Imagine everyone you knew kept telling you the same trivia fact over and over. Hey, did you know a snail can sleep for three years? Did you hear about snails? Guess what? Snails are capable of sleeping for…
That’s what the internet can feel like sometimes — the same content over and over again. It’s easy to get sucked into the echo chamber.
Thought Leadership Consultant Lee Price knows how you can stand out from the monotony and say something powerful while remaining authentic to your brand.
In this episode, you’ll learn:
- How to actually say something in your content to stand out
- How to uncover the “big ideas” your brand and leadership have that are worth sharing
- Ways to encourage thought leadership in your company
- Whether you should move forward with a controversial message
- How to report on the impact of sharing this type of content
Amanda: In today’s episode, we have Lee Price. She is the cofounder of Managing Editor magazine. I actually met her when she spoke at the 2019 MarketingProfs B2B forum, and she just struck out on her own to start her own business and you can find it at Leepriceideas.com. Welcome to the show.
Lee: Hi Amanda.
Amanda: You tell me you had a hunch sometimes about why content doesn’t perform as well as expected? Can you talk a little bit about that?
Lee: Okay, so let’s talk about why a lot of marketers are feeling like their content is not performing, or that they can’t justify their work. So I think we’ve both heard a lot of marketers saying that lately, not just at conferences. I mean in all kinds of conversations I’ve had with marketers, people are feeling stressed that all of the work they’d been putting into their content campaigns, their editorial calendars, all their blog posts, all their social content, they’re just not able to show direct business results and that’s really stressful. So here’s why I think this is happening. So we’re talking at the end of 2019 we are, I would say 10 to 15 years into “content marketing” as a widespread marketing tactic. So we’ve kind of reached the teenage years of content marketing. It’s not a new game anymore, and what that means is everyone’s doing it. And especially if you are selling something online, you’re a B2B company, a software company for example. It’s a really noisy, crowded space. So a lot of this work feels a lot harder to do well than it did in 2010 when this was kind of new and people were using the internet in a new way. Things have drastically changed, but I don’t know that a lot of marketers’ strategies have really changed that much or the way that they try to show results. I’m not sure that that has changed much either.
So what I am finding and the reason that I started a solo consulting business to help people is because my hunch is that a lot of content isn’t performing because we’re really focused on the tactics, on publishing and on getting the content out and on making sure we have ads in all the right places so people see our stuff. But what we’re not spending enough time on is the actual ideas that we’re promoting and that we’re building into our content. So when everyone is publishing but no one’s really saying much, of course people aren’t going to pay attention and you’re not going to get much traction with the content that you’re putting out. So I think we started to think about content as kind of “the package” that stuff goes in, and we think about how we’re going to line up all of our packages and where we’re going to send them and how we’re going to put them in front of people. But when you open it up, what’s inside? And that’s where I think kind of modern, innovative thought leadership comes in where if you’re going to stand out from all the noise, you really have to have something to say. And if you’re a marketer at a company, I’ll just give you an example and stop me at any time if I’m going on and on.
Amanda: No. Please.
Lee: So here’s an example that I see a lot. So let’s say you’re a marketer at a tech company and your product is all about improving the future of work, and so your leadership team tasks you with starting a blog about the future of work. Great. That sounds super compelling. People are really interested in the future of work. That’s a really buzzy topic. But that’s kind of a landmine situation for a marketer because everyone is writing about the future of work online. Every business journalist is reporting on the future of work. Every tech company is talking about how they’re going to be involved in the future of work. The future of work is a huge bucket term that doesn’t really mean much. So you have to take it a step further. So what do you have to say about the future of work? Are you saying that work now is broken? Why? Are you saying that you need to drastically change certain things about work? Tell me what those are. Do you think that the future of work is going to be defined by geographic location? Are you focused on work from home and flexible work hours? Are you focused on kind of the logistics of the day to day work? Are you thinking about productivity? Are you thinking about pay? Are you thinking about engagement? There’s so many different things you could talk about under the umbrella of the future of work that I think people need to push themselves a lot harder.
