formats. Everyone's writing long form content, for fricking after like 10 years of reading long form content, I just want to get to the point, like, just tell me the fricking point. Like, if you look at all the recipe sites, like I mean, obviously with COVID, I've been cooking a lot and staying home. And I just read this, like long intro blurb of why some person's recipes are awesome. And it's all SEO content before they get to the actual fricking recipe. Well, that's annoying as end user, that is fricking annoying. I know it gets good SEO value. But like, it's to the point where every single recipe has this long intro. Well, what if now you take the contrarian approach of like, let's just get to the fricking recipe quickly, right? And then maybe you have a video, maybe you have Instagram stories. So, like, now it's okay, you have a recipe. Yeah, there's 1000 other articles on how to cook chicken parmesan, but yours is short, to the point, you have a video supporting it, you have maybe gifts on it for each step of the way. Now you've just got a little bit of detail. inside of the actual content, that as a whole, with all the three, four things you've got that are unique to it, make it stand out to be different enough.
And so, again, it's like, medium, but in this case, it's taking the contrary and approach and then using mediums like images or gifts, a little bit of like the format, I mean a channel, like, I guess it's a medium like social like Instagram, to embed in there as a way to be different. So, each individual thing may not be different enough, but a little bit of difference combined is what makes you different. So, I think its kind of just combination like thinking outside the box. And then again, trying to pack, kind of forge your kind of own unique way for a portion of it, right. So, like, for example Mailshake, we have, I mean there's like so many people publishing content in this space. We've got these videos, the video series that we do, and there's lots of like, there's lots of sales content out there, like Mailshake is mostly sales. A sales kind of audience sales customers, salespeople are our customers and audience for the most part. And we've taken an approach of like, we're just going to interview practitioners, like sales practitioners, and we've got a video series, and I've forced all my guests on the video series to be under 10 to 15 minutes, like 15 minutes back, I aim for 10 minutes, we're talking about a very specific topic. So, whoever listens to it watches it, reads a blog post that it's embedded in, can like take away one action item. It's not liked this fluff piece. And we again, we get practitioners. So, our unique cake is we're only going to interview practitioners. That's all we go for, right? So, look, it's a pretty new series, maybe we don't really have a good rap yet, like a brand established for this video series. But like our cake in a very crowded sea of sales content is short form 10,15 minutes, very specific topic, and only sales practitioners. I'll tell you in a year or two if it works.
So yeah, and again, sometimes you don't know if it's going to work. So, like, how are we going to measure if this works? I'm looking at every month, do we get more traction on this? I'm looking at, do people embed our videos? How much traffic, obviously how many views, and how much traffic does our videos get? That's the basic one. Looking at people embedding it, I'm looking at conversations starting on social engagement on our videos, right? It may just get shitty traffic. Like my YouTubes, I have a YouTube channel. And I mean, my videos get like 300 views, it's pathetic, like it's not worth the effort I put in and the cost it takes me to get 300 views. I can just write a blog post and get 300 views way easier or I can even write a guest post and get 3000 views somewhere else, right? But the 300 views get like 15 email conversations started from that. So, it's crap for like, traffic and views, but it's amazing for the amount of engagement I get. And so, some of those are like, someone's like, oh, like, becomes a customer and that you know me or like they're on the list. So, it's to me, I look at videos as bottom of the funnel content. And so, anyways, my point is, I didn't intend to go do as bottom of the funnel content that was a repercussion of maybe, I mean, that was an outcome, I guess. So, think about that. And sometimes they align, sometimes they don't.
Amanda: Yeah, when you're measuring the results, are you basically doing it by trial and error against other things that you've done? Or do you set certain expectations when you embark on something?
