You know that content marketing works. But does your boss? Your CEO? Your client?
Have you been having trouble explaining why content marketing is a crucial component in your overall marketing strategy?
There’s an art to explaining why your content strategy will work.
The Godfather of Content Marketing himself, Joe Pulizzi, talks about this art and explains why it’s critical that all content marketing professionals sell their work internally.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- The type of language to use with internal stakeholders
- How to set the appropriate timeline expectations
- How to overcome your own imposter syndrome
- Ways to report on little wins until you start seeing big results
- Tips on how to take a big (strategic) risk
- Joe Pulizzi - Twitter
- Content Marketing Institute
- Content Marketing World
- Content Inc
- The Will to Die
- 10 Case Studies That Show the Real Impact of Content Marketing [blog post]
Amanda: On this week's episode, we have somebody who needs no introduction, but I'm going to do it anyway. He's known as the godfather of content marketing. He is the founder of three companies including the Content Marketing Institute, launched Content Marketing World, which I just went to for the first time this year and loved, co-host of the podcast, This Old Marketing with Robert Rose, is the co-founder of the Orange Effect, which has the mission of delivering speech therapy and technology services to children. He has written six books, including the most recently, The Will to Die, which is released solely on audio book but for free. So go check that out and I'm so thrilled to welcome to the show, Joe Pulizzi. How are you doing?
Joe: I'm great. Amanda, thanks so much for having me. This is exciting.
Amanda: No, this is a fantastic way to kick off the relaunch of this podcast.
Joe: I know. About time. We've all been waiting for your relaunch and it's a privilege to be on the show and as you kick this thing off in a new adventure. So this is great.
Amanda: Thank you. That means a lot. And what I'd love to start with was something that I heard you talk about at Content Marketing World, and it's something that's really going to be the foundation of why people are even going to listen to this podcast. It's what everybody struggles with, I think at some point in their careers, and that's selling what you do internally. So I think a lot of content marketers know what they're doing and they know why it works. They don't know how to make the case, and you spoke about the importance of always doing that. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Joe: Oh yeah, I would love to. It's a favorite topic of mine and what's interesting, I had seven whatever key trends or key things for content marketers for 2030, or to get through the next decade and that was my number one was the importance of selling internally and how critical it is and I think what a lot of content marketers don't realize is the content marketing programs get killed, not because of lack of results. They almost always get killed because somebody in the organization does not understand what you're doing. It's really important to understand that because in most cases, unless you're for a really small company or you are a solopreneur, other people control the purse strings of your budget, and I can almost guarantee that if you're at, let's say any size company bigger than 10 people, there are those people that will give you budget that do not have a clue about the philosophy behind content marketing, how long it takes, and the storytelling focus and skills that it takes to build something up, and to build a better communication program with your customers.
So it all starts with selling internally. And what I would recommend is before you start any kind of content marketing program, you have to start a content marketing program for your employees, specifically your executive team. That could be as simple as every other week you're sending - I used to do it when I started working at Penton Media back in 2000. I started doing it through inter-office mail where I would put little articles together and a little care package for each of the executives so they knew what we were doing and what we were trying to do and what the importance of content marketing services specifically for our company. And that really helped. I mean - don't get me wrong - it took some time. This was not something that just happened right away, but I knew from the start. I started at Penton in 2000. I took over the department about 18 months later, and what I quickly realized is not only did no one have a clue what content marketing was, they didn't care enough to even include it in overall projections. And I was scared and we were a small team and I'm like, this is not going to last very long. And this was 2001/2002. This is when the floor dropped out of the media business. And I'm like, we're going to have to do something. So I started this and probably after about six, seven months of sending these care packages on a regular basis, I started to get invited to certain meetings, and when I reached out to publishers and reached out to the CEO and the CFO, they actually returned my emails and my calls, which wasn't happening before because of this, because I got on their radar.
So it doesn't have to be a huge initiative, but it has to be thoughtful and it has to be consistent. You can't just throw out something one month and then skip a month. You have to do it consistently, and so I don't know if you have an intranet or you can use email or if you still have intra-office. I still love printed paper - works really, really well. But it's important that you get people behind you simply because of the fact that content marketing programs take so long to take root.
Amanda: So you're actually showing by example by doing it internally first how long it takes?
