How to Set Up a Content Strategy Tied to Revenue [Podcast Episode]

Amanda Milligan
By Amanda Milligan
April 21, 2020

We hear a lot about general strategy and philosophy behind content — and these insights can be so helpful.

via GIPHY

But wouldn’t it be nice to hear a specific example of how someone built an on-site content strategy with measurable results?

Nell Lanman, head of marketing at SquareFoot, explains how she got buy-in for more top-of-the-funnel efforts by putting metrics in place to show the progression through the funnel.

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In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • The specifics behind building a real revenue-generating content strategy
  • How paid social can be incorporated in this sort of strategy
  • How to set up metrics tracking to understand and enhance your campaign funnel

Related resources/links:

Transcription:

Amanda: This week on the show, I'm pleased to welcome, Nell Lanman. She is the head of marketing at SquareFoot, which helps companies find new office space in New York City and 30 other major national markets. Welcome to the show Nell. 

Nell: Thank you for having me. It's nice to meet you.

Amanda: Of course. Yeah, I'm looking forward to our conversation. And I really liked, you know, we chatted a bit before the show, and I'm really interested to hear more about the content strategy you developed when you came to this company about two years ago you said?

Nell: Yeah, I've been here at SquareFoot for a little over two years. And as we were chatting briefly before, when I first started, we were very focused on paid search, specifically and as well as SEO. And the SEO strategy has always been very content driven. So, I am in a bit of a lucky situation to come into an organization that truly believes and values, the impact of content, you could say, and how that actually directly ties back to revenue. It is one of the things that has been, I don't want to say necessarily a challenge, but has been one of the components that I've had to get buying for and kind of prove out, and that's partly because we have started to structure our paid campaigns outside of SEO, on page social specifically, around content as well. 

Amanda: In the context of this show, overall, I'd love to use this conversation as almost an illustration of how you're able to do those things because on previous episodes, we've had guests talk about, you know, getting that initial buying, but you appear to have had it in a general sense, like you said, you're in a good position, right?It's the position everybody kind of wants to be in, where they're leadership understands the power of content. So, to get into your strategy and how you're able to continuously say, "Here's how this is worth our money and our investment.", I think walking through that will be very valuable. So, if you want to start with, you were explaining that you have two different sections of the site content wise, do you want to talk about that? 

Nell: Sure. So, on the site, we actually have, where our content lives primarily is, what we call Leasopedia, you could compare it to an encyclopedia in that sense. It is very informational, and you could say tactical, we have definitions of what loss factor, which is a term in the industry that many people don't understand what that is, so on and so forth. And what the leasing process looks like, well, what it means to go into a co working space versus a traditional space and the timelines around that. So, the Leasopedia side of the site is again, very definitional and very kind of like your encyclopedia. The other section of the site is our blog. Like, everybody is relatively familiar with a blog, and for us, or the term blog, I should say, where as Leasopedia, maybe not so much. Our blog is much broader in scope in terms of what we cover. So, we cover everything from why you should have plants in the office, should you have dogs in the office, decorating tips, productivity hacks, things along those lines. So, again, much more general and potentially more interesting to people who are not looking for office space today. And my reason for mentioning that is actually translates to kind of how we have our paid social campaign structured. So, from a paid social perspective, I assume a lot of people kind of think about SEO when it comes to content, and I'm happy to touch on that. Everything we write is written for SEO, is written for Google, but we also are able to use the pieces within the page strategy that I've developed. And that strategy incorporates both the blog and Leasopedia. 

So, from a kind of, to talk through the structure generally is, we try to bring people from paid social, you're essentially inserting yourself in front of somebody, whereas search, they are essentially raising their hand. So, when somebody is scrolling through Facebook or LinkedIn, they're not necessarily proactively looking for, in our case office space. So, we need to get them to engage in one way or another, or at least to kind of stop scrolling for a second. And the way that we've thought about that is through using the blog at the very top of the funnel, so one of our most popular pieces that we have running is a piece around improving your commute, the title of it is Five Ways to Make your Commute to Work actually Enjoyable. And from a LinkedIn more so, Facebook perspective, that is something that if you were not proactively searching for office space, you probably are interested in. Let's be honest, everybody cares about their commute and what that means for kind of their lives. And so, it's a piece that we see a lot of engagement with at the top of the funnel because it's relatively general and has an impact on essentially everybody. 

