[Podcast] Why “build trust” isn’t a real goal 👇🏼 Click the accordion to read the full transcript Transcript for the Growth Machine podcast Amanda: Welcome to the Growth Machine Marketing Podcast. I’m your host, Amanda Natividad. Our guest today is Tommy Walker. Tommy is a career content marketer who previously worked at QuickBooks and at Shopify. But these days, he runs his own consultancy at WalkerBots Content Studios. I caught up with him to geek out on our shared experience of running B2B content marketing in-house. We talked a lot about the shareability of content, what makes great content great, and how you package up metrics into meaningful insights. So Tommy, I’d like to talk to you about your point of view on content marketing goals. Literally if you Google why content marketing, all of the articles will say the goals are to improve lead quality, influence conversion, help SEO and build trust but I don’t think you agree with the goal of building trust. So, can you elaborate? Tommy: Yeah, no. There’s a lot of really good stuff out there and the idea of helping your SEO, influencing conversion, lead quality, I totally believe in all of those, and building trust is a hard one. There is no metric in Google Analytics or any other analytic software I’ve ever seen that says … There’s no trust metric there and there’s no authority metric there. I have a hard time with content marketing as a method to building trust, and people talking about it. From a brand perspective, there are definitely reports out there, brand health reports and stuff. Do you trust this company? And sure, yeah, that’s great. But, can we tie that information to content marketing? Are we really able to say like, “Hey, somebody who interacted with the content also trusts the brand.” It just doesn’t line up for me and it’s a really squishy metric. How do I know that you trust me? Because of the content I produce? Lots of people produce really good content but they’re not trustworthy. You know what I mean? It’s a hard one for me. Amanda: Yeah, that’s a really good point. I mean, something I look at when I’m trying to gauge trust is if people comment or write to me to say, “Hey, I like this blog post.” But those are so few and far between. Tommy: Right. I mean, that’s something that’s really interesting too. Trust is also very charisma based, and you have a lot of really charismatic personalities out there in the world that aren’t trustworthy, but they might be able to generate discussion. They might be able to rile people up. So even trying to find a proxy metric for trust is a difficult one for me because it just … Can you really trust this person? Or, and I see this … You see this a lot in the content marketing space in general, especially in B2B where somebody will paint idyllic pictures. They’ll say, “If you do this, then this will happen.” And you want to trust that, you want to believe that if you take these tactics that people are giving you, it will work for you. But if it doesn’t, do you trust that person any less or are they just another set of words on the screen? And if you’re the person trying to put that information out, how do you know that people trust you? Tommy: If you’re trying to do actionable advice and then that stuff works, then maybe you can become considered trustworthy and that’s fantastic, but there’s still no metric for it. That’s why I don’t like it when people put out there the whole idea of no trust in like in general. There are plenty of people out there who I trust who I don’t like. You know what I mean? The metrics themselves don’t line up and I feel like we get really caught up in … In the content marketing space in general, we get really caught up in these really squishy vanity ideas, and in reality we just can’t measure those. So we should be focusing on the things that we can measure and then if these things happen by proxy, fantastic. But, really you have to be looking at it as a by proxy thing. It’s not necessarily, this is the goal. My goal is to get you to trust me. Amanda: Yeah. I mean, one goal that’s not often mentioned that I’d like to add to the mix and that I’ve used before is this idea of content sustainability, so making sure that every piece of content becomes at least one other thing. What do you think about that as a goal? Tommy: I love it. I love it. Something I’m really starting to think about with my own stuff now is recording, recording every blog post. We were talking about this beforehand, but it’s a very fatalistic view of somebody who deals with words for a living to go and nobody reads, but really that’s the truth and I’d love to be able to repurpose that stuff. It’s a whole lot of extra work, but it creates a new format that’s a little bit more friendly, and accessible. Not everybody is able to really take a look at the words on the screen and make it easy for themselves, so that’s more accessible. But the other thing that’s really cool about that, having that audio version, now I can snip that up and do little audiograms and put those out to promote the piece out there on the social media world, and then you can start to spin a lot of this other stuff out as well. Tommy: One of the things I did with one of my blog posts is I used the featured image and turned it into an audiogram and put it out there into the world. If I wanted to, I can turn all of those into a podcast. I don’t want to have a podcast right now. I like being on other people’s podcasts. I think podcasts are fine, but I don’t feel like from my perspective it’s a really good use of that. Other companies do this really well though, like 99% Invisible. Have you seen that website? Amanda: Yeah. Oh, they’re great. Tommy: Yeah. They have this great interplay between the podcasts and the blog posts that they embedded on because it’s not all necessarily … It’s multi tiered, right? You get stuff out of the blog posts that you don’t get out of the podcasts, and vice versa. I really like the texture that’s involved with what they do. So yeah, sustainability and really being able to take every single piece of what’s there and turn it into the other stuff that can be distributed or disseminated. I think absolutely that’s a brilliant goal and it’s absolutely necessary because people are so fragmented in the way they consume online media now. Amanda: