Joining us for today’s show is David Ciccarelli, the CEO of Voices.com, who understands the impact of content marketing on revenue growth. David invested in content strategy to fuel his revenue growth. To access emerging best practices on content marketing, David used the How to Make Your Number in 2018 to answer questions. Turn to the Marketing Strategy section and flip to the Content Strategy and Planning phase on page 270.
Today we’re going to be discussing how to earn brand preference by satisfying the information needs of your target customers and prospects.
Why this topic? Producing and distributing content for everyone means you’re really doing it for no one. For content marketing to generate revenue, you have to know exactly what your customers need, where they need it, how often they need it, and in what form they need to consume it. Miss any of these items and others like them, and your content marketing efforts will fail to contribute to revenue growth in any meaningful way.
David is uniquely qualified to speak on this topic as a CEO who understands the power of content marketing to drive his corporate growth strategy. Listen as David illustrates how to manage your content marketing team to maximize your business’s productivity and increase its profit.
If you’d prefer to watch a full video of the interview, click here.
In your business, what reasons do you have for creating content and how does it help your business?
Well I think one of the first things every executive needs to consider is really the buying cycle that a prospect will go through. We’ve all probably heard the times where a customer would say to us after they’ve made a purchase, “I wish I knew about you five years ago!” So, really the disconnect there is that there is no awareness. They may not have even known that your company existed. The first phase of that buying cycle is generating awareness, and content feeds right into that. From there, you’re moving to the acquisition of a lead and the conversion of that lead into a customer.
How did you learn about the information needs of your prioritized customers?
Well there’s a couple approaches. Certainly, gleaning information from analytics platforms, like Google Analytics, is a great way that’s non-intrusive. You’re not necessarily picking up the phone and having conversations with your customers, but you can see what your customer’s preferences. What questions are they typing into Google that would ultimately get to your website? Next up would be having those conversations and asking questions, something that we’ve done is one question surveys. They take about 30 seconds and often read, “What’s one thing we could do that would knock your socks off?” or, “What’s one piece of information that would be a game changer for you?” or, “What’s your most urgent or burning question that you have before making a buying decision?” Then finally, running an ongoing log on a shared spreadsheet, or an internal intranet, to capture those questions.
Now, once you do that, you have to figure out, “Where do these customers go today to fulfill these information needs that we just discovered?” Of course, coming to your websites and communication channels is one place to go, but there’s probably several others and you want to put your content where your customers are going to be. So, how do you figure out where your customers go today to fulfill these information needs?
I love low tech approaches to this. Let’s try the bookstore and let’s go into the magazine rack. If there’s a magazine on a topic, you can bet there’s a whole industry built around that topic. If it’s software, if it’s travel, if it’s adventure, backpacking, right through to knitting and everything imaginable, if there’s a magazine on it, that’s going to be a great source of authority. There’s real world material like trade journals, magazines, etc., and then there’s the online world equivalents. So, every magazine’s going to have a website that’s probably got a fair size audience, and that would be the fastest way to get to a target audience. Whether you’re talking about it from your own experience, or positioning yourself as the guide and your customer is the hero, “Hey our customer had this problem, we developed a solution with them and here’s the results that ultimately they were successful for.” There are some real tangible outlets that have wide audiences that you’d be able to tap into.
Regarding the staff that you have allocated to content marketing, how much of that effort is internal and what have you chosen to outsource? Many people will say, “Yeah, I understand that but I only have so many people. I only have so much money.” So, how do you handle this?
We make it a priority and recognize that at the top of the sales and marketing funnel is content. Really nothing happens until there’s something that’s shareable. So, there’s definitely a big push for the content team. We actually have a quota, just like in sales they have targets. For every writer, it’s 20 stories, which is roughly a story a day, and we track those. A story has an entire life cycle just like a sales deal has a life cycle. A story’s life cycle starts with an idea, moves to researching, then writing, and is then published and shared. Having a system that you can track, be it something simple like a shared spreadsheet, can now be reported on, encourage people, and provide visibility into the production lifecycle of any piece of content, be it an article, a video, or a podcast. Having a system for managing the lifecycle of content is critically important. Often the hardest part is coming up with ideas of what to write about next and so that’s circling back to what we just talked about. You’ve got to have streams that are filling in that content pipeline. At any given time, we can look at how many stories are at each stage in the content pipeline. Just as, in sales, you would look at how many deals are at each stage of the deal pipeline. We’ve simply taken a lot of the best practices from a sales methodology, and applied that to content marketing. Somebody owns the story. If you own the story, you get credit for the story. You celebrate the wins, you know that it got pushed out, so there’s this real sense of accountability and contribution that you’re doing meaningful work that contributes to the overall success of the company.