Joe: You have to! I was desperate to find case studies on content marketing and I would send them. It's much easier today, but back 20 years ago, it wasn't even called content marketing. So I'm desperate to find all these examples and put them in and they got easier as we went along as the Red Bulls of the world started to get into it, but then you absolutely have to put it together and I coordinated it just like any other content marketing program. Here's one we're going to send. We're going to send it every Friday. I do it every week. Here's some things I need to focus on as I go through, add the case studies and we'll see what happens.
Amanda: Right. This reminds me of something else you've talked about where you're saying it's time to get rid of the concept of a campaign, something you just do for a few months and then you throw away and then you start all over again. Instead, how can we look at this vision that's going to last for much longer and get people to buy into that?
Joe: I can't stand the word campaign. It bothers me, and by the way, there's nothing wrong with marketing campaigns. I mean marketing campaigns have been around forever. We'll do a marketing campaign around a product launch. It lasts 9 to 12 months. We'll have a budget specific for campaigns. But for example, like a political campaign, which thankfully ends. At some point a political campaign ends, and when you say, I have a content marketing campaign, you are already projecting the fact that you are going to end it. And here's the thing with content marketing is a content marketing program should never end. It should evolve; it should change. You're going to tweak it as you go, but you're never going to end it because you're basically saying, well, I'm not going to communicate valuable information to my customers anymore. So you're already telling the people in your organization, you're telling your customers if you're talking that way, that Oh, this is a short term thing. I'm going to communicate this way in order to sell more stuff. And then when I hit my goals of selling more stuff, I'm going to stop giving you great information.
Amanda: Yeah. It's just the connotation of the word doesn't do well.
Joe: No, I mean, you see it. I mean, look at all the media. Look at any of the large marketing sites that cover marketing or cover content marketing. They always say content marketing campaigns, and back in the day when nobody knew what content marketing was and they were just starting to talk about it, I would always write in the comments on those articles please don't use "campaign".
Amanda: No, I know. We've used it before, and then when I heard you say that, I'm like, yeah, it's very interesting. We've been trying to think around what other type of language can we use. That's in marketing all the time though. I feel like all these kind of buzz terms and words that have almost lost their meaning over time, where we're not using them the same way as other people and the meaning doesn't communicate the way that we actually meant it.
Joe: I would agree with that. I don't think that most marketers when they say campaign think about the ramifications that what you're sending out and saying that it's going to stop, because you're basically talking yourself out of a job or you have to restart. Oh, we're going to do this huge campaign and then we're going to stop that and we're going to do something completely different, which may have worked in the past in the advertising age, if you will, but certainly doesn't work today.
Amanda: Right. So what would you say to somebody who gets this initial buy-in. They get the rest of their team on board with the concept of content marketing and there are a couple of months in and suddenly they're having a case of imposter syndrome or they're freaking out a little bit because they know that they have a lot riding on it and they're not sure it's going to pay off. What would you say to those people?
Joe: Well, welcome to the club is what I would say because the first, let's say day 1 to day 270, looking at the first nine months or so. Sometimes you don't know. I mean it's interesting. When we launched Content Marketing Institute, I launched the business officially on April 2nd, 2007 and I did it with the blog and my blog was called the content marketing revolution. And of course the idea was to continue this thing and to educate, but I didn't know how long it was going to take root. I didn't know that it would take - I mean, I don't want to scare anybody - but it took about 20 months to really see that this thing was making a difference. Sure, I had lots of qualitative information and I saw that our email newsletter subscribers were growing, but I didn't know if we were going to have an impact on a true business model until I got to, let's say about 10,000 subscribers and then you could say, Oh, now I can see the potential.
And then as you go further, then you start to look at those people that subscribe and engage in your content and what they do different from those people that don't. And if you're measuring all of these things the right way that you should as a good marketer, you'll start to be able to tell things. For example, we knew that people that subscribed and read Chief Content Officer Magazine which was launched in 2007, we knew that those people were way more likely to come to Content Marketing World, which was our big money maker, but I didn't have that right away. So you have to have a little bit of faith in what you're doing. Of course, set out the listing posts, talk to as many of the readers as possible in however you can. I would even say if you can call them and talk to them, and that's why Content Marketing World was great, because I could talk to people face to face. What do you like about CMI? What don't you like? What would you like to see? And that really, really worked out so that by two years later we had the magazine. It was really starting to take off and I would go to marketing events and I talked to a Chief Marketing Officer and he or she would have the magazine with them. And I'm like, Oh, if that's not the best thing in the world. This is actually working. But you have to have the patience. So okay, after all that, I've rambled.