I love that. I mean, let’s talk about content formats and audiograms some more, because I’m pretty sure, well, I’m almost certainly going to copy you and I’m going to try some of these audiograms. I listened to your blog post, your most recent one, and I read it. I was really interested in that, and that was the first time I had seen that. Are you measuring success, or are you able to track how many people are listening versus reading and that sort of thing? Tommy: Yeah, I’m able to. I’ve only recently rebooted my blog so it’s not something … I’m really just more focused on the creation aspect of things right now. When it gets to a certain point where I know that I’m really putting a lot of focus on the stuff that I’m producing, then I’ll definitely be tracking that stuff a little bit more. But you and I were talking earlier, I just recently started my consultancy a few months ago. What I’m really interested in right now is working with my clients on some of this stuff and using my own stuff as an experimental ground. And as I continue to find that balance between my work and their work, I’m definitely going to be putting a lot more focus and attention on the measurement side of things. Tommy: I definitely can and I have looked at it, it’s just not super important to me at the moment. What’s more important to me is just building. But yeah, once that’s there I definitely will be looking at … I work with a data analyst, he’s amazing. Starting to find that interplay between the retention on the blog post or retention of the listener, and how does that correlate to the time on page? You know what I mean? I want to be able to measure and I know how it’s possible to measure that scroll depth as you’re listening and see what that interplay is. I can see whether you’re listening and going off somewhere else, and I really want to be able to figure that out. So that’s something that can be figured out, I’m just not focusing on it currently. Amanda: Yeah, and that’s interesting. And if someone’s playing it directly on your website, then even just looking at time spent on page … I don’t remember how long your audio was. I think it was seven to 10 minutes or something? Tommy: It’s 11 minutes and four seconds. Amanda: Yeah, so if someone’s on your page for like 11 minutes, then you can be pretty sure that they were listening to it, versus if they spent five minutes on your page, they probably skimmed the post. Tommy: Yeah, exactly. Amanda: That’s cool. What are some other high leverage, low margin content formats that come to mind? Tommy: Oh, god. You know what I’ve been playing around with a little bit more? And again, it’s about finding the time for me to really find that balance of things, but decks. It’s a weird thing, but what I’m starting to do a little bit more and … I did this with a LinkedIn post that I put together. Really embedding these decks into themselves and trying to create an extra layer into a blog post that already exists. What I’m fascinated about by this concept is helping a reader to switch gears. There’s a behavioral science. I get into behavioral science and neuroscience, and all of this stuff a little bit and try to incorporate that into my writing as much as possible, is people, we have patterns. We expect the certain thing to come next. Tommy: That’s why a lot of blog posts can follow this really predictable format, and then you’re able to gloss … You do gloss over because it feels like you’ve read the same thing, in the same tone of voice and everything many times over. Embedding a deck inside this, you can interrupt that pattern of what people are used to and switch format. Let me give you an example, because this is a little bit random. I’ve got a draft that I’m working on right now. It’s not published yet, because again, I’m trying to find my time. But, it talks about getting people on board with changing up their content and publishing operation. Let me change your entire workflow so we can work together a little bit better. Tommy: I’m bullish on Airtable. I’ve been able to break down silos and get dozens of people inside the same space from different channels so you’re able to get the whole content operation going together like social, email, SEO. Everybody being in the same place so that now we can better distribute content all around. To do that, there is this level of politics within a large organization. You’ve been in large orgs, there’s a level of politics that needs to be involved with that. So in the posts that I’m working on right now, it talks about that level of politics, but then in the middle of that, there’s an embedded slideshow. That slideshow is basically, “Here’s a template that you can use when you try to have this conversation within your organization, so here’s what this deck might look like.” Tommy: Then you can move on to the rest of the post, and then later on in the post I say, “Let’s walk through.” Instead of just throwing people into a live environment, you walk them through with another deck first so they have some grounding before you just throw them directly into the tool. The whole idea with that by putting these different deck formats in there is to really give people this 360 degree multi-level experience of a blog post instead of just saying, “Here’s a list of bullet points.” I’m like, “No, I can actually give you the whole deck and if you want to download this deck, cool. Give me your email address.” You can start to build out from there. So yeah, that’s one of the things I’m really experimenting with right now. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that LinkedIn has started using decks as part of their status update formats. Amanda: Yeah. And I think especially as you are creating content for other marketers who work in companies or large organizations, those are assets that are really useful to them. Tommy: Yeah. One of the things I’m planning on doing as I start to get a little bit more systematic with my outreach is … I know that with the stuff that I do … If you’re a consultant and you’re pitching content marketing to people, and you guys know this as well, you’re not usually talking to the decision maker, you’re talking to the person who will talk to the decision maker on your behalf. So, one of the things that I’m going to be putting together is a board meeting in a box. Basically like, how can I give the person who’s going to pitch me all of the information that they need to do that? Right now there’s a lot of PDFs and stuff like that. Tommy: A lot of agencies will pass out a PDF, “Here’s our services and everything else,” but I want to be able to take that a step further and say like, “Here’s the PowerPoint that we’ll use and here are the arguments.” Let me give the person who’s on the other side, who’s going to be making that pitch a framework to start plugging in. We have X amount of users every month, but we don’t have blah, blah, blah. Let me start to build out that framework so they’re better equipped when they go to have that conversation. Amanda: Yeah. That’s pretty similar to how I’ve been thinking about content as of late, because I’ve realized as I’ve been writing … I write a weekly blog post for the Growth Machine Blog and I was realizing that the content that is easier for me to write really comes from my experience as a content marketing leader. Our most recent post came out today actually. It’s about getting the executive buy-in on content marketing. So it’s going beyond SEO and thinking about, well, how else can you use your content? It isn’t just about SEO or just traffic, even though those are obviously- Tommy: Good blog post. Amanda: Yeah. They’re obviously important things, but there are other reasons, too. Tommy: Exactly, exactly. The people who are cutting the tracks, the number one thing that they want to know is, “How is this going to get me a return?” And with content, it’s a really interesting thing and I’m starting to … I’m having this conversation again. It’s a really interesting thing to try to create that attribution. Most leaders are in “this dollars in, dollars out” mindset because most companies will, a lot of the bigger companies I should say. They’ve already doubled down on their ad spend, they know what their digital channels, their PPC channels and stuff like that are going to look like. We can predictably say if we put $1 in, we’ll get 10 back. What’s the return on ad spend? Tommy: But if there’s an associate marketing manager or just a standard regular old marketing manager, or even a senior going like, “Hey, we know we need to do this,” and so many companies do. Nobody denies that content marketing is a thing that needs to happen, everybody knows it. The challenge that a lot of organizations have is figuring out how they’re going to measure it. So, part of that board meeting in a box idea, getting that executive buy-in is to show you exactly how that will happen and what will need to happen in order for us to even get to that point where we can measure properly. So yeah, that’s a really interesting format and it’s something I’m really interested in exploring further. Amanda: Yeah. That also goes back to the content sustainability where if you are having trouble making the case for content then, I don’t know. You can say like, “Well, we have this really great blog post. We’re going to turn it into a deck. We’re going to use the deck and a webinar, and also the person speaking is going to present at this other conference.” Great, we use this four times and we only spent this much money. Tommy: Right, exactly. And I love that you said conference because once you … And I see this with public speakers all the time. They’re like, “Pick which presentation you want for your conference.” It’s like, “Oh, okay. That’s cool.” They’ll get paid that speaking fee for however many times the different conferences want to have the same exact presentation. Amanda: Yeah. That makes me think now about repurposing and repeating your message. I’ve run into this a bunch of times in the past where you create this really awesome presentation and other people use it externally. Then after a month or a quarter goes by, people internally are like, “Oh, we’ve used this so many times. I think we’re done, I think it’s tired.” I get it and I think sometimes it probably is, but I just tend to think that most of the time, we’re not distributing our content enough or we are repeating ourselves in a way that no one else outside the company is really seeing. Tommy: Right. It’s hard. I mean, internally especially with the larger organizations, you can only beat on that drum for so long before you become white noise. So the question is, and this is something that I feel like I’ve learned. I don’t know if I did it well in my previous company, but it’s taking that big idea that you put out there and then starting to use those smaller concepts and try to put those into applications in different ways as you’re going along. So when you give that presentation again a little bit later on down the road or you’re doing your quarterly review, or your yearly review or whatever, you can say, “Hey, yeah, we focused on … We did the big presentation a few times, then we really hammered home on these things internally, and then we were able to do that.” Tommy: The question is, and this was a great … Kateri Kosta was for a time, she was my manager at QuickBooks. The thing that she said, and I loved this was, “What story do you want to tell at the end of the year? And then just reverse engineer that.” So these internal presentations, how do you stick to that as much as possible and then keep telling that story in pieces over the period of the year? Amanda: Yeah, absolutely. Now this has me thinking also just more broadly about distribution. How do you think about the distribution process as you’re creating content or different content formats? Tommy: I am actually pretty terrible at thinking about distribution and the reason for that I think is very simple. One other metrics that I really care about … And don’t get me wrong, I do have distribution ideas in mind. It’s always like, “How do we syndicate and post to a bunch of different places? Use account-based marketing strategies? Find the right people to get your stuff in front all of the right people?” Et cetera. That’s table stakes. You hear that a lot and it’s actually relatively easy systems, and any social media marketer is going to kill me for saying that. Relatively easy systems to set up and then maintain over a period of time. What I’ve always really cared about and one of my true north metrics that I care about when it