So if you’re a marketer and you get tasked with starting a blog about the future of work, you need to start asking questions. What are we saying about the future of work? Who is going to say something about the future of work? Right? Is our founder really visionary? Are they someone that we can put up as kind of the face of our message here and if you can’t find anyone that’s willing to say anything about that topic area, you might want to keep looking for a different job honestly, because if you’re not working with a leadership team that’s willing to say anything, then it’s going to make your work really hard because if you can’t put a face and a message around your brand, I mean it’s kind of branding and positioning 101. You have to be willing to say something in order to differentiate yourself from the sea of other companies that are operating in that same space.
Amanda: I love that concept. It sounds like a thesis for the blog in general. It’s some kind of a point and an objective you’re trying to set and certain people who are trying to talk to you, but for each post to every single thing you create having a thesis as well. I think it’s really easy for people to sit down and just crank content out and not think through that aspect of it. So I really liked your perspective on that.
Lee: And this is why I think that when we think about thought leadership, we think about leaders and that’s usually the people at the top of the company, people who are making the strategic decisions about the company, and one thing feel really strongly about is that they need to be very involved in your content marketing. Because I think another kind of problem as we look at the adolescence of content marketing, where we are right now is that a lot of companies just hire a marketer, don’t get them a ton of resources or information or worse, they have like an intern that’s in charge of social or whatever and that person’s in charge of just coming up with all the content. Of course your buyers are not going to feel connected to that and compelled by that because it’s not coming from the actual engine of the company. What’s interesting is why did you start this company? What are the big ideas that are fueling your forward progress? What are your customers most concerned about? Why are you building this product or service for them? And so I think the leadership has to be a lot more involved in most companies’ content, and if you want to call it thought leadership fine. I think we can end up stuck on the idea of thought leadership and that’s a word that stresses people out. But thought leadership really is just about kind of recycling the insights that are happening inside the business and turning them onto the outside so that other people can see them and learn from them.
Amanda: Oh, I really like that way of putting it. So say somebody is listening and they’re like, yeah, I totally agree. That’s what I want to do, but I have to convince my boss or my leadership that that’s the course of action that’s best for you, whether it’s the blog or another piece of content or anything, how can they make that case to that person that this is what’s going to work? What kind of examples do you pull or what is your strategy there?
Lee: Yeah, so I would ask them what companies either in your competitive space or in another market, a lot of leaders will point you to B2C brands, which is actually fine. Ask them what companies they really admire, what leaders do they really admire, and more and more what I’m seeing, no matter how old you are or how tech savvy you are, most people are really interested in what dynamic people are doing and saying online, more than what a company presence is doing online. So we’ve seen this shift on social really dramatically in the last couple of years where just the way the algorithms work, they realize that people are interested in people, not in company logos. So on Twitter and on LinkedIn, you’re a lot more likely to hear what people at companies are saying. Their advice might be more compelling because they work at Google, but we’re hearing more from people.
And so if you ask your leadership team to name the companies that they want to be more like, or the leaders that they’re really interested in, chances are they have been compelled because they’d been following a person for a long time. It’s not necessarily about the company. And so I think the kind of the classic marketer problem is that your CEO or COO or whoever sees something online and says, let’s copy this, let’s make this, which is everybody’s nightmare. Totally different company with different resources. But you can use that to your advantage in this case. Even Bill Gates has a really compelling LinkedIn presence under his own name and I know that he has a specific agenda as a thought leader beyond just what’s going on at Microsoft. I mean, he posts his favorite books that he’s read on LinkedIn and people go crazy for it.
So people at every level in different kinds of companies are using this strategy because they know that people connect with people and their stories, and that’s kind of all you have. So if you’re just a logo, you’re just a brand posting stuff that doesn’t really have a perspective, that doesn’t really have an angle or a message other than trying to sell your product, and it’s not attached to someone’s face and name ever, I just think that there’s a limited success that you can have, because more and more people expect transparency. They expect authenticity, and they want to know who’s behind the brand. And that might even mean that you as the marketer have to become the thought leader. I’ve definitely seen that happen before where maybe you don’t have leaders who are super compelling or they don’t really want to have their face out there. They’re behind the scenes doing the work. Maybe that means you need to establish yourself as a thought leader, as a marketer. I mean, you’ve done that. I’ve done that. Sometimes that’s what you have to do. You have to step into that role because you need a personality and maybe that has to be yours.