What I would say is you have to set the expectations for a length of time and the consistency it's going to take. So if you set your expectations with your executive team that Hey, we are not going to have significant results for 12 months doing this. Now you're going to be doing a lot of other marketing stuff, but let's just look at your content marketing. This could be podcasts, could be a video series, and could be your social media content, e-newsletter, whatever. Set the expectations so that you know, Hey, we'll come back to give us a leash long enough to give us 12 months and then in 12 months I'm pretty confident that I can come back and give you enough that you're going to say, yes, you're on the right track. Keep this thing going.
Amanda: Right. Is there a way to kind of prove little wins along the way just to keep people bought in, cause if it's going to be that long? I think people worry about that sometimes. They say, well what can I give them now? Like when people ask me how it's going?
Joe: Oh, absolutely. I don't want to say you're not going to see any results 12 months, but yes, you can absolutely see where people have subscribed or you're tracking people that have engaged. You have a marketing automation system or something like that. You can say, okay, this person who bought X amount, they first found out through this research paper we created, and then before they bought, they watched this video series or they downloaded this podcast and became a subscriber. You know, those types of things you can absolutely prove. The challenge is, especially in B2B enterprises, most sales cycles will take 6, 9, 12 months anyways, so you have to prepare for that. So how do you measure anything until you get through a full sales cycle? You really can't do that, but absolutely set up the measurements and you can do a whole lot of qualitative stuff. You can take a lot of what I would call vanity metrics, social media shares. I mean the executives love that, right? They were like, Oh, it's been shared a thousand times on Twitter and Oh somebody, you know, somebody posted it on LinkedIn and it went viral and all that kind of stuff. Those are all good things. Now will you show sales for that? Probably not now, but as you pick up subscribers and you actually build an audience, you'll be able to show that I guess in more of a solid fashion later.
Amanda: So what about people who have been doing content marketing for a long time that's already established at their company, but they want to take a bigger risk? You've talked about, I think it was in a Twitter video, how you've taken several risks in your life, like leaving a six figure job to create Content Marketing Institute. Those bigger choices where people think that it's the right thing to do. What made you make those leaps? What was it instinct? Was it research you did?
Joe: Well, first of all, in leaving Penton and starting the business, I'd always wanted to be an entrepreneur. So that was just a thing where I was talking about launching a business forever and my wife finally said, Joe, either stop talking about it, or do it. Please just make a decision to do it. So I finally decided to do that. So that's the risk, and it felt like a really big risk at the time, I guess looking back. It isn't because if you, whoever listening to this, if you're in an enterprise, whatever size business you are - I mean, I hate to say this - but there's no loyalty today. You're not going to stay at that company for 30 years, like my father stayed at Ford Motor Company. That stuff doesn't happen anymore. So you have to take care of you. You have to think about you and sometimes you have to make a jump that may seem risky but really isn't.
So if going after your passion and doing something you really like, even though the money may not be there now, that's maybe isn't a risk. Maybe for your life, that's actually something that you should've done a long time ago. Sometimes we think the risky things that we look at on paper in the present really aren't that risky when look back on them. I would say that for launching the business. The one thing I would say about thinking big, and here's where a lot of marketers get it wrong. They were like, Oh, I want to think big. We have all these channels that we can communicate in. We can do social media and you'll get tweet and do Facebook and now we can do podcasting and video series and all kinds of stuff. I mean there are hundreds of different things that you could do, so they think because they can do those things that they should do those things and that's where it gets them into trouble because that's where you see all the failure happening.