Sujan: I've always got some certain expectations, like I want X to do Y, right? Like I'm doing this. And now my goal is that, but that doesn't always happen is my point. Right? I'd say, I think my success rate somewhere probably 50, 60% of what I intend to do actually, I achieve. So, yeah, I mean, I think part of that it's a little bit based off of how aggressive I am. So, because I've had some success, my goals are like through the roof now, like I want to double traffic to our site. And that's like, that's really freaking hard. So, I'm including that in my 60% success or a lot of times, you know, we created like, massive set of traffic through content and just never converted, and like, oh, yeah, I see why we missed that, we should probably just do more research. And so, you know, now my approach to content strategy is like, okay, is there a buyer intent? Where are we going to be unique? Can we do this for like three to five years? Like, more or can we do this for a year and still be unique without running out of content? Maybe we just put a layer of content that is not unique, not the buyer intent to build up traffic and the brand, and that's the case. I think I look at a little bit of branding from an SEO perspective of like, if I get more branded references and people read more traffic to the site, my SEO rankings improved for other keywords kind of linearly to the same curve of my other traffic. So, I look at it from like, does this branding exercise help my SEO rankings too? So, lots of different ways to kind of slice up the recurrence we can get from content from the brand.
Amanda: I noticed on the Mailshake site that it wasn't just a blog in the footer that's pretty typical, there are all these other content pieces. There's a cold email academy and a masterclass and a strategy, and an email copy analyzer. How are these ideas determined? Was it basically assessing what salespeople needed help with and then just providing it because it hasn't been done before? Is it speaking to kind of what we've been talking about this conversation or did something else come into play?
Sujan: Yeah, it's actually three pieces, right? So, there's not really an order like priority here, but it's a main point or something our customers can get value from, like a lot of them right? So, a lot of our contact email, copy analyzer, a lot of like, our guides are like literally things we see in our customer support or like when we talk to customers we are like, I have to watch every one of our companies, I'm pretty freaking immersed in engaging with customers. And sometimes it's not me, like being the person actually talking to customers, but like, I'm in the back end, like talking to our success or support people to get kind of like, I might not be the voice but I'm definitely the ear, you know, where it's going into to. So, that, and it's how I'm understanding their problems, I'm understanding like their pain points, like as an individual, like a sales rep. Number two is what the pain points of our potential customers are. Like the people we want to target and then three, search volume, unique opportunity, you know, something that can get us you know, some ammo.
So, this is kind of like a Venn diagram and nothing is going to meet every one of the requirements. But the more all three of these fit, the better it is. And I think if you get only the latter part, like just, oh, it's unique, and I can kind of get traffic and whatever, but you don't get that it fits my potential customers or fits my existing customers problems, and you end up getting traffic. But you don't get the connection to the brand or you might build authority, but you're not achieving authority to the right audience, right. Which, again, might nullify the thing and these are all pieces that again, you know, I always try to create linkable assets. I know it’s kind of a buzzword, but yeah, I mean, that's always kind of like how to we do that? How do we do more of that, so that they generate links long term and then also always try to create content that can have some part of a role in the funnel, right. And I always try to be aware of where that sits in the font, it's okay. If it's the very bottom of the funnel, meaning you're not going to get a lot of traffic or at the very top. But you don't want to fool yourself into thinking it's at the top when it's you're at the bottom, because that's how you fail. And that's how you end up like creating a piece that no one sees. Because it would never been seen, because it's like a bottom of the funnel piece, you know? Or, I think I see a lot of content sites, and especially newer sites, they talk about themselves a lot. And if you look at Mailshake, I don't know if you look at just like just, you know, you can call us out and take a look at the last two or three pages of our blog. I think you'll hear us talking about ourselves, maybe two blog posts and their case studies. And it's like, kind of a coincidence that they're published at that date, right? It doesn't mean they're promoted at the same time. So, we're not talking about ourselves because nobody gives a crap, like our contents are top of the funnel, like nobody cares. It's like if we talk to ourselves, it wouldn't do well top of the funnel. But then there are definitely places that we may be interject. Like, some call to action, or maybe we interject our product screenshot, you know, so there might be like, slightly talking about ourselves. Some blog posts talk a lot about itself, like our case studies, like, it's going to talk about us. Well, that's because that's the bottom of the funnel piece. Right? So, I think it's like, be smart of like, I guess, in content in general, your content is promoting your brand. Inside the content doesn't need to like word vomit everything about your company, because it hurts here.