comes to the content and looking at analytics is return visitors. A lot SEOs I know don’t really like that, because they’re all about the new visitor, get a bunch of new people, cast a wide net. Tommy: But as somebody who has worked in software as a service, you’re not getting that consideration without that. What that does, to get back to the question of distribution itself, what I really try to focus on is making sure that the content I’m creating is as shareable, as distributable as possible so people feel compelled to do so. There’s a blog post that we referenced before. One of the things I really care about, I feel like content has four different goals. One of them is to be shared, one’s is to create discussion, one’s to generate leads and one’s to generate sales. If you’re really focusing on that and you know that goal ahead of time, you start to infuse that with those little shareable tidbits. What’s a tweetable that we can put in here? What’s an interesting piece of information that we can study that we can cite in a very interesting way? How do I continue to build on this thing, where people want and have to share it? Tommy: Chartbeat came out with this really interesting study a few years back where it’s, at what point do people actually share as they’re scrolling down? And a lot of people, and Twitter’s now fighting against this, but a lot of people will share either based on the headline alone, or at least the first 500 words. How can I make those first 500 words something that are irresistible to share? That’s something when it comes to distribution, I actually focus as narrowly as possible on those areas so when I put it out there into the world, hopefully more people will want to pick it up and take it. Tommy: Talking about the interesting little formats and stuff like that, you start to put in the audio version of it, you start to put in the deck version of it and it starts to show right away that like, “Hey, this thing had a lot of care and attention and detail put into it. If I share this, then it’s going to help bring me some social credibility, because now I look good for sharing this really great resource.” The same idea goes internally actually. The question I ask when it comes to writing a blog post now that I’m starting to think about this a whole lot more is, “What Slack channels do I want it to be shared in?” As somebody who’s marketing to marketers within larger B2B organizations, I want to know what channels the person who’s reading this will share it in their Slack. Amanda: And by Slack channels, you mean other marketing communities where they have Slack set up? Tommy: Yeah. Say I’m in a large organization. I don’t work for them, but say I’m in the brand marketing team at Target, or one of my readers as part of the brand marketing team at Target. They’re going to have connections to a handful of different channels. One of them might be SEO, one of them might be PPC, one of them might be sales. I’m trying to think of what channels that person who’s reading my stuff would be sharing that content to inside those larger organizations. It’s dark, I can’t see it. It’s dark social, it’s impossible to track but if I want to at the … And you guys deal with enterprise-level clients, too. If you want to get that attention in there, you have to really think about what those networks, those internal networks are going to start looking like. Because, you see it in any large … If you’re part of a large organization, you see it, “Hey guys, I thought this blog post was great. You should really check out X, Y, Z things,” right? Tommy: I want to be that person who’s getting shared in there. As somebody who flipped the script a little bit and I’m creating internal content, working inside the company and creating internal content, I want to think about these deep problems that we as a team are having, or we as a … Not just our immediate team, but a much larger bubble, and decks are the thing. Decks are the thing in enterprises. Everybody wants to communicate through deck. It’s about telling that story and knowing how to tell a story through that as a very visual medium. Something I found within the last large organization I was part of is, the people who got the most done built the most beautiful decks, that’s it. Tommy: They were able to tell a really compelling story, but they also used icons and graphs. The whole thing was just beautiful, and you could tell that they put a lot of care and attention to detail so they could push their ideas through and it’s really no different. It’s no different whether you’re doing it internally or externally. You’re trying to get your ideas shared and the more attention to detail you put in there, the better off it’s going to be. Orbit Media, run by Andy Crestodina, I hope I’m saying his last name right. I think I am. They just produced … They put out a new study on the state of blogging and they said, “The top 10% of bloggers will have more than 10 images inside a piece, they’re usually higher, longer-form pieces. They report having a lot more success.” That just goes to validate this idea of the more attention to detail you put into these things, the better off it’s going to be. The question then becomes, how do you find the plan? Amanda: I mean, in a larger company maybe you have some resources to help you do that. But I also want to say, I like that you say focusing on shareability because that makes it very actionable. I mean, I tend to say … I like to try to be empathetic when I’m writing something, but that doesn’t sound very actionable. I think If you are empathetic, you can make content that shareable, but I mean, it takes a lot of work. If you’re thinking about how you can make your content really valuable, helpful and packaged in a way that people want to distribute it, I mean, you have to put a lot into that. I mean, you got to have some good images, maybe some charts that you create from scratch, there’s a lot there. I mean, what else have you seen be really effective in terms of what you can add to make something more shareable? Tommy: It’s the story. it’s the narrative itself that you’re trying to tell, and then everything else supports that narrative. So, you could be putting an IP, you’ve got obviously your images and your graphs and all of that, but then maybe