They're like, okay, we're going to do this big content marketing thing. We're going to launch all of these things at the same time, and then they fail because of the fact that that's not how you build a media brand. And maybe because I came from media and publishing, I understand a little bit better cause I've been through it. How do you build a content brand? Well, you do that by starting with one content type and one channel and deliver consistently over time. Look at how the New York Times did it. Look at how Red Bull did it. Look at how Huffington Post did it. Look at how Buzzfeed did it. All of them, they launched the same way. They launched with one content type within one channel and they consistently delivered over time. Then when they built that audience, then they were able to diversify and do other things. Like right now of course New York Times is in the events business. They sell products directly. They do lots of different things, but they did just the newspaper for a long time. Huffington Post just started with one blog. Now they have a hundred different blogs, 200 different blogs, but they started by building an audience one way. So I would go big. And if you're going to say take that risk, go big and thoughtful and focus on one audience and be great at one thing and do that better than anyone else. And if you could do that, you will build an audience over time and then you can go ahead and diversify later and do all the fun, fancy stuff that you think you should be doing and diversify like a big media company. But you can never do that from the start. You always have to start simply.
Amanda: Right. Don't take risks in every aspect of marketing at the same time.
Joe: Well, I'm sorry, it's not a risk. I don't want to say - it's probably ignorance. It's not stupidity. It's ignorance, and I get it because you want to do all of those things because you can today, but that's just not how audience building works. And the funny thing is, even though we have all these social media channels and the consumer is in control and they can go get their content everywhere, it still works that way. It's still the same, even with all of these new media companies. I mean, look at all the media companies today that are launching just by launching one e-newsletter and they start that way and now they become this big enterprise. So it's interesting.
Amanda: Yeah. Well, I was flipping back through Content Inc. which was a couple of years ago I believe, and there was a part where you said the most important thing people need to be thinking about is the subscriber. And I think it's exactly what you're saying. It's so much easier once you've built that loyal base to move into anything else. You're not starting from scratch anymore. You're starting with a group of people who's already bought into your brand and understands what you're trying to do.
Joe: Oh, it's so true. I mean, once you build an audience, once you have opt-in subscribers, that will afford you the ability to do all kinds of amazing things and diversify in all kinds of ways. Because once you get that one channel, and let's start with a podcast just like you're trying to do. You're relaunching this thing. You're going to build an audience on this platform and then when you get to hundreds of thousands of listeners, then you can say, wow, I have hundreds of thousands of these subscribers. You’re probably going to have let's say an opt-in newsletter that goes with this so that you can get direct communication control with those. I say control, but as much as controls you have by getting their email names and then you can start to really listen to that audience and listen to the feedback and see what else is needed.
So maybe the follow-up to this podcast is an event, or maybe you sell different products through that, but you have to have the subscriber first to then figure out how that subscriber's behavior will change. You can't just change behavior off of one piece of content. Very, very hard to do that. I mean, you could do that. You could go, Oh, I'm going to do these conversion techniques and all that stuff, but they're already bent that direction if they're converting. So you have to take time and communicate to them thoughtfully. And then once you build that audience, then you can do some really creative things.
Amanda: Because otherwise it feels like I'm just making decisions in a vacuum. If I were just to be guessing without having anybody to get the...
Joe: But if you start without a thought on building... so what I would recommend to people starting is set a subscriber goal. So let's say you're starting this email newsletter and you're gonna say, all we are going to do is do this consistently. We'll promote it and do all those things, but we're really just going to focus on this great email newsletter till we get 10,000 subscribers and then just go and do everything and focus on being great at that goal and hit that and you're not going to worry about I have to sell this, I have to insert this sales messaging. I have to do that because that's what will happen if your primary goal is about selling a widget because you're going to put that stuff in the content and then it's not going to work. So it has to be all about solving the pain points of that audience, their needs, what's going to help them live a better life, get a better job, whatever the case is, and then you can monetize that later in the process.
Amanda: Yeah, that makes sense. So I want to backtrack a tad to something you said that reminded me of something in The Will to Die actually. I'm on I think about Chapter 5.
Joe: Oh, you're early. Okay. Yeah. It's going to get crazy.
Amanda: I can tell already. I was listening to it and for those who don't know, it's like a suspense thriller, but it also has a lot of marketing aspects to it, which has been really fun. I haven't read anything like that before. And when you're talking about taking risks or doing things, trying to get justification for things when other people don't have buy in, and you have characters in this book in chapter 3 and 4 who go to this pitch meeting and are nervous because they're not sure if they should deviate too much from the norm, but then ultimately decide that's basically what they have to do in order to stand out or even make an impact because they know that that's the case. And it was really fun for me to read that in the book because it just reinforces. I didn't expect it from a fiction book, I guess.