Amanda: Yeah. No, it's definitely an intricate balance of things. With each piece of content, you know, you can add some elements of these different things there. But you need the core objective of what you're trying to do to make sure you're reaching that right audience. What do you think, just to start wrapping the episode up, do you think are some of the most common missed opportunities for brands when it comes to content, what do you think that people are overlooking a lot of the time?
Sujan: They're overlooking the simple does, this piece of content, or does what I'm doing add value to the world to like the industry to the whatever, right? Like, whatever size brand it is, right? Like, is it an add value? And is it unique? I think those are kind of in parallel. I think that's very much a missed opportunity, people see. And then number two is, people see other brands or other things, other sites, other companies doing stuff and they assume one really false assumption that it's working for them. Don't assume it's working, like it doesn't mean like, what if I just gave you that word stream example and you talked to the head of marketing and said, yeah, our content is good for our brand, but it does jack shit for our customers. We actually grew through word of mouth and PPC, like, you could hear my whole rant on that awesome job I did, and it could be wrong, right? So, like, I could be wrong, as well as what you see when you analyze their stuff could be wrong, right? And so, I'd say, don't assume everything is working, use all the examples you see as influence. And a very important step of when you come up with content is if you're going to steal your competitor’s idea or like maybe take influence from somebody doing something cool. Talk to their potential customers, talk to their customers, that they have maybe reviews on or something like that, to see if that actually did influence whatever they did, or whatever they think they did awesome, if it actually did influence their stuff. I can't tell you, you know, probably between 14 and 16, I created a lot of content. I was working in the company. I won't name the company, but you can pretty much figure it out from my LinkedIn. We created a lot of content and we do a lot of stuff to really fuck with our competitors just to throw stuff out there, and they would copy us. But I'm like, it was all wrong, like, I spread intention misinformation because they kept stealing our landing pages. And so, it's just like, you know, don't believe everything you read, try to come to the conclusion yourself.
Amanda: That's a really great point that I've never heard anybody say before, because I do think that so many people take for granted. Just because somebody is doing something that means that it's working, and probably has been like a long time maybe. But yeah, I mean, so much of marketing is testing anyway. You don't know that that's achieving the goal that you think it is, or, but it's like a part to me.
Sujan: Yeah, I mean, you could take people who are like, you know, actually, I'll give you a good example. Neil, right. So, Neil Patel obviously has so much content of web, one of the tops like traffic marketing sites, but yet he has an agency, right? And, you think it gets so much traffic and you see his website to promote his agency and consulting and emails, you would just gather that his traffic and leads are coming from his website. But I know from a stand, you know, I talked to him fairly regularly once a month, and we kind of we share updates and whatnot, but I know firsthand, they come from somewhere else. And so, the best leads come from referrals and word of mouth and other people he's worked with. So, like, causation is marketing people's in content marketers, like worst enemy. Or correlation caught like that problem is, it is a conundrum and it's, unfortunately, hard to decipher what's working. So, you have to kind of, I'd say, you have to come to the conclusion yourself and figure it out. And I know that sounds really negative or like, oh, my God, how am I going to figure that out? The reality is you don't actually need to figure out fully, but just think, if you plant the seed in your head that like, not everything you read on the internet is true. You'll not believe everything on the internet, right? And so, it's like, not everything you see that looks like it’s working is actually working, you know, people will start to actually think for themselves and find some, what I would say leading indicators of working or not working. And that's as far as you're probably going to get without talking about the company itself.
Amanda: Yeah, I love that. It's an excellent point. Sujan, knowing the objective of the show, who do you recommend being guests on future episodes?
Sujan: I don't know. I think there's, let's say, Benjamin Beck or Jonathan Dane from Client boost. Those are folks that I think they do a really good job on the content marketing frauds and brand building and marketing front for an agency. I mean, you know how many digital marketing agencies are there? I would say their brand kind of stands out pretty unique and then I'd probably have to look to get more folks, kind of think about a little bit more.
Amanda: Yeah, no worries. I appreciate it. Thank you so much for taking the time to come on to the show and to share your experience and your insight.
Sujan: Yeah, my pleasure. It was fun. I really like this topic, because I think it's not talked about enough and hopefully I didn't rant too much.
Amanda: No. Please, it was all fascinating. So, I appreciate it.