How do you handle promotion in terms of allocating and allocating staff? If you’ve got three writers, what’s their peer group on the promotion side?
It’s very similar. On the promotion side, we call that demand generation; this is a team of people who are responsible for getting that content into the search, sharing it on social, including it in email for upcoming newsletters, and then any other display or remarketing campaigns. The search, social, and email are going to be your three most prominent, most highly trafficked marketing channels that you’ll want to have your content distributed into. We also have a public relations team, which is a three person team, and they’re tasked with distributing the content. When we talk about owned media, we own our social and we own our blogs. It might be a very similar piece of content, but we’ve got to earn a way to get it placed. It’s much more out of our control. If we’re going to put a responsibility on somebody to write the content, there needs to be somebody to be responsible for getting that content placed.
You’re the CEO of your company, you decided to invest in this. You’re watching your PNO and your cash flows. How did you come to grips, in your own mind, that you should fund this?
It’s purely the numbers of it. We said, “Look, we can either pay for this traffic on Google though Google AdWords, and be paying $3 or $4 a click. Or, what if we could do it ourselves? What would the equivalent be for the average article?” The average article equivalent would be about 1,000 visitors for every article. So, the value of an article is between 3 and 4 thousand dollars. Next thing you know we’re generating $60,000 of value and that we felt that we are well justified in investing in content production.
Some of our clients use content marketing tools like editorial calendars and production schedules, etc. You mentioned shareable spreadsheets a few times. Any particular tools that you think people should be aware of?
You definitely need a system if you’re going to take content seriously. You need some type of production system to track these stories through their lifecycle, and then you need a publishing system. The most popular one on the planet being WordPress, if you’re going to publish a blog, or a podcast, or videos, on an ongoing cycle. There’s a ton of great features built into WordPress, which is why it’s broadly become the industry standard in terms of a content management system.
Some people have gone to the point where they’ve acquired some third party software that automates a lot of these workflows. Examples are Kapost, Contently, and similar tools. My audience often asks me, “When’s the right time to do that? Can I continue to bootstrap this and do it with things like shareable spreadsheets and collaboration tools, etc? Or do I need to get sophisticated and go to these automated workflow tools?” Do you have an opinion on that?
I do like to build out systems for scale. We often start off with a no-tech solution, which is, as I said, doing market research by going to see how many magazines are in on a particular topic, what are people writing about, and what are good headlines in magazines. There’s people watching, asking informal interviews, there’s a lot of low tech, or I should say no tech, ways to do it. Then you move to the low tech way, which is a spreadsheet, but when you need to move to adding on that automation or scheduling, that’s when you need a dedicated, sophisticated system. I would encourage people to consider taking a bit of a baby step approach to this. I think you’ve got to make the leap into producing content. Whether people are doing voice-based searches, or they’re typing in questions, they’re looking for answers. So, I think there needs to be a commitment to creating content. But, those type of robust, feature rich systems probably come into play when you’re producing multiple pieces of content per day. So, until you ramp up to that point, I would just be concerned that it feels like overkill and people get overwhelmed, in which case you have to dial back, or miss out on the opportunity to meet your customers at the awareness stage. Take your time. Make the commitment to move into content, but get there slowly but surely by building out the tools that you need to be successful.
How do you measure the effectiveness of your content?
I think one of the themes for this session today, has been to take a very systematic, methodical approach. Our approach is to actually measure the effectiveness of the content. There’s two things that matter to us, and we look at it as more channel based as opposed to an individual piece of content. But, as an example, we look at how many people are interested and how many leads we obtain. Generating traffic and converting traffic into a lead, is very much under the ownership of the marketing team. At that point, it’s really handed off to the sales team, and we need to educate them on what we’re doing to generate these qualified leads. That’s how we measure it and, as I said, it is on a channel by channel basis.
I really want to thank you for coming on the show. Your answers were fantastic. You’re very sophisticated in this area and congratulations on all of your success and thanks for contributing to our body of work.
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