Joe: Yeah. You're getting a business book in a thriller format. Actually, I got an email today from one of the readers and they were giving me some really good feedback and said, I never thought I'd be reading your novel and it'd be a marketing book. And I said, well, it's not really a marketing book, but if you started from beginning to end, you'll see the evolution of the business and you'll pick up on a lot of the stuff we're talking about here.
Amanda: That's what I noticed. This is the stuff I already knew we would probably be talking about and it was in this book, but it was a great example even within the story of how sometimes it's too much of a risk not to take that risk. If you're just going to blend in with everybody else and offer the same thing everyone else's offering, you're probably going to lose business that way.
Joe: Well, remember back in the day, it's like they always said, you can't go wrong by choosing IBM, that kind of mentality. Well, it's the opposite today. You can't be normal. You will never ever stand out by being normal. So you have to do things differently and obviously we were just talking about the launch of the Will to Die. I mean who launches a book and gives it away in just one format - audio - and does it for free. I'm basically following my own advice on building an audience. I don't have an audience in the fiction world. I have an audience in marketing, so how do I build an audience? I have to take away all the barriers that I can and I don't want to focus on four or five different content types at the same time. I want to be great at one thing. So I said, well, just focus on audio and I haven't seen many authors do this. It'll be interesting to see how this evolves and if the experiment works. So far so good, but it's that's just what I believe will work and if I just launched it like everyone else, maybe I would sell a couple of copies, but I don't think that I could build an audience.
Amanda: I was going to ask, since you were doing this in such a unique way, if there's anything that this experience is telling you. I know it's still pretty early on, but has it reinforced what you already believe or shown you some different things about marketing in general?
Joe: Well, the first day of downloads from the launch was unbelievable, and we had 1500 or 1600 downloads yesterday, and that's just through my friends tweeting it out, which was fantastic. I'll totally take that. But I think that because we were talking about doing something different, it was a lot easier for people to share without saying, oh go get this book but you have got to give Joe an email address, or go get this book. It costs $9.99 on Amazon or whatever. There's literally no barriers, and I even put in a lot of it, because there's been a lot of questions from people who don't listen to podcasts. I'm like, Hey, it's okay. You can still listen to it on your computer and I had to become okay with the fact that some people right now would not engage in the book because they don't listen to audio books. But that's another thing when you're talking about audience targeting. I knew exactly who my audience is. My audience is people like thrillers - one, that also listened to thrillers via audio books - 2, and my primary audience was marketers who listen to audio books that like thrillers. That's a very specific audience and I think that's what everyone has to do because the more specific you can be with your audience, the more fine-tuned you can be with the content and the approach to marketing the content, and that's what I hope I've done, Amanda. I think it's going to work. I mean, if I get a big two months, if a big publisher comes to me and wants to throw a deal at me, I'll definitely be listening. It would be fun to see that, but I don't think any other way, even going out to agents at the beginning of this process and publishers. I mean, who's Joe Pulizzi? Joe Pulizzi wrote a couple of good marketing books. I can go get a nonfiction book published tomorrow with a real publisher, but nobody's going to listen to me on the fiction side. So what do you do? Have to think a little bit differently, so hopefully we've accomplished it. Now I have to report back on everything else.
Amanda: Yeah, we're recording this in December. It's going to go live in January, so you'll have to send an update. For people who don't know, he's actually chronicling this experience on Twitter as well, so if you're interested to see how it continues to go, check out Joe's Twitter.
Joe: And the LinkedIn folks are pretty interested. I've been posting some videos there and actually that's one of the learnings for people that use ... I'm surprised. So I've been testing out videos on all the platforms. I've been testing out on Twitter, on Instagram, on LinkedIn, and on Facebook. Both my Facebook personal page and my Facebook fan page, and by far the best traction is LinkedIn and I did not expect that to happen.
Joe: Yeah. I don't know. It's weird, and actually my son's a YouTuber, so we'd been talking about this stuff and he's been asking me about my video strategy, and I thought that because I have a large Twitter audience that Twitter would be the best place to go. But Twitter as you know, if you don't get traction in the first hour, it's kind of gone, but what happens with LinkedIn when you post a video, you still get traction three, four, five days, seven days, and on where it just keeps going and going and going and now I don't know if that's their video algorithm, or what they're doing, but it's amazing to me the consistency of views on videos on LinkedIn versus other platforms.