customer, if you’re looking at an internal conversation, it’s customer validation, external data from here’s what our competitors are doing because nobody likes to have their competitors outclass them. It’s these little things that really start to go like, here’s the problem that we’re having, here’s how real that problem is, and then you start to agitate it even more. Here’s the first level of what the problem is. Here’s the second level and this is why it’s really bad. Now, here’s what I think the solution is going to be. Problem, agitation, solution. It’s a tried and true storytelling format. It’s all about how work within that format in order to tell that story. Tommy: But to go back to the distribution for a second here, I think what’s really important, and this is only just now coming to me both internally and externally, is understanding the informal power structures. Within a large organization, there are the formal power structures where it’s the org structure, but then the informal power structures of who can actually get stuff done. And these can be your collaborators. When it comes to this stuff, one of my bosses, Geoff Morgan, was really great at being able to take a presentation, you take this presentation to him and then he’s like, no, you need to change x, y, & z things in order for this to pass through to that next level. Tommy: In this content marketing space, there’s still plenty of people who who do that. You might have to pay something for some of them. If you’re friends with them, you become friendly with them. Cool, you can ask for feedback like that. But there are plenty of people too who do paid masterminds and stuff like that. If you have to pay for attention, then that’s the price. But there’s still always this idea of like, can you help me make this something that you would be proud to share with your audience of people? The idea is the same, right? It’s how do you create stuff that people want to share and how do you do that in collaboration with the people who will share it? Amanda: Yeah. There has to be thinking about sharing your work or your content internally within a company. That’s something that I’ve seen a lot of challenges with, but something I’ve seen be effective is finding a way to really nicely package all that content into a newsletter that goes out to an internal email alias. Not copying and pasting paragraphs of your blog posts and putting in a link. What I’ve done in the past, I’ve built it as, okay, these are all the things that you need to know in order to do your job well. So if it went to the sales team, it was like, here are some quick stats and sound bites that you should be incorporating into your pitch. Here’s how you say this. Hey, this latest industry report just came out, here are the top three findings. Tommy: Going back to that people don’t read idea, how do you make it as scannable as possible and give them the little tidbits? And then if you have that idea of like, oh, here are the top three things that you need to know, here’s the thing that you can send out to the client. Amanda: Yeah. Oh, totally. So it’s like, you don’t have to read this but here’s what you need to know about it. Tommy: Right. Right. And how do you pitch this? Amanda: I think this is a nice segue into something else I wanted to ask you about. This was in your recent post about being the center of discussion. So you bring up the Meeker Report. So this report, this is by Mary Meeker, who is an analyst and venture capitalist. And one of the things that she’s best known for is her annual state of the internet report. And this report gets picked up like crazy every year by media, mainstream news outlets, pick it up, tech can add blogs too. So, this to me is kind of like the holy grail of content marketing, having this one amazing piece of content that serves you well for the entire year. Tell me what about this report do you think is so successful? Tommy: Sure. I think it’s a few different things. The first one is that it’s broad. Very few people have a target market of everybody. But the Meeker Report somehow is able to cover everybody because she goes so in-depth on the different trends that are affecting so many different areas of the internet. And that’s anything from healthcare to apps to eCommerce to eCommerce trends in different countries. Where are the biggest opportunities that we have there? And what makes it really appealing is that she goes in such good depth about all of this stuff. It’s not just a deck full of slides. And to give some context to this too, the 2019 Meeker Report was 333 slides long. Tommy: Just to give you an idea of the depth of this thing, anybody who’s listening who hasn’t actually seen it, it’s massive. But she goes into such detail on all of the things where it’s like, oh, I can start to make decisions off of this because she’s forecasting in such a strong way. Or at the very least, I can look into the things that she’s talking about and try to find the even deeper information to make decisions off of. Just the depth and breadth of the information that she’s putting out there, that’s definitely one of the things that get discussed because it’s also something like, these different sections of it are also things that can get picked up. People will talk about the whole thing broadly, but then those little slices will get picked up by the individual segments that are being covered. So that’s a big part of it. Tommy: The other one, though, is it confirms people’s biases. I talk about this in the blog post, but if I’m a CEO and I’m bullish on expanding into the APAC market and I want to get into that whole market, if Mary Meeker is now coming out here and saying like, yeah, this is something that’s a really huge opportunity, I’m going to go, yes, see, I was right. Especially if you have naysayers inside the company, it’s confirming my bias, and now I can make myself look good because of this report that validates either my gut instinct or all sorts of smaller minor reading that I’ve been putting out there. Tommy: And the the last one is it it does, this report in particular, and I’ve seen this happen in many other areas too, is it will highlight unknown opportunities. There are certain things where we get so caught up in the day to day that we really forget about the other