Amanda: I think more and more, some of the buzzy topics are around authenticity and trust, and it’s so much more likely someone’s going to trust a person, like you’re saying than just a brand or logo. They want to trust the people who are at that company.
Lee: And even when I’m searching for things as a marketer, let’s say that I’m looking for kind of tactical answers on things like SEO for example, if I search a question in Google and I get an answer and it’s a really helpful blog post, but it’s just published on a company blog without an author’s name or a date, if I don’t know the perspective and who put it out there and why, I’m a lot less likely to trust it. I want to know who wrote that, what they’re doing now, what their newest advice is, how they’ve used that kind of advice? Is it successful or not? So I think that we use to think that content marketing was just about the brand publishing and I think we’ve learned that it’s so much more about the people.
Amanda: Yeah, absolutely. So I want to backtrack a tad, because you were talking about this concept of having kind of these bigger ideas that supersede just like a piece of content, and are more about what the brand thinks about something and how leadership has to have that buy in. So what if what the marketer wants to do is a little bit controversial, and by that I mean maybe with the brand’s stance is – that was hard to say – is something that’s a little …it’s very different. And that’s some people higher up might be afraid to step on toes or make too much of a wave with it. What do you think marketers should say? Should they push for that and how do they make that case?
Lee: I think it all goes back to your business strategy. So I was just reading something on the Fractl blog actually about conservative companies and how you say something interesting and if you don’t want to make waves, and I think you had some good advice in there, but thought leadership isn’t about stunts. I was just talking to Andy Crestodina who I consider one of the most impressive thought leaders about content marketing and marketing in general, and he was saying that he doesn’t consider himself a thought leader because he doesn’t have controversial opinions and hot takes. He’s a teacher. He really shows people the nuts and bolts of how to do their work well. But I don’t think that you have to be controversial in order to be a thought leader. I actually think that being a thought leader is about sharing really helpful expertise based on your own experience. So to that marketer who wants to do something controversial I would say, are you trying to do a onetime stunt, or is this really about the company’s message and your collective expertise that you’re trying to share with your audience?
Amanda: By making sure it’s at least coming from the right place, then it’s worth fighting for rather than just trying to make a splash for the splash’s sake.
Lee: Yeah. Yeah, totally. Well, and again, I think that that would show me that you need to get more on the same page with your leadership team. So you might be frustrated and kind of bored by what they consider their big insights. They might not be that interesting or controversial to you. But I think that just means you have to keep pushing harder and get in the room with them more often. Because often I find that, “thought leaders”, the people running a company who actually have the expertise that you want to share with your customers, they have it. They just might not know how to talk to you about it. So maybe you just need to sit in on more sales calls, or sit in on planning meetings or just have more conversations with those leaders. Because I promise, if they’re running a successful company, they have the ideas. They just might not have any idea how to communicate them. So your job is kind of a harvester. You’ve got to go in and find those ideas anywhere you can, and then you can figure out how to spend them and market them in a way that’s going to be compelling to your audience.
Amanda: That’s so true. I feel like so many people, if you just catch them for five minutes and have them talk, that can help so much. Some people just don’t have the time to send an email or write a blog post, so just talk to me for 15 minutes, I’ll have a lot to work with.
Lee: They’re definitely not going to write you a blog post, and they’re probably not going to take the time to sit down and write an email because I hear a lot of marketers who are frustrated because they can’t get the rest of their teams outside of marketing to write for them. I want people to write a blog post for me and they can’t get it from people and they think it’s just about time. But really writing a great blog post isn’t just about the time. It’s not that it will take them an hour to do it. It’s about clarifying those ideas. Anyone who’s ever had writer’s block and who is a good writer knows that. Usually it’s not really about the physical act of writing. It’s about figuring out what your ideas are. You don’t really know what you want to say, and so that’s why I think marketers can be really kind of like the conduit for these ideas. You just need to get in the rooms where the ideas are being discussed. Maybe it means that you start sitting in, like I said, in sales meetings or in higher up business strategy meetings.