Whereas the Leasopedia information articles that we have on the site are used a little bit further down the funnel because they do relate more directly to your office space search. So, essentially, we put ourselves in front of people from a paid social perspective, with very general engaging content. And once somebody engages in that type of content, we somewhat assume that we have put in place the structure of saying that somebody who engages square foot once is more likely to be interested in an office space search than somebody who has never engaged with us before. And so, we do measure there are different metrics at different points in the funnel, or I should say in our campaign structure before even lead creation, so, they then engage with Leasopedia article which tells us that they are higher intent because they are interested in reading about something that is more directly related to the office space search. So, we kind of handhold them and pull them through the funnel when it comes to paid social, and we do all of that through content that lives on the blog, and Leasopedia.

Amanda: That was a great breakdown. I want to dive further into that, but to have a top level, it's interesting because I think that separating those things so that you have a certain section of your site that is dedicated to the top of the funnel efforts. And another section that's more middle to low, does that make it easier to kind of track and report on things as well? Because like you said, even just the progression from the blog to Leasopedia is a clear step in that direction, right? So, I think a lot of people try to do all of this on their blog in different posts, which is totally fine. But I find this like, disparate version pretty interesting in terms of tracking like, how has that been built out for you? 

Nell: Yeah, definitely. So, I think to take a slight step back for context, one of the things that when I started a little over two years ago, as I was getting to before, we were very focused on direct conversion. So, everything we invested in, from a dollars perspective, so from a paid marketing perspective, we wanted it to be tied back to a conversion, which means that the way we have the campaign structure today was not necessarily something that everybody was comfortable with from the get go. So, to run a campaign or to put paid dollars behind an initiative that we knew was not going to, or actually weren't driving them to convert immediately, was something that I definitely had to get buying for. And to get buying for that, it's putting metrics in place that allow kind of the C suite to understand that there is progression through the funnel, rather than just saying, eventually somebody will convert. So, for us, the way we look at it is, from a blog top of funnel perspective, we are able to see the number of people that go into or that are built within those audiences that go into that campaign, the number of people that then are able to kind of move themselves through action, further into the kind of more bottom of funnel campaign, which does include Leasopedia content. And then even from there, from Leasopedia directly into what we like to call our conversion campaign. So, kind of the campaign's that we've always had running, without top of funnel. 

So, one of the things that is important to note, so, we used to only have an inbound strategy period, meaning we didn't have outbound or traditional brokerage firm, is all outbound. So, we were actually the opposite, completely opposite to what your traditional brokerage firm looked like, which is still today one of our biggest differentiators. So, that is important to note because that was primarily when I first started through SEO, and paid search, which as I was noting before, is just by nature of the channel, kind of attracts higher intent people. So, when you go to google.com, you're searching for office space, that individual is proactively taking that step. Where as I was mentioning on paid channels, similar with SEO, SEO is you're also searching for something specific, and you are initiating that search. Whereas on social, we are inserting ourselves in front of you, essentially. And so. to be able to kind of build trust and proof that we are the right people for them to be working with, or even kind of thinking about the office space move, convincing somebody that is necessary, that we can solve their needs, is an important thing for us to think about. 

So, back to the kind of getting buying for the top of funnel campaigns, I definitely had to put metrics in place that showed that people were progressing through the structure of our campaigns. And it was a little bit difficult because you're essentially backing into something. So, if you were to go start a business, you don't expect to have leads on day one, necessarily. Whereas we have seen leads come in through these channels before, in order to increase the volume we needed to get in front of people sooner. Meaning we were pulling people in that weren't really ready today, but would be ready if we nurtured them, and that was a little bit of a mindset shift for the organization to understand that longer term, it is important for us to build the size of our audiences, rather than only being in front of people that we know will convert today.