Amanda: That's right. Yeah. I would not have thought that either, but it makes sense. You're right. Things get so easily buried on Twitter, and if you are creating something engaging on LinkedIn, it's so much more likely that people will see it and be able to like it and view it. So that's definitely.
Joe: Who knew that and I didn't realize the amount of engagement on LinkedIn. It is unbelievable!
Amanda: I'm glad to hear that it's working for you, because I started to think that LinkedIn was becoming almost too diluted. It's like people thought it was working and then everyone's on there now. Maybe it's not worth going on there, but it sounds like there's still opportunities.
Joe: Well I will include it in my final report, Amanda, but right now, LinkedIn's winning by a long shot. So we'll see. I'm gonna keep continuing to do this through the initial launch. So hopefully it will continue because right now I like what I see.
Amanda: Yeah, that's awesome. So I'm going to close out every podcast episode with the same question for people, which is what do you think is the biggest mistake that content marketers are making when they're trying to get buy-in for their project?
Joe: While we talked about some of this, the biggest mistake is probably not setting the right expectations. I think we go in as content marketers, we're all amped up. We've got a great idea. We're going to start creating some content, whatever that is, and they don't say that it's going to take a long time. So I like to really put it out there as much as possible and say this is a commitment to customers. This is a customer facing approach to communication. This is different. We're not pitching product here. We're building a relationship. We're communicating differently. We're communicating better because the long-term approach to this is not to sell more products, believe it or not. I mean, that will hopefully happen, but the long-term approach is to create better customers. So if you think about creating better customers, that's what we're trying to do, and that goes along with setting the expectations, having the executive team and the people around you understand what the real goal is, so if you go in with that real goal and say, look, we all need to know. Here's the mission right off the bat. We're trying to create better customers and then explain what that means for your business. If you do that and do that well, I think you'll be way more successful, rather than what I've seen with some of these launches that just they start off there. Somebody sends a release, Oh, Verizon's launching a new site. This is going to be fantastic - which they did called sugar string - and three months later it was killed because they set off these huge expectations and then, oh, they ran into a little bit of controversy and closed the whole thing. What does that? I mean, come on. This is terrible. Let's set the right expectations. What we're trying to do will evolve as we go and we'll be much more successful that way.
Amanda: I love that. So much of it is just about the messaging. I think a lot of people are really good at explaining the technicalities of what they're trying to do and they'll do a whole presentation on that, but like you said, framing it as a commitment to customers, explaining exactly what the mission is and why you're putting all that money and time into it. I think that's where a lot of people are struggling, so I think that's a great point.
Joe: I mean that's why I did the speech. I've never done a speech like that, but I was almost taking my 20 years of frustration on content marketing out and say, please, I'm begging people. Please don't just go launch stuff. Pave the way first before you do that for success and you have to do some things up front.
Amanda: Yeah. Well, I'm so glad you did that because I had a feeling that people are struggling with it, but to see you give that talk, it's like, oh, okay, this is not a guess. This is something that's happening across the board.
Joe: I'm so tired of seeing all these blog posts go out and say, Oh, content marketing, another failure, and then you really look into it and see what happened while somebody else in the company killed it because they didn't understand what was going on.
Amanda: Well, we're hoping to prevent that now. Knowing that that's our goal, do you have anybody you'd recommend to be a guest on a future show?
Joe: Oh my gosh, I could go on forever. It'd be half the speakers at Content Marketing World today. Andrew Davis, Robert Rose, Ann Handley would all be great people to start with. Jay Acunzo, they're all wonderful at this and I think the interesting thing about those people is they've been through all of this. They're all content creators, but they've all seen the business side as well, and I think that's what's important and by the way, that's a content marketer to me today. A content marketer just isn't somebody who creates content, tell stories. They also need to understand the business revenue model behind that, and that's what I would look for in a guest.
Amanda: Yeah, that'd be wonderful. I'd love to have them all on. Well, thank you so much again, Joe. I really appreciate you taking the time.
Joe: Thank you, Amanda, and good luck.