Maybe it means that you have a standing meeting every month with someone on the C-Suite team who you think is most accessible and just get them to talk about what’s going on with the work. What’s going on with the business? What challenges are they running into? What are your customers stressed out about? Just get them to start talking about the business, which is what they’re probably most comfortable talking about. If you take out the framework of write me a blog post about this, or what is our big idea going to be this week, and you just get them to start talking, you always in my experience, will find gold.
Amanda: Yeah, that’s great advice. Especially figuring out a mechanism for keeping the communication going and who the best contact for you are going to be.
Lee: And then once leaders get in the mode of doing that and they’re comfortable having you in the room or being interviewed by you or just talking about it and they see the results of those conversations, it becomes a really positive cycle because then they see the opportunity. They see that like a 30 minute conversation with you as a marketer can turn into really interesting content that they’re excited to send out to their prospects. The way that I know that this process is really working is when you start to hear people say, oh we should write about that, or oh, I should write a blog post about that. They start to realize that just these little nuggets of ideas that come up in the day to day work are interesting enough to share and then they want you in the room cause they know you can work that magic and turn it into an article for them.
Amanda: So how do you kind of report back or how do you recommend marketers report back once they’ve gotten this information, they’ve written the content, they promoted it? I assume that there has to be a good way to loop everybody back in to start seeing the results of that work. So what is your recommendation for how people do that? Get everybody back on the same page internally and then what if there aren’t immediate results? Because as we know when it comes to content marketing, it doesn’t happen very quickly in terms of results sometimes – actually not sometimes, most of the time. So what are your recommendations for that?
Lee: Yes. So a couple things here. So first of all, get the thought leader involved in the promotion of the content. So let’s say that you have started meeting with your CEO every month and you’ve gotten a first post out of that. Let’s say that you posted on their LinkedIn. So it’s under their name. It has their head shot on it. Anytime that you can post it through their channels with their name on it, even if they’re just the author on your blog for the posts, that’s really helpful.
It gives them some buy-in and makes them excited to share it. They take more ownership of it. You want them think that it’s their work and their ideas because it is. Don’t just turn it into this marketing product that you went off on your own and put out. You want to have them involved as much as you can, make it easy for them but keep them involved, and that way too if they share it on their social media, if they’re on social media, they see the immediate notifications. It’s really gratifying and compelling to post something on LinkedIn and all of a sudden get all these notifications on your phone that people are liking it and commenting on it. So that’s an easy way to make them feel part of the process and to help them see the results.
The other thing that I’ll say is make sure you have benchmarks. I think a lot of marketers just start throwing numbers at leaders like, Oh, we got 4,000 shares on this post and the leader is like, is that good? I don’t know. Give me a baseline for this number. So if you could say, all right, we’ve been running this tire marketing blog or this tire blog for five years and we only get 1000 page views a month or whatever your benchmark is. Set your benchmarks from the beginning when you’re making the case to start doing more thought leadership, and that way you can gauge how well your new strategy is working compared to what you were doing before, and you’re right, it might take a while to do it. It might mean that you have different kinds of results. Maybe instead of getting a lot of page views, now you’re getting a lot of social traffic, or maybe you’re getting a lot of interest in a specific product that you’ve been talking about lately, but you need to have some kind of benchmark in order to start.
And the final piece, and I talked about this in my presentation at MarketingProfs, is make sure that you’re only giving people a couple of data points. Most people who don’t work in marketing cannot handle 15 data points and a ton of different Google analytics graphs. It doesn’t compute. It’s just too much to handle, especially if they don’t have any context. So focus on the key numbers that you want them to understand and tell them what it means. So maybe it’s that you’re trying to improve your podcast downloads. Show them how over the past six months podcast downloads have gone up. Give them a visual graph to see that. Anyone can understand why that’s compelling and exciting. And again, I’ll just loop back to include them as much as you can. Anytime that you can actually share something from a leader’s social media page, publish it on their LinkedIn, get them to share it on their Twitter. If they’re the ones seeing the direct interactions with your audience, it’s going to be a lot more interesting to them than if it’s just these hidden numbers on a brand page that they never interact with.