Amanda: Right. So, when you are first making that case, like you said, it was a little more difficult when it wasn't directly tied to money, and you were just getting the brand name out there, right? When you were first making that case, was it a matter of you kind of got the room to say, "Hey, let's try it for a little bit, and you know, we'll track these metrics, and I'll be able to illustrate that journey, and then you can invest more money in it."? Or, how were you able to do that, that first initial part where you had the opportunity to try it. Like, how did that process work?

Nell: Sure, definitely. So, again, I've been a little bit lucky in the sense of generally understanding the value of content. And that is a little bit different, because paid is obviously different than SEO when it comes to content. Because the way our organization looked at content from an SEO perspective is that SEO is "free", which, yes, it is. But there's time and money that goes into creating the content. So, we kind of weren't really thinking about that as direct spend. But once you start putting direct spend behind content, it was something that I certainly did have to get buying for. The approach that I took was, I kind of thought about it from a, "How can I get buying to segment my whole budget to have a section of my whole budget that is tied to what we ended up then calling experimental budget?". So, essentially, a portion of the budget that was pre approved for lack of a better word, to put behind things that we have not done before, or things that we explicitly are not tying back to a conversion. Because what we actually look at is our CPA, so, cost per acquisition for a lead. And that changes depending on how much spend you have, obviously. And so, by separating out that part of the budget, we will then over time, looking at CPA, see that we actually see that CPA is being driven down now that we've been running these campaigns with this structure for about a year now, actually. 

And so, the reason why it took time is that people need to go through the way we have the campaign structured, so, essentially go through the funnel. And when we talk about funnel here, this is even before lead creation, so, go through the kind of nurturing funnel at the top. And so, from a buying perspective, I got general buying for starting to do things differently. And I think one of the things that has been great about our successes in the past, but also something that we've realized that as a business we need to change, is the number of different channels we see things coming in from. And so, as I was mentioning, historically, we've been very focused on SEO and SEM as the two drivers of leads for our business. And over the years, we have started to incorporate new channels, such as paid social, display, as well as more recently outbound. So, marketing is obviously involved in outbound, but even content from that perspective, there are pieces of content that we have written and that we use in our paid initiatives that are actually used as supporting materials for outbound. 

So, broadening the scope of where things are coming from, we knew was necessary, which also meant that I was having these conversations at the same time as kind of leadership understanding we needed to broaden the scope of where our leads were coming from. So, it was almost time for change and time for growth, but it definitely, in an organization that is very metrics driven, and very specifically around hand-offs and closed one revenue, and everything we do, obviously, always tie back to those-- one of those two, or those two metrics, of course one being the primary goal. It most definitely took some time. But I was in a position where we knew that we needed to broaden our scope.

Amanda: I love that you had a section of the budget specifically dedicated to experimental because.

Nell: Still do, yeah. 

Amanda: It also just helps set an expectation, right? Like, it's a great thing to mention, because I think there's just this component of like you said, you were already in a place where change was kind of going to be embraced to a certain extent, but even if you're not like setting the stage for just having leadership understand what marketing is like in some cases, which is you can keep doing what's working, but every now and then if you want to push the envelope or try other channels, you have to kind of experiment. you're not going to know 100%, you're going to make informed decisions and you know, be strategic about it, but you're not always going to know 100%. So, I love that that was what you were working with, where the expectation was, "We think this is going to work, but it's not 100%. But we need to give it a try.".

Nell: Yeah, definitely. And even the sense of, "Yeah, we think the strategy will work, we're relatively confident that this strategy will work.". But it also does not mean that people will be converting from this initiative tomorrow. So, I think one of the things was that I again, also had to get buying for was the length of time it would take to really get this type of campaign structure ramped up, because like I was saying, we were historically very focused on who can convert today, and who's ready today, as opposed to the concept of nurturing and nurturing over-time to get people into the funnel.

Amanda: Yeah, that makes total sense that having a message that way, that part of the budget allowed for that extra time, like you said, it took a year. And we always say that content initiatives take at least six months, you know, to a year before you really start seeing the impact if they're not related to paid.