opportunities there. So, to talk about the APAC opportunity, a lot of people will say, APAC is really great. That’s where I want to expand because there’s this 50/50 split of internet users and non-internet users so there’s a lot of growth there. But what might be overlooked in this is something that the Meeker Report talks about, is that Africa and the Middle East has some growth that’s happening there. And you might see these areas where you go, oh, we have a really solid, this particular market, their internet usage is really focused on mobile. They don’t use desktops anymore, it’s primarily focused on mobile. This might be a good testing ground for some of these other things that we’re interested in tracking out. Tommy: Those are really kind of the three things. Those are the reasons I think it gets discussed the most is that it covers so many different areas but it also confirms biases. And it shows those unknown opportunities that just this level of research goes into. That’s why. Amanda: Those are great points. I don’t feel like I’ve heard the confirmation bias aspect of it before. And I completely agree with you. Because when you hear and you find something that resonates in that report, you will say, yes, I was right, I’m going to share this. Tommy: And the thing is, it’s not just this report. Look at our news outlets nowadays. Take it away from content marketing and internet marketing in general, our news outlets and our social media feeds and all of this stuff has now been there to confirm these biases. I don’t care if you’re on the left or on the right, it doesn’t make a difference. What I’ve been finding recently is that one side doesn’t even know about the other side’s grievances, right? Which is a really kind of fascinating thing because, and this is, you just see this sort of confirmation bias, this reinforcement of your ideas over and over. It makes you stronger in your own opinions. And if you’re able to produce that type of stuff in a non-evil way, then it’s something that can be working to your benefit greatly and to your entire organization. Amanda: How do you think other brands can replicate the success of this report? Tommy: That is a great question. Brands, first and foremost, have to be willing to open the doors on some of their proprietary data. Original research does exceedingly well. You’ve seen this time and time again. MailChimp is one that keeps coming out really hard with the different segments and open rates by segments. Unbounce just put out a report of conversions by industry, things like that. And what I found, and I hope some of the content marketers listening to this will hear this and confirm some biases here, what I found is that a lot of legal departments, in particular, are not willing to share that data, even if it’s anonymized. And there’s a lot of hesitation even at senior levels to do this in the non-legal space. Senior-level marketers might not want to do that because oh, that might expose our, if the sample size is just our customers, then that might expose who our demographics are and all of this. Tommy: But the thing is is that, I was just looking at a report the other day, and it was by a university, and I can’t remember the name of it, starts with an M. They found that 54% of people do not trust brands. But it was like 84% of people do trust blogs. So if you’re able to put out this sort of original research that covers a bunch of these different areas, that’s one of those things that will definitely get picked up and can definitely be discussed. And it doesn’t even have to be your own customer data. I’ll take it away from customer data for a second. If you can share customer data and stuff that’s directly relevant to you, then cool, please do that, because there needs to be more original research for me as a blogger to cite. Tommy: But something I found that worked out really well from the content team, QuickBooks was they started doing polls like just out there in the market polls to put together original research that was minimum wage by state, or average, I think one of them was the average tip by state for restaurant workers. Really able to look at these sort of very specific sets of people and these very specific sets of groups, and then tying that to research that could then be shared and discussed. And a lot of that stuff was shared and discussed. And what was interesting about part of the way that was approached, and this isn’t just them, this is something that happens in general, is that you can be talking to the people who would be distributing your content ahead of time. And before you even produce it, say, hey, would this be interesting to you, do you think your audience would do that? So you validate those ideas before you put them out to the market. And if enough people say, yeah, that sounds interesting, be like, cool, I’m going to go do that report, I’ll have it to you within a couple of weeks, let me know what you think. Tommy: So, it’s not just a matter of creating this stuff and then throwing it out there. It’s validating your ideas in the market before that ever happens. And not enough companies do that. Amanda: What I also like about that idea is that it’s taking advantage of how known you are in the space and reaching out to the audience in your niche. And I think, sure, it’s not the same level as the Meeker Report, but I think if you’re doing these polls or these surveys and you’re just very upfront about how you’re gathering your data. Maybe you’re saying, maybe if you are QuickBooks, and maybe you’re saying, oh, we pulled 100 QuickBooks users of this specific product, here’s what we asked them. I think media, I think bloggers will understand. I think they’ll be respectful of like, okay, you told us your methodology, you told us who you polled. And okay, this is interesting news or interesting stats. Tommy: Yeah. And the thing about, there’s two different approaches. You have the Meeker Report, which is big and then niches down, and people will discuss it on those niche down areas. But if you’re able to do this at volume, and a lot of brands are if you’re really thinking about this, you can actually reverse engineer it and do a bunch of the small tests, or the small stuff, and then have that ladder up. Tommy: A really interesting example, you can see