Amanda: Absolutely. It’s so true. Just getting that immediate feedback is so powerful. If people are asking them questions and liking and sharing, it really is validating and I’m assuming it improves their chances of doing it again.
Lee: Exactly. That’s what I was going to say. You want to start that loop where they’re like, Oh, okay, I need kind of another hit of this. I want to do this again so I get these same reactions again. Everybody wants to feel social media famous, even in 2019.
Amanda: So I would like your input on this ‘quality versus quantity’ debate. I think that nowadays more people are bought into the fact that quality is the most important thing with content, but I do still think there are a lot of people left to who know or think that having a high volume of content is the most impactful, at least for SEO. So what are your thoughts on achieving that balance?
Lee: I mean I would agree with the crowd that quality is the most important. And again, I’ll come back to this idea that we are in an adolescence of content marketing. It used to be that your dentist had a blog and everyone had to publish a blog post every day of the week and you were competing on quantity, and now it’s the opposite game because your dentist does have a blog and you have a million emails in your inbox from every marketer who’s ever used an email marketing tool. There’s so much information and so much marketing noise going on right now that the only way to really get through to your customer is to stand out and do something different, and do something that’s authentic that doesn’t just feel like you’re checking the box. So if you’re a marketer at any kind of company and you’re making your calendar for the month and you just have to come up with some more topics to fill the box and you’re desperate to get some more topics because you need 10 and you only have 8, I would say stop! Back up! Why do you need 10? Says who? If you don’t have 10 things to say, you might be better off focusing on those 8 really good ideas that you know are going to land with your audience and forget the other 2.
Amanda: Absolutely. So I can’t believe we’re almost running out of time, but I wanted to ask you something about a topic mentioned on the Managing Editor podcast. It was that episode about burning it all down. I love this concept. I love talking to people who have taken those types of risks because I think that in the moment they are very scary. And I think when it comes to trying to justify things, it’s one of the hardest things to do for yourself and to other people. So when it comes to this, in some cases I would expect that it might not be burning it all down, but some people might be revolutionizing the way they come up with content to accommodate this kind of idea that everything we do needs to have a really strong perspective and voice. So what advice would you give to people who are facing this decision of, am I going to scrap what I’m doing and try something else?
Lee: First of all, I say do it! What do you have to lose? The internet has been around for a long time. It’s going to be around for a lot longer. And if you’re just, like I said, checking the boxes, pushing the buttons, chances are you’re not really helping anyone. And so I would think about content creation as an innovation lab. It’s a space that should be constantly changing. You should be constantly experimenting and it is creative work. So it’s an easy place to do that. It’s an easy part of the company to innovate and to constantly test things. And I found that at organizations that think about content as their innovation lab, as the place where they grow new ideas, there’s often really a virtuous cycle between what’s going on in your content innovation lab and then what goes on in the rest of the company.
So it’s not a separate discipline that’s completely disconnected from the work of the rest of the team. So if you’re writing, if you’re getting your executives to help you write, if you’re podcasting, if you’re putting people out to be interviewed on podcasts, if you’re putting people up to speak, that’s all an innovation lab where you’re having to craft ideas about the future of your industry, about how you’re helping your customers, about how you’re different about your new ideas this week. And that’s only a positive for the long term business success. Every business today needs to be innovating, needs to be pushing forward, needs to be questioning why they’re doing things and if they could be doing them differently or better. And so I see content as the place to do that. It’s not the end of the line. It’s not what happens after you’ve already figured everything out in the business and then you publish a blog post about it. Maybe sometimes it is, but it also can really be at the forefront. Content can be where you come up with the big ideas that could turn into your next product line, could turn into your next big campaign that everyone’s rallying around. Content can really be the leader. And so if you have a hunch that you need to burn something down, maybe keep doing it in the background and innovate and try something new on the side. Spend 10% of your energy trying something new. I think every marketer should be doing that. And I’m not sure that you can really succeed as a digital marketer, especially these days if you’re not constantly pushing yourself to try new things.