Nell: Yeah, definitely. I think even for us, that translates over to paid as well. From an SEO perspective, we have a number of different content strategies, I guess you could say, we always write everything for SEO, whether it's on a blog, or Leasopedia, or the site itself. But even there, to your point, it takes time to see the kind of fruits of your labor. And then I think that's the, can say the same thing for how we ended up structuring our paid campaigns.

Amanda: So, I would love, like I said, to make this kind of a case study for people. So, if you could walk through these success metrics you had set up for each stage of this funnel, I think that would be really insightful.

Nell: Sure, definitely. So, I can actually use a very specific example around one of the solutions that we offer as a company. So, as we were chatting before, SquareFoot offers a solution called Flex by SquareFoot, which provides flexibility to lease terms for growing companies. So, we focus on growing companies as nature of our business, and that's who we want to work with for first deal, second deal, third deal, so on and so forth. So, one of the campaigns we have on paid social is specifically speaking to that solution. And it's structured the same way as our other campaigns, which are a little bit more general. But the way that we think about conversion is, so, for that campaign, specifically, at the very top of the funnel, blog articles around the importance of kind of, as your business grows, what does it mean to grow, what are the pain points of growing from 20 to 60, so different types of general content around growth, for example, and uncertainty in a growing business.

And from there, we actually track the number of people who engage with those pieces of content and once somebody engages in one of those pieces of content, we look at that as a conversion for that particular kind of top of funnel component of the campaign. We then, from a Leasopedia perspective, have much more tactical information in the campaign they kind of get pushed into. We have much more tactical information that is provided or presented to them there. And from there, it's also, at this point, engagement with the content pieces, this time being a content piece that is from Leasopedia. And actually, at the blog level as well, they always have the option to convert directly to a lead. So, we also make sure that every content piece we have has a lead form on it at the bottom of the page. And for Leasoedia, and the blog, we have sometimes pop ups that come up too to be able to ask for your email address to get more information on particular things. And we try to make it non intrusive, we want people to engage with the content at this point, we don't necessarily want to lose them because we're trying to get them to convert too aggressively. So, we kind of leave it up to that a little bit. So, we do have direct conversion metrics that we can track from any of the content pieces that one can engage with from a paid perspective. But the metrics we actually look at from a kind of success metric standpoint are how many people are making it from the top of funnel campaign to the middle of funnel campaign. And then from there, how many people who can make it from the middle funnel campaign to what we call our bottom of funnel campaign, and all of that you can see within the channel, specifically people progressing throughout the funnel. And the bottom of funnel campaigns we have are meant to drive lead conversion. So, those campaigns are actually just a form fill landing page where we try to drive people or we assume that people have engaged with enough content that they are ready to see listings, essentially. And so, we then at that point, kind of push the message of listings, browse our listing, see more listings, so on and so forth, and we drive them to a form fill essentially. 

So, the form fill page then allows you to access additional listings on our platform. And so, at that stage, we look at leads. So, I used to actually run the BDR team, as well, which are the kind of first touch point from a people perspective, first touch point to the client within our organization. So, once a lead is created for us, they go to the BDR team, they go to our CRM and go to the BDR team, and the BDR team tries to further nurture them to get them to convert to something that we would work from a sales perspective. So, the metrics that we actually care about the most are the qualified leads. And so, we do look at that as kind of the number one metric but to make sure that people are progressing throughout the funnel, we do look at the engagement in top of funnel, middle of funnel campaigns, and then the bottom of funnel conversion to lead. So, the main metrics we look at are engagement leads and, essentially qualified leads. But we always-- when we do reporting and look back on, if we're asked the question, "What's working?", we actually like to look mostly at qualified leads. So, we tie qualified leads back to content pieces, back to campaigns, so on and so forth. So, we can get learnings as to what people want to engage with, what people convert through, that's kind of the concept that we are always trying to get that qualified leads. So, we're always trying to get our learnings by analyzing what's driving those qualified leads.

Amanda: That sounds like a well oiled machine.

Nell: Well, thank you, we're working on it.