right there behind me, we did these industry reports back at Shopify. You can’t really see it. But where it was everything that’s happening, this is the fashion and apparel report. We took our research from other areas, we didn’t do a lot of original research for it, but you can take these different areas of who says, what’s the view on internet on growth in this particular area right now. And you start to find these little mini reports that you can do along the way, get those shared. And then when you’re done with the campaign, combine all of those together into a bigger report that can then also be shared again. Tommy: So, going back to that content sustainability piece, if you’re doing these little mini reports with that ultimate goal in mind of sort of compiling that master list, then you’ve got multiple assets that you can use, say it’s maybe 10 different assets and one encompasses all of them, that sort of gets the broad picture of everything that’s going on. Amanda: Yeah, I think that’s a great idea. And I think getting to those mini-reports would be one way I would think about that too, is reverse-engineering the headline. What headline do you want to see when someone covers your news, and then creating the report based on that? Tommy: Yup. And a lot of PR experts will tell you, you reverse engineer the headline for them and you even go so far as to write what the thing would be for the most part because the little known secret is that people are just going to share primarily what you wrote. You hear this all the time is like people just share it verbatim. So if you’re doing the research on the outlet that you’re trying to get out there to, you just package up the entire thing and they say, yup, that’s easy, copy and paste, put it out there. And now your logo or your brand is on Mashable. Mashable is a really great example of doing that. Amanda: Yeah. I completely agree with that point. It’s why press releases exist and that’s why they’re still successful. I don’t think any reporter would want to hear that. They would say, I do not copy and paste. But they work. Tommy: We won’t tell on you. We’re not going to call you up by name. Amanda: They’re not listening to this anyway. The last thing I wanted to talk about for today is tools and reporting because you have a lot of experience with managing content in-house, and now as a consultant. So, maybe we can start with, what’s your content marketing tech stack or your desired tech stack? Tommy: Sure. So, if we’re looking at purely the analytics perspective, it’s really sort of expanded recently and it was Adobe analytics. I hate Tableau, but that’s part of it. And then one of my favorites is Chartbeat from a publisher’s perspective because I get that sense of like, I get a real sense of real-time and the scroll depth of engagement in all of that. Those are my favorite ones. The reason I like Adobe analytics, in particular, is that I’ve been able to find reports that allow me to see unique visitors, obviously, but also how many sessions did that unique visitor have within that particular session? How many pages have they visited over a 90 day period? Of those, how many pages were they visiting per session? And really trying to get this really solid view of the average of how people are consuming the content. Tommy: And one of the things that’s really great about that is you can start to see if there’s a correlation between the amount of pages that somebody has visited and the amount of time it takes for them to convert. If one doubles, does the other one go in half? And that’s a really interesting sort of thing to consider. So that’s from the broad level. And then looking at the individual pieces itself, looking at those individual pieces, I really like Chartbeat because it gives me this really sort of real-time perspective on how people are interacting with that. Tommy: And then if I really wanted to get a step deeper, I might look at, and I’m kind of agnostic, but any heat mapping tool that allows me to get this really solid perspective of what people are doing when they’re on the page. So, if I put in that slide presentation, for example, does it make a difference and does anybody care? Nothing is more depressing, and I found this before, and it may be very sad, when you spend $500 on an article and the author spent three days producing the thing. And then the majority of the scroll depth doesn’t go beyond 200 words. Tommy: But it gives you an idea of a lot of, from what I’ve seen on the content marketing perspective, especially for companies who aren’t going that deep into it, it’s let’s produce content, see how many unique visitors this thing gets, call it a day. I really want to get a sense of like, how are people interacting with this content, because what that allows me to do on the reporting side, going back to the deck and reporting upwards, I was never really good at this but I’m starting to get a lot better at it now, is telling that story. We’ve invested X amount of dollars into these types of pages, this is the relationship it has with people converting, this is the lifetime value that the publication as a whole has created and doing that. Tommy: Now, talking about lifetime value and all of this for a second here, it’s really important to champion having an attribution model in place, like a proper attribution model. They’re very difficult to come up with. And it’s very much encouraged, like something I encourage both clients and I’ve championed internally, is to really, really think about what that true content journey is supposed to look like because a lot of frame of reference, and really challenge your analysts to think about this too because the frame of reference for a lot of folks, and you’ve probably seen this already, is the landing page sort of frame of reference. If I get this landing page up there, and so many people go here, then they’re going to convert and this page is worth X amount of dollars. Tommy: But if you take that tack with any sort of content marketing play, the question I have to ask, and it’s like super intuitive once you ask the question, but it doesn’t occur to people when they’re talking about it, is when was the last time you read a blog and then immediately said I got to buy the product? Amanda: Right. Tommy: Right? Amanda: Yeah. Tommy: It never happens. There’s a much more nuanced relationship that people develop. So when I go to report, if I don’t have that attribution model in place, I try to champion for that first because I want that story to be that I’m trying to tell like, here’s the role that we play in the entire organization. Here’s what we’re trying to do. I can tell you the role that it plays, not just this page, because if you have the model wrong, then the story you’re going to tell, you’re just at a disadvantage with the story you’re trying to tell in the first place. These pages generated this amount of money. That was like 100 bucks for the quarter. Why is that even valuable? Well, it actually turns out that we generated five, six figures worth of revenue, even more nine figures worth of revenue. But we were measuring it the wrong way. And we just don’t know what we don’t know because we weren’t looking at the data the right way in the first place. Amanda: Yeah, yeah. Attribution is super, super important. And I think that’s where, that’s also an area where, especially for B2B companies, it’s really important to get maybe lead scoring into place, and really, truly just understanding who was reading your content, how they’re reading it and what they’re getting out of it. Tommy: Exactly. Exactly. When it comes to the tech stack, it’s that. It’s not just the tech stack itself, it’s the people. I work with one analyst who’s ever been able to put together an attribution model that I felt has been appropriate to content marketing. I’ve never met anybody who’s been able to do it, but this guy cracked the nut, and I’m very fortunate that I have and continue to work with them. So, yeah. Amanda: So once you have the attribution in place and you you’re tracking everything in Tableau, your heat mapping tool, whatever, how do you like to report on those metrics because I’m sure you’re not just copying and pasting somewhere and going look at these numbers. How do you provide the insights and manage up? Tommy: And that’s a great question. Again, it comes down to the story. You have to know the story, and it will go back to this, you have to know the story that you’re trying to tell. And you don’t want to mold the story or try to make the data to say what you want it to say. You very well could in a lot of cases, data itself is very malleable. Amanda: But you want it to be true when you tell the story? Tommy: Yeah, you want to be true. You need to know what the story is that you’re trying to tell and then reverse engineer the attribution model from that, but then be able to tell that story truthfully over time. So, for example, we did x projects with the intention of improving y results. And what we found when we did z things is that we got this other result that did that. We cut the time in half, we doubled the conversions. Let me take a step back there for a second. You have to know not just the story that you’re trying to tell, but you have to know from a project by project perspective what the overall strategy is going to be. I think that part is probably the most important, especially within larger organizations, and this is anybody where it’s, I’m going to produce a bunch of blog posts. I’m going to put out the ebook, I’m going to do the whatever. And then see what happens after that. Tommy: There’s no strategic approach there, so, there’s no we tried to do this, we wanted to do this, fix the site architecture, for example. We wanted to fix the site architecture so here’s what we did, here are the results. Here are the results after a few months, three months, six months, 12 months, and this is what we found overall in that entire process. If you don’t take that approach of, that project-based approach on some of this stuff, you’re just not going to be able to tell that story. Amanda: Every project needs, it needs the context of what the strategy was, what the results were and how you can evaluate it. I think you could think about the metrics as a post-mortem on every project or program that you’ve done over that timeframe. Tommy: Exactly. Exactly. From how does our entire content program perform, you’ve got that bigger story that you’re trying to tell. But then that can only be told when you break it down into those smaller sections. I’m starting to find a theme here. Amanda: Yeah. Do you have any last advice for anyone who is trying to manage up in their company in their role as a content marketer? Tommy: It will always go back to know the story that you’re trying to tell. But it’s also don’t just push your ideas. Find out the questions and objections that people have. And when you start to make your presentations and you start, I’m building out a program right now, and before I put any sort of, before I put anything to paper, it’s like, hey, what are everybody’s ideas behind what this program could be? What do they want it to achieve? I have to know what other people want to achieve in order to form your pitch and to tell your story and to really get that feedback that’s going to provide some very valuable insights. You don’t have to take everything. Not everybody’s going to have good ideas. But you can and you should know what everybody wants to have happen. And then try to tell that data layer story about what happens after that. Amanda: I love it. That’s great advice. Thank you for joining us, Tommy. Tommy: Thank you for having me. Amanda: That’s our show. You can hear more from Tommy on his personal site, tommyismyname.com, and on Twitter @Tommyismyname. Thank you for your time and listening. If you like this episode, please subscribe and leave us a review. See you next week. I’ve written about the 4 goals of content marketing before, but in this podcast with Amanda on Growth Machine, I elaborate and dig into why trying to measure goals like “Trust” or “Authority” are a waste of time. After we talk about what the goals are, we also discuss: Leveraging the same topic across an entire yearUsing multiple content formats to make your message heardThe importance of creating shareable contentHow to bring your metrics into context and extract meaningful insights This was a great interview and would be a great listen, I think, for anyone who works within a large organization who is trying to make the most of their content marketing program.