Amanda: I love that. Like I said, I think it’s scary, but even this concept of being able to do it a little bit in the background, doesn’t have to be this giant grand thing. You can start tweaking and trying different things and then bring it to the forefront if you think it’s working. So I don’t know if you have the answer to this right off top of your head, but do you have brands that are really excelling in this that people can use as examples for themselves?
Lee: Yeah. One brand, I haven’t personally worked with them, but I’m always interested in what they’re doing. So for a long time I worked in the B2B space and I worked specifically with a lot of HR tech companies, so companies that make employee engagement software, anything around the future of work I was just talking about. And one brand that has really led with this idea of thought leadership is a company called Work Human. They haven’t always been called Work Human. I’m still blanking on what the name of the company was before they were called Work Human, but they’re a cloud technology company. They serve HR people. It’s not particularly exciting just on the face of it, but what they did is they started an event. It was basically a user conference, but instead of just making it your typical user conference, they called it Work Human, and it was all about how to create a more human workplace and how to make work better. It grew a ton every year and they started getting really huge big name speakers. Michelle Obama’s spoken there before, and now they have rebranded the whole company to be called Work Human.
So they have taken their thought leadership, their content brand, and they’ve really flipped the company so the content brand IS the business brand. Okay. The company was formerly called Globo Force. You could not have a more corporate boring company name than Globo Force. So if you’re interested in seeing a really good shining example of a company that really went all in on this with really fantastic results, check out Work Human. They made it that people were interested in making work better and that they wanted to learn more about it. And now that driving force, their perspective on work and making it more human has become their driving brand message. It’s shaped their products. It’s shaped everything that the company does.
Amanda: It’s the epitome of what you were just talking about, where don’t make content the last stage of what you’re doing. Use it to inform everything else.
Lee: Yeah, content goes first. It can totally go first and it requires you thinking about marketing, not as the order taker, but really as the leader and for companies that really want their marketing to shine and be at the forefront, it means you have to hire expert marketers who can really lead the way here. Not just staffing your marketing team with just entry level intern level marketers, which is what I still see even big companies sometimes doing. You’re like, Oh, well let’s hire the 20 year old because they understand how Instagram works. You need a really savvy marketing team that can be leaders within the company, and 20 year olds might be able to do that too. I’m not being ageist, but marketing shouldn’t be an afterthought because it really can be the way that you differentiate your company in a time when it’s becoming more and more difficult to do that.
Amanda: Yeah. Because of the volume. So much stuff out there. It’s unbelievable. So I’m wrapping up every interview with the same question for people which is, what do you think is the biggest mistake people are making when they’re trying to explain this or justify this to their leadership or to the people who are the stakeholders of these projects?
Lee: That’s a good question. So I think you have to work in partnership with your thought leaders. So it can’t be marketing is emailing the thought leader, asking them for something. I need you to do this for me so I can get my work done. You have to partner with the people whose voices you’re really trying to capture. So anything you can do to make that happen and any way you can make the leaders you’re working with think it was their idea in the first place. Because really, your goal is to help them shine. You want to help the company shine by starting with the humans behind it. So like I said, looking for examples of other companies that have done it and other people inside companies, even if they’re conservative leaders, people who have been willing to put their name and their face on a big idea, showing them the results of that just from the outside at your competitive companies or at other companies you know they respect, that can really be helpful to unlock that door and get them to start thinking about themselves in the same way.
Amanda: That’s great advice. One last thing before we wrap up. Knowing the goal of this podcast, do you have any recommendations on who would be a great guest for the show?
Lee: Cashing in on content marketing? So one element of marketing that I’m really interested in now is podcasting and audio and what’s gonna change about that in the next couple of years. And so one person who I follow, who I’m really interested in his work is Jay Acunzo. He just started this site called Marketing Showrunners, and he’s building a team over there that are thinking about how you can use shows and audio to tell your company’s story. So I think he would be interesting, especially because a lot of people are having a hard time showing the results of podcasting specifically.
Amanda: Yeah, I would like to hear that. Wonderful. Thank you so much for being on the show, Lee. You had a lot of great insights.
Lee: Thank you for having me.