Amanda: So, I'm glad you mentioned your top level metrics when you're just kind of seeing if the overall endeavor is successful, you know, qualified leads, but that you also delve back into the funnel and see like what stages things are progressing smoothly. Obviously, you're looking at all of those things. How much of that do you report up? If that question makes sense. I think a lot of people have questions over, like how specific they should get, and, you know, should you keep it top level? Or do you only bring those other metrics in if you have to explain that something is working better or not working better? How does that work for you?

Nell: Definitely. So, I think for us, as I've been saying, we care the most about the qualified lead. And so, for me, when I report up, I look mostly at the leads that are being driven and the qualified leads that we have, we actually call them handoffs. And I think those are the main metrics that I report up. If I'm asked for more detail, I typically report which content pieces people are engaging with the most, not necessarily looking at the number of people specifically that have engaged in this piece of content who moved to this next section of the funnel, so on and so forth, that's a little bit too nitty gritty for what is wanted from me. And I think from my perspective, it is the reporting up on the qualified leads and where those are coming from, and whether that's a content piece or a specific campaign or specific audience, that is the most important thing that I can report up on. Obviously, as a team and to kind of fine tune and continue to hone what you're doing, we look at the nitty gritty of it within the team itself. But when it comes to kind of our metrics meeting and kind of a broader company, I don't get into that level of detail, unless there's a specific thing that is working exceptionally well, or the opposite of that, which is something that is seemingly not working, and why. So, if there's a story to tell, and it is a very specific story to tell that is interesting, but on a regular basis, what I report up on are the leads and qualified leads.

Amanda: Yeah, that makes total sense. Like unless you're specifically trying to illustrate something that's happening, just keep it top level.

Nell: Exactly. It's pretty easy to get into the details too quickly, especially when you're talking about campaign structure and marketing and conversion rates and all of that. 

Amanda: Well, because you get excited about it, right?

[Cross talk]

Amanda: So, how many people are actually on your team? 

Nell: So, on my team, we actually have five people. So, it is myself, and then obviously, Danny, who you've spoken to. And so, we have a number of people or two people, Danny included, who are very focused on SEO. And then we have two people that are much more focused on kind of email, as well as content in general. So, from an email perspective, a lot of what we do on paid gets driven into our email campaigns, which is then kind of further nurturing them to get them to convert to a qualified lead. So, they all work very closely together. And actually, I would probably say that every person on my team is involved in content in some write, because we do use the idea or the kind of method of content to provide information to build trust, to educate and to then continue to convert people throughout the funnel. So, that's kind of what the team looks like today, we have a couple open roles so that the team will continue to grow. But the main focus of the team right now is between SEO paid channels that we've been talking a bit about and kind of email and general content.

Amanda: How do you structure the reporting part of your team? Are you kind of overseeing all of it? Does everybody keep tabs on what specifically they're working on, and then you all meet together? I'm just curious, as every team kind of does this a little differently.

Nell: Yeah, for sure. So, we actually have somebody who is growing into what we are calling a growth analyst role. And so, she is actually responsible for basically making sure that everybody has their kind of own independent reports to make sure that they know what's going on in their world on a day to day basis. But if you're looking at the holistic view of marketing, one of the reasons why we've created this role and she is growing into this role is to solve for, making sure that everybody looking at the right metrics in the same way or in the right way, it's very easy to look at one kind of metric in one way and the other person look at it in another way and come to two very different conclusions. Or even if you pull it from one CRM field versus another, so I think it's important to have somebody who kind of understands holistically where everything should be pulled from. And that actually helps cross departmentally as well, because we do have a number of people who look at business metrics across different departments, and making sure as an organization, making sure that we have, and this is something that as a leadership team we've thought a lot about, but making sure we are across departments following the same definitions of metrics, looking at metrics the same way, pulling them from the same sources, or at least the appropriate sources, and kind of steering the boat in the right direction. 

And especially as a startup, when we were probably, or less than half the size today when I started, and so especially as quickly as we've grown, and going from 20 to 60, to where we are today, there are a lot of moving parts that move very quickly and change very quickly, and making sure that everybody is looking at things under the kind of same lens has been something that's been very important to us. And as I've mentioned, we've always been a very data driven organization. So, we've always valued data. I think, many, maybe most companies take that viewpoint today, especially in the startup world. So, it's been kind of analytics and metrics is something that yes, when I started, I was owning for all marketing, I've built up the marketing team since I've been here and then obviously the organization has grown. So, as all of those things have happened, we've made sure that we have, I don't want to say sole owners, but definitely go-to people within each department who understand the metrics the same way as somebody in another department. 

Amanda: Right. Absolutely. So, it's already been half an hour. So, I ask a couple questions at the end of every interview. First one is, and again, you have had a situation where your leadership kind of understands mostly what you're doing, but the question I asked everybody is, what do you think is the biggest mistake that people make when they are trying to get buying in for something? So, what is something that people do when they're communicating that isn't as effective and maybe they don't realize?

Nell: Sure. I actually think this goes back to the kind of question you asked around the level of detail. I actually find that you end up being almost less successful if too much detail is provided. I think if too much detail is provided, it ends up coming across especially to kind of the C level and C suite within an organization who has a very different view of what marketing does on a day to day basis than I do for example, by providing too much detail, it gets kind have lost. And it seems as though the details are there, yes, but the reasons behind why those details are being presented, even if they're there, again, sometimes gets lost if there's too much being presented. So, I think one of the things that has been most successful for me is really learning how to, and I'm still developing this, but learning how to kind of narrow the scope of what you're presenting and really structured in a sense of, "Here is what I'm suggesting, here is why.", and really only sharing the necessary data as to what has worked or not worked in the past or any supporting data as to why you think this is the right decision. And then here, what I'm suggesting is next steps. So, I think the idea of presenting too much and feeling that you have to get into too much of the nitty gritty ends up not being as successful as you, or as one would assume it to be. More is not always better when it comes to those types of conversations. And then, kind of second on that, I think it is absolutely necessary to make sure that once you've presented kind of your proposal and the data behind it, that you follow up with, "Here are, essentially my suggestions or here, what I'm suggesting as explicit next steps.", and really making sure that you're leaving the meeting, having been clear about what you're going to go execute on.

Amanda: Absolutely. I learned the first part the hard way at a previous organization. 

Nell: I think a lot of people probably do, myself included.

Amanda: Right, yeah. So, the last question I ask is, knowing the objective of this show, who do you recommend to be future guests on the program?

 Nell: Oh, interesting. I have some experience on the kind of ECOM side of things. The role I was in previously was a very similar role in some senses, but ECOM, I think actually is quite different. So, I do think that content is actually and I'm sure there will be people out there that disagree with me, but is actually more of a power tool for kind of B2B companies, SAS related B2B companies. Whereas ECOM, you are pushing a product, whether it's a shirt or a toothbrush, or whatever that may be, I'm sure content is important. But when you're offering something, especially for us that is not so tangible, it's very important to build trust and build that relationship and do that through content. I have to think about a specific person, I'm happy to do that. I think that the general concept for me at least, is I've found that content is a much more useful too in the B2B companies I've worked at than in the ECOM companies I've worked at,

Amanda: Yeah, no pressure to come up with anybody on the spot. If you think of anybody, just send me an email. I just like that question because I end up meeting people I never would have met, and I love hearing like, people that other people just admire. It opens the doors to really cool interviews. So, if you think of anybody, let me know. 

Nell: For sure. Do you care where they are? I know, actually, there's somebody that's coming to mind who may be interested, they're based out in California. I don't know if that matters. 

Amanda: Anywhere.

Nell: Okay, let me reach out to them. And it's a company that I used to work for. I don't know what their content strategy looks like today. But I'm happy to reach out to see if it's something that they're still putting a heavy focus on.

Amanda: Sure. Yeah. That'd be great. Thank you so much for being on the show Nell. Like I said, it was really cool just to be able to walk through exactly what you had set up and how you're able to position yourself for success and communicating those results. So, thank you.

Nell: Yeah, thank you for having me. I hope we get